Blu-ray Release: May 12, 2020
Audio: English and Italian 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio
Run Time: 90 minutes
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Two free-spirited teenagers, Dick and Ingrid (Ray Lovelock and Ornella Muti), set out to spend the summer together in Italy. To pay their way they sell Scandinavian porn mags and nude pictures of Ingrid. But then, they get busted by the cops and are given 24 hours to leave the country. Instead of leaving they take to the road, where they come up against a thieving biker gang and then are mistaken for a pair of bank robbers. Heading south in a hurry, they run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and take refuge in the house of Barbara Slater (Irene Papas), a seemingly bored middle-aged housewife who appears to be up for some sexual shenanigans. The naïve pair party with Barbara, but soon discover that she is hiding a terrible and deadly secret. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)
Umberto Lenzi’s 30-year-plus career as a filmmaker was plagued by inconsistent quality, in large part due to the Italian industry’s impossible turn-arounds, tiny budgets, and hasty trends. Still, he was a trendsetter, if not an innovator. His comic book adaptation, Kriminal (1966), beat Mario Bava’s Danger Diabolik (Italian: Diabolik, 1968) by two years, he made some of the earliest Italian-made Eurospy movies, and he accidentally invented the Italian cannibal cycle with 1972’s Man from Deep River (Italian: Il paese del sesso selvaggio; aka: Deep River Savages, Sacrifice!, Mondo cannibale, and others, 1972). Because boundary-pushing exploitation tends to have the longest shelf life among cult film fans, he’s best remembered for the quickly escalating sadistic violence of his cannibal movies, but his real career highlights were his gialli and poliziottescho (Eurocrime films).
In terms of sheer numbers, Lenzi, who made eight gialli in total, ties for second alongside Sergio Martino (who made seven or eight, depending on the reader’s definition of the term) for genre output, behind Dario Argento (who, again, depending on your definition, made between ten and fourteen gialli). Furthermore, his first and second thrillers, Paranoia (aka: Orgasmo, 1969) and So Sweet... So Perverse (Italian: Così dolce... così perversa, 1969), helped set the tone for post-Mario Bava psychedelic gialli about a year before Argento started the giallo rush with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'Uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970). Soon after, Lenzi came close to exclusively directing gialli, including An Ideal Place to Kill (Italian: Un posto ideale per uccidere, 1971), A Quiet Place to Kill (Italian: Un posto ideale per uccidere, 1972), Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (Italian: Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso, 1972), Knife on Ice (Italian: Il coltello di ghiaccio, 1972), Spasmo (1974), and Eyeball (Italian: Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro, 1975). I suppose some fans might refer to his three 1989 slasher movies, Hitcher in the Dark (Italian: Paura nel buio), House of Lost Souls (Italian: La casa delle anime erranti), and Nightmare Beach, as giallo-adjacent, which would give him the edge over Martino.
Though I’d consider Argento, Bava (who made five to six gialli), Martino, and Lucio Fulci (who made five to seven gialli) superior purveyors of the medium, Lenzi’s gialli have a consistent quality that makes it difficult to rank their value. This can be a positive or a negative, depending on one’s tolerance for typical giallo pacing, style, and storytelling. These films are at once pretty good and incredibly similar. I tend to prefer Eyeball, simply because it does away with all pretense to focus on the body-count, while Lenzi himself prefers Paranoia. The subject of this review, An Ideal Place to Kill, is certainly a worthy entry, perhaps even a superior version of a kind of movie Lenzi had been retelling/reworking ever since Paranoia became a hit. At the very least, it had a bigger budget than Lenzi’s lesser gialli and its storyline takes some unexpected turns.
An Ideal Place to Kill is one of the first hippie-chic gialli, an unofficial subgenre that includes Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Italian: Una lucertola con la pelle di donna, released several months earlier in 1971) and Sergio Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Italian: Il Tuo Vizio è Una Stanza Chiusa e Solo Io ne ho la Chiave, 1972). This is notable, not because Lenzi (or any of those other filmmakers) has anything particularly interesting to say about the youth counterculture; rather, that he does a fine job integrating their sense of style into the film, dating it in a most charming manner. An Ideal Place to Kill sets itself apart by embracing the fun side of the hippie experience during its first act, rather than portraying it as a strictly ominous hovel of sin. The frivolity of the fashion and music is bolstered by a cheery sense of humor that gives the story somewhere to go as the protagonists stumble into a dark situation that spins slowly into murder and mayhem.
