fredag 30. januar 2015

Due occhi per uccidere

Italy, 1968

Directed by Renato Borraccetti

Jack Taylor, Aichè Nanà, Gia Sandri, Barth Warren, Dan Daniels, Diego Parravicini, Augusto Bonardi, Ignazio Balsamo, Fabio Testi, Angela De Leo

One of the most obscure Italian genre films of the 1960s, Due occhi per uccidere – the only film produced by Milanese production company Daniels Film – was the fourth and final film directed by the elusive Renato Borraccetti, whose previous three films had all been melodramas. With Due occhi per uccidere (i.e. Two Eyes to Kill) the little-known filmmaker tried his hand at a crime movie but found little success: after a brief theatrical run in 1968, it vanished into complete obscurity and was never issued on VHS anywhere in the world. It reportedly aired on an Italian TV channel back in the 1980s but no recordings of this broadcast are known to exist – damning the film to complete unavailability.

This finally changed in 2014, when DjangoLi of the LoveLockAndLoad forum was able to snap up a 35mm version of the film on eBay. The film prints were badly degraded and terribly scratched, and needed to be cleaned up and telecined – a costly endeavor that was only made possible due to a fundraiser at the LoveLockAndLoad forum (I was one of the lucky contributors who got to play a small part in rescuing this rarity) and the film is finally back after 46 years of unavailability. Unfortunately, the guy who sold this 35mm version on eBay only had 3 of the 4 reels. The third reel (amounting to around 15 to 20 minutes) is missing, so this rediscovered version only runs 55 minutes. The missing footage is certainly regrettable, but do not let that discourage you – the fact that this film is finally available at all is still of great significance for aficionados of rare Euro cinema.

But what’s Due occhi per uccidere like then? I’ve seen it described as a giallo but I wouldn’t really categorize it as such. It’s more of a low-rent crime movie with a few vague thriller, horror and spy motifs thrown into the mix. It’s set in France, and begins by introducing us to a man named Jean (played uncredited by a young Fabio Testi), who is sentenced to death for an unspecified crime. He’s allowed to keep his beloved trumpet with him on the night before his execution, and he spends the night playing a moody jazz tune. The next morning he is brought to the gallows and executed by guillotine in spite of his staunch proclamations of innocence.

Poor Jean meets a grisly fate

Cut to a year later in a French nightclub run by Max (Jack Taylor), a leering and thoroughly despicable gangster who is running all kinds of illegal operations from his club. Unbeknownst to Max, his office is being monitored through some sort of fancy surveillance machine set up by Rosy (Gia Sandri), one of the dancers from his club, and her friend Pierre (Barth Warren). Pierre is operating the machine from a secret location and is staying in contact with Rosy through a high tech listening device implanted in her big, funky glasses and controlled by her blinking cigarette box!

The slimy Max

Pierre and Rosy operate their fancy surveillance equipment

Rosy and Pierre are out to get Max, and thanks to their secret monitoring they are able to sabotage some of his criminal operations, as well as alienating him from his dancer-girlfriend Nadia (Aichè Nanà) by sending her to Max’s office just as he’s about to rape a hapless underage girl (played uncredited by Angela De Leo from Night of the Damned, 1971).

Max assaults a helpless girl...

...but gets caught in the act by his furious girlfriend

It eventually transpires that Pierre and Rosy were close friends of Jean, the young man who was guillotined at the start of the film, and they are convinced that Max is the one who’s really responsible for the crime Jean was executed for. They continue to torment Max by sending him the gun used to commit the crime, and by playing the tune that Jean loved playing on his trumpet...

Max is gradually driven to madness and paranoia

As wonderful as it would be to proclaim that Due occhi per uccidere is a lost classic that has finally been unearthed after more than 45 years of unavailability, the truth is that it’s easy to see why this one faded into obscurity in the first place. It just isn’t a very good film – plagued by a meandering plot that moves along at a plodding pace, and by Borraccetti’s heavy-handed direction, which is unable to infuse the story with any sort of tension. Most problematic by far, however, is the fact that nothing much ever seems to happen. I mean, there’s around 15-20 minutes worth of footage missing and yet it didn’t feel as if anything was missing when I watched it, and that should give you a pretty good idea of just how hopelessly uneventful this whole mess is! I have no idea what goes on in that missing reel, but it can’t have been a whole lot.

