Italian Film Review – Nigel’s Top 10 (!) Eurocrime choices…

It came as no surprise that, when we asked Nigel Maskell of the rather brilliant Italian Film Review (seriously, bookmark it right now) for a Top 5 Eurocrime list, he came back at us with a Top 10 – this is the man, after all, responsible for over 600 reviews (and counting!) of a very particular strain of cinema. Narrowing down such a ridiculous volume of film appreciation into a famous 5 was never going to happen, frankly, and so, with some degree of pride, we’ve got Nigel’s Top 5 10 for you to rush out and find…

10.  Sicilian Connection - 1972 / Director: Ferdinando Baldi

This has an almost documentary feel and should appeal to those who have wondered how skag is made. It features Luciano Rossi in an almost identical chemist role to the one he played in Contraband. Those who like jetsetting type movies, Eurospy fans for example, will no doubt like this as the drugs move from Turkey to New York via Palermo so there is a wide variety of location work.

9.  Guns of the Big Shots -1974 / Director: Andrea Bianchi

Over the years Andrea Bianchi directed some sleazy stuff, Malabimba for example which is a Sort of a version of The Exorcist and features a bloke being blowjobbed to death by possessed jailbait. Such sleaze comes as no surprise to those who are at least on nodding terms with the work of the director of Strip Nude For Your Killer. Bianchi also did Eurocrime and, surprise surprise, also made a pretty sleazy attempt at the genre too.
In truth the film is a Western, it’s the ultimate hat movie. Cars replace horses and we get one of Sergio Leone’s finest re-badged as a crime film. Barbara Bouchet is used as a punchbag and also sucks off a banana during lunch. The corpse of a child is used to smuggle drugs, and so on and so on. Real sleaze this.
Henry Silva seems to have one expression fits all approach to conveying emotion. But that is not a bad thing here. It never is with Henry, he does after all have a face for this kind of stuff.
Guns of the Big Shots, truth to tell, is not the best textbook example of the genre or of what it has to offer. Many of the common themes of Eurocrime are not present. It is, however, pretty twisted stuff at times, and often jaw droppingly so. It also holds up extremely well to repeat viewing.

8.  Day of the Owl - 1968 / Director: Damiano Damiani

Damiano Damiani, not content with making cops and robber films, focused heavily on the corrupting influence the mob has on society. On more than one occasion he concentrated on the distortion of high power and politics but he also on a number of occasions tackled the subject of the mafia and how it can harm the domestic sphere, that is family and community life. He did this really well with Most Beautiful Wife, but, for my money, he did it even better with Day of the Owl. As with Most Beautiful Wife, a film based on a true story, the focus is on a woman who discovers an inner strengh and faces up to the mob and refused to cower along with a peasantry who meekly accept the control of the don. The film is overty political, and like so many in the genre there is a leftist subtext. From Damiani, like DiLeo, this should not come as a surprise. Except Damiani is possibly even more overty political in his story telling. This is not a bad thing in this case, and Damiani is not really preachy, he just illustrates the point he wishes to make with great story telling.

7 . Milano Calibro 9 – 1972 / Director: Fernando DiLeo

No Eurocrime list could be complete without a DiLeo, and this is probably his best. If the film consisted of the first ten minutes alone then it would still be worth a look. Possibly the best opening of any European crime film. It also features a great Eurocult cast. It is part of a loose trilogy and all three films are great in their own way, but this one probably just about has an edge over the other two.

6. Contraband – 1980 / Director: Lucio Fulci

In 1959 Lucio Fulci, already a writer of comedies, directed his debut I ladri and it starred Toto, a big name back in the day. Thats story, sort of a comedy with neo-realist undertones, sort of put the idea out there of good criminals and bad criminals. Not necessarily a gang of Robin Hoods, but people forced by circumstance to steal to get by. Of course this apple cart gets overturned when a bad villain arrives on the scene. A greedy gangster, an outsider.
Anyhow, to cut a long story short, Lucio revisits this theme with Contraband, which, also features smugglers. As does I ladri. Luca, played by Fabio Testi, is a good smuggler, and while his motives may not be altruistic we do learn that the Napoli economy does depend on people like him. But a bad, selfish, villain shows up. He smuggles drugs, which are bad, as opposed to wholesome cigarettes. This is after all a time when everyone smoked and the health benefits were apparently widely known.
Contraband is extremely bloody, but that is to be expected from a man who came to be known as The Godfather of Gore. We also learn that you can evade capture by customs officials simply by zig zagging your boat.

5. Copkiller - 1983 / Director: Roberto Faenza

Harvey Keitel stars alongside Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols. That alone should be enough to recommend the film but its also a pretty intense thriller with elements of Serpico in it. Johnny is a really good actor and should have appeared in far more films.

4. Napoli serenata calibro 9 - 1978 / Director: Alfonso Brescia

This, it has to be said from the outset, is not a great movie. Hell, it isn’t even a good movie. But, as with titles such as Andrea Bianchi’s zombie shitfest Burial Ground, it has a real charm. An inept charm. The film features boats not unlike those in Contraband and also The New Godfathers, a film also directed by Brescia. The star of the movie is the John Goodman-like Mario Merola and it features a kid who is possibly inspired by the little boy in Violent Naples and Weapons of Death.
On first viewing Napoli serenata calibro 9, which wears it’s crapness like a badge of honour, comes across as dull and stupid. On subsequent viewings the so bad it’s great element becomes more evident and, as with Burial Ground, this can become a guilty pleasure.
It features a somersaulting acrobatic villain and an extended song and dance number about cake and skis. I shit you not.

3. Mean Frank And Crazy Tony - 1973 /  Director: Michele Lupo

This film is also known as Escape from Death Row which is strange as it is set in Europe and there is no death penalty or death row. Edwige Fenech has really high billing in this, which is also pretty odd as she is in the film for little more than a few seconds. The film is a Eurocrime road movie with a odd-couple buddy element and the real star of the show is Lee Van Cleef. He rocks, he always does!

2. Weapons of Death - 1977 / Director: Mario Caiano

Weapons of Death is sort of a sequel to Violent Naples. It refers back to that film a number of times including with the casting of the kid with a limp in a slightly comedic role as a cheeky little criminal and Leonard Mann takes on the Merli type role. Henry Silva, as always, is great in this sort of role with his mono-expression style being perfect for the cold villain.
Those who wish to see paedophiles castrated should look no further than Weapons of Death. The film features a nonse getting his knackers lopped off in prison.
The opening sequence is great and jazzy, and the ending is, it has to be said, Italian cinematic pathos of the highest order.

1. Fear Over the City - 1975 / Director: Henri Verneuil

A film that will appeal to giallo fans as much as Eurocrime fans. The stunt work in this is breathtaking and almost suicidal. The film features an extended rooftop chase that is every bit as manic as the car chase in The Burglars . A real must-see.

You can find out more about Nigel’s Top 10, and other fantastic Italian genre curios, by doing yourself a favour and going here