A slow burn potboiler that has its moments of tense confrontations but only really shines during its final third act, 'Cold Eyes of Fear' is a serviceable home-invasion crime thriller with a few sluggish moments that sadly bring the narrative to a crawl. Much of this comes from an intentional effort to drag the audience along a needlessly complex plot meant to generate mystery and suspense, yet only accomplishes in frustrating viewers. At the start, withholding certain information so as not to give everything away is essential and understandable, but keep us in the dark too long and we start scrambling for the lights — or in this case, reaching for the remote to fast-forward to the more interesting tidbits.
Sadly, once it's clear why a pair of bickering burglars break into the house of an affluent magistrate, maintaining the secret for as long as the story does becomes somewhat of a head-scratcher in itself. In fact, the younger, more excitable thief (Julián Mateos) - the one easily agitated and nervous with a twitchy trigger-finger that happens to be the only person with a gun, is also dumbfounded and irritated by his partner's true intent. The older, calmer and more calculating criminal (Frank Wolff) has a very specific goal in mind, and money is only a small fraction of his master plan. One area where the narrative's slow boil actually works is in seeing this man's slow decent into psychosis and losing control of the situation.
The filmmakers, of course, treat the thieves' reasons for trespassing into the mansion as some kind of earth-shattering revelation. And while they are welcomed to do so for the sake of entertainment, the men's real motives are less than satisfactory — information that if disclosed early on wouldn't ruin the rest of the film either way. To make things a bit more exciting, the script, which was written by Leo Anchóriz, Tito Carpi and Enzo G. Castellari, adds two hostages into the mix: the magistrate's nephew Peter (Gianni Garko) and his date Anna (Giovanna Ralli). The two definitely amplify the situation as the differing personalities of all four people clash in some fairly tense ways. The stunningly gorgeous Anna, in particular, is a call-girl with a fiery temper, unafraid of directly defying her abductors and sometimes making them feel inferior.
The crime thriller with excellent splashes of the Italian giallo is directed by Enzo G. Castellari, a legendary and admired filmmaker among exploitation aficionados. Contemporary mainstream moviegoers will probably recognize the name as the director of the original 1978 'The Inglorious Bastards,' which inspired Tarantino's 2009 award-winning war movie. Castellari is also known as the notorious director of 'The Last Shark' (aka, 'Great White'), the infamous low-budget mockbuster of Spielberg's 'Jaws' successfully sued from theaters. For cult enthusiasts, the filmmaker is best remembered and revered for his great Italian westerns, such as 'One Dollar Too Many,' 'Any Gun Can Play' and the excellent 'Keoma.'
In 'Cold Eyes of Fear,' Castellari brings his unique and energetic style to a plot that very much needs it. Quick, sharp edits add flare and character, making certain action sequences tenser than they really are, and several fast-zoom close-ups to the eyes of actors build intensity, as if the information they learn were really shocking. In the second half of the film is where Castellari gets most creative, trying reflect the mental instability of one of the thieves — imaginative, outlandish delusions of a person's sense of reality slowly fading away. In spite all this, however, the story has several slow spots that weigh down the runtime, making audiences wait until the third act when things really get exciting.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'Cold Eyes of Fear' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Redemption" label. Housed inside a normal blue keepcase, the Region Free, BD25 disc goes straight to a static main menu with music.
Keeping to their standard practice of releasing obscure films with minimal restoration efforts, Kino brings Castellari's crime thriller to Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that will satisfy and disappoint in equal measure. Thankfully, the video has far more positives to enjoy than negatives, largely due to the excellent condition of the source. Although white specks and dirt are present throughout, their frequency is not only sporadic but also very nominal and hardly distracting. Much of the picture has that unattractive yellowish tint often seen in aging 35mm negatives, but it's tolerable. Contrast is slightly affected by this, yet it's well-balanced and stable from beginning to end. Black levels are quite deep and rich with strong shadow delineation, which is crucial during the movie's final moments. Colors are also cleanly-rendered with primaries benefiting the most from the jump to high-definition. Fine object and textural details are nicely defined with admirable clarity of background info and highly revealing close-ups.
Much like the video, the audio has received minimal attention and unfortunately, it shows. Presented in uncompressed PCM mono, the English dub track wavers significantly in volume, sometimes sounding screeching loud and other times so low I had to keep the remote at the ready. Having to do this was quite frustrating since it was apparent I would spend much of the time adjusting the volume almost immediately. Dialogue reproduction suffers most as conversations are frequently difficult to hear although well-maintained in the center of the screen. The mid-range fluctuates as well, mostly exhibiting good clarity, but sometimes clipping in the upper ranges while at other times coming off flat and uniform. The only thing positive in the entire lossless mix is a surprisingly robust and weighty low-end, providing Ennio Morricone's jazz score with much needed depth. Aside from that, the track is disappointing.
From Italian filmmaker Enzo G. Castellari, 'Cold Eyes of Fear' is a serviceable home-invasion crime thriller with plenty of style and energy but not much in the way of an engaging story. Other than for Castellari's terrific directing, watch the movie for the incredibly beautiful Giovanna Ralli. The Blu-ray arrives with a great picture quality, but a rather disappointing audio presentation and lacking any notable supplement. In the end, the bare-bones release is for devoted Castellari fans.