This changeover from lighthearted sexploitation comedy to slightly eerie erotic fantasy and, eventually, typical psychosexial thriller situation also makes a big difference in the story department, because it means the plot has more places to go than it does in Paranoia (from which it borrows a number of plot points) or Spasmo. In fact, An Ideal Place to Kill isn’t a giallo in the common sense of the phrase, because it isn’t really a murder mystery – the audience isn’t even aware of any murder until the third act – but rather, a series of psycholoigcal games that grow out of hand as additional details are revealed. The final half-hour pays homage to the Hitchcockian tradition of characters desperately hiding dead bodies from the authorities. Additionally, An Ideal Place to Kill falls into a subcategory of Italian thrillers where upper-class people manipulate people on the bottom of the social ladder into acts of brutality. The two most well-known examples of this are (arguably) Aldo Lado’s Late Night Trains (Italian: L'ultimo treno della notte, 1975) and Ruggero Deodato’s House on the Edge of the Park (Italian: La casa sperduta nel parco, 1980) – both films made to cash-in on the popularity of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) that I would argue aren’t gialli even in the vaguest sense of the word.
What’s especially interesting here is that An Ideal Place to Kill is the inverse of the home invasion movies Last House on the Left helped inspire, meaning that it feels like a reaction to Craven’s film, even though it was released a year earlier. While it’s possible that Lenzi and credited cowriters Lucia Drudi Demby and Antonio Altoviti were inspired by any number of movies in which petty criminals break into a house and find themselves framed for murder, it seems more likely that they were exploiting/reacting to the Tate–LaBianca murders, where (in case you somehow didn’t know) Charles Manson’s “Family” of hippie burnouts broke into the homes of wealthy Hollywood socialites and brutally murdered them. Obviously, in this version of the story, the burglars are mostly harmless and the homeowners psychotic, though Lenzi is sure to acknowledge to the dark side of hippiedom by having Ingrid write “PIGS” on a mirror in ketchup in reference to the Manson Family scrawling “PIG” in blood on the wall after killing Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger. As noted on this disc’s commentary track (see below), Lenzi was probably also inspired in part by Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), where well-meaning hippie drug smugglers are killed by rednecks.
In an interview for Luca M. Palmerini & Gaetano Mistretta’s Spaghetti Nightmares: Italian Fantasy-Horrors as Seen Through the Eyes of Their Protagonists (Fantasma Books, 1996), Lenzi says he wanted An Ideal Place to Kill to be a “thriller which was anti-conformist and which broke the rules,” then goes on to blame his cast for coming up short. Irene Papas, who replaced Anna Moffo, was apparently not “credible as an American wife” and Ray Lovelock and Ornella Muti were too “squeaky clean and not nearly 1968ish enough to be convincing” as hippies. At least he doesn’t hate it as much as Spasmo. Frankly, I disagree with Lenzi's assessment of everyone, especially Papas, who brings genuine and believable gravitas to what could’ve been just another hysterical hagsploitation portrayal. I will admit that she may have been miscast, given the seedy, sex-filled affair Lenzi was aiming for and her refusal to do steamy ménage à trois scene, but it’s still worth it, given how much her performance elevates the entire movie.