The film’s uneventfulness is probably at least partially a byproduct of the fact that it’s a terribly cheap production whose impoverished nature is made apparent by its rampant use of curtains instead of walls, the pitiful-looking surveillance machine made out of cardboard, a barely furnished police communications room, and a setting that is confined almost exclusively to the nightclub.

The sorry-looking police communications room

One of the numerous instances of curtains being used instead of walls

Yet, in spite of the film’s all-around incompetence, I confess to still finding Due occhi per uccidere impossible to dislike – due in part to its great rarity, but also because it possesses that very peculiar and hard to define charm that only the strangest of zero budget Euro-oddities do. The high points include Piero Umiliano’s moody jazz score accompanied by the great trumpeter Nini Rosso; the opening sequence in which Fabio Testi is led to the scaffold; Aichè Nanà’s sexy and bizarre nightclub act; and the sequence portraying how Max’s sanity starts to crack, with the light flickering and the camera frenziedly zooming in and out on his sweaty, anguished face. I also like how the high-tech surveillance machine and the radio communication device in Rosy’s glasses lend a small Eurospy vibe to the proceedings, and altogether the general WTF-ery of the piece is a definite plus.

And then there is of course the great Jack Taylor (a familiar face to all fans of Spanish horror and exploitation cinema), who is very nicely cast as the slimy and loathsome Max. He’s pretty over the top but is very enjoyable to watch and brings a delightful and much needed intensity to an otherwise rather low-octane effort. Taylor did this film around the same time that he appeared in Succubus (1968), the first in a long line of films he did for ultra-prolific Spanish filmmaker Jess Franco. And indeed, Taylor’s presence here, together with the moody jazz score, bizarre nightclub acts, singular setting and zero budget atmosphere lend somewhat of a Franco-esque ambience to the film – which may be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about the eccentric Spaniard.

Jack Taylor is all kinds of awesome in the role of Max

The film also boasts a delightfully sexy performance by Lebanese-born actress/dancer Aichè Nanà, who became a tabloid sensation in Italy in 1958 when she performed a scandalous striptease in a star-packed Roman nightclub – a sensationalized event that served as the inspiration for a famous sequence in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). The incident propelled Nanà into a film career in the 1960s, but she never really landed roles in anything but cheap and barely released films such as the early giallo A... come assassino (1966), or obscure spaghetti westerns like Chrysanthemums for a Bunch of Swine (1968), directed by her then-husband Sergio Pastore. As such, Nanà was right at home appearing in Due occhi per uccidere, but it should be said that she really comes off quite good here. Not so much because of her exaggerated, eye-rolling performance, but rather for her sexiness and for providing one of the film’s most memorable moments when she performs a weird nightclub dance that turns even weirder when a bare-chested guy with an animal mask enters the stage and starts cracking a whip at her.

Aichè Nanà’s bizarro dance routine

The only other substantial roles in the films are those of the avenging duo played by Gia Sandri and Barth Warren, about whom not much is known. Warren only appeared in a handful of films but was a very prolific photo-novel actor under the name Bart Anera. His photo-novel career consisted, almost without exception, of villainous roles, and his face is indeed better suited to such parts than to the one he is playing here. Unlike Warren, Sandri actually appeared in a fair number of films throughout the 1960s – above all in spaghetti westerns as well as a couple of comedies with Franco and Ciccio – but without ever making it big, which is a pity as she’s very attractive and charming here.

Barth Warren and Gia Sandri as the film’s avenging couple

Due occhi per uccidere is a very strange and peculiar film that is unlikely to appeal to most viewers, but it’s a terribly fascinating work that is great to finally have seen. It’s certainly no lost classic, but Jack Taylor fans and admirers of zero budget Euro-oddities will surely want to check it out!

