Syndicate Sadists Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: March 28, 2023 (as part of Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milián Collection)
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, English
Run Time: 93:20
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Severin’s Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milián Collection five-movie set, which also includes Almost Human (Italian: Milano odia: la polizia non può sparare; aka: The Death Dealer, 1974), The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (Italian: Il cinico, l'infame, il violento, 1977), Free Hand for a Tough Cop (Italian: Il trucido e lo sbirro; aka: The Numbskull and the Cop, 1977), and Brothers Till We Die (Italian: La banda del gobbo; aka: The Band of the Hunchback,1978).
For a longer look at the careers of director Umberto Lenzi and actor Tomas Milián, please read my Almost Human review first.
A wandering biker named Rambo (Tomas Milián) avenges a friend’s murder by orchestrating a war between rival crime families. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
Tomas Milián played a number of characters that were loosely based on Al Pacino’s version of real-life New York City cop Frank Serpico, in the Sidney Lumet film Serpico (1973). His most obvious Serpico stand-in was Nico Giraldi, who appeared in eleven increasingly silly movies, all directed by Bruno Corbucci, but Er Monnezza (Roman Italian slang for The Trash) was sort of Giraldi’s criminal counterpart and, as such, an even more ridiculous variation on Frank Serpico. One Milián character that was created in the spirit of Serpico – arguably more so than clowns like Giraldi and Monnezza – would be Rambo, who he played for Umberto Lenzi’s Syndicate Sadists. Obviously, the real Frank Serpico wasn’t a vigilante and has almost nothing in common with the character’s other apparent inspiration, homeless Vietnam vet John Rambo from David Morrell’s First Blood (noting that the Ted Kotcheff film adaptation wouldn’t be released until 1982), but, from Milián’s point-of-view as a performer, the aesthetic fits, as does the Serpico connection.
In terms of Rambo’s plot function, he’s sort of a version of Franco Nero’s Django – a derivative of Toshiro Mifune’s Sanjuro from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), who endeavors to infiltrate and pit enemies against each other, although, unlike Sanjuro or Clint Eastwood’s The Man with No Name (as seen in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars [Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964]), he has a personal stake in the matter. Milián’s performance is also comparatively understated, borderline introspective, as he spends the early scenes avoiding danger and confrontation. This doesn’t mean that Syndicate Sadists is a low-key, psychological piece. Rambo’s means of transportation is a motorcycle, afterall, giving Lenzi and stunt coordinator Remy Julienne an excuse to stage maniac vehicular stunts. Django comparisons aside, he spends most of the movie rescuing and re-rescuing a kidnap victim, which involves a lot of running, punching, and shooting. The bad guys are as sadistic as we’d expect from a Lenzi movie, but also kind of generic in terms of personality compared to Milián-esque weirdos, like Giulio ‘The Hunchback’ Sacchi and Monnezza.
The token American star here is a very beleaguered Joseph Cotton, who struggles through every one of his lines. Either he was ill, drunk, or wasn’t getting what he needed from Lenzi’s direction. I’m guessing it was the latter, because he’s just fine in Baron Blood (Italian: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga), which was also shot without sound in Italy only a few years prior, in 1972, however, under the supervision of Mario Bava, a director who was, by all accounts, likable and accommodating.
It doesn’t appear that Syndicate Sadists was ever officially released on VHS in North America, under its original title or Rambo’s Revenge (which would’ve been a good way for an enterprising video label to trick consumers into renting it, thinking it was a sequel to First Blood). Shriek Show/Media Blasters put out the first anamorphic DVD in 2005, though it was a cut export version that ran two minutes shorter than the Italian cut. 88 Films released the same cut on UK Blu-ray in 2017, while, in 2016, German company X-Rated released the Italian version in HD. Severin’s Blu-ray debuts the new 2K remaster as well as the Italian cut for the first time in North America. This transfer is slightly more consistent in terms of its levels and cleanliness than Almost Human, though there is more fluctuation in colors. Returning cinematographer Federico Zanni, who actually shot all but one of Lenzi’s poliziotteschi (including Tough Ones), takes advantage of the natural sunlight of the rural locations, leading to a flashier palette and bouncier dynamic range.
This time, the DTS-HD Master Audio English mono dub has distinct advantages over the DTS-HD Master Audio Italian mono dub. Everything, but especially music and incidental/atmospheric effects, sound richer and louder. The Italian dub dialogue is more naturalistic and fits a bit better, but it’s worth the janky lip sync for the louder, crisper music alone. Interestingly, most of Joseph Cotton’s performance is dubbed by the man himself, but there are parts that are also clearly not. Franco Micalizzi’s score is a quirky highlight. It’s a really awkward, but utterly charming combination of funk, jazz, and the kind of synth/Moog stuff that would become more popular in the later ‘70s and ‘80s as horror grew in popularity.
First Blood (8:04, HD) – Lenzi discusses Milián’s drug use (again), the original script being a combination of First Blood and Sergio Leon’s Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964), Julienne’s car stunts, and Micalizzi’s score.
Family Affair (17:13, HD) – Actress Ida Galli (aka: Evelyn Stewart), who has the thankless role of a worried mother in the film, recalls working with Lenzi on a number of films, enjoying his company, working with her actual son (Alessandro Cocco) on the film, and not getting along with Milián (she claims most interactions were actually with his stand-in).
Kidnapped (27:02, HD) – Galli’s son, Alessandro Cocco, speaks at length about growing up in the industry, shooting Syndicate Sadists, working with his mother, Lenzi’s patience with him as a child actor, and thinking Milián was really cool.
Interview with the Fascist (24:17, HD) – The last new interview is with actor/stuntman Bruno Di Luia, who closes things out talking about his stunt and acrobatic training, playing thugs, working with various poliziottescho genre actors, and, erm, being imprisoned at a young age for his far-right politics. He, uh, goes on to describe his fascist beliefs (this isn’t a judgment call on my part – he calls himself a fascist) and how it colored his interactions with “left-wing” directors.
English export trailer
Syndicate Sadists and Brothers Till We Die soundtrack double-feature (separate CD)
Blazing Magnums: Italian Crime Thrillers Vol. 1, edited by Tristan Thompson and Paul J. Brown (Midnight Media, 2006)
Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 by Roberto Curti (MacFarland & Co., 2013)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be seen by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.