Fresh out of jail after a two year stretch, Ricco Aversi (Christopher Mitchum) goes gunning for the man who killed his father and stole his gorgeous girlfriend Rosa (Malisa Longo). That man is ruthless mafia boss Don Avito (Arthur Kennedy), who runs every racket in town and uses the local soap factory as a front for his drug-trafficking operation. Its soap-rendering acid vats double as a handy way to gruesomely dispose of his enemies. Teaming up with a beautiful con-artist (a scene-stealing, babelicious Barbara Bouchet), Ricco treads a bloody path towards vengeance.
Among the lesser known Euro-crime thrillers, this Spanish-Italian co-production (known in Europe under the unwieldy title: Some Guy With A Strange Face Is Looking For You To Kill You) was actually sold as a horror film to American grindhouse theatres under yet another alternate title: Cauldron of Death. Little wonder really, given its catalogue of grisly deaths include an exploding head, screaming mobsters dissolved in acid and an horrifically graphic castration caught in eye-watering close-up. An equally crucial aspect of its exploitation appeal are a couple of erotically-charged star turns from fan favourites Malisa Longo and Barbara Bouchet, introduced via repeated, rhythmic close-ups on her bosoms and bottom.
Bouchet performs an unforgettable, show-stopping striptease wherein she manifests in the middle of a foggy road to dazzle the slack-jawed Mafioso whilst gyrating naked atop a car bonnet. Granted our glam leading ladies are treated as sex objects to a large extent, providing gratuitous nudity (always the best kind) but this remains a rare Italian thriller where the women are also smart, capable and strong. Very much in charge of their own sexuality, as Longo seduces Don Avito's right-hand man (brushing her thigh against his face) to uncover a crucial clue while Bouchet outclasses her tepid leading man with her sassy, confident yet nuanced turn. In contrast to the splatter-filled gangsters' demise, the one female death is dealt with restraint and proves genuinely affecting. There is an engaging bonhomie between the principal players. While Christopher Mitchum was not the actor his iconic father Robert Mitchum was, his low-key stoicism suits the role of Ricco even if never convinces us there is a raging animal lurking beneath his placid exterior.
Away from the sex and sadism, this weaves a surprisingly thoughtful, rather melancholy tale. One that contrasts the carefree, peace-loving youngsters with gruff, vengeful elders, reaching beyond Kennedy's snarling, pencil moustached villain to portray Ricco’s father as equally nasty and proud of it. Both of his parents goad Ricco towards violent revenge that ultimately resolves nothing and brings misery to all concerned. Spanish filmmaker Tulio Demicheli had a varied if unremarkable career dating back to 1950, with westerns, spy movies and horror films under his belt - notably the Paul Naschy (a.k.a. Jacinto Molina) werewolf flick Assignment Terror (1967) a.k.a. Dracula versus Frankenstein. He fails to untangle the screenplay's murky web of mafia conspiracies and leaves the action awkward and slow, but shows a knack for interweaving eroticism with potent mind games. Mitchum comes across far better in an engaging interview included on Dark Sky's region 1 DVD. Sleeve notes mention a still gallery that is nowhere to be found. Overall, if you can stomach the violence, this is a lively Euro-crime effort and obviously a must-have for Barbara Bouchet fans.