A group of four despicable men rob the payroll officer of a large pharmaceutical company and then kill him. With a satchel full of money in hand, they flee the scene. When their driver his shot by a security guard during their getaway however, they dump the body and keep going. Eventually, they get cornered by the police in a parking garage, and they take two women hostage to get the police to leave. Unfortunately for one of the women, the police weren’t eager to leave the scene, so one of the men, known as Blade, sticks a knife in her throat and kills her. The police, then realizing they’re serious about killing the hostages, finally back off and the men and their hostage are able to escape.
With the police after them, they know they have to dump their vehicle and secure another, so when they pull up behind a man and his sick son at a stoplight, they carjack him, taking him and his son hostage as well, and make him drive them a very long way away, where they have another getaway car waiting for them. The man’s son is sick and is sleeping, and he tells them that the boy needs surgery, and he’s been given tranquilizers to keep him asleep until the surgery. The men don’t care. All they care about is getting away. What follows is a very long trip with the police searching for them at every turn, and a horrible ordeal for their hostages.
This film almost never saw the light of day. It had almost finished shooting when the main financial backer of the film died unexpectedly, and then, without finishing funds, the film was stored away until years later, Mario Bava’s son Lamberto, along with Alfredo Leone, obtained the lost footage and finally gave the film the release it deserved.
Now typically, I don’t enjoy films like this much. For me to enjoy them, they have to be well done, have interesting characters and the story has to be something that sort of draws you in. In this case, all three criteria are met.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this film is that they REALLY want you to hate the criminals, and in very short order, you do. It becomes obviously very quickly that these guys are just ruthless, criminal scum who don’t care who they have to kill or abuse to get away with their money. It starts out with four men in the gang, but one is killed during the escape, so we don’t really get to know him. The three remaining are Dottore (Maurice Poli), Blade (Don Backy) and 32 (George Eastman). Dottore is the sane one of the group. He’s the thinker and far more rational than the other two. He almost seems like he could have been a professional man if he wasn’t a ruthless criminal. Blade is…well, he’s insane. He loves using his knife to slice things, be it the backs of car seats, human flesh or whatever. He’s total scum, which makes him a good match for his best friend, 32. 32 is a really big guy. He’s very tall and muscular. He’s also kind of a dimwit, a letch, a booze hound, and probably the most likeable of the three even though he’s a scumbag, just like the rest of them.
Their hostage, Maria (Lea Lander), is an attractive, albeit somewhat emotionally fragile woman. She does a nice job of playing it on the edge throughout most of the film. You never know whether she’s going to hold it together, or go into one of her many emotional breakdowns at any given time. Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciola), is her fellow hostage, along with his son. He has a far cooler head than she does, and really tries to keep things calm throughout their ordeal.
The film itself is somewhat claustrophobic in a way, because much of it takes place in Riccardo’s car as they travel along, trying to evade the police so the men can get to their destination. Occasionally they have to stop for food or fuel or to go to the bathroom, but most of the film involves them travelling, which also includes Blade and 32 harrassing Maria and causing a general ruckus. Every opportunity that seems to present itself for Maria and Riccardo to do something about their situation is quickly thwarted, and as the film progresses, their situation becomes more and more desperate. When we finally get to the end, there’s a turn of events that you may somewhat guess at along the way, but if you’ve never seen the film before, it’s unlikely you’ll guess what it is exactly, so it makes for a nice, surprising turn of events.
I do have to mention one scene, because it’s probably, at least in my opinion, the most entertaining bit of the film. When the group stops for gas, they’re just about to leave, when this incredibly annoying woman comes tooling up to them. Her car had broken down and she needed a ride, and she not only couldn’t take a hint that they didn’t want to give her a ride, but she pushed her way right into the car. With the gas station attendant there, they didn’t want to tip him off as to what was going on, so they took her with them. Along the way, this woman just would NOT shut up. Seriously, she was talking non-stop at a million miles per hour. They tolerated her for a while, but eventually she saw something she shouldn’t have, and ended up with a knife in her throat. Now seriously, I almost cheered when Blade stuck the knife in her throat. I mean, this woman was just relentlessly annoying, so seeing her offed in such a harsh way was not only a relief, but also very entertaining.
For a "lost" film, this release actually looks really great. It was mastered in HD from the original 35mm print. It’s in Italian with optional English subtitles, and for special features, contains trailers for some of Mario Bava’s other films.
With a well written script, bad guys you’ll absolutely hate and a tension that pervades almost every aspect of the film, this really is a well crafted thriller, and I’m glad that Alfredo Leone and Lamberto Bava got ahold of the footage and gave it the release it deserved. It’s a very intense thriller filled with tense scenes and raging emotions that will have you on the edge of your seat. Be sure to check this one out if you love a good thriller. It’s not to be missed.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get the DVD or blu-ray from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.