CAULDRON FILMS RELEASES: Off Balance / Top Line / The Last Match (1988, 1991)

Cauldron Films has outdone themselves with three mind melting Italian blu ray releases. Do you need them? You fucking NEED them. In fact, I’m going to spend the rest of this post explaining to you in great detail why you need these movies.

You can get the bundle of all three from Cauldron.

Off Balance (AKA Phantom of Death) (1988): Ruggero Deodato, how I love you. I love that you somehow convinced a real actor, Michael York, to be in an insane film about a man getting progeria and murdering people left and right. I can get how you got Donald Pleasence. I can even sort of understand how you got Edwige Fenech. But Michael York?

York plays Robert Dominici, a pianist who suffers from that previously mentioned genetic condition that causes him to rapidly age, and by that, I mean that his face starts looking like Klaus Kinski at age 200. To make up for the bad hand he’s been dealt, he starts killing people, including targeting Inspector Datti ‘s (Pleasence) daughter Gloria (Antonella Ponziani).

Deodato would later say, “I did Phantom of Death because it was based on a true element — the idea of growing old. And I got to work with Michael York and Donald Pleasence.” He also threw in that the producer demanded Fenech, who was miscast. This is also one of the few movies where she isn’t dubbed, so you get to hear her real voice.

I have a real weakness for post 1980 giallo so this movie is like the sweetest Galatine milk candies.

This movie was written by Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino in the early 80s and became the start of The New York Ripper. According to Clerici, he and Mannino were offended by how their script was changed, so they kept editing it until giving it to Deodato. Several pieces of what Fulci used are in this movie, including York’s character disguising his voice and taunting the police.

Beyond Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Marino Mase showing up, this movie is notable because Pleasence is pretty much playing Dr. Loomis’ Italian cousin, ranting and raving as he stalks a ninja-like York through the streets of Venice, yelling the word bastard over and over again. All this scene needs is Jack Sayer in his truck, rumbling up smelling of booze and lamenting, “You’re huntin’ it, ain’t ya? Yeah, you’re huntin’ it, all right.”

The new Cauldron Films blu ray release of Off Balance is limited to 1500 copies and the film itself has a 2K restoration from the original negative. Extras include one of the final interviews with Deodato, commentary with film historians Eugenio Ercolani and Troy Howarth, Italian and English trailers, a CD of the Pino Donaggio soundtrack, a double-sided poster, a slipcase with artwork by Eric Adrian Lee and a reversible wrap with alternate artwork.

Top Line (AKA Alien Termintor) (1988): Man, was Nello Rossati dating Franco Nero’s daughter or something? Not only did he get him into this movie, but a year later he would be the person — well, his pseudonym Ted Archer did, but you get the point — to finally get him to come back to his most famous role in Django Strikes Again. He also made the giallo La gatta in calore (assistant directed by Lamberto Bava and shot by Aristide Massaccesi!), a Napoleon-sploitation film called Bona parte di Paolina, a sex comedy called The Sensuous Nurse with Ursula Andress and Jack Palance, the poliziotteschi Don’t Touch the Children!, another sex comedy called Io zombo, tu zombi, lei zomba about four zombies running a hotel, a giallo-esque film named Le mani di una donna sola in which a lesbian countess seduces married women until insane asylum escapees chop her hands off, and an I Spit On Your Grave revengeomatic called Fuga scabrosamente pericolosa that stars Andy Sidaris villain Rodrigo Obregón.

Needless to say, I’m a fan.

Ted Angelo (Nero) starts the movie off literally telling a woman that he’s too tired to make love. Is this the great hero of Italian cinema? He seems exhausted throughout but it works; he’s a writer fallen on hard times and harder drinking. He’s supposed to be writing a book on pre-Columbian civilizations, but he’s falling deeper and deeper into depression and drunken days to the point that he’s fired by his publisher — and ex-wife — Maureen De Havilland (Miss World 1977 Mary Stävin, who by this point had already appeared in Adam Ant’s “Strip” video, Octopussy and A View to a Kill, as well as releasing the exercise album Shape Up and Dance with footballer George Best).

