Director: Umberto Lenzi
Media Blasters/Sheik Show

Many think of Italian director Umberto Lenzi a just a gore obsessed man simply churning out crude pieces of grindhouse fodder. Sure, he helmed a lot of those gross-out cannibal epics, as well as over-the-top hack-n-slash efforts like NIGHTMARE CITY. But Lenzi was also at the forefront of the Italian crime and police ("poliziotteschi") thriller genre of the 1970s, with Cuban-born Tomas Milian being his frequent leading actor. SYNDICATE SADISTS (aka ONE JUST MAN, RAMBO’S REVENGE) is a prime example of the violent actioners of the period, and can certainly attest to Lenzi being a decent and even very skilled (yet zoom crazy) filmmaker.

Milian stars as Rambo, a tough, bearded biker who wears an assortment red of hats. Rambo rides into town to visit his old friend who now works for a security squad scrutinizing local mafia activity. When the friend has his head bashed in by a couple of vile goons, Rambo takes things in his own hands, throwing more fuel to the fire of a gangwar between two rival crime families – one led by the aging Paternò (Joseph Cotton) with his flashy son (Adolfo Lastretti) and the other headed by Conti (Luciano Catenacci from KILL, BABY... KILL!). In his revenge scheme, Rambo pits the gangs against each other in the midst of the kidnapping of a young boy held for a large ransom. Rambo’s lady friend (Femi Benussi) is beaten to death, the kidnapped boy is rescued not once but twice, and lots of thugs are knocked off during the many shootouts and high-paced chases on the scenic country roads. The film is loaded with pulp book brutality, with lots of blood squibs, a female being mercifully battered, and a heavy being suffocated with an overstuffed bag of cocaine. The dubbed dialog can be laughable at times, but Lenzi is able to cram the 92-minute running time with enough thrills for two or three films, and a lively cast keeps things accelerated at all times.

Though made 30 years ago, SYNDICATE SADISTS is the kind of vintage effort that puts modern action flicks to shame. Milian plays Rambo as a very tough, unbeatable nice guy with morals who is especially kind to children – risking his life to rescue one boy, and financially aiding another after his father’s passing. Rambo is the kind of guy who would fire a bullet into a friend sporting a protective vest, as well as racing his bike from the back of a flaming truck. Lots of great scenarios are set up for the character, including a rousing fight scene where Rambo pokes a bloke in the head with a pool stick, while another ends up knocked out on a toilet seat. Ricarrdo Petrazzi doubles for Milian in the extraordinary motorcycle scenes, while Milian is seen riding in close-up in shots actually lensed on the back of the truck. Legendary actor Cotton (who had done a number of films in Italy prior to this one) is really good as the tragic crime boss whose physical handicap is kept a secret until the end, and Euro horror fans will love seeing "The Italian Peter Lorre," Luciano Pigozzi (aka Alan Collins) as of one of Conti’s lackeys, as well as blonde sexpot Shirley Corrigan (THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE, DR. JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN) as a bimbo who gets handcuffed to Conti in a bathroom.

Originally released theatrically in the U.S. by Sam Sherman’s Independent International, SYNDICATE SADISTS arrives on DVD in a splendid transfer, displaying the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The colors are very bright and the picture has excellent detail. There is some print speckling throughout, but nothing that will distract from the enjoyment of the presentation. The English-dubbed mono audio is fine, even if there is a bit of crackling here and there.

Extras include a brief video interview with director Lenzi (in Italian with English subtitles). Lenzi talks about how the film got off the ground (after Milian picked up the book, First Blood, on which the story is based on), how it is was influenced by A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, and how he wished that “Rambo” was left in the distribution title since Stallone had a success with his unrelated Rambo films years later. An excellent audio commentary with Lenzi is thankfully provided, also in Italian with English subtitles. There is a moderator on hand, but fortunately Lenzi doesn’t need too much prompting, as he has plenty to say about the film, and has quite a good memory. He reveals a lot of trivia about the cast (sadly, many who have died tragically) and other details about stunts, locations, etc. Lenzi also displays a true knowledge of cinema history, as well as the Italian film industry, and can be quite amusing, like when he reveals some of the quirks of his leading man, Milian. Also included is a still gallery, as well as trailers for other Media Blasters/Shriek Show releases. (George R. Reis)