This weekend I got a chance to check out a couple of great films, and I thought I would take Monday to give you folks a double dose of Italians. Both Enzo G. Castellari and Lucio Fulci are responsible for some of my favorite films like Street Law and Cat in the Brain, but they are also to blame for duds like Cold Eyes of Fear or The House of Clocks. So sitting down to watch two of their films back to back, I felt like I would be doing good to come out 50/50. Thankfully luck was with me this weekend so let’s get into the first of our two features.
Enzo G. Castellari returned to the Polizia film after a two year break with the Fabio Testi in The BigRacket(1976). I’ll make no bones about it, while many have dismissed Testi as a pretty boy, I never fail to enjoy his performances. In The Big Racket, Testi plays Inspector Nico Palmieri, who has been assigned to bust up a gang charging protection to local businesses. Things go badly from the start with the gang cornering the Inspector and pushing his car down a hill. From there, things get progressively worse and the Inspector’s investigation gets progressively more aggressive until he finally gets himself thrown off the force. Assembling a group from the people the mob has victimized, Palleieri leads them on a mission to stop the rackets once and for all.
Testi is as charismatic as usual, and most of the major action scenes revolve around him busting heads (and as often as not, getting jacked up as well). The fighting and gunfights are the highlight to this film, and Enzo captured them perfectly with just enough slow motion to sell some of the more outlandish moves. The best use of slow motion comes when Testi gets rolled down a hill in his car, and the camera stays with him all the way down as Fabio protects his pretty mug from flying glass and debris. This is only one example of the many great camera tricks and angles Castellari fits into this film.
The Big Racket also has a pretty well constructed plot that almost made me not notice the film’s 104 minute running time. Although it did get a bit draggy around the middle, the script never lets plot get in the way of a good explosion or two. Add to this a supporting cast featuring some pretty well developed characters, and it gives the revenge angle of the film quite a punch. I especially liked Renzo Palmer as the restaurateur gone unhinged killer, Death Wish actor Vincent Gardenia as a police informant, and Glauco Onoato as a skeet shooter who becomes a deadly silent assassin.
It all adds up to one of the best Italian crime flicks I’ve had the pleasure of checking out, and one I would recommend highly if you haven’t had a chance to delve into the genre. Plus with Tarantino’s Castellari inspired Inglorious Basterds coming to theaters, who doesn’t want to be the film geek who can tell all his friends about Enzo’s other films?
Ten years before Lucio Fulci was getting zombies to put huge splinters into girl’s eyes, he was releasing a film that had much more in common with Hitchcock. Perversion Story a.k.a. One on Top of Another (1969) is the first Fulci film that barely contains any of the flourishes that Lucio would becomes known for, but worry not, there’s still a few quick zooms on eyes which retain the flavor. While the story seems to have Hitch’s Vertigo in mind, it ends up being full of some of the better twists that I’ve seen in a while.
George (Jean Sorrell) is a doctor. Unfortunately, he’s also deeply in debt, unhappily married, and a philanderer, but when his wife dies of a mysterious mix-up of medications, the doctor thinks he sees the end of the rainbow in the form of his wife’s million dollar life insurance payoff. Things don’t turn out easy as that when he meets up with a stripper who looks like a blond haired version of his dead wife. Soon George is obsessed, and his obsession leads him down a road where he gets sent to jail for his wife’s murder.
The name Lucio Fulci is not usually associated with the two words “cohesive storyline”, but in the case of Perversion Story, this time Lucio brings it. While some of the principal conceit seems to have been inspired by thrillers past, the rest of the film is full of enough new ideas that it barely comes to mind. Fulci does a good job letting the suspense build throughout, and by the end of the film, I was yelling at the screen for answers which I think is always the sign of a good flick.
Even though his plots are not always so cut and dry, Fulci is known for his eccentric camerawork. Like I said, you get little of the feel of his horror films, and instead the film is full of shots set up through clear floors, plenty of tricks with mirrors and windows, and a split screen shot that I really loved. The film has the feel of the swinging sixties, and the over-the-top fashions the ladies sport light up the screen. That is, when they bother to wear clothes. Marissa Mell, also seen in Bava’s Danger: Diabolik, spends a lot of her screen time in the buff and the film certainly does not suffer for it.
At the end of the day no amount of nakedness could be more impressive than the way thePerversion Story unfolds, and that is what I will take away from this film. It definitely lights a fire under my ass to check out Fulci’s other thrillers, and I’ll have to check them out soon. As for you guys, if you haven’t seen this one, I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve heard some people call this their favorite Fulci film, and while I’m not there yet (Zombie vs. Shark is still too good to give up), I can surely see their point.