It seems like Ted’s luck is changing when he’s shown a ton of writings that came from a shipwreck of Spanish conquistadores. Except that the ship isn’t on the bottom of the ocean. It’s in a cave. And maybe that luck’s bad, because everyone connected with the ship, like art dealer Alonso Quintero (Willian Berger) is dying under mysterious circumstances. And oh yeah. That shipwreck in a cave is also inside a UFO.

The only real good luck that Ted gets is when an art historian and friend of Quintero named June (Deborah Barrymore, who is not related to Drew, but is instead of the daughter of Roger Moore and Italian actress Luisa Mattioli) helps him out.

What follows is a delirious descent into madness to the point that if you told me this was all a drug trip, I’d believe you. First, Ted is almost run over by former Nazi Heinrich Holzmann (George Kennedy, who is only in the movie for this one scene), then the camera crew he hires ends up being CIA spooks who want to murder him, then the KGB gets involved and then things get really weird.

Ted gets the idea that Maureen has the kind of connections that can save him and June. As they wait for her, a cyborg Rodrigo Obregón attacks them and only stops when he’s hit by a bull. He gets torn apart and sounds like he’s trying to say the words to “Humpty Dumpty” and man, I literallyjumped aout of my chair in the middle of the night I was so excited. He looks like Johnny Craig drew him!

Somehow, the movie then decides to top itself as another Rodrigo Obregón cyborg that looks exactly the same shows up with Maureen, who removes her skin to show us that she’s one of the aliens that have been on Earth for twelve thousand years and now are in control of most countries and multinational corporations.

At this point, is there any hope for any of us?

Yes, this is a movie where a gorgeous Swedish woman takes off all of her epidermis — of course we see her breasts, this is an Italian movie — to reveal that she’s a lizard alien that fulfills the worries of David Icke, then she vomits slime all over herself and tries to kill Franco Nero with her giant tongue.

If you told me this was an actual alien, I would believe you.

The first few times I’ve tried to watch this, I couldn’t get into it. It was too slow and felt too downbeat with Nero’s character feeling hopeless. So don’t be like me. I beg you, stick with this for an hour. Just an hour, because it’s not bad. I mean, yes, Franco Nero survives a car chase by throwing eggs, but it’s just slow, not badly made.

But the last thirty minutes make it all worth it.

When you get there, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

This is a movie all about the foreplay and then when it’s time to get to the actual sex, it’s the weirdest and best Penthouse Forum sex you’ve ever had and you feel like there’s no way that it happened and no one will ever believe you.

Also: Franco Nero screams almost every line and I respect that.

Also also: This is like a budget They Live by people who never saw that movie.

Also also also: This ends with Franco Nero living in a Cannibal Holocaust paradise and a song that sounds like something Disney characters would sing to.

The new Cauldron Films blu ray release of Top Line is limited to 1500 copies and the film itself has a 2K restoration from the original negative. Extras include interviews with Nero and Ercolani, a featurette on the alien theories of the film by parapolitics researcher Robert Skvarla and an in-depth audio commentary by film historian Eric Zaldivar including audio interviews from cast members, Deborah Moore and Robert Redcross, as well as additional insight on Italian cult films with actors Brett Halsey and Richard Harrison. There’s also a booklet, a double-sided poster and a high quality slipcase with artwork by Ghanaian artist Farika in conjunction with Deadly Prey Gallery.

The Last Match (1991): Often, I refer to movies as having an all-star cast, which is really a misnomer. After all, what I consider A-list talent certainly does not fit the rest of the world. The Last Match, however, has the very definition of what I consider an all-star cast. Let’s take a look at the lineup:

Ernest Borgnine: Amongst the 211 credits Mr. Borgnine amassed on his IMDB list, none other have him leading a football team against an unnamed Caribbean island to save his assistant coach’s little girl. He was, however, in four Dirty Dozen movies and The Wild Bunch, not to mention playing Coach Vince Lombardi in a TV movie. One assumes that he took this role to get away from his wife Tova and her incessant cosmetics shilling. 

