Distinguishing itself with bold interpretations of political, cultural, and personal corruption when most crime thrillers were content with over-simplistic symbols void of believability or emotional challenge, European crime cinema emphasized a world of gritty violence and graphic bloodshed with characters seeped in amorality. Exchanging the diluted surface action and gutless thematic banality of American exploitation with subjective interpretations of justice, 'poliziotteschi' were quick to depict the squalor of urban living -- physical and emotional environments seeped in alienation. At their best, these Italian hard-boiled hybrids questioned the conservative assertion that the world was easily divided into two camps: the 'good guys' and 'the bad guys.' At its worst, the Italian crime genre still offered enough sensationalism to justify its existence, including melodic scores, explosive set pieces, and more machismo than a hopped up sailor on shore leave. After releasing the espionage heavy hitters Assassination in Rome and Espionage in Tangiers, Dark Sky Films rescues from undeserved obscurity Ricco: The Mean Machine. A hidden gem of fast-paced, exploitative, yet strangely elegant sleaze, this title was released in the States as Cauldron of Death. No mater what title you give it, this ferocious dark revenge thriller takes no prisoners, making up for its lack of story logic with a sucker punch of attitude and larger than life performances.

Released from prison after a 2-year stretch, Ricco Aversi (Christopher Mitchum) vows revenge on suave drug smuggler Don Vito (Arthur Kennedy), who ordered the murder of his father and abducted his lusty girlfriend (Malissa Longo). Pairing up his talents with seductive con-artist (Barbara Bouchet), Ricco cleaves a brutal path through the Don's thugs to wreak righteous vengeance. This is all you need to know of the plot because stylish sexploitation and gore are far more important here than story.

A righteous combination of sadism and outrage, Ricco is devoted to the fine art of spilled blood, sweating torsos, and jingling breasts. This simplistic plot hinges upon vengeance and races from one explosive set piece to another, leading to an evocative, powerful finale. Exploitation is the name of the game, including copious amounts of blood squibs, head smashing, and -- everyone's favorite past-time -- penis wacking! Marketed misleadingly as a horror film in earlier releases, one can see why general audiences might see terror elements in the film's more graphic moments. The infamous castration scene is just one of the treats to be had in this chunk-spewing baddie, presented in loving detail in a restored print. The violence is accompanied by an unconscious 'camp' humor that balances the bleak atmosphere and grimy realism of the settings. Ignoring many of the troubles of conscience that more serious Euro crime thrillers emphasize, Ricco is best approached for what it is: a pulp film preferring titillation over emotional substance, and all the more fun for it!

Dark Sky's DVD of Ricco looks sharp and clean in a 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer. Little grain hampers the picture quality and colors are vivid and vibrant. The soