Color, 1971, 91 mins. 41 secs.
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Starring Giovanna Ralli, Fernando Rey, Frank Wolff, Gianni Garko, Julian Mateos
Indicator (UHD & Blu-ray) (US/UK R0 4K/HD), Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Another World (DVD) (Denmark R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Image (US R1 NTSC), Redemption (US R0 NTSC, UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)
When is a giallo not quite a giallo? When it's Cold Eyes of Fear, the closest thing to a traditional Italian thriller from director Enzo G. Castellari, the action specialist who had just broken through before this film with fare like Eagles Over London. Of course, Castellari went on to direct the now famous The Inglorious Bastards, not to mention cult classics like Keoma, Street Law, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, and the banned Great White.
However, unlike his peers in Italian cinema in the early '70s, Castellari never quite jumped enthusiastically into the world of black-gloved killers and sexy imperiled women. He certainly plays around with those tropes at the beginning of this film, with future sex starlet Karin Schubert being pawed and threatened by a knife-wielding assailant, but that all turns out to be a twisted stage show for the amusement of some London dinner theater patrons. Then we shift gears to a moody riff on home invasion thriller like The Desperate Hours as attorney Peter Flower (western star Garko, also in Lucio Fulci's The Psychic) and his female companion for the evening, Anna (Ralli, from What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and the bizarre Michael Caine vehicle Deadfall), cavort around town to the strains of Ennio Morricone pop music (recycled from the film L'alibi). They decide to head back to a swanky house owned by his judge uncle (Rey), who's off at work for the evening; unfortunately, they find out that his servant has been killed and a swarthy thug named Quill (Mateos) doesn't intend to let them leave. Finally a cop, Arthur (The Lickerish Quartet's Wolff), makes an appearance, but he also has ties to what turns out to be an intricate and deadly plan for revenge.
As was typical of Italian thrillers from the period (most blatantly The Weekend Murders), the attempts to pass off the cast as British by giving them exaggerated accents tends to undercut the tension of more than a couple of scenes, but Castellari's strong visual sense still carries the film through as long as one doesn't expect much in the way of violence or sex. (There's a bit of both, but nothing that would raise any eyebrows.)
It's always fun watching Wolff cut loose and chew the scenery, and this is easily one of the late actor's more flamboyant turns; the more overtly slimy Mateos often fades into the background next to him, while Ralli and Garko have the good sense to just look worried and terrorized for most of the running time. The Morricone score is also one of his jarring (and divisive) experimental concoctions from that period with Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, similar to what they cooking up for other films like A Quiet Place in the Country, and the photography is very effective with most scenes bathed in inky shadows.
Way back in the DVD format's infancy in 1998, Cold Eyes of Fear was one of the very first Eurocult films to be released (alongside better known films like The Devil's Nightmare) courtesy of Redemption's distribution deal with Image Entertainment. The snapper-cased release featured a non-anamorphic transfer that looked fine for the time, though a few years on it obviously wasn't up to snuff as transfer technology continued to improve. That same transfer was rehashed a few more times around the world, including an American reissue directly from Redemption in 2009 and a UK release as well (containing a gallery of posters, video art, and fotobusta.
It took fifteen years, but a drastically improved transfer finally surfaced courtesy of the 2013 Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber under the Redemption banner (with a DVD reissue as well, but as usual, the HD option is definitely preferable). Interestingly, both the theatrical trailer and the older transfer featured the title Desperate Moments (hmm, wonder where they got that one from), but this one replaces it with a new title card. Don't be alarmed by the rough appearance of the opening credits, which are in fairly rough shape and appear to be slightly misframed; once the film proper kicks in, the quality improves. There hasn't been much cleanup so you'll plentiful white specks here and there, too. The PCM English mono track sounds very good, with those goofy accents more crisp than ever. The aforementioned theatrical trailer is included along with other Redemption trailers for Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Black Magic Rites, The Asphyx, and Night of the Hunted.
In 2023, Indicator brought the film to separate UHD and Blu-ray editions (with their usual astounding packaging, limited to 6,000 UHDs and 4,000 Blu-rays for the U.S. and U.K.), featuring a new 4K restoration from the original negative, the LPCM English mono soundtrack with optional English SDH subtitles, and in a major plus at last, the Italian soundtrack (LPCM 1.0 mono) with translated English subtitles. The film plays much, much better in Italian, so if this is your first viewing, consider going with that option first. (An opening disclaimer notes that due to the condition of the existing track, it does revert over to English briefly for a few scattered lines of dialogue.) The video presentation is markedly different than the prior Blu-ray, pulling back on the saturated orange and blue look with a much darker, moodier, and more detailed image, as well as a completely clean-up presentation without any of that prevalent damage. Frame grab comparisons are below to give you an idea, though watching the UHD with HDR10 is a more impressive experience during playback. The usual Desperate Moments trailer is here, and you get a new audio commentary by David Flint and Adrian J. Smith who efficiently cover the London exterior locations, the various thriller subgenres at play here, the reasons they feel the film is underrated, and the backgrounds of the director and cast. In "Directing Fear" (24m16s), Castellari talks about getting into directing helping his dad with a Franco and Ciccio comedy, the fun of shooting a film on a set derived so specifically from his sketches, his sorta-kinda next stab at the giallo, and the presence of Wolff's wife on the set as a translator only for her to run off with another man, the ultimate cause of Wolff's extreme, ultimately fatal depression. In "An Italian in London" (29m24s), Garko covers his approach to picking roles (thrillers or otherwise), his roles lost to the likes of George Hilton, the transitional period when spaghetti westerns went out of vogue, and his happy memories of making this film due to the strength of the script (and his similar reactions to The Psychic and Night of the Devils). In "The Men in the Editing Room" (26m52s), assistant editor Gianfranco Amicucci shares his memories of Castellari, his aborted plans to become a pilot, his editing apprenticeship days, and his working relationship with editor Vincenzo Tomassi who "only cared about money." Finally in "A Fearsome Collaboration" (15m7s), Lovely Jon provides another insightful score breakdown, here tackling Morricone's unorthodox and wildly avant-garde work with a number of important collaborators including Gruppo founder Franco Evangelisti. An 18-image gallery spotlights some Spanish and Italian print material from the film, while the 80-page enclosed book has a new essay by Roberto Curti ("What the Eye Doesn't See...") about the film's history and the benefits of it being shot in sequence, a brief 1970 newspaper overview of Ralli by Alberto Ceretto, a great new text interview with Ralli by Eugenio Ercolani, a 1999 text interview with Garko by Igor Grimaldi, newspaper coverage of Wolff's death, a 2001 Mark Wickum interview with Castellari for Video Watchdog, and sample critical responses.
KINO LORBER (BLU-RAY)
Updated review on July 3, 2023.