Most film criticism is built around the concept of “is it good or bad” and explores the various facets of a film along those lines. The truth is that this is the most simplistic, entry-level way to look at the art of filmmaking. There are actually countless metrics to measure a film against, alternative ways of looking at cinema that will open a world that is grander and more colorful for those with adventurous mindsets.
If you can subscribe to this mindset, one of the most important alternative metrics for measuring a film is passion: forget what they get right or wrong in the technical sense, are the filmmakers laying it all on the line? Can you feel their deep need to tell the story you’re watching? Are they investing each and every frame with their heart and soul?
Massacre Mafia Style, also known as Like Father, Like Son or The Executioner, is a film that answers all the aforementioned questions with an emphatic “YES!” It breaks most of the rules of conventional filmmaking but does so in a way that has endeared to an ever-growing crowd of cult film enthusiasts.
Massacre Mafia Style is the work of Duke Mitchell, an entertainer who carved out a successful career as a nightclub singer on his own terms. He wrote, directed, composed the score and plays the lead role of “Mimi” Miceli, the son of an exiled mafioso (Lorenzo Dardano) who returns to Los Angeles from Italy to reclaim his father’s gangland throne. He makes a splash by ransoming local mob chietain Chucky Tripoli (Louis Zito) with the help of childhood pal Jolly Rizzo (Vic Caesar).
For a while, Mimi enjoys running wild in Hollywood, even picking up a devoted hooker girlfriend (Cara Salerno), but his violent ways make plenty of enemies. He tries to play ball with Tripoli’s crew but his ambition ensures he’ll never fit into the Cosa Nostra status quo. The tension he creates blows the criminal world open, leading to a reckoning for everyone affected by his campaign for gangland glory.
Overlooked in its own time, Massacre Mafia Style was first embraced during the VHS era by exploitation film fanatics. It’s easy to see why: the film is packed with bloody gangland hits, plentiful nudity from former nudie flick regular Salerno and informed by the gleefully profane and brutal sensibility of its anti-hero. Any film that kicks off with a sequence where the heroes kill a dozen or so men to a jaunty Italian tune is going to win over the exploitation crowd – and the rest of film is similarly gonzo in its willingness to dive into lurid extremes.
Get beyond the grindhouse-friendly content and you might find yourself impressed by Mitchell’s ambition: Massacre Mafia Style is essentially his attempt to create an idiosyncratic, deeply felt alternative to The Godfather on a tenth of the budget and with minimal resources. He treats the opportunity like it was his final chance to address the world, offsetting his commercial content with his thoughts on the twilight era of organized crime and the plight of the Italian-American.
On this note, Mitchell gives himself three show-stopping soliloquies where he directly offers his opinions on these and other topics to another character (and by proxy, the audience). Like the film, these monologues move at breakneck pace and sometimes sacrifice coherence for blunt-force intensity – but Mitchell delivers them with a heartfelt intensity likely to scorch your eardrums.
Massacre Mafia Style has also been targeted by the bad movie geeks for its rough edges. It’s easy to understand why, as the film wears its flaws on its sleeve: there are plenty of non-actors among the supporting cast, the threadbare budget often thwarts the scope that the film aspires to and Mitchell’s approach to filmmaking often bypasses coherence or aesthetic polish in its single-minded drive to fulfill his vision (Case in point: the aforementioned opening scene features slapstick action choreography and a rogue’s gallery of overdramatized deaths).
However, those would treat Massacre Mafia Style as MST3K fodder are not only obnoxious but missing out on what’s really important in this film. Look past the raw filmmaking technique and you’ll find a one-of-a-kind auteur piece that seethes with the passion of a filmmaker in the throes of artistic obsession. Mitchell’s handcrafted approach to filmmaking pulls you right into the heart of that obsession, tapping every resource at his fingertips and in himself to deliver his gritty, uncompromising vision onto celluloid.
More importantly, Mitchell performs all his tasks – writer, director, star, singer – with total sincerity and conviction. Whether he’s crucifying a pimp to the strains of the “Hallelujah Chorus” or explaining why the mafia will die in florid terms, he gives every second of this opus his all. Schlockmania can’t and won’t laugh at anyone who puts that kind of heart into what they do. Thus, Massacre Mafia Style gets this site’s top recommendation. Who cares how crazy or raw a movie might be when it delivers this kind of passion?