During my awkward years spent as a pretentious latter-stage teenager who spent way too much time watching weird, foreign-made films, I went through the various phases of being, looking, or at least pretending to be “cool” in some fashion. This, naturally – and in hindsight, regrettably – included the act of smoking. When one of my eighth-grade teachers saw me dangling the dreaded tobacco stick from my bottom lip, she politely scolded me, but then quickly reflected the wise words a long-gone cousin of mine (who died before I was born) imparted unto her: “Pick your poison and stick with it”. While I have since quit the previously referenced vice, I have never been able to eliminate that other iniquity: the watching of weird, foreign-made films.
In fact, one of my fond memories as a late-teen was the discovery of several films by Italian director Fernando Di Leo. He started out his career writing screenplays for spaghetti westerns before ultimately picking his own personal poison to stick with – making violent crime dramas, a subgenre known in Italy (and to fans) as “poliziotteschi“. Sadly, his movies eluded me for the longest time, save for fuzzy second-generation bootlegs available from mail-order catalogs and the occasional dubious “retail” copy I found at Woolworth’s in their illustrious five-dollar bin (where I also introduced to the works of the late Paul Naschy, but that’s another story).
Then, several years ago, Raro Video unleashed an entire set of Fernando Di Leo movies on DVD and, incredibly enough, Blu-ray. Recently, the company issued a follow-up set for completionists (or cinemasochists, perhaps), aptly titled Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection, Vol. 2. And, while this three-disc set presents some of the mafia maestro’s lesser-known work (if such a thing is possible) – and lacks the guilty pleasure goodness his epic Mister Scarface inherently imbibes (don’t worry, it’s available in Volume 1), this set still has a punch of its own to deliver. Or perhaps a poison to instil, if you’d rather.
Beginning with 1974’s Shoot First, Die Later (I mentioned Di Leo previously penned spaghetti westerns, right?), stars Frenchman Luc Merenda as a crooked detective who finds himself finally stewing in the hot water he so deservedly needs to simmer in for having cooperated with the bad guys when his syndicate ties begin to betray him. Monsieur Merenda returns for the set’s second offering, the 1975 vigilante piece, The Kidnap Syndicate – this time as a nice guy – but poor – mechanic who starts down the path of darkness when a local gang who make a living out of kidnapping and killing abducts his kid brother and his friend, who hails from a rich family (and who the scum were after in the first place, of course). James Mason – yes, that James Mason – delivers an only-slightly-embarrassed performance as the wealthy father of the other boy, whose stubbornness results in things spiraling out of control. It’s nowhere near as cool as his part in the 1971 Euro cult classic Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!, but it’ll do until that title finally gets a decent release.
Lastly in this threesome is the 1969 Di Leo offering – and you’re gonna love this title, kids – Naked Violence. Based on the novel I ragazzi del massacro by Giorgio Scerbanenco, this harrowing tale opens with the very attractive teacher of a night class for students with emotional and social issues being brutally raped and murdered at school. Suspecting the kids themselves are behind the diabolical act, the police are left more bewildered than ever when they discover all of the students sitting quietly in their own homes, seemingly unable – or at least afraid – to reveal what really happened that night. It’s not your average crime thriller here, and borders more on the waters of being a giallo to be honest, but it’s an interesting title at an oft-ignored filmmaker’s other works.
With A/V presentations as different as the films themselves, the Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection, Vol. 2 set delivers the goods admirably just the same. Each title is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with an option of English dubbed audio (with Mason’s original voice, yay!) or the Italian soundtrack with English subtitles. Special features are included with each film, and primarily consist of featurettes on the work in question, as well as Di Leo’s work in-general. A booklet on Di Leo is also included, and was available in the standalone release of Shoot First, Die Later.
The set is also available on Blu-ray, for those of you who are really proud of the poison you pick. Enjoy.