Despite claims to the contrary, Cold Eyes of Fear is a far cry from what its promotional materials describe as a “stylish giallo.” Rather, it’s a frenetically directed home-invasion thriller along the lines of The Desperate Hours that merely toys with the iconographic conventions of the giallo during its opening set piece, before moving along to some pseudo-documentary street scenes in order to perfunctorily establish its setting as London, and then settling in at its primary location so that things can really get down to business. If Cold Eyes of Fear bears at best a tangential relation to the giallo, that’s not exactly surprising, since director Enzo G. Castellari would make significant contributions to genres like the spaghetti western (Keoma), war film (The Inglorious Bastards), and poliziotteschi, or crime drama (Street Law), but had over the course of his career little or no experience with horror.
As for that opening sequence, it’s pretty heady stuff. A curvaceous blue-eyed blonde (Karin Schubert), alone in her bedroom, finds herself menaced by an unseen figure wielding a switchblade. The man proceeds to slash away her clothing, item by item, until she’s writhing naked on the bed beneath her attacker. The scene ends when the woman sinks the abandoned blade into her assailant. And then the kicker: The lights come up and we realize what we’ve witnessed was nothing more than a kinky S&M routine, a salacious stage act the marquee outside the nightclub dubs “Ooh La La.” It’s an amusing riff on the giallo film’s often discomforting conflation of sex and violence. But beyond its barely there theme of last-minute role reversals, it’s hard to figure out what exactly the scene’s relation to the rest of the film might be.
The scene really exists as a sort of meet-cute for Peter (Gianni Garko) and a young woman, Anna (Giovanna Ralli), whom he takes to be a prostitute. The two of them traipse around the neon-drenched gambling dens and pleasure parlors of London’s Soho district, the camera following along in jittery handheld fashion—a sequence that seems to exist for no discernible reason other than the producers were happy to foot the bill for some location shooting. Eventually, they wind up at the manor house belonging to Peter’s uncle, a well-known judge (Fernando Rey), where they stumble upon a dead butler and a glowering intruder, Quill (Julián Mateos).
Once would-be criminal mastermind Arthur Welt (Frank Wolff) arrives on the scene, Cold Eyes of Fear shifts into claustrophobic chamber-play mode as Welt puts into effect an exceptionally convoluted plan for revenge against Peter’s uncle, who Welt believes sent him up the river in order to cover up his own involvement in an elaborate heist. Or some such poppycock—since Welt’s story makes about as much sense as the details of the revenge scheme itself, which basically involves wiring a bomb to the judge’s office door. And if you happen to be into harebrained moments of supposedly nail-biting suspense, you’ll be simply enthralled by the scene where a solicitous copper works to defuse the bomb, all the while the judge’s pushy pussycat tries to shove itself through the cracked-open door.
In a bid to offset the storyline’s intrinsic staginess, Castellari throws every trick in his directorial playbook at the material. He keeps the camera constantly in motion, or else works in a bumper crop of unmotivated snap zooms and sudden rack focuses. On several occasions, we’re treated to a vertiginous multiple-perspective flurry of a montage (think Sam Peckinpah on meth) that manages little more than ramping up tension that the script can’t quite muster. (One of these seizure-inducing sequences even tosses in some upside-down frames, just for the hell of it.) Ultimately, Cold Eyes of Fear proves to be a minor film at best, serving as prime illustration of a trait that characterizes much of Italian genre filmmaking of the period: the triumph of frenzied stylistics over cogent—or even coherent—storytelling.
Per usual with Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of Redemption Films titles, the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is more or less "as is." In this case, the opening credits are in pretty rough shape all around, and there’s a fair amount of speckles and splotches on display throughout, but the high-definition upgrade certainly helps with overall clarity and detail. Colors are well saturated, and black levels are strong in the frequent lowlight and nighttime scenes. Overall, the presentation here is definitely several steps up from previous DVD releases. And on the audio front, the PCM track is only decent; there’s an almost constant layer of hiss and crackle that only occasionally overwhelms the track. The film is also presented without subtitles. Luckily, the dialogue is mostly discernible, but it doesn’t help that the film was dubbed with the intention of giving the characters "authentic" British accents: Garko’s character comes across as a fey upper-class twit, while swarthy Julián Mateos’s Quill growls with guttural Cockney menace. The result is, naturally enough, utterly hilarious. Elsewhere, Ennio Morricone’s score is one of his atonal jazz numbers, all howling wah-wah guitar and blurting trumpet, which frequently dominates the soundtrack.
There’s a trailer for the film’s American release under the moniker Desperate Moments (just in case the link to the Bogart movie wasn’t explicit enough), which is a funky little number, as well as a handful of trailers for other Redemption Blu-ray releases.
A merely mediocre genre outlier, Cold Eyes of Fear gets a serviceable Blu-ray transfer, unburdened by much in the way of extras, from Kino Lorber and Redemption Films.