Do hit men have a code of ethics? It might seem like a bit of an oxymoron to have hit men and ethics in the same sentence but in most movies about organized crime like The Godfather, The Public Enemy or Scarface, there does seem to be some sort of moral code observed among the rank and file of thugdom, regardless of how hypocritical it may seem. Rarely though do we see crime thrillers where hit men have philosophical discussions about their work and Hail, Mafia (1965) is not only fascinating for this reason but it’s also a criminally overlooked little B-movie. Taut, suspenseful, oddly funny at times and a road movie of sorts, the European produced movie stars Henry Silva and Jack Klugman as ill-matched assassins on a journey to silence their target, an expatriate American (Eddie Constantine) living in France.
Imagine a science-fiction influenced spy thriller about humanoid assassins directed by Jess Franco with a screenplay adaptation by Jean-Claude Carrière (a frequent collaborator with Luis Bunuel), a cool jazz score by Paul Misraki (Alphaville, Le Doulos, Les Cousins) and an international cast featuring Eddie Constantine, Fernando Rey and Francoise Brion. It sounds like a film buff’s fever dream but it actually exists. Released in 1966 during the height of the James Bond craze, Cartes sur table aka Attack of the Robots is a stylish and amusing entertainment that takes a standard world domination-by-madman scenario and infuses it with a cheeky sense of humor. The film will come as a surprise to those who only associate Jess Franco with Eurotrash favorites like 99 Women (1969), Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and Wanda, the Wicked Warden (1977).
If Lucio Fulci had only directed the 1979 cult splatterfest Zombie, he would still warrant more than a footnote in any film history of the horror genre. Obviously inspired by the success of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Fulci’s cult favorite pushed the zombie film into over-the-top excess with the famous eyeball-splinter scene and an underwater grudge match between a shark and one of the undead.
It also launched a whole new genre in the Italian film industry which included such imitators as Cannibal Apocalypse, Nightmare City and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (all released in 1980). Fulci went on to further heights (or depths according to his detractors) with such supernatural thriller gross-outs as City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981). But what most Fulci fans and film buffs tend to overlook is the fact that he was once a director who could occasionally turn out a thought-provoking and artful work of cinema such as his 1969 historical drama, Beatrice Cenci. Continue reading