Like most Italian exploitation movies, this one had many different titles. The title that Mondo Macabro has chosen, An Ideal Place to Kill, is an English translation of the original Italian title; however, this is not the title usually tied to US and UK releases. In the past, companies have opted for the alternate titles Oasis of Fear or (less often) Dirty Pictures. This is most likely to avoid confusing this film with another Umberto Lenzi giallo released the previous year, A Quiet Place to Kill. Amusingly, Mondo Macabro’s choice of title has coincided with Severin Films’ choice to release A Quiet Place to Kill under that title, instead of the more common Italian title Paranoia, prompting the two companies to explain the difference on their respective Twitter and Facebook pages after fans started canceling their An Ideal Place to Kill pre-orders. Even more amusing is the fact that this isn’t the only case of Lenzi gialli with confusing titles. For instance, his 1969 film, Paranoia (also coming soon from Severin), is aka Orgasmo and easily confused with his 1974 film, Spasmo (on BD from Scorpion Releasing). To make things even more confusing, during the Spaghetti Nightmares interview, Lenzi seems to be under the impression that A Quiet Place to Kill was retitled Paranoia in some territories.
I hadn’t realized until I started writing this that there hasn’t ever been a North American VHS or DVD release of An Ideal Place to Kill. Instead, Lenzi fans had to import R2 PAL discs from the UK (via Shameless Screen Entertainment) or Italy (via Alan Young Pictures). The version I had seen was the Shameless disc, which I’m not going to bother directly comparing image-wise to this, the film’s Blu-ray/HD/1080p debut, because it was not one of the company’s better transfers (this DVDbeaver.com review compares it to the Italian disc and they look generally the same). Mondo Macabro has gone the extra mile by digitally restoring a brand new 2K scan of the film negative (their wording – I have no idea how new the scan actually is). This is also the “integral version” of the film that incorporates the Italian exclusive content into the shorter export version (see audio section below). The resulting 2.35:1 image is impressive and authentically represents the gritty, yet colorful look intended by Lenzi and cinematographer Alfio Contini. While the footage is grainy and details can appear soft in wide angle shots, these and other minor print damage artifacts appear accurate for a rough ‘n tumble Italian production shot on 2-perf Techniscope. Most importantly, the film grain looks like grain, not CRT machine noise, and other digital artifacts, like edge haloes, are minimal. The color timing leans a little to the cool side, which makes skin and other neutral tones a bit purple, but the brighter hues pop and I personally prefer this to the over-warmed, yellowish remasters of European exploitation we’ve recently seen from similar companies.
Mondo Macabro has included two audio options, English and Italian, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Again, this integral version includes scenes that were only available on the Italian cut. These were never dubbed into English, so the English track will briefly change to Italian with forced subtitles. And here’s the part where I remind everyone that these movies were shot without synced on-set sound and that all language tracks were dubbed. As per usual, the English and Italian tracks are very similar with each having small advantages over the other. In this case, the lip sync tends to match the English words, including the broken English some of the Italians are speaking. The Italian track is louder all around, but also flatter, so I find myself preferring the wider dynamic range of the English dub. Composer Bruno Lauzi was a singer/songwriter by trade and this was the first of only three times that he was credited as a composer. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the music is made up of pop rock pieces, many of them diegetic, including the main title track, “How Can You Live Your Life,” performed by Il Leoni (it sounds suspiciously like the old Carnival Cruise jingle). The more score-like stuff matches the jazzy vibe Ennio Morricone spearheaded with his Bird with the Crystal Plumage soundtrack.
Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson – Howarth, the author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films (Midnight Marquee Press, 2015) and Thompson, owner/reviewer at Mondo Digital, dig into the film, discussing the cast & crew, the themes, the behind-the-scenes process, its connections to other gialli, and Lenzi’s career in general.
Porn Smugglers (23:44, HD) – An interview with Lenzi, whose opinion on the film hasn’t improved too much since the Spaghetti Nightmares interview, though he shifts a lot of blame over to his producers, who made him change the protagonists from drug dealers to porn smugglers. He still complains about the cast, though, adding that Papa’s Mediterranean heritage changed the character’s intended essence (which sounds vaguely racist to me…). Ultimately, he regrets that the film wasn’t as “hard hitting” as he intended, though he indirectly agrees with me that the overall message works. On the less pleasant side of things, he reveals that Ornella Muti was under 18 when she shot her extensive nude scenes.
X-rated Inserts (0:44, 0:09, 0:11, 0:10, all HD) – Four pornographic insert shots used for export versions of the movie.
Mondo Macabro trailer reel
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