Kidnap Syndicate / La città sconvolta: caccia spietata ai rapitori (1975)

3.0 out of 5

Director Fernando Di Leo takes a surprising turn for the melodramatic in Kidnap Syndicate without skimping on the action that built his reputation. Luc Merenda plays Colella, a blue-collar widower raising his son Fabrizio on coffee and love. When kidnappers nab Fabrizio’s rich school chum Antonio, he tries to fight them off but gets abducted as well.

Because we don’t get acquainted with the kidnappers until 38 minutes into the film, the emotional crux is how rich dad and poor dad each handles the crisis. Antonio’s mega-developer father, a typecast role for James Mason, clearly relishes the art of the deal in securing the boys’ release. Although interest bogs down during the lengthy haggling over their freedom, we anticipate that Colella—seething at the low value placed on Fabrizio—will spring into action.

Sure enough, when the kidnappers turn up the heat, Colella goes full-on sadistic Billy Jack and all hell breaks loose. Car chases end as smash-up derbies to the funky fluttering of Luis Bacalov’s flute. But with most of the thrills pushed to the third act, action seekers may wonder if it was worth the wait.

His Name Was King / Lo chiamavano King (1971)

3.0 out of 5

Giancarlo Romitelli's revenge romp pairs and ultimately pits Richard Harrison and Klaus Kinski together as former friends turned sworn enemies.

With Luis Bacalov's phenomenal title theme, subsequently used in Tarantino's Django Unchained, to brilliantly compliment the plentiful camera sweeps across a surprisingly lush green vista, Harrison gallops back to town for the inevitable, well executed, final gun down.

At under 80 minutes, Romitelli barely has time to set up Kinski's despicable double cross, let alone add much in the way of meat to the bone and things move at such a clip that some may find the narrative somewhat underfed. Nonetheless, His Name Was King remains an enjoyably stylistic, if ever so slightly throwaway, late addition in the spaghetti cycle.

Last Year at Marienbad / L'année dernière à Marienbad (1961)

4.5 out of 5

If not for the unusual and oneiric experience the film provides, Last Year at Marienbad could’ve been an exhaustingly dull ordeal, but as it stands the overall product is a peerless work of art that manages to be interesting from seemingly nothing. The reality in the movie feels machine operated, where time starts and stops and automaton-like characters move in and out of spatial existence in an ethereal hotel setting.

A single conversational story runs through the myriad of images and cyclical themes that purposefully reaches no resolve between a nameless man, played by Giorgio Albertazzi, and woman, played by Delphine Seyrig of Daughters of Darkness, who have contradicting memories about intimately getting to know one another a year prior at the European hotel resort in question. Traditional narrative and objective reality are challenged, as it sometimes becomes uncertain as to whether events are happening in the present, the past, or even happening at all. Viewers are welcome to make of it what they will.

Terror Express / La ragazza del vagone letto (1979)

3.0 out of 5

If Aldo Lado's Night Train Murders ever required a companion piece for a double bill, then surely Fernando Baldi's Terror Express must be in with a good shout. With a near identical premise of three thugs terrorising passengers on a train, Baldi jettisons some of the more gruesome elements of Lado's film, in favour of more sleaze, nudity and general debauchery. And with the script being written by no less than George Eastman himself,it's a safe bet that this was, perhaps, originally intended for Eastman's regular directorial cohort, Joe D'Amato and not the more respectable Baldi.

With a great cast, Silvia Dionisio's prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold spends most of her screen time screwing anyone in trousers who pops by her carriage. A frequently topless Zora Kerova gets her customary comeuppance in a dingy train toilet, with only Venantino Venantini as Korova's henpecked husband bringing an air of respectability to proceedings in a pretty straight role. There's not much point trying to intellectualise this film. It's job is to titillate, and it does that extremely well.

Terror Express clearly knows the audience it's aiming for. This is pure exploitation, but one that's never short on entertainment. A claustrophobic setting, relatively decent performances from the cast, and enough sleaze and sex to disgrace even Jess Franco's oeuvre, Terror Express is a pretty decent slice of Friday night exploitation.

Maurizio Merli header graphic courtesy of Paddy O'Neill of Foxyfide Graphics