Thursday 19 April 2012

Cold Eyes Of Fear

Wolff In The Cold

Cold Eyes Of Fear Italy/Spain 1971
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Another World Entertainment Region 2

Yeah. Okay. This is kind of an interesting movie.

I bought this one because I thought that a) it was a giallo, as has been said of the film in various articles about the genre in recent history and b) because it has a cool Ennio Morricone soundtrack, written in the style of the work he was doing for various gialli at that point in his career.

Well... turns out the information I was given was only half true. Yes, Morricone did the incredible score on this one but, no, it’s not really a giallo movie as such. However, like The Perfume Of The Lady In Black which I reviewed here a few weeks ago, the stylistic qualities of the movie are absolutely following the same format as a traditional giallo of this period, so it’s as near as it can get, really, without actually straying far enough into the territory of that genre.

For me, there are a number of things a movie has to check to be able to make the “giallo-cut”, if you’ll pardon the expression. Take a look at my argument in my article on the genre here to see my 11 trademark “tells” of the Italian giallo, of which a film has to meet over half of the criteria in my book, to be able to qualify. And yes, Cold Eyes Of Fear does meet more than half the criteria on the list... beautifully shot and ambitious compositions, bad acting, beautiful scoring, big european actor plugged in (this one has Fernando Ray who doesn’t meet any of the main protagonists throughout the course of the movie as he’s office bound)... the list goes on.

However, two of my giallo check points are absolutely essential to the mix and I believe they must be satisfied to qualify any film as belonging to this actual genre. One is that there must be a series of murders committed by one or more characters, scattered throughout the course of the movie. Tthis movie does have a couple of killings but they’re not plugged into enough places in the movie and not far enough spaced apart... and these murders are merely necessary evils which could be avoided if allowed, and not the product of a deranged mind (although one of the lead villains in this movie does have some serious issues). Secondly, there’s no “whodunnit” element to the story. You know who’s doing what and for why pretty early on in the proceedings... and yeah you could stretch a point and say that one of my favourite gialli, The Killer Must Kill Again, also suffers from a deficiency of mystery in its plot, although that particular movie is definitely and very consciously playing around with the iconography and motivations of the genre in such an obvious way, that it’s absolutely a giallo in its intent and execution. Cold Eyes Of Fear is certainly, I think, giallo-istic in its execution... but I’d certainly question its intent.

Anyway, that’s why I personally think it fails as a giallo... but on the other hand, as an interesting piece of “home invasion by hoodlums tale”, it’s a pretty neat little movie.

What it does have, as kind of an opening tease to fans of Italian gialli, is a gobsmacking mini homage to the giallo movie within the first 5 minutes. A blonde woman is terrorised by a typically dressed, gloves and flick knife giallo killer... and her clothes cut away from her as she tries to evade him. It’s a scene like many others you’ve probably seen in many movies in this particular niche but, just before the lady is killed, it’s here revealed to be a clever nightclub routine. This introduces us to our two main protagonists in the audience (the son of a prestigious lawyer and a prostitute), who then run around swinging London before going to the lawyer’s, father’s house to have sex.

When they get there they find a villain and the butler dead. The villain makes them wait until popular American plug-in actor Frank Wolff arrives... who is plotting revenge on the lawyer who sent him to prison a decade or more earlier. This is when things get decidedly un-giallo like as the movie becomes all about cross-cutting between the father’s office, which has been rigged with a bomb in the door when he leaves, and the tension filled house as various dialogues play out as our characters explore various threads of conversation on guilt and justice while also beating each up quite a bit.

While this movie wasn’t all I’d hoped it could be, Wolff’s acting is superb and you almost admire the intelligence of the character at some points. Alas, within a year or so, Wolff, who suffered from depression, had taken his own life in a hotel room (a few of his movies were released posthumously at the cinema) but the quality of his acting is quite evident in even his trashiest work.

Although the movie itself is not quite a giallo, as I mentioned earlier, the music certainly is. Morricone has produced what could be his most extreme giallo-style musical score for this one. There’s hardly any obvious melody in this one... just stabbing atonal clusters of notes, weird sounds, backbeat and occasional jazz rhythm. Think of the more atonal and driven passages of his scores for such gialli as The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Cat O’ Nine Tails, Four Flies On Grey Velvet, Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, The Fifth Cord and Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion, to name a few, and this is the score which concentrates all that and distills it down to just one grating, jarring and incredibly groovy piece of scoring (the CD presentation is fantastic and if you like the above scores and haven’t already got this one, I’d urge you to pick it up). To some people, especially to younger audiences I would imagine, this might sound a little over-scored in the context of some of the sequences in the movie, but if you’re used to watching Italian films of this period then you’ll be right at home with it.

Okay... not much else to say about this one I’m afraid. It’s not that I’m unenthusiastic about this movie, it’s certainly got its own unique qualities... it’s just that it’s not as strong an “early 1970s Italian experience” as I was hoping. Not sure if it would appeal to all of my readers but those of you who are adequately well versed in the giallo genre, which seems to have heavily influenced this one stylistically, will probably get a kick out of it. A good movie to watch as the first part of a double bill followed by one of Wolff’s actual giallo appearances I would expect. Either way, knock back the J&B and give this one a look sometime... you might just have some fun with it.

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