Wednesday, December 19, 2012
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Cold Eyes of Fear
The phrase “London-set giallo” conjures some classics of the genre. Sergio Martino’s ‘All the Colours of the Dark’, Lucio Fulci’s ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’ and Massimo Dallamano’s ‘What Have You Done to Solange?’ spring immediately to mind, not to mention the latter half of Luciano Ercoli’s ‘Death Walks in High Heels’.
Enzo G. Castellari’s ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ is set in London. And it’s kind of a giallo. That’s about all.
The opening credits sequence has a car driving through a foggy London during the evening. There is scant regard for geography, but I’m not holding that against the film. ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’ is a bona fide giallo classic and it has the Old Bailey across on the opposite side of the road to the Royal Albert Hall, so fuck the map.
We then immediately leap into obvious genre territory as a sexy blonde (Karin Schubert) is menaced by a man wielding a knife. Castellari spins the scene out for all its worth, and the sexualized threat of violence is about as politically incorrect as it gets. Cue the rug pull: this is just a performance piece in a sleazy club.
In the audience: Peter Flower (Gianni Garko), a solicitor with a taste for the lowbrow, and Anna (Giovanna Ralli), the original good-time girl had by all. They click, this mismatched pair, and Peter decides to “borrow” his uncle’s palatial house for the evening. The uncle (Fernando Rey) – a high court judge trying a big case, won’t be home till the early hours and a phone call is all it takes to persuade his butler Hawkins (Leonardo Scavino) to absent himself for the night. Only things don’t go according to plan and instead of getting his end away, Peter finds himself at the less than tender mercies of sexually ambiguous thug Quill (Julian Mateos). Then Arthur (Frank Wolff) joins the party and ulterior motives come to the surface.
‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ quickly segues from giallo to home invasion exploitationer, and gradually to political thriller. A third act debate on corruption in high places, the inviolate status of the upper classes and their manipulation of less privileged members of the social hierarchy takes things into interesting territory, albeit with a heavy reliance on cack-handed surrealism.
Castellari keeps things tense, directing with enough energy to distract from the script’s inherent staginess (with the exception of only a handful of exteriors, things delineate between the house and Peter’s uncle’s office). Exposition is trickled out sparingly and for much of the running time there’s a genuine mystery about Quill and Arthur’s objectives. The dynamics between hostages and villains shift in a variety of ways, with Anna proving the wild card. The Arthur/Peter antagonism is slow burn.
Where things fall down is in the filmmakers’ absolute rejection of continuity. ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ plays out over a single night; the exact timeframe is ambiguous but I reckoned it as roughly early evening till about midnight. Shots vary between twilight, full dark and broad daylight, with weather conditions alternating between a pea-souper fog and cloudless night sky. Lighting levels in the house vacillate from soft and diffuse to harshly lit. A scene where a blown fuse renders everything pitch black, characters stumbling around and disoriented, forgets that there’s a blazing log fire and moonlight streaming through the windows. Moreover, various arrivals at the house necessitate the ornate wrought-iron gates at the end of the driveway repeatedly opening and closing themselves during the course of the night.
Continuity flubs happen in even the best produced movies (‘Goodfellas’ has more than its fair share) and often slip by unnoticed. In ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’, errors dance a conga-line across the screen, announcing themselves shamelessly. Already flawed, the movie doesn’t have any favours done for it by the Redemption DVD print that I watched; it looks like someone recorded it off the TV on a camera phone, while the soundtrack crackles and hisses like an old gramophone record.
Still, clocking in at less than an hour and a half, it doesn’t overstay its welcome; Castellari achieves a real sense of the unexpected as the narrative twists and turns its way towards the denouement; and Rey and Wolff – who died in his early forties just a couple of years after making this film – provide a welcome degree of gravitas.
London-set: yes. Giallo: partially. Exploitation status: minor league. ’Nuff said.