Color, 1977, 95 mins. / Directed by Antonio Bido / Starring Corrado Pani, Paola Tedesco, Franco Citti / Cinematography by Mario Vulpiani / Music by Trans Europa Express / VCI (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)

The U.S. poster art duplicated on this DVD depicts a snarling punk whose sunglasses reflect a screaming woman's face, with the tagline, "When I go berserk... you're better off dead!" Well, despite the best efforts of the distributor, there's no hiding the fact that this isn't some cheapo knockoff of Billy Jack by way of Death Wish. It's actually the first giallo directed by Antonio Bido, who went on to The Bloodstained Shadow before turning his attention to Italian television. An efficient, slick, but ultimately unremarkable entry in the genre, this grisly mystery works mainly thanks to some memorable vicious moments and a great prog rock score by Trans Europa Express firmly in the Goblin tradition. (Bido's next film took this latter aspect even further, but that's another story.)

Driving at night with her director friend Carlo (Lucio Fulci regular Paolo Malco), lovely flamenco dancer Mara (Paola Tedesco) stops for aspirin at a pharmacy and speaks to the raspy-voiced killer who has just slashed the druggist's throat. Her boyfriend Lucas (Corrado Pani) investigates and crosses paths with Giovanni (Fernando Cerulli), a shifty loan shark who seems to be connected with the murder, and his girlfriend Esmerelda, who winds up with her face baked in an oven. As the nasty killings begin to pile up, Lucas sorts through an oddball assortment of clues involving a recently released criminal, Nazi atrocities, and felines, due to the killer's weird cat-like eyes.

Originally released as Il gatto dagli occhi di giada (The Cat with Jade Eyes) and released on UK video as The Cat's Victims, this thriller strives to imitate Deep Red but often gets bogged down in aimless plotting and mindless chitchat. The mobile camerawork slavishly imitates the creepy tracking shots of Argento but conjures up only a small fraction of the style, while the actors seem to be sleepwalking through their roles without much genuine panic or humor on display. However, Bido certainly knows how to time a scare and pulls off a number of good jolts, some false and other definitely earned. Even when the story veers into sheer silliness at the end (you couldn't count the coincidences on one hand), the possibility of another stylish murder turning up is enough to keep the viewer interested. While the aforementioned oven murder is a half baked (oops) copy of the bathtub scene from Deep Red, Bido does come up with one brilliant flourish during a bathtub strangulation set to blaring opera music. Executed with real bravado, it's indisputably the film's highlight and earns it a place in the giallo pantheon.

After a number of wonderfully restored Italian horror and mystery titles on DVD, VCI's presentation of this second tier effort is bound to be a disappointment. Culled from a U.S. print bearing the hokey alternate title and featuring abrupt, doctored opening and closing titles, this otherwise appears to be complete but suffers from a muddy, grainy transfer. While Bido isn't the most visually stylish director around by any means, the film at least looked better than this on Redemption's tape. Contrary to the packaging, the letterboxed presentation is not 16:9 enhanced. The print itself is in passable condition compared to the old unwatchable U.S. tape, but there are enough scratches and smatterings of dirt to be a distraction. Extras include two marvelous radio spots (30 and 60 seconds) lifted from vinyl, accompanied by ad slicks, as well as trailers for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Blood and Black Lace, and The Whip and the Body. Completists will want to pick this one up anyway, but be aware of its major shortcomings.

Mondo Digital ReviewsMondo Digital LinksFrequently Asked Questions