COLD EYES OF FEAR (1971) (Blu-ray)
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Kino Lorber/Redemption

Italian director Enzo G. Castellari was a jack of all trades, dipping his feet in a various genres including a handful of spaghetti westerns, a series of gritty street-tough police dramas and epic war films culminating with his THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, was recently re-imagined by none other than Quentin Tarantino for an Oscar-winning mainstream success. Scripted by Spanish-born actor Leo Anchóriz, 1971’s COLD EYES OF FEAR (Gli occhi freddi della paura) attempts to capitalize on the Italian giallo trend, at the time being popularized by filmmakers such as Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci and others. Although this Italian/Spanish co-production outwardly appears to be a giallo, it’s basically a routine crime thriller that falls short despite some inventive direction and occasional attempts as psychedelia.

In swinging London, a young lawyer named Peter Flower (Gianni Garko, star of countless spaghetti westerns and the essential Italian vampire classic, NIGHT OF THE DEVILS) picks up saucy Italian prostitute Anna (Giovanna Ralli, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS?) by spilling a drink on her dress in a perverted night club. Peter brings her back to the spacious abode of his uncle, Judge Juez (Fernando Rey, THE FRENCH CONNECTION), who is conveniently working late at his office. Their frolicking is soon interrupted by the discovery of a dead servant and the appearance of a pistol-wielding thug named Quill (Julian Mateos, DEMON WITCH CHILD) who holds the couple at gunpoint until his accomplice, Arthur Welt (Frank Wolff, THE GREAT SILENCE) arrives. While Quill is expecting to cash in on the home invasion, Arthur has a different motive, that is to avenge himself on Judge Juez, the man who sentenced him to prison some 15 years earlier.

One of the biggest problems with COLD EYES OF FEAR is that the screenplay (which has contributions by Tito Carpi, as well as the director), about a bitter man and his lackey holding a couple prisoner while a revenge scheme is layed out, isn’t all that interesting and there’s hardly an ounce of suspense to the proceedings or any great revelation attached to anyone murdered. It does start off promising, with sexy siren Karin Schubert being harassed by a nut who slices up her black lacey underthings to the point where she’s totally in the buff, but these are events unrelated to the plot which turn out to be part of a strange nightclub act. From there on, it’s pretty ordinary and tedious on occasion, even with clever plot devices such as Peter giving his uncle an S.O.S. message in foreign tongue over the phone, unbeknownst to his savage captors. Even the initial nudity is never followed up on, but the film does tend to get quite violent at times, mostly in the form of the central male characters relentlessly beating up on each other.

With some nostalgic outdoor scenes shot on the streets of London, the interiors were lensed at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, with most of it taking place in the Uncle’s lavish house. Castellari attempts to inject a sense of style, with some nicely edited flashbacks and flash-forwards in the storytelling technique, and some notable camera set-ups (skillful cinematography by Antonio L. Ballesteros), including the view of a struggling victim’s face from the bottom of a glass ice cube bucket. What doesn’t work well and comes off unintentionally funny is a scene where Arthur Welt (Wolff) distortly recalls the Judge putting sentence upon him, which resembles a dream sequence out of a 1950s Bowery Boys comedy. Wolff, an American character actor who found success in Italy before taking his own life at the end of 1971, is the best performer in the film, playing an unconventional criminal hurled into a position of murder, deceit and vengeance. But like all the actors, his performance is obstructed by not lending his own voice to the character, so he and most of the others players are post-synced with exaggerated British accents. Incidentally, Wolff resembles a cross between “Yes Minister” star Paul Eddington and Larry Fine of the Three Stooges. Rey is pretty much wasted in the hapless Judge role, and he spends much of the running time behind a desk (with his pet pussy) or on the phone. The legendary Ennio Morricone composed the score, complete with the familiar jazzy screeches typical of the type of macabre soundtracks that he was doing at the time.

Previously released by Image Entertaiment in 1998 and then just a few years ago by Redemption USA themselves, both releases used the same non-anamorphic transfer with a video generated pre-feature title reading “Cold Eyes of Fear aka The Desperate Minutes” (the latter drawing an obvious comparison to THE DESPERATE HOURS). Going back to the original 35mm negative, the new Blu-ray transfer still has a video-generated "Cold Eyes of Fear" title card before the main credits (apparently, distributors must have inserted their own title card depending on the region it played in). The film is presented in 1080p in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and looks quite nice with colors being bright, fleshtones looking natural and detail is significantly improved over the old DVD transfers. This is obvious during the opening night scenes in swinging London (look for theater marquees for Billy Wilder's THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES and Pete Walker's COOL IT CAROL), which are a revelation. There is occasional print debris on the source print, but it's never anything too distracting. The mono audio is in English only and suffers from some background hiss and scratchiness attributed to the original negative. The only extras are a European theatrical trailer and trailers for a handful of other Redemption/Kino titles. (George R. Reis)