All Eyes On Lenzi – The Life And Times Of The Italian Exploitation Titan (2018). Directed and produced by Calum Waddell. Produced and edited by Naomi Holwill.
Despite having one of Hollywood’s hottest hot shots (you know who I mean) as the unofficial President of his fan club, the recently deceased Umberto Lenzi remains an underrated director among aficianados of the various genres in which he worked. I’m as guilty as anyone in this regard… in one of my earliest published pieces I praised Lenzi’s cannibal movies (he wouldn’t have thanked me for that… indeed, he subsequently slammed the phone down on one attempt I made to talk to him about those films) while dismissing his gialli out of hand. Well, the statute of limitations must be up on this so I might as well confess that in those days I still hadn’t seen several of the latter…
I subsequently caught up with and have recently been re-watching Lenzi’s thrillers starring Carroll Baker, in the service of a feature that I’m writing about the evolution of the giallo, so you’d think I wouldn’t make that mistake again. As recently as my review of Arrow’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key, though, I refer to a notional “big four” of giallo directors (Bava, Argento, Fulci and Martino) which really should have been expanded to a “big five” to include Lenzi. Sure, his brand of steamy. scheming, bonkbusting gialli gave way to the Bird With The Crystal Plumage model and his later attempts to render films in the Argento style are not wholly convincing, but to deny Lenzi his proper place in the Hall Of Fame does a significant disservice both to him and to giallo history… over and above which, we must consider the impact of his cannibal epics on polite society and the enormity of his contributions to the poliziotteschi scene.
Perhaps my brief contributions to Calum Waddell’s timely All Eyes On Lenzi feature-length documentary will go some way towards atoning for my previous critical lacunae. There are plenty of other pundits lining up in it to demand that Lenzi be paid his due respect, including Milanese fan publishing notable Manlio Gomarasca, the University of Worcester’s own Mikel Koven (who enthuses about the thespian sparks ignited between Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli, among other things), film-maker Scooter McCrae and one of my favourite up-and-coming writers, Rachael Nisbet (is that your disc collection behind you, Rachael? Jeez, I wish mine was as neatly displayed as that…)
Principle among those boosting Lenzi’s credentials, of course, is Lenzi himself, in one of the last interviews he ever gave (and in which he gives particularly good value for money on the subject of setting up the action scenes in his crime-slime classics, also keeping an admirably straight face as he expands upon the serious ecological message behind Nightmare City). Giovanni Lombardo Radice offers a dissenting view while his Cannibal Ferox co-star Danilo Mattei (who can also be seen lurking inside a bear skin in Lenzi’s The Iron Master) contributes a more phlegmatic take on the moody director’s foibles.
The Iron Master… Nightmare City… Eyeball… all these slices of delirious cinematic trash are enthusiastically endorsed as evidence that Lenzi could still deliver entertaining fare, even when the budgets got a bit rubbish. AEOL doesn’t shy away from the fact that when the budgets got really rubbish, Lenzi was as capable of delivering a sack of shit as anyone (Black Demons… The Hell’s Gate… I’m looking at you) but hey, that never queered anyone’s admiration for Lucio Fulci, and rightly so. Nisbet offers the ironic observation that even Lenzi’s fag-end failures have a fan following of their own among millennials (bloody millennials… who can figure those guys out, huh?)
Another winner from our pals at High Rising Productions, All Eyes On Lenzi will apparently be included in an all-singing / dancing deluxe metal box edition of Eyeball from 88 Films… keep ’em peeled for that one, schlock-pickers!