Of all the movies Grindhouse Releasing has the rights to, two of the most eagerly awaited have been the pair of Duke Mitchell titles they own, Massacre Mafia Style and Gone With The Pope. The former just made its blu-ray debut from Grindhouse and the results are damned impressive. Not only does it make the film look better than it ever has on home video, it also delivers a fistful of extras that allow you to get acquainted with the glories and the contradictions of the man who made it.
The transfer of Massacre Mafia Style will be a revelation for those who were used to watching it via old, VHS-derived dupes. The new anamorphic transfer is gorgeous, capturing the velvety colors of the mid-’70s decor beautifully (look out for those eye-popping reds) and bringing a whole new level of detail to the proceedings. Similarly, the mono audio (DTS on the blu-ray) does wonders with the film’s mix: dialogue and effects have a newly crisp sound and the music sounds particularly impressive, particularly all those pre-rock pop tunes crooned by Mitchell.
Extras would seem like a challenge on a title like Massacre Mafia Style: Mitchell passed away in 1981 and the other key participants are no longer with us. However, Grindhouse has managed to put together and impressive slate of bonus features for this set.
The first is “Like Father, Like Son, ” a retrospective featurette about Mitchell’s career produced by his son Jeffrey Mitchell (note: this is a pared-down 34 minute version; the longer original can be found on the self-produced “Family Edition” of Massacre Mafia Style released a few years back by the younger Mitchell). Together with family friends Frankie Ray and George Jacobs, he paints a portrait of Duke Mitchell as a self-made showbiz success who was gifted but dogged by a hot temper and an individualistic streak.
There are great stories from Mitchell’s career, including some fun tales about Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., and Jeffrey Mitchell also talks about his rock music career in England’s glam-rock ’70s era. It only briefly deals with Duke’s films but there are few juicy stories, including one about how a real incident from his career inspired the act of violence that opens Massacre Mafia Style.
There is also a brief interview with Matt Cimber and Jim LoBianco. The latter worked with Mitchell on Gone With The Pope and is there primarily to pay tribute to his filmmaking talent. Cimber gets the most time and has a lot of interesting things to say: he helped with the distribution of Massacre Mafia Style and goes into details about the complexities of independent film distribution in the ’70s. Cimber also pops up in an easter egg tucked away elsewhere on the disc, telling a darkly funny story about how Mitchell dealt with an unwanted guest at one of his nightclub shows.
There is also about an hour of Duke Mitchell’s home movies, which are accompanied on the audio track by a variety of Mitchell’s recordings (including the original version of “Tik-A-Tee, Tik-A-Tay”) and a recording of a live show. The films are interesting stuff, mixing glimpses at his home life as a father and husband along with artsier, double-exposure experiments that he used as backdrops for his latter-day nightclub gigs. The live show is fun stuff, including spirited readings of standards like “Danny Boy” and a wild snippet of “Love And Marriage” with new, off-color lyrics.
Next up are filmographies for Mitchell and leading lady Cara Salerno. Both include bonus trailers: Mitchell’s has the feverish trailer for Gone With The Pope while Salerno’s includes a trailer for Space Thing, a David Freeman-produced nudie represented by a spot with lots of flesh and pun-laden narration. Salerno’s filmography also includes a link to a bonus image gallery of Salerno taken from her days as an adult magazine model. Let’s just say the photos will knock both your eyes out.
Also included are a series of promotional materials. The image section offers five galleries that collectively serve up over 250 images: included are production stills and materials, color images, theatrical art, home video and a gallery devoted to Mitchell himself. The latter is particularly fun for fans as it covers the entirety of his career and includes several shots from his live shows, including a great shot of Mitchell singing with Henry Fonda.
The next promo item is a trailer. The trailer is a Grindhouse Releasing classic that basically refashions the film’s jaw-dropping opening scene into a trailer via creative use of the film’s logo. As is the custom for Grindhouse Releasing, a gallery of trailers for the company’s other titles are included. It covers the cinematic gamut, including everything from The Swimmer to Cannibal Holocaust, and all the spots can be played together as one mind-blowing reel.
Four radio spots wrap out the promo materials: two for the film’s original Like Father, Like Son release and two as Massacre Mafia Style. The former two sell the film as a prestige item, complete with mentions of Oscar winners being involved, while the latter two are exploitation-minded affairs that focus on violence. There’s also a brief snippet of testimonials taken from people who saw an early screening, including complaints about too much blood and one profane assessment of its commercial potential(!).
And that’s not all: there are an additional two extras left on the discs, both so big that they get their own section on the menu entitled “Bonus Features.” The first is Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, Mitchell’s cinematic debut as an actor. It’s presented via a good-looking SD master along with a trailer and an image gallery. If you’ve never seen this quickie, it’s a delirious, one-of-a-kind mixture of jungle adventure, mad scientist movie and ersatz Martin & Lewis comedy/musical. Mitchell has two spotlight musical numbers and his work shows he could have been a Hollywood-style leading man if the breaks had fallen the right way. It’s also got an amazing ending that references The Wizard Of Oz!
The other bonus feature is An Impressionistic Tribute To Jimmy Durante, a previously unaired t.v. special independently produced by Mitchell. The unique structure intercuts Mitchell talking about his old friend Durante with sequences of Mitchell in prosthetic makeup doing a stage show as Durante. His impression of Durante is well-crafted and heartfelt, particularly during a final number where he sings about being an individual. The result shows off the entertainer side of Mitchell nicely, offering a new dimension for those who only know him as a cinematic rabble-rouser. Also included with the special are a set of 16mm dailies for footage used in one of the musical sequences.
Grindhouse Releasing also takes advantage of the DVD-Rom section of the DVD to offer a hefty set of PDF’s. There are two treatments, two drafts of the screenplay and a collection of narration and conceptual documents. Exploring these gives you insight into how Mitchell refined the concepts that drive his film, including some elements that were very different early on: for instance, Mimi’s sidekick was an entirely different character and the plotline was more complex and expensive. Fans will be delighted to see how Mitchell’s trademark monologues in the film evolved from draft to draft – and they’ll really love the cheat-sheet of Sicilian slang included in the final PDF even more.
The package is completed by a color insert booklet with images and liner notes by David Szulkin. The notes offer a nice, compact biography of Mitchell’s life, an appreciation of the film and the tale of how Grindhouse Releasing ended up pursuing it for distribution.
All in all, this release is another gem from Grindhouse Releasing, offering a definitive presentation of the film and a set of extras that will give even veteran enthusiasts of the film a new appreciation for and understanding of Duke Mitchell. As a result, it’s easily one of the best blu-rays of 2015 and a necessity for any devoted fan of cult cinema.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Massacre Mafia Style, click here.