Color, 1975, 82m.
Directed by Duke Mitchell
Starring Duke Mitchell, Vic Caesar, Lorenzo Dodo, Louis Zito, Cara Salerno
Grindhouse Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1975, 82m.
A mob movie gone completely, utterly, gloriously insane, Massacre Mafia Style (better known to VHS junkies via its Video Gems release as The Executioner) kicks off in an office building where our two main mafiosi, Mimi (director/star Mitchell) and Jolly (Caesar), wipe out what seems like an entire office building's worth of victims while performing a hit, allowing only a small kid on an elevator to leave unscathed. However, this title sequence sets up the violently hilarious overkill with which the entire film treats its subject, dabbling in "the Italian-American experience" while delivering pure exploitation sensation on a threadbare budget. See, Mimi wants a better life for his family and, after leaving his son back in the old country, finds his violent nature brought out by working for the mob with the blessing of his crime boss dad. Intent on seizing control of the Hollywood underworld from the wet-behind-the-ears new criminals, he and Jolly might have bitten off more than they can chew and have to shoot everything in sight to realize the American dream.
Thanks to its theatrical trailer (essentially a condensed version of the opening scene sans credits), Massacre Mafia Style continued to intrigue viewers into the DVD era despite the maddening inability to see it anywhere outside of a die-hard tape collector's library. Fortunately the rest of the film lives up to the promise of its opening with Mitchell delivering an impassioned, eccentric, unpredictable performance unlike anything else ever committed to film. This is definitely one man's vision up on screen, and considering Mitchell's background (as a nightclub regular and one-time comedy partner with Jerry Lewis imitator Sammy Petrillo, with whom he starred in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla), he was more than a little familiar with the real-life interaction of Hollywood glitter and the criminal element. You've certainly never seen another gangster movie like this.
The video history of Massacre Mafia Style has been confusing to say the least since the VHS rode off into the sunset. Grindhouse Releasing included the trailer on almost all of its releases going back to the mid-'90s, making it perhaps the longest gestating release in the history of not only that label but DVD in general. (However, that record might be beaten someday if The Farmer ever comes out.) In 2010, Mitchell's son Jeffrey briefly issued a privately-distributed, double-disc version (dubbed "The Family Edition") with a dispiriting transfer yanked from a VHS tape (complete with tracking issues) and three commentaries featuring Jeffrey Mitchell, his dad's writing friend Frankie Ray, and George Jacobs ("Frank Sinatra's assistant and valet," which gets pretty colorful as you might imagine). They don't really address the actual film directly very often, focusing more on Mitchell père's background and creative endeavors while Mitchell shares a lot of info about himself and his family. You also get the trailer, a couple of Duke Mitchell-voiced radio spots, and a two-minute peek at a Duke Mitchell concert film, "An Impressionistic Tribute to Jimmy Durante," which was vaulted for decades. You can also find a batch of hidden Easter eggs including Mitchell-performed songs and, of all things, a trailer for Brooklyn Gorilla. On to disc two, there's "Like Father, Like Son," a 63-minute video piece on Duke Mitchell and his son featuring Jeffrey, Frankie Ray and George Jacobs talking about the career of "the man who was Mimi" interspersed with home movie and nightclub footage. Also included are what appear to be outtake interviews with Ray and Jacobs, a still gallery of Mitchell's photos throughout his career, audio recordings from one of Mitchell's last live performances, the screenplay in different stages of evolution via DVD-Rom, and three '70s songs by the younger Mitchell ("Jacknife," "Whiskey," "In a Dream"), all packaged with an amusing reproduction of the director's "Italian cheat sheet" used during filming.
Fortunately you can ignore that release apart from the unrelated extras since all the important material is included on the essential 2015 edition from Grindhouse, a two-disc edition with Blu-ray and DVD options. As expected, the transfer is such a gargantuan improvement across the board over any version we've had before it looks like an entirely different film. Detail is pin sharp, the 1.85:1 framing looks accurate, and best of all, it's the 82-minute uncut, unrated version compared to the 79-minute VHS print. It just looks great and completely spotless from start to finish, easily up there with the best of Grindhouse's laudable releases to date. Interestingly, the version here opens with the Massacre Mafia Style title card (and a Grindhouse copyright notice) but closes with the film's original release title, Like Father, Like Son. Audio is presented in DTS-HD MA mono and Dolby Digital mono; oddly, they really don't sound alike at all with the latter having a much deeper, bass-heavy mix and the DTS boasting a crisper soundtrack with clearer dialogue. Try 'em both and decide which one you prefer.
As expected, Grindhouse also delivers on the extras front with a truckload of goodies expanded well beyond the list on the back of the package. The trailer appears here of course, and the "Like Father, Like Son" featurette is included here in a streamlined 43-minute edit as well. A 10-minute piece with friend Matt Cimber (a drive-in directing force of his own) covers his memories of Mitchell including the impact of a first viewing of The Godfather and the connection to Cimber's The Candy Tangerine Man. Then there's a huge roster of Mitchell home movies, 12 of 'em in total, with his vocal performances underscoring 52 minutes of surprisingly artsy, delirious footage loaded with double exposures and footage of the man himself both in his prime and in later years. An expanded slate of radio spots is included here under both titles, and a stills gallery section is divided up into production stills and materials, color stills, theatrical marketing artwork and ads, home video packaging, and a slew of photos of Mitchell throughout his career.
As usual for Grindhouse, there are a few Easter eggs tucked away here (some probably tucked away well out of view), but be sure to check out the Duke Mitchell filmography for a bonus trailer for Gone with the Pope, his other astounding crime film also under the Grindhouse banner. A Cara Salerno filmography has a bonus trailer for Space Thing, and tucked away at the end is a still gallery featuring some of her more, ahem, revealing photo shoots for men's magazines. You also get bonus Grindhouse trailers for Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Holocaust, The Beyond, Pieces, An American Hippie in Israel, Gone with the Pope (again), The Tough Ones, Poor White Trash 2, Cat in the Brain, and I Drink Your Blood, plus production credits and a DVD-Rom option to check out pdfs of two screen treatments, a pair of screenplays (with very different openings compared to the final product), and typed and handwritten notes for the film's narration.
But wait! Dig slightly further on the menu for the Blu-ray only and you'll find a few more very substantial extras not included on the DVD. Like what, you say? Well, for starters you get the entire Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla feature film in SD (along with a stills gallery and its theatrical trailer, which is tucked away on both discs). It looks very similar to the excellent transfer released on DVD earlier by Image Entertainment, which is a good thing. On top of that you get the complete 37-minute "An Impressionistic Tribute to Jimmy Durante," a pretty wild combination of performance footage of Mitchell in character as Durante doing his greatest hits, intercut with shots of him backstage talking about his personal connections to the performer. Finally the Blu-ray rounds out with six bonus minutes of Durante 16mm dailies with Mitchell in full Jimmy makeup spending the day at an amusement park. The set comes packaged with a hefty liner notes booklet containing an essay by David Szulkin and copious illustrations. Definitely a candidate for one of the year's best releases.