© 2015 Johan Melle

The cast:

Jack Taylor as Max

Aichè Nanà as Nadia

Gia Sandri as Rosy

Barth Warren as Pierre

??? as Chéri

??? as The Rat

Augusto Bonardi as Gregoric

Diego Parravicini as Commissioner Marbel

Fabio Testi as Jean

Angela De Leo as Josette

mandag 19. januar 2015

Death Has Blue Eyes/Το κορίτσι βόμβα

Greece, 1975

Directed by Nico Mastorakis

Peter Winter, Chris Nomicos [Hristos Nomikos], Maria Aliferi, Jessica Dublin, Louise Melinda, Marie Elise Eugene, Andrew Johnson [Andreas Ioannou], Philip Sherwood, Clay Huff, Jean-Claude Petit, Gerard Gonalons, Danny Rochas, George Ranger, Maurice Rutherford, Bill Peyton, Thom Arahouas

Greek-born director and screenwriter Nico Mastorakis managed to carve out something of a name for himself in the 1980s when he set up his own production company Omega Entertainment in the US and began churning out a series of enjoyable and well-cast low-budget exploitation movies such as Blind Date (1984) starring a young Kirstie Alley, Nightmare at Noon (1988) with Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins and George Kennedy, and Hired to Kill (1990) with Brian Thompson, Oliver Reed, George Kennedy and José Ferrer. But the one film that everyone always remembers is the one Mastorakis made in his native Greece: the notoriously violent and offensive Island of Death (1976), which was banned in a number of countries and ended up on Britain’s infamous Video Nasty list. Less fortunate was Mastorakis’ debut, Death Has Blue Eyes, which he wrote and directed shortly before Island of Death. I’ve long wanted to see this evasive film, whose terrific giallo-esque title had me intrigued since the first time I heard about it, but as it turns out, this strange little film is nothing at all like a giallo.

The plot circles around a young man named Bob Kowalski (Peter Winter), who arrives in Athens where he is reunited with his best friend Ches Gilford (Hristos Nomikos). Bob and Ches are both con men and they spend most of their days pulling off petty scams or trying to get with hot women.

Ches and Bob

One of the pair’s favorite scams is to dine in fancy hotel restaurants and pass themselves off as hotel guests and charge the bill to a random room. But one day this con job goes awry when the room Bob and Ches tell the waiter to charge the bill to is revealed to belong to the two women sitting at the table next to them. The women are Geraldine Steinwetz (Jessica Dublin), an elegant middle-aged woman, and her sexy, blonde daughter Christine (Maria Aliferi). Gerladine and Christine seem amused rather than angry and don’t care to report the incident, but Bob gets a bit freaked when Christine reveals that she knows his name and his way of operating. He gets the distinct impression that she can read his mind.

Bob gets busted... Geraldine...

...and her lovely daughter Christine

Next, Bob and Ches head to fancy villa owned by an unattractive but rich old bag that Ches is screwing. She’s out of town for the moment, so Ches is living in her house together with a buxom blonde named Maria, who prances around totally naked (except for a small apron) and acts as his maid and lover.

The trusty Maria

Luckily for Bob, Ches is such a good sport that he lends out Maria to him. And later they get into a steamy threesome. But, unfortunately, Ches’ rich lover misses him so much she decides to come home early and is mortified to find him getting it on with Maria and Bob in her bed.

Bob and Ches’ fun is spoiled by the arrival of Ches’ sugar mama

This unfortunate incident puts a permanent end to Ches and Bob’s luxurious living, so they kiss Maria goodbye and hit the road in search of new adventures. But wait a minute! “Wasn’t this supposed to be some kind of thriller?”, you might be asking yourself at this point, and indeed, so was I when I first sat through this. We’re about 20 minutes into the film and so far it has played out more like a moronic sex comedy than any kind of thriller. But all of that is about to change (well… sort of) when Bob and Ches are contacted by Geraldine Steinwetz, the middle-aged woman from the hotel restaurant. Geraldine reveals that the reason why Bob felt as if Christine was reading his mind earlier was because that’s exactly what she did. “My daughter is a mind reader... Of enormous abilities!” Geraldine proudly proclaims. She then explains that two months ago, while in Warsaw, Christine unwittingly became witness to a political murder. She saw the killer’s face and before she could control her incredible psychic abilities she immediately knew his name and who had hired him to kill. So now Christine and Geraldine are being hunted by a deadly organization out to silence them, and Geraldine’s master plan for how to avoid this is to hire Bob and Ches to protect them. It doesn’t make a lick of sense that Christine and Geraldine would put their safety in the hands of two petty amateur scammers – even Bob and Ches themselves question this strange decision – but Geraldine insists that this is how it’s got to be and she offers to pay them well and cover all of their living expenses.

