Movies Till Dawn: My Fist/Your Face 2

*indicates that this title is also available to view, rent, or buy on various digital streaming sources.

The Cynic, the Rat, and the Fist” (1977, Severin Films*) The cynic is the magnificently mustachioed Maurizio Merli, who reprises his role as the no-nonsense Inspector Merli from “The Tough Ones,” albeit now retired from the police force (but still toting a gun). The Rat is most likely Tomas Milian’s hot-headed gangster, newly sprung from prison and carrying a king-sized grudge against Merli, which leaves John Saxon, sporting an equally impressive cookie duster as a coolly sadistic American crime boss, as the Fist. The trio do their best to tear each other and late ’70s Rome apart in this Italian crime pic from the prolific Umberto Lenzi, who helmed “Tough Ones” along with countless other films in nearly every conceivable genre. Fans will undoubtedly appreciate seeing these three icons in action guided by Lenzi’s steady hand; first-timers will be impressed by the frenetic pace, though the casual abuse of female characters is off-putting. Severin’s restored Blu-ray – part of its eight-disc “Violent Streets” set of Lenzi/Milian titles – has English and Italian audio options, and interviews with Lenzi, the late Saxon, and co-writer Dardano Sachetti, who hold court on Merli and Milian’s forceful personalities (and apparent dislike of each other), the state of crime films and Italian movie production in the late 1970s, and producing high-energy action on a low budget. The original trailer and a CD of Franco Micalizzi’s propulsive score are also included.

Matalo!” (1970, Arrow Video*) Cooling their heels after a stagecoach robbery, a trio of scuzzy bandits and their old lady (Claudia Gravy), all with undeniable creepy-crawl vibes, are interrupted by the arrival of a preacher’s son (Lou Castel) whose non-violence creed is countered by his lethal skill with boomerangs (!). Psychedelic Western from Italy and Spain lifts the plot from another European gunfest (“Kill the Wickeds”) and replaces the traditional horse-and-pistol action in favor of a heady mix of counterculture bad vibes, Gothic horror trappings, and arthouse/experimental camerawork, all set to Mario Miglardi’s extraordinary electric freakout score. Highly advisable for those who count “El Topo” as their favorite Western; Arrow’s Blu-ray – part of their four-disc “Blood Money” set – includes commentary by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, and appreciations of director Cesare Canevari and Miglardi’s unique efforts.

The New Godfathers” (1979, Kino Lorber/Raro Video) Neapolitan customs agent Gianni Garko enlists the help of a local smuggling boss (singer Mario Merola) to intercept a shipment of heroin headed from Turkey and Iran (represented by grainy news footage of their respective upheavals), but faces ruthless opposition from the New York mob. A supplemental feature on Kino/Raro’s Blu-ray by Eurocrime expert Mike Malloy notes how this late-inning Italian genre pic from director Alfonso Brescia overcomes its low budget restraints through clever re-use of action footage from “The Sicilian Connection,” though the film’s secondary focus on the positive financial impact of the smuggling trade on the stalled Naples economy is also an intriguing side track. The disc includes both the Italian and (slightly shorter) U.S. versions of the film.

Violent Streets” (1977, Film Movement) Former yakuza turned nightclub owner Noburo Ando is drawn back into his old life when the kidnapping of a pop star by former gang members – part of a complicated turf war involving various outfits jockeying for top seed – goes awry. Gritty and stylized Japanese gangster action from period action specialist Hideo Gosha (“Samurai Wolf”) overcomes its more familiar plot beats with the presence of Ando, a real-life former yakuza who seems to carry the full weight of the film’s emotions despite his icy-cool veneer. Eccentric flourishes, including the camp/lounge/louche entertainment at Ando’s club, and characters (a hired killer in drag) are also key selling points; Film Movement’s uncut Blu-ray -not to be confused with the Severin box set – includes an interview with Gosha’s daughter, who delivers an unfiltered account of her father’s life, and an overview of the film’s leads by Patrick Macias, as well as trailers for “Violent Streets” and the “Samurai Wolf” titles.

Blood and Diamonds” (1977, 88 Films) No sooner has thief Claudio Cassinelli been released from prison than his girlfriend (Olga Karlatos, “Zombie”) is murdered by unknown assailants; Cassinelli suspects his old boss, mobster Martin Balsam, is the guilty party and sets in motion a plan for revenge. Italian crime thriller from Fernando Di Leo isn’t quite up to par with the amount of violence in his more aggressive efforts in this genre (see “Caliber 9”) but the slower pace allows for greater emphasis on story, something that was often backburnered in favor of mayhem in these titles. A strong supporting cast led by Balsam that includes Barbara Bouchet as Cassinelli’s old flame and a terrific score by Luis Bacalov are also plusses; 88 Films’ restored Special Edition Blu-ray has English and Italian audio options, commentary by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, a feature-length documentary on Di Leo and a second shorter piece on the filmmaker with actor Luc Merenda. Liner notes with essays on the film as well as the original Italian trailer and opening/closing titles fill out 88’s well-appointed disc.

Battle Kaiju Series #1: Ultraman vs. Red King” (Mill Creek Entertainment, 1966-2019*) Sixteen-episode compilation of episodes from iterations of Tsuburaya Productions’ long-running science fiction series “Ultraman,” all featuring the titular hero(es) fighting the long-necked, skull-faced monster Red King. The creature’s malevolent behavior and tolerance for a good beating by Ultra heroes are the apparent reason for its longevity within the series: both qualities are on display in its debut appearance on “The Lawless Monster Zone” (called “The Monster Anarchy Zone” on Mill Creek’s disc) from the ’66 “Ultraman,” which shows Red King casually mutilating another creature before Ultraman steps in and hobbles the monster with a flurry of over-the-shoulder flips (the episode also serves as a introduction to the franchise’s violence, which occasionally reaches jaw-dropping levels for a children’s show). The other 15 episodes roughly follow this format, with Red King bullying other monsters (included the beloved creepy-impish Pigmon) in order to earn its just desserts from Ultramen Max, Ginga, Mebius and others. There are variations along the way – Red King has hydrogen bomb stuck in its neck in the “Ultraman” episode “Mystery Comet Tsuifon,” which require a novel solution (Ultraman cuts off its head and carries off to the safety of deep space), and transforms into a hugely swollen (read: strong) powerful version for the curious “Ultraman X” series – but for the most part, Red King fulfills the monsters’ role in the “Ultra” series by dutifully serving as a fist magnet. Mill Creek’s Blu-ray includes cover art by Marvel Comics artist E.J. Sui, a helpful booklet detailing the episodes, and best of all, the 1966 pilot “The Birth of Ultraman,” which is essentially footage from the anarchic live stage show that introduced the hero and several monsters to a raucous crowd of Japanese pre-teens. (Streaming note: many of these episodes are available to stream as part of the respective series).

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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