— Angus Kohm (@AngusKohm) February 20, 2021
I’ve touched on this before, but back in the early days of renting VHS and Beta tapes, you didn’t always get what you expected. Movies were retitled and given box cover art that was extremely misleading. One of the most common tricks was to make you think that a movie was brand new when it fact it was from ten or fifteen years earlier. This was not an entirely new trick. Movies were often distributed to drive-ins under new titles in the hopes that they would do better business than the first time they went out. Sometimes it wasn’t a question of the age of a movie, but rather the subject matter. A dull story with no violence or nudity could be retitled to sound like it was going to be the next Chained Heat (1983).
I used to tell people that Grace Jones was my favourite actress (if you’ve read my ode to her movie Vamp (1986), you will know what I’m talking about). So, when I found a VHS copy of something called Deadly Vengeance (1981) – starring Grace Jones – on the shelf of Star Time Foto Video – I told my friends we had to rent it. It was an oversized box mostly covered by a picture of Grace Jones’ face. “They Killed her lover. Now she wants revenge.” What could be better than that? We excitedly took it home and popped it into the VCR.
First of all, the movie appeared to be considerably older than the stated release date of 1981 (home drive-in crime #1). Secondly, Grace Jones was not playing the woman whose lover was killed – and more importantly, she was not playing the woman seeking “Deadly Vengeance” (home drive-in crime #2). Sadly, this was all too common in those early days of home video. If a famous actor (or not so famous actor, but maybe someone you might have heard of in passing once or twice) appeared in a movie for more than one second, sleazy distributors would paste his or her image and name all over the box cover. Sometimes the actor actually had a big part, but the film was made 20 years before they were famous and they looked completely different. No problem, the distributors would simply put a more recent and recognizable photo of the actor on the cover.
In the case of Deadly Vengeance, Grace Jones was very young, and did not have her iconic ’80s look. She was almost unrecognizable to us, and her part was very small. She played the girlfriend of the main bad guy. But as I recall it, we only saw her in one or two brief scenes. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But according to one internet source, Grace’s part was INCREASED for this 1981 release. Increased? How small could it have originally been? The same source claims that Deadly Vengeance is a re-edited combination of two much older films: Dirty Tricks (1972) and Sweet Vengeance . Those older films were apparently X-rated, whereas Deadly Vengeance was rated R. I do seem to recall extended (soft core) sex scenes in it, so it’s not hard to imagine that there could have been a more explicit version (or versions). Just for the record, Grace Jones is not listed as being in either of those earlier films, so I guess her part was INCREASED, as in ADDED to this version. Not sure what the real story is, but needless to say, the Grace Jones fan in me was not too thrilled by this movie rental experience (extreme sleaziness notwithstanding).
A while back, I wrote about how I originally discovered giallo movies – and it was basically a result of this kind of home video false advertising. The movies were packaged like 1980s slasher films, when it fact they were 1960s or ’70s giallos. As it turned out, I was very pleased to discover those films, and giallos have become one of very favourite things to screen at the home drive-in.
Last week I decided to watch a giallo that I had never seen before, The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975). It was directed by Sergio Martino, who made many excellent movies, including some top notch giallos like All the Colours of the Dark (1972), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) and Torso (1973). I was quite surprised to discover that The Suspicious Death of a Minor, despite its very giallo-esque title and poster art, is not really a giallo. It does have some moments that are very giallo-like, and the opening sequence seems to fit that description, but the movie quickly turns into more of a poliziotteschi, or Italian crime film. More surprising than that, the movie takes on a tone that is quite comical – almost slapstick comedy at times. But perhaps the most amazing thing of all, is that it really works.
The Suspicious Death of a Minor is a very entertaining movie. Claudio Cassinelli gives an amazing performance as our hero, Paolo Germi. We don’t know this at first (and perhaps this is a mild SPOILER), but Germi is a police officer as unorthodox as Dirty Harry, only much more comical. There were several scenes that had me laughing at loud as I watched Germi’s way of dealing with obstacles and enemies. In spite of the humorous tone, the movie also manages to deliver some legitimately suspenseful and even scary moments. It may not be a horror film like Torso, but I did not feel cheated by the almost bait and switch style plot maneuverings that take us from giallo to poliziotteschi, to slapstick comedy. A lot of directors would have fallen on their face attempting such a mash-up, but Martino somehow pulled it off, and I am glad that he did.
The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975) was not at all what I expected, but it managed to deliver a wildly entertaining #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. It is a unique example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that doesn’t quite fit into any of the usual categories, but somehow feels completely right. You can rest assured that I will be screening it again in the not too distant future.