Cold Eyes of Fear (1971)
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Writers: Leo Anchóriz, Tito Carpi and Enzo G. Castellari
Starring: Gianni Garko, Giovanna Railli, Frank Wolff and Fernando Rey

The Plot: Peter Flower (Gianni Garko) is a young lawyer having a fun night out on the town. He meets up with the sultry Anna (Giovanna Ralli) who agrees to accompany him to bed, but first he must procure somewhere nice and quiet before so that they can enjoy their rendezvous. He decides that his uncle’s place, Judge Juez Flower (Fernando Rey), would be perfect, so he calls up the Judge’s butler and convinces him to leave for a couple of hours. Unknown to Peter, the butler is murdered almost immediately after their phone conversation ends. His murderer is a young dark haired man named Quill (Julián Mateos) who has hidden intentions. When Peter and Anna show up at the house, they eventually find the butler… as well as Quill. Now they must discover both what Quill is hiding from them as well as what Peter’s own uncle might be hiding as well.

The Review
To start any discussion of Enzo G. Castellari’s Cold Eyes of Fear, I think an important element that should be taken on up-front is just where this film sits on the genre-scale. Although the title and promotion of the film seems to hint that it will be a giallo thriller, in reality it turns out to be something quite distant from that. In fact, it more closely resembles the “home invasion” style of thriller that was popularized during the seventies with titles such as Last House on the Left and House on the Edge of the Park, but even within that genre the film seems like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. The answer for Cold Eyes of Fear is not a simple one, but the reality is that it floats between several genre-film areas. This refusal to adapt to genre actually turns out to be one of the film’s main strengths. Cold Eyes of Fear is, in short, an Italian thriller, but it is actually one of the more clever examples of a master genre-film director firing on all cylinders and living up to his potential. That may be a bit strong, and no doubt about it Castellari has made better films, but the lack of hype surrounding this movie is nearly criminal and really helps this project.

Cold Eyes of Fear is such a fantastic sounding title, is it not? It’s the perfect kind of name one expects from a giallo, and this rings back to the discussion of genre that I mentioned before. Castellari’s film establishes itself as the perfect interpretation of the giallo genre during its earliest moments. Without having any previous knowledge of the film, I honestly believed I was in for your everyday run of the mill “black gloves”/”mysterious assassin” type of thriller. The opening for the film, which features a young woman being stalked by a hidden assailant, shows a love for experimentation that is very reminiscent of the better giallo titles you might find. A favorite shot of mine shows the young woman spinning around to react to a noise made by her hidden would-be-assassin, but when she spins the scene plays the same shot repeatedly from multiple angles and at different shutter speeds. The shot defies reality and seems to promise the viewer a sort of nightmare-logic that many films of the “giallo” genre were known for. The set that this sequence takes place upon is also vintage “giallo”, with doorways and walls that are painted in pastel pinks which clash with the lightning-blue carpets. However, all pre-conceived genre expectations are then shattered when we discover that this killing that we have seen on-screen was nothing more than a theatrical play that our lead characters are currently watching. Castellari plays with his audience and their expectations during these opening moments, but his toying with the audience is far from over.

The film is actually far more clever than your average run-of-the-mill piece of 70s exploitation. These games that it plays with the audience are very well handled, and surprisingly they do not come across as being cheap. The “giallo” illusion during the introduction is shattered, but then Castellari once again initiates his audience and their expectations by creating another perfect mechanism for a murder-mystery to take place. He introduces Gianni Garko’s character who quickly converses with his butler over the phone, but we watch as the butler is then killed by a shapeless assassin. All signs point to murder-mystery! That is until Castellari defies expectations yet again by actually showing us who the killer is, and it is at this point that the film seems to try and squeeze into the “home invasion” genre. Castellari continues to fool us though, because this isn’t simply a film about a mad-man holding innocent people hostage. This is also about, believe it or not, a heist. Layer after layer is built upon within the first thirty minutes and the further the movie diverges from the well-traveled paths the better it seems to get.

If you had any questions about whether or not to see this movie, the cast and crew should really sell it for any potential viewer. Although these may not be “big” names to some, for those who enjoy Euro-cult cinema the credits read like a “who’s who” of genre cinema. Enzo G. Castellari’s credits as a director are exemplary and he is certainly one of the most revered filmmakers within the realm of Euro-action. Although this finds him stretching out into seemingly uncomfortable territory, he shows that he knows a great deal about many facets of genre cinema. The score for the film is a postmodernist piece of semi-industrial electornica that seems far ahead of its time, and the musician behind it is none other than Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West). Then we have the cast, which features Sartana himself Gianni Garko, Edward Wolff (remember the rancher who was gunned down at the beginning of Once Upon a Time in the West? “Maurrrreeeeen!“) and the incomparable Fernando Rey. I honestly had no idea that so many talented people were involved in this project until the opening credits started to roll. When I saw these names all listed next to one another, I knew that no matter what direction the film went in I would be able to trust those in charge.

The Conclusion
I don’t want to fill the reader up with too many false hopes, but I must confess that I am genuine in my enjoyment of the film. It exceeded all of my hopes for the film and delivered something very engaging and original. It is a title that takes all of the things I love about Euro-cult cinema and takes it in a direction I never expected it to. Definitely check this one out if the opportunity comes your way. I give it a solid four out of five.

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