Thursday, October 19, 2017

RIP Umberto Lenzi (1931-2017)

I was very sorry to awaken this morning to the news of director Umberto Lenzi’s passing at the age of 86. He seldom received the critical respect due to someone like himself, who had done so much heavy lifting to keep the Italian cinema going, but though he had not made a film since 1992, there is a great sense of much more than himself coming to a stop with this news. Lenzi loved the cinema and was one of a handful of early fans and critics who muscled their way into the business, becoming its first generation of postmodernist grindhouse directors. 

Most serious discussions of the Italian popular cinema in English tend to focus on horror films and thrillers, which tended to place Lenzi’s passionate, tireless, industrious work among the also-rans - if not in other categories altogether. From a historian’s perspective, he was usually making the wrong kind of film at the wrong time to stand out. At the height of the Italian gothics, he was focusing on sword and sandal pictures, costume pictures; his KRIMINAL anticipated Bava’s DIABOLIK: he also anticipated the return of the giallo into fashion with his series of Carroll Baker thrillers (PARANOIA, SO SWEET... SO PERVERSE, A QUIET PLACE TO KILL) but they didn’t exploit the sense of style that defined such films; and then, at the height of the giallo, he was making some of the best poliziotesschi of the day (ALMOST HUMAN, VIOLENT NAPLES, THE TOUGH ONES, THE CYNIC THE RAT AND THE FIST), hard-hitting films that took awhile to find their international following. Several of his best thrillers were scripted by Ernesto Gastaldi.

In the end, he left us a lot of fun, memorable, unpretentious pictures including SANDOKAN THE GREAT and its sequel THE PIRATES OF MALYSIA, the SuperSeven spy adventures starring Roger Browne, SPASMO, EYEBALL, SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHIDS, OASIS OF FEAR, and those unforgettable doozies THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, NIGHTMARE CITY, and CANNIBAL FEROX (aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY).

Grazie per l’intrattenimento, Maestro.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.