The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)‘Listen to me; your world is full of lunatics, from Rasputin to crazy operas.’

A senator is murdered, and the police catch a man fleeing the scene. An arrogant young journalist’s work helps secure his conviction, and he is sentenced to the death penalty. However, one the day of his execution, the reporter receives evidence that throws the man’s guilt into doubt…

Noir-ish Giallo thriller from director Alberto De Martino that tries to update the one style, without fully committing to the other. As a result, it’s partially successful and has its moments, but it doesn’t make for compulsive viewing, the final act piling on the action with a breakneck speed that severely harms its credibility.

Senator Robertson meets the end of a bullet on his doorstep and Mexican activist, Valdes (Giovanni Petrucci) is the man in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police can’t find the dead man’s missing briefcase, but the gun was ditched in a nearby bush, and Petrucci and the politician have a history. Hot-headed Sentinel reporter Eddie Mills (Antonio Sabato) gets the story for his paper, and sub-editor, John Hammond (Victor Buono) is impressed with his work, even if there’s no love lost between them.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘Before this night is out, I shall revel in the sight of a big, crisp, polyunsaturated bat!’

The evidence to convict Petrucci is strong but circumstantial, the prosecution alleging that he passed the briefcase to a confederate in a car, who drove off in a panic. Sabato does the round of his contacts on the street and digs up naked model Anne Sachs (Barbara Bouchet) who, after initially refusing to help, places herself near the scene and witnessing the car just before the murder. Petrucci is convicted and sentenced to die in the gas chamber.

Returning home on the day of the execution from assignment in New York, Sabato discovers that new evidence has come to light and begins to believe that the condemned man is innocent, after all. But witnesses are nowhere to be found or are turning up dead, and there are only 12 hours to go before Petrucci’s rendezvous with the gas chamber. It’s a desperate chase for Sabato as he tries to get at the truth and catch the assassin.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘No, I’m not doing another ‘Star Trek’. Not if it means kissing Shatner again…’

The concept of the smart-talking, wise-ass reporter chasing down a killer is as old as talking pictures. Although we’re spared any of the tiresome comedic elements that usually came with such a character in the golden days of Hollywood, this is still the essential core of De Martino’s film. It’s been modernised with a grounding in the realms of the conspiracy thriller, but we’d be firmly in Film Noir territory if the action took place on the black and white canvas of downtown LA rather than the sunlit streets of New Mexico.

Several of the main protagonists are typical Noir archetypes, most notably Sabato as the self-serving newshound starting to grow a conscience and Bouchet as the femme fatale-love interest whose motives are open to question. Unfortunately, neither character is written with any more complexity, leaving both actors struggling to make much of an impression. The acting plaudits belong to Buono who, despite having his familiar voice dubbed, still manages to bring a sly, sardonic humour to his role, linking up with Sabato as an unofficial sidekick/partner in the slightly silly closing stages.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘Stop looking at Babs, I was in this movie too!’

Buono was joined by two more notable US actors on the film, as De Martino manfully attempts to convince the audience that they’re watching an American movie. Keenan Wynn has a supporting role as the newspaper’s editor, mostly hiding behind thick glasses and a cigar (the dubbing really doesn’t help his performance) and Faith Domergue scores in a couple of scenes as the accused man’s wife. She’s almost unrecognisable from her roles in such midnight movie favourites as ‘This Island Earth’ (1955), ‘Cult of the Cobra’ (1955) and ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955). She’d had a similarly small role in Lucio Fulci’s stand-out Giallo ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) and only made three more films before retiring in the mid-1970s.

One aspect of the film that remains curious is astrologer, Isaac Thetman (Corrado Gaipa). Sabato consults him on the case because he and the senator were connected. The two don’t hit it off, and Giapa predicts the reporter’s death, which will occur at the very moment of Petrucci’s execution. Apparently, that’s the sort of thing you can get in your horoscope because ‘astrology is akin to the occult!’ Really? Ok. Having said that the fortune teller’s presence does lead to the film’s most inventive moment when he inadvertently reveals a crucial clue by walking under a neon sign.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘It’s all about the bone structure, dahling!’

