If there’s a label in the cult movie video world that represents the concept of quality over quantity, it’s definitely Grindhouse Releasing. Their catalog is a fraction of the size of its competitors but you could argue that they are playing the long game, putting their time and effort into creating definitive presentations for their titles. Plenty of labels create special editions for their releases but a Grindhouse Releasing special edition is like a world unto itself, enhancing a strong A/V presentation with hours of special features that allow you to delve deep into scholarship on multiple fronts for the main attraction.
The Tough Ones, the company’s first release since their impressive blu-ray redux of I Drink Your Blood, maintains this approach in high style. The transfer offers a gorgeous 4K restoration of the film in its original, uncut version: it retains the appropriate celluloid grit of a run-and-gun production but delivers unimagined levels of color, depth and detail that show how skillfully shot the film is. Both Italian and English tracks are included, with subtitles translating the former track. Each option offers an impressive presentation of a vintage track, minimizing distortion and other age-related quirks.
Even better, this release offers a bonanza of extras spread across the main feature disc and second bonus features-only disc, adding up to several hours of viewing and listening for the film’s fans. Here’s a disc-by-disc breakdown of what you can expect:
Commentary Track: this newly-recorded track was prepared by Mike Malloy, the self-proclaimed “tough guy movie expert” behind the well-liked Eurocrime! documentary. Schlockmania might be a little biased because Malloy is a friend and collaborator but he does a fine job showing off his poliziotteschi expertise here. He delivers an informative, often incisive string of comments from start to finish as he discusses how Italy would bend a popular American film trend to its own needs/interests, his personal history with the genre, plenty of info on the actors and their histories and the tweaks made to the film’s U.S. version. He also gets into some interesting analytical territory, like when he discusses the film’s use of a “McGuffin” in the plot and how the early scenes are designed to elicit conflicting feelings from the viewer about the film’s protagonist and villain.
All Eyes On Lenzi (1:24:04): this is a feature-length documentary from Calum Waddell, original produced for the 88 Films release of Eyeball. It’s an affectionate tribute to Umberto Lenzi in which Waddell and several critics/fans make a case for this workhorse director. Participants here include Rachael Nesbit, John Martin and Mikel J. Koven and there a plentiful clips from Lenzi’s films. Some titles get extended discussions, most notably Cannibal Ferox and Nightmare City. For Schlockmania, highlights here include a section on the head-butting relationship between Lenzi and Giovanni Lombardo Radice (the latter’s comments are memorably tart) and a spirited defense of Nightmare City by American director and genre fanatic Scooter McCrae.
Music For Mayhem (33:12): this is an informal chat between Lenzi and composer Franco Micalizzi from 2010. There’s a genuine warmth between the two, with Micalizzi charmingly catering to Lenzi with a display of gratitude that fires up the director to unfurl anecdotes about their work. There are fun tales about how Tomas Milian ended up being called “Rambo” in Syndicate Sadists and a great tale about how a real funeral procession was incorporated into a chase scene in one of Lenzi’s action films. A running theme is the improvisational nature of their work together, with both revealing snap decisions that made a difference in the finished work.
Citta Frontale (22:01): what at first seems like it might be just a video essay on the locations of The Tough Ones quickly becomes much more. In addition to video footage of the locations today, you get a running dialogue in narration form about how the poliziotteschi genre creates a dialogue with its locations as well as the real crime and political troubles that dogged Italy during the ’70s. In doing so, the featurette’s producers forge a link between it and neorealism as important, documentary-minded traditions of Italy’s post-WWII legacy (believe it or not, this works in its own quirky, intellectual “film studies” way.).
Grindhouse Releasing Previews: this is a staple of all the company’s releases, offering 16 previews for past and future home video release. They’re all fun to watch but be sure to take note of the trailers for to-be-released titles: there are kinetic, gritty spots for The Captive Female and Death Game that boast spiffy transfers and a spot for The Ice House that appears to be a newly-assembled promo.
Additional Extras: there’s a video trailer from a U.S. VHS release that offers a quick hard-sell, a vintage international trailer that plays like a highlights reel set to Micalizzi’s funky/jazzy score and a fun intro to the film that Sybil Danning recorded for her Adventure Videos release of The Tough Ones. The latter is a macho-camp delight, with Danning snarling her way through purple-prose narration to set up the film.
Umberto (55:31): an engaging chat with Lenzi in his office. He tells the story of how he became a film director with great detail and pointed humor. His comments take us from his beginnings running a high school film club through all the phases of his career. Highlights include a section on his love for making war films, his complex working relationship with Milian, techniques used in staging car chases and a frank assessment of Merli’s skills as an actor. He’s not afraid to be brutally honest about his choices – he admits he made his cannibal films to pay off a tax bill – and shows he as is insightful as he is witty when he breaks down why the Italian genre film mill faded away. Lenzi passed away in 2017 so fans will be happy to have this autobiographical piece.
Brutal City (14:12): this is a sitdown with Maria Rosaria Riuzzi, who discusses her role in this film as a rape victim (and its physical challenges) in the context of her overall career. She offers a funny memory of how Merli’s perfectionism extended to the appearance of his hair on camera and discusses her fondness for Milian. In an interesting touch, she watches her big scene from the film and offers comments as she looks on.
The Rebel Within (1:28:50): this is an epic, career-spanning interview with Milian, conducted by Eric Zaldivar and produced by Malloy. The actor reflects on his turbulent but colorful life as an actor, telling his story in an sharp and often poetic voice. As he lays out his tale, he discusses his tormented relationship with his parents, the complex path he took to the Actors Studio, the different phases in his career (intellectual films, spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi) and what prompted the shifts from one phase to the next. Noteworthy moments include a tale about his battle of wills with Orson Welles on the set of Tepepa and great insights into his famous “Il Gobbo” and “Monnezza” characterizations. He displays a rich mixture of humanity and wit throughout the piece and it’s well worth the time investment for anyone curious about his career.
The Rebel And The Bourgeois (19:05): in this piece, actress and costume designer Sandra Cardini offers her memories of the film. She reveals how the title of this piece applies to Lenzi and Milian respectively as she discusses the chance encounter that got her involved in the film, She offers a very detailed portrait of Milian’s habits and personal behavior along with quick portraits of other actors. At the end, she discusses her costuming work a bit, with a nice tribute to the modern hit Gomorrah.
The Merli Connection (44:39): What begins as a piece on Maurizio Merli quickly becomes a broad discussion of the poliziotteschi and its place in Italian cinema. Both topics are covered well by a mixture of Italian critics and film professionals, most notably the directors Enzo G. Castellari and Ruggero Deodato plus Merli’s son, Maurizio Merli Jr. The participants reveal how Merli was set up to be a clone of Franco Nero but ultimately became the genre’s figurehead through a mixture of charisma and hard work. Castellari has fascinating comments here, as it was his Nero vehicle that was cashed in on to introduce Merli as an action star, and there’s an interesting section where he reveals why he and Merli never made a film together despite being friends. You also get some interesting thoughts on the personal nature of the genre for Italians.
Vodka Cigarettes And Burroughs (39:31): Dardano Sacchetti has become one of the best interview subjects on Italian film discs in recent years and he doesn’t disappoint here. He credits Lenzi with making him into a professional screenwriter, praising his skills as a director who could write and someone who brought him into the family style of filmmaking. He’s critical enough to reveal the quirks that he feels held Lenzi back from becoming critically acclaimed but he shows great fondness as he discusses their working relationship. He also reveals some interesting details on The Tough Ones, like how it was written in a weekend(!) and the influence of Warhol and William Burroughs on his work.
Back Story (5:54): a quick bonus chat with Milian from 2011. It’s brief but offers a nice focus on his work in The Tough Ones. He discusses how he devised his characterization and the character’s twisted physicality. He also fondly reveals how Lenzi’s enthusiasm influenced his wild, experimental approach.
The Godather Of Rhythm (36:14): an engaging gab session with composer Franco Micalizzi, who lays out his biography as a musician and how Lenzi factored into his success as a soundtrack composer. He covers all his poliziotteschi collaborations with the director, breaking down the combinations of instruments and styles he created for The Tough Ones soundtrack and his theory of film composing. He also reveals how he successfully revived his scores as a concert attraction in Italy. The result is entertaining and fans will appreciate the deference he shows to Lenzi in his comments.
Beauty And The Beasts (29:31): actress Maria Rosaria Omaggio, who made her debut as a teen in The Tough Ones, discusses the film and how it set up her subsequent career in the business. She freely admits being miscast but fondly discusses how Lenzi was a gruff but affectionate mentor who taught her the basics of film acting technique. She gets into the rigors of participating in action scenes, the vast personality differences between Merli and Milian and even shares some memories of her later work with Lenzi on Nightmare City. She reveals herself to be artistically savvy, including some interesting commentary on Lenzi’s choices in shooting and editing the film.
Corrado Armed To The Teeth (45:17): an expansive interview with actor Corrado Solari, who kick-started his career on this film after a chance meeting with Lenzi and became a fixture of the director’s action films for a while. He’s very complimentary of Lenzi’s skill for precisely staging scenes with speed and goes into great detail about his professional relationship with Milian, who was challenging but rewarding to work with. He also reveals how personal circumstances in his life forced him to stop working with Lenzi, much to both men’s dismay, and there’s a touching, funny anecdote about a late-in-life reunion with Milian. This is a pleasure to watch because Solari is charmingly humble and witty in his storytelling.
Soundtrack CD: You get a cardboard sleeve CD edition of the Micalizzi score for the film, with 17 cues representing the full soundtrack. Everything is handsomely remastered and anyone into the funk-jazz style of composition that dominated ’70s cop fare will be in heaven with this.
Liner Notes: a 12-page, full-color booklet with liner notes is included in the case. It boasts an excellent essay by Roberto Curti, a respected Italian film critic and expert on his country’s genre fare. He shows off his skills to great effect here, placing The Tough Ones in the context of the country’s cinema and drawing direct connections between the film and the influence of real events in the Italian news. It’s a quick read but impressively dense with information.
In short, the Grindhouse Releasing set for The Tough Ones is like a labyrinth that the genre cinema enthusiast can get lost in (hint: be sure to look for plentiful easter eggs tucked away in the menus for both blu-rays). It doubles as a great tribute to Lenzi and his gifted cast, making it a must for anyone interested in the Neapolitan side of cult cinema.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of The Tough Ones, click here.