Naturally, Bob and Ches agree to act as protectors for Christine and Geraldine, and they go about doing so by taking the two women out on the town to dance, drink and party! During a nocturnal trip to some local café, the jolly foursome dance and have fun while the locals are inexplicably throwing plates on the floor! Is this some kind of Greek custom??

Plate throwing!

But the fun is interrupted when a motorcycle-riding assassin shows up and starts shooting up the place. In the ensuing hysteria, poor Geraldine is separated from the others and is left to fend for herself while Bob, Ches and Christine manage to get to the car and escape.

Bob, Ches and Christine escape...

...but are chased by motorcycle-riding assassins...

...while Geraldine is left to fend for herself

After fending off a series of deadly motorcycle assassins, the trio makes a stop on a beach, where they decide to put up a tent and light a fire. Unfortunately, yet another motorcyclist assassin shows up the next morning. Bob, Ches and Christine hide while the assassin goes to search their tent, and as soon as he’s inside, Christine concentrates super-hard and uses her psychic powers to blow up the tent! Wow! Apparently, Christine does a lot more than read minds.

Mind over matter!

But they’re not out of the woods yet. The mysterious killer organization has sent a helicopter that’s shooting at our three friends. Bob wants Christine to blow it up, but since the budget isn’t big enough to blow up a helicopter, Christine just whines that “No, I can’t! I’ve tried! It’s moving!” Will Bob, Ches and Christine make it out alive? And will there be more sex and comedy? I won’t spoil it for you, but chances are pretty good you’ll be able to guess the answers to both of those questions.

Helicopter assassins

You know, it’s funny how people keep raving about Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and its unexpected midway shift from cynical action-crime flick to vampire horror comedy, while completely ignoring the genre-bending wonders pulled off by Nico Mastorakis two decades earlier with Death Has Blue Eyes, and which he would continue to employ in many of his American film. But, unfortunately, Mastorakis executes the genre hopping in his debut feature without any sort of finesse or cleverness – erratically jumping from sex comedy of the dumbest sort to somewhat of a thriller, only to quickly change gear and morph into more of an action film and then continuously puncturing the action with further acts of funny business and softcore sex. Ironically, Mastorakis’ unyielding attempts to cater to all tastes only results in a tonally schizophrenic film that will likely appeal to no one at all. Well, except for lovers of demented, WTF Euro cinema that is, and that’s actually a pretty big crowd. Even so, it still isn’t a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but if you approach it the right way, the film’s incredible daftness can be quite endearing.

There are way too many wacky highlights to mention but I really must give proper due to two stand-out sequences. The first one comes when the constantly horny Bob tries to hook up with a voluptuous blonde stripper named Debra, who invites him to come to her club to watch her “dance”, but once he gets there he finds the place deserted. Debra suddenly appears behind him – wearing a tight blouse shirt that is barely able to contain her jutting tits – and Bob exclaims that “I didn’t expect to find you in a place like this. I though you invited me to watch you dancing”. “No, I invited you to see me shooting!” replies the sexy Debra and whips out a gun.

Debra, the trigger happy stripper

Luckily for Bob, he’s able to overpower her, and with the gun in his possession he forces Debra to strip for him. Why? Hell if I know, but I guess Mastorakis was ready to use any excuse for piling on some naked flesh.

This scene is so awesome that the UK distributors saw fit to plaster it all over the poster – accompanied by a completely misleading tagline!

The second scene also involves Bob! This time he hooks up with a sexy race car driver – played by the lovely Marie Elise Eugene, who later went on to play the sassy black nightclub singer in Maurizio Pradeaux’s Athens-lensed giallo Death Steps in the Dark (1976). While the two of them are getting hot and heavy, Christine uses her psychic abilities to connect to Bob’s mind to see what he’s up to, and for whatever reason that gets poor Bob all limp-dicked and unable to continue with the lovemaking. He then picks a flower from a bouquet on the table and places it in his disappointed lover’s ass crack before sitting down in a corner to sulk! And, no, I’m not making any of this up!

Christine’s psychic probing messes with Bob’s libido!

Other plus points include some very slick cinematography and stylish camera angles, as well as some rather nice car stunts and a couple of cool plot twists in the final third to shake things up. But, unfortunately, for all these positives there are at least as many negatives, including an occasionally clunky soundtrack, a truly horrendous English dubbing job, jumpy and haphazard editing and all the constant comedy stuff with Bob and Ches that just isn’t funny at all.

A complete absence of logic sense also plagues the film throughout its duration. A lot of things seem to happen completely at random, with the characters doing stuff because the script requires it but without any sort of comprehensible motivation to back up their actions. For example, why do Ches and Christine say that the car is out of gas and ask Bob to get out and push – only to drive off and leave him behind on his own? And later when he catches up with them again, none of them mention the whole thing. And likewise, why are Bob and Ches (who seem to be portrayed as heterosexual) so obsessed with trying to talk women into having threesomes with them, and why do they sleep in the same hotel room? Why does Ches only charge $20 for his services as a gigolo? Why does the head of the killer organization describe Ches as a karate expert when we never get to see him put those skills to use? And why do Geraldine and Christine think it’s a great idea to hire two dimwitted horn dogs to protect them when Christine does a much better job of protecting them by herself? I mean, not only does she blow up tents with her mind but there’s also a super cool scene in a bowling alley where she uses her psychic powers to get an assassin to strange himself to death. It’s not often you get bombarded with this sort of facepalming daftness at such frequent intervals, though, and it certainly adds to the unintentional hilarity.

Christine fends off an assassin

To be fair, I should add that the version I saw clocked in at only 77 minutes. Apparently, there’s a version released in the UK – under the dreary title The Para Psychics – which is supposed to run a full 90 minutes. It’s possible that this version makes more sense, but I wouldn’t bet on it!

The British VHS release

I’m not at all familiar with leading men Peter Winter and Hristos Nomikos (credited under the anglicized pseudonym Chris Nomicos) but I found them both to be thoroughly unlikable and lacking in the charisma department. The stunningly beautiful Maria Aliferi, however, makes for a very sexy and appealing heroine. She’s terribly charming and has a very expressive face.

But the biggest delight in the cast is American cult actress Jessica Dublin as the mysterious Geraldine. Her fascinating acting career started in Italy in the late 1960s, when Dublin was already in her early 50s, and she gained some recognition through a series of performances that highlighted her audaciously extravagant style to comedic effect, such as her role as Bud Spencer and Terence Hill’s mother in the western comedy Trinity is Still My Name (1971), as well as small roles in the gialli So Sweet, So Dead (1972) and Sex of the Witch (1973). She then relocated to Greece and continued her acting career there but was mostly relegated to mere cameo roles. Mastorakis was actually one of the few Greek directors to take full advantage of Dublin’s brash style and uninhibited nature – first with her sizeable turn in this film and then to maximum effect in the notorious Island of Death, in which the then 57-year old actress gets naked for the camera in the role of a rich, perverted maneater who enjoys getting pissed on during sex. And upon her return to the US, Dublin became a repertory player for Troma Entertainment – achieving much popularity for her role as Toxie’s mom in the two Toxic Avenger sequels in 1989. What a career! Now, her part in Death Has Blue Eyes is admittedly far more subdued than her more famous roles but it’s still great to have her around!

Maria Aliferi and Jessica Dublin are the high-points of the film

The spectacular Jessica Dublin

To sum it up, Death Has Blue Eyes is a really weird film that sounded a lot more intriguing on paper than what it eventually turned out to be. Recommended to undiscriminating Euro-trash lovers only.

© 2015 Johan Melle

The cast:

Peter Winter as Bob Kowalski

Hristos Nomikos as Ches Gilford

Maria Aliferi as Christine Steinwetz

Jessica Dublin as Geraldine Steinwetz

??? as Debra

Andreas Ioannou as Leader of the organization

Marie Elise Eugene as The race car driver

??? as Fred Kealing

??? as Maria

Clay Huff as The black assassin

??? as Ches’ lover