Charles Napier: As the American consul in this movie, Napier cuts a familiar path, which he set after appearing in the monster hit Rambo: First Blood Part II. For him, it was either playing bureaucrats or cops, thankless roles that he always brought a little something extra to. The exception to his typecasting is when he played Baxter Wolfe, the man who rocks Susan Lakes’ loins in the beyond essential Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Henry Silva: If you need a dependable jerk and you have the budget of, well, an Italian movie about a football team that also does military operations, call Mr. Silva. He admirably performed the role of the heel — or antihero at other times in movies like Megaforce, Battle of the Godfathers, Cry of a Prostitute (in which he plays the Yojimbo role but in a mafia film; he also pushes Barbara Bouchet’s face inside a dead pig’s carcass while making love to her and he’s the good guy), Escape from the Bronx and so many more movies.

Martin Balsam: Perhaps best known for Psycho, Balsam shows up in all manner of movies that keep me up at 4 AM on nights when I know work will come sooner than I fear. He’s so interested in acting up a storm in this movie that he is visibly reading off cue cards.

They’ve all joined up for a movie that finds the coach’s daughter get Midnight Express-ed as drugs are thrown in her bag at the airport on the way home from a vacation with her hapless jerk of a boyfriend. At least he’s smart enough to call assistant coach Cliff Gaylor (Oliver Tobias), the father of the daughter whose life he has just ruined. And luckily for this film, Tobias was in a movie called Operation Nam nearly a decade before, which meant that they could recycle footage of him in combat. He also was The Stud and serviced Joan Collins, so he has my eternal jealousy going for him, too.

Who could dream up a movie like this? Oh, only Larry Ludman, but we see through that fake name and know that it’s Fabrizio De Angelis steering this ship, the maker of beloved trash such as Killer Crocodile, five Karate Warrior movies and three Thunder movies that star the beloved Mark Gregory as a stiff legged Native American warrior who pretty much cosplays as Rambo. And don’t forget — this is the man who produced Zombi, The House by the Cemetery, The Beyond and New York Ripper!

In this outing, he’s relying on Cannibal Holocaust scribe Gianfranco Clerici and House on the Edge of the Park writer Vincenzo Mannino to get the job done. For some reason, despite this being an Italian exploitation movie, we never see the coach’s daughter in jail. Instead, we’re treated to what seems like Borgnine in a totally different movie than everyone else, barking orders into his headphones as if he was commanding the team in a playoff game. 

To make matters even more psychotic, the football players show up in full uniform instead of, you know, commando gear. One wonders, by showing up in such conspicuous costumes, how could they avoid an international incident? This is my lesson to you, if you’re a nascent Italian scumtastic cinema viewer: shut off your brain, because these movies don’t have plot holes. They’d have to have actual plots for that to be possible. 

I say this with the fondest of feelings, because you haven’t lived until you witness a football player dropkick a grenade into a helicopter. Supposedly this was written by Gary Kent for Bo Svenson, who sold the script to De Angelis unbeknownst to the stuntman until years later. It was originally about a soccer team!

Former Buffalo Bills QB Jim Kelly* is in this, which amuses me to no end, as does the ending, where — spoiler warning — Borgnine coaches the team from beyond the grave!

You know how conservative folks have quit watching the NFL as of late? This is the movie to bring ‘em back, a film where the offensive line has fully automatic machine guns and refuses to kneel for anything. No matter what your politics, I think we can all agree on one thing: no matter how dumb an idea seems, Italian cinema always tries to pull it off. 

*Other pros include Florida State and arena football player Bart Schuchts and USFL player Mark Rush, as well as Dolphins Jim Jensen, Mike Kozlowsky, Elmer Bailey and Jim Kiick. It’s kind of astounding that at one point, these players could just end up in a movie without the NFL knowing. This would never happen today.

The new Cauldron Films blu ray release of The Last Match is limited to 1500 copies and the film itself has a 2K restoration from the original negative. Extras include an interview with special effects artist Roberto Ricci; American Actors in a Declining Italian Cinema, a minidoc by EUROCRIME! director Mike Malloy; Understanding the Cobra, a video essay by Italian film expert Eugenio Ercolani and commentary by Italian exploitation movie critic Michael A. Martinez. You also get a trailer, an image gallery, a booklet with writings from Jacob Knight and David Zuzelo, a double-sided poster, a high quality slipcase featuring original artwork and a reversible Blu-ray wrap with alternate artwork.

One thought on “CAULDRON FILMS RELEASES: Off Balance / Top Line / The Last Match (1988, 1991)

  1. Pingback: What’s Up in the Neighborhood, May 13 2023 – Chuck The Writer

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