De Martino collaborated on the screenplay here as he did on all his films, including quite a few cult titles, although these were not always of the best quality. These included cheesy Peplum ‘Perseus Against the Monsters’ (1963), above-the-fold Eurospy ‘Upperseven, l’uomo da uccidere’ (1965), undistinguished Giallo ‘The Insatiables’ (1969), Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) and, best of all, the hilariously ridiculous adventures of ‘The Pumaman’ (1980). Sabato made the usual range of Spaghetti Westerns and crime pictures and starred in Umberto Lenzi’s Giallo ‘Seven Blood-Stained Orchids’ (1972) and Alfonso Brescia’s dreary ‘War of the Robots’ (1978).

Apart from the wonderful Buono, whose best days were already behind him, the real success story here is Czech actor Bouchet. After starting in bit parts for major Hollywood studios and appearing on episodes of ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, ‘Tarzan’ and ‘Star Trek’, she returned to Europe to build a meaningful career via Gialli such as ‘Black Belly of the Tarantula’ (1971), ‘Amuck’ (1972) and ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ (1972). She regularly worked for the rest of the decade before her career began to slow down in the mid-1980s. In recent years, she has returned more often to the big screen, including a part in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Gangs of New York’ (2006), and is still active in the Italian industry as of 2020.

A rather tepid thriller which takes too much time to get going and then tries too hard to make up for it in the last half-hour.

Laserblast (1978)

Laserblast_(1978)‘They say that cake is bad for me, but what about radiation?’

Billy is a small town rebel without a cause; abandoned by his mother, falling out with his girlfriend’s grandfather, and getting hassled by The Man. Then he finds a laser gun left behind by aliens in the desert, but what starts out as a cool adventure takes a more serious turn…

Chances are if you grew up in the 1980s and went to your local video store, you’d have rented a movie produced by Charles Band and his Empire Studios. A few of their productions actually made it to theatres: ‘Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn’ (1983) for one, but mostly they flooded the home rental market with low budget science fiction and fantasy. Subjects typically included giant robots, mutant monsters, killer dolls, and nasty demons. Quality varied wildly; from the excellence of a film like ‘Robot Jox’ (1989) to the wretched ‘Troll 2′ (1990). But everyone has to get that start somewhere and, for Band, it was with the less than stellar ‘Laserblast’ (1978).

The concept isn’t too terrible but, right from the off, we’re in trouble. Although the alien spacecraft may be just about credible (at a gigantic push) its occupants certainly aren’t: a pair of play-doh dinosaurs that converse in ridiculous squeaks and move with stop-motion so clumsy that it looks about half a century out of date. There’s also some poor casting in the matter of teenager Billy, as he’s played by 27 year old Kim Milford. Probably the only way the movie could have worked was with audience investment in his character, but all he does is sulk and whine. He also has zero charisma. Why blonde Cheryl Smith would want to hang around with him is anyone’s guess.

There’s also a problem with the tone. At first, what with the silly aliens, we look like we’re heading for kiddie territory, but then we take a left turn into comedy with a couple of Highway Patrolmen who smoke pot and cause traffic accidents. But, after that, it all gets quite serious when Billy uses the gun to torch a car belonging to local jock Mike Bobenko and his dweeby pal Eddie Deezen. Extended exposure to the weapon also brings about some unpleasant physical changes in our main man (there may be some emotional and behavioural consequences as well, but it’s sort of hard to tell). Things end badly all round, especially for the audience, as the ’action’ culminates in a ‘blink of an eye’ climax that attempts to redefine the word ‘lame.’

Laserblast_(1978)

E.T. grew up to be a badass.

It’s a mystery why well-known actors Keenan Wynn and Roddy McDowall appear, but Wynn also appeared in David L Hewitt’s woeful ‘The Lucifer Complex’ (1978) so his career wasn’t exactly on the up at the time. The biggest star here actually turned out to be Deezen, who is now a  voiceover artist, starring on TV cult hit ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ and in films like ‘Spongebob Squarepants: Sponge Out of Water’ (2015).

There were no happy endings for our young romantic leads, though. Milford’s next film was ‘Corvette Summer’ (1978) which starred Mark Hamill. This was quite ironic as Milford blasts a ‘Star Wars’ billboard here, in what is the movie’s only real creative moment. But a long and glittering career was not to follow, and he died during heart surgery at the age of 37. Cheryl ‘Rainbeaux’ Smith fought a decades long battle with heroin addiction before succumbing to associated complications in 2002. She’d spent two terms in jail, where she’d passed the time designing tattoos for fellow inmates. For a brief moment back at the end of the 1970s, she’d actually been a member of all-girl punk pioneers The Runaways, drafted in on drums to replace the departing Sandy West. Unfortunately, the band broke up for good almost immediately afterward.

With regard to ‘Laserblast’ (1978), one question remains; beneath the surface what is this curious movie actually about? ls it an allegory about the slow and inevitable corrupting influence of power? Or a subtle polemic on the evils of guns and the use of deadly force? A karmic tale about the wages of revenge? Or, on the other hand, is it just a very cheap and stupid film? Hmmm…which could it be?

The Monitors (1969)

The Monitors (1969)‘The Monitors are a stone groove, man. I hope they never lose their cool.’

Life on earth is supervised by the Monitors; benign aliens who have a mission to ensure that man cleans up his act. Violence, aggression, war and fatty foods are all off the agenda. But, although the world is at peace, a rebel underground plot to send the extraterrestrials back to where they came from.

The sort of unfocused, freewheeling satire that could only come out of the 1960s. Our hero is pilot Guy Stockwell (brother of Dean) who is stunt flying for a movie and has fallen for lead actress Susan Oliver. Perfectly understandable if he’d seen her painted green and dancing on ‘Star Trek’! But what he doesn’t know is that she is working for the Monitors and his brother has just been drafted by the underground. When the Monitors break up a peaceful protest, he defends his brother and is forced to go on the run, where he meets Sherry Jackson, another gorgeous girl who once tangled with James T. Kirk.

This is a potentially interesting idea delivered by the Second City comedy troupe and based on a novel by Keith Laumer (‘A Plague of Demons’). Is peace and tranquility an acceptable state of affairs when it is imposed without freedom of choice? The movie raises the question but prefers to provide a lot of wacky and laboured antics, rather than basing the comedy on any meaningful insights.

The Monitors themselves are quite effective: deadpan business men in black suits and bowler hats (think ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ (2011)) and the TV spots and sing-song jingles are quite funny: ‘The Monitors are your friends. Depend on the Monitors.’ But the story never gets a chance to settle down or land any telling, satirical blows. Instead the film is so desperate to be ‘alternative’ and embrace the counter culture that it just disintegrates into a lot of running around, stupid slapstick and idiotic dialogue (‘I was a butterfly, now I’m a paisley shawl’). We get split screen, multiple overlays and a busy soundtrack that simply won’t shut up. In fact, it seems that the filmmakers just throw in another song when they think the tiresome hi-jinks might be flagging a bit.

The Monitors (1969)

‘Stop right there! You know it’s for your own good…’

Having said all that, it’s not a completely lost cause. Keenan Wynn gives good value as usual in the role of the rebel general and Ed Begley Sr delivers a subtle and quietly chilling portrait of a bored U.S. President, bitter because he has no wars to fight. It’s probably the most effective sequence in the film. Unfortunately, neither of them get any significant screen time and when the satire finally kicks in at the denouncement, it’s about as subtle as a brick in the face.

The TV spots praising the Monitors were delivered by some famous faces of the era and, although most are forgotten now, we do get Alan Arkin (& his immediate family), U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen(!) and bandleader Xavier Cugat.

Just remember, folks: ‘The Monitors work for your welfare! The Monitors are kind!’

The Monitors are a stone groove. Man.