Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Human Cobras

Human Cobras
Original Title: L’uomo più velenoso del cobra
Directed by: Bitto Albertini
Italy / Spain, 1971
Thriller / Mystery, 95min
Distributed by: Mya Entertainment

Bitto Albertini [born Adalberto Albertini - directing here under his Albert J. Walkner pseudonym] is not a name that one finds in my quick list of genre theatre fix too often, I’ve never really been a fan of his work, and find his movies pretty boring. In my book there aren’t too many title’s that pop out and catch my attention at all, and the ones I have seen, didn’t really make an impression as I when researching him realized that I have and had seen several of his other works.

His sequel/cash in on Luigi Cozzi’s Star Crash 1978, the rather vague Giochi erotici nella 3a galassia (Erotic Games in the Third Galaxy – A.k.a. Star Crash 2) 1981 is a disappointment compared to the campy original, his Mondo movies made at the end of his career as a director Naked and Cruel 1984, and Naked and Cruel2 1985, are quite dull and made ten years to late, as many of the areas had already been covered in previous Mondo entries bring nothing new with them.

I feel that it’s fair to say that Albertini’s claim to fame is for snatching up the success of Just Jaekin’s Emmanuelle 1974, and putting that unique Italian spin on it and making a star out of Laura Gemser, with the film Black Emanuelle 1975. Hence giving Joe D’Amato a star and source to exploit and return to over and over again for the next decade.

But that’s not where we are going to go today, as the movie that actually made me go Hmmm… what else has this guy made? is as far away from the odder genres as one can go. The movie Human Cobras is, even though in some aspects is kind of tricky to pigeonhole, only a good old action-mystery plot movie. It would be easy to claim that it’s a rather tepid Giallo, which many other reviewers have, but that would be unfair, as it really isn’t a Giallo at all. It is simply a mystery thriller that uses some vague Gialli traits along the way.

Any non-domestic movie that starts with shots of my hometown Stockholm, is going to get my attention at least for a few minutes, and Human Cobras starts with a great montage of leading man Tony Garden [George Ardisson] jumping into an old Volvo 242 and zooming around the city’s views only to skid to a halt and fight a masked man who stops him in the middle of nowhere – or Riddarholmen if you know your Stockholm geography. This sets up Tony as a man on the run, and his girlfriend getting worked up, asking him; “Do you think it was them?” brings us to the understanding that something has gone down previously which is forcing him to stay in hiding. A knock on the door delivers both a short sequence of suspense and the enticing incident – Tony’s brother Johnny has been murdered and he tells his girlfriend that he has to go back… These first five minutes are suggestive, and work like a charm to lure the audience in. It continues in the same vibe as Tony dreams about the past during his flight back to New York. We learn from his dream, that there’s a woman somewhere along the line that he still loves – no it’s not the one he just left behind, but another woman he’s left previously – and that he was in some sort of trouble that lead to a contract being put out on him. Luckily for Tony the guy with the contract can’t kill Tony when he holds him in his sights and tells Tony to get the heck out of the country, get out or I’ll have to kill you. So with the plot firmly established, Tony the gangster who once took to hiding abroad has returned to the place he once was banished from to avenge his brother’s death, the movie gets cracking.

Tony smokes, shoves, shuffles and punches his way through a series of thugs and gangsters in his quest to find his brother Johnny’s killer. He also meets up with Johnny’s girlfriend Leslie [Erika Blanc –from Mario Bava’s Kill Baby Kill 1966, Emilio Miraglia's The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave 1971 and Jean Brismeé's The Devil’s Nightmare 1971] who turns out to be the woman from Tony’s airborne dream. She also tells Tony what happened on the evening that Johnny got killed, giving Ardisson a chance to play the role of Johnny too. Eventually Tony comes face to face with Archie, who once held the contract on his life, and starts understanding that the murder of Johnny may not have been an action towards Tony, but something much more sinister…

What was Johnny actually up to? The leads take Tony on yet another flight, this time to Kenya, where Johnny’s business partner George MacGreeves [Alberto de MendozaLucio Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, and Case of the Scorpions Tail - all 1971 - what a great year for Gialli!] obviously becomes Tony’s prime suspect. In Nairobi, he encounters Clara [Janine ReynaudJess Franco’s Succubus 1968, Sadist Erotica 1969 and Kiss Me, Monster 1969, not to forget… Sergio Martino’s Case of the Scorpions Tail 1971] Johnny’s girl away from home, and also starts to become more and more paranoid that the tail that followed him from Stockholm to New York also is on his heels in Africa. But being as close as he is to his main suspect, George, that’s the lead that Tony must follow up to the very end where a series of ominous plot twists actually make it a time worthy investment.

It’s also in this later half where the Gialli traits are introduced as there is a suspicious person [Fernando Hilbeck – who also played Guthrie the tramp zombie in Jorge Grau’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie 1974, and Pedro Almovodar’s Pepi, Luci, Bom 1980] constantly following the footsteps of Tony. Who is this guy? Is it one of he hit men still out to nail Tony and collect the contract payment? Is it Johnny’s killer? Just who is he – and what does he want? And to add to the mystery, he also makes some Gialli like phone calls where he breaths heavily down the receiver and kills his victims with a straight razor. Then there’s the grand finale, an ending that definitely makes one think of many great Gialli endings, but as mentioned, these are only traits used and it doesn’t make the movie a Giallo. Albertini also sneaks in some goth-spook moves too during the latter half as Leslie thinks she’s seeing Johnny walking the grounds outside the African mansion, but nobody ever called this movie a ghost story did they.

I found myself thinking of Mike Hodges’ Get Carter 1971 on many occasions, and that’s not too strange either, as the initial premise; The gangster brother going back to “the forbidden zone” to investigate and avenge the murder of his brother is the exact plot of Get Carter.

After my down putting of Albertini in the opening of this bit, I feel that I may have to go back on my word there, as I actually enjoyed Human Cobras. Sure it has it’s flaws, and there are some issues with the movie that take some of the impact away, but putting it in context of the genre movies of the time, it’s a watchable movie and grows the longer you stay with it. Now this may be thanks to the script by Eduardo Manzanos Borchero and Ernesto Gastaldi, who together and each separately wrote scripts for some of the best genre pieces to come out of Italy and Spain during the seventies and eighties. Producer Luciano Martino also receives writing credit on the movie, but I still feel that it’s the teamwork of Gastaldi and Borchero that make this one stand out. Obviously it’s nowhere near their Gialli masterpieces like Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, or Case of the Scorpions Tail, but I have already pointed out that the movie isn’t a Giallo, but a murder mystery flick.

Also a movie with a Stelivo Cipriani score to its name will add an extra attraction to it for my liking. I’m a huge fan of Cipriani’s work and frequently play his music as I work, write or simply feel like winding down. Cipriani’s pieces heard in Human Cobras is somewhat of a mixed bag, some music may have been, and probably was, written for the movie, but many others are painfully familiar, there’s a track that has the exact same bass line as Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper which wasn’t to be released for another five years to come, and I’m certain there’s a track from Riccardo Freda’s The Iguana With a Tongue of Fire 1971 in there too. But most surprisingly is that there’s two tracks off Cipriani’s soundtrack to Piero Schivazappa’s Femina RidensSophisticated Shake and Femina Ridens (Versione Cantata) from the movie. Which by the way also features the magnificent Edda Dell’Orso’s voice talents too. Which innovatively enough is played on the radio as Tony takes a postcoital shower and Clara meets her death at the hands of the killer.

I’m glad that I gave the movie a shot, especially with my aversion towards Albertini in mind, because while I thought it would be a great movie to nod in and out of n the couch, it caught me off guard me by being an entertaining little piece, that engaged me, lured me in and had me thinking in the wrong lines on a few occasions. Something that doesn’t happen all to often, but gives a kick when it does.

On the down side, I can’t really understand why the team at Mya Entertainment gave it such a shoddy release? With the excellent NoShame and some of the Mya Releases in mind, this one is in real poor shape. The rather tacky print which unfortunately after the almost aspect ratio credit sequence moves in to a hideous full frame version making some scenes look ludicrous really hurts the movie. I hope that this isn’t a standard that Mya aim to continue with, as it gives me a feeling that they might be focusing more on releasing semi rare titles instead of releasing state of the art releases that will, and are becoming collectors items.

1.33:1 Full frame

Dolby Digital Mono, Italian Dialogue with optional English subtitles

This is where the lack of extras becomes painfully apparent. There’s not even a trailer for the film.


Nigel M said...

great write up- and this is a film I eventually mean to get round to as I work through gialli, though I have so many already in my "to view" and review pile that it may be a while before I get to this one.

On the subject of Stelvio Cipriani and the re using of soundtracks I recently watched devil has 7 faces and there was something that was bugging me about it- the familiarity of it. I dropped kimberly at cinebeats a line because I felt I recognised a track or 2. She suggested that if it wasn't a reuse of tracks it may have been a different take on already written material.

I dont mind at all either was as Cipriani is always worth a listen as is the always delightful Edda Dell'Orso.

Anyway as always some great and insightful writing and I love the amount of research you put into your eurocult reviews.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Thanks Nigel!

CiNEZiLLA said...

Although the two tracks here aren't different takes. They are the same, which kind of confused me. That's probably why Albertini stuck that short bit with the radio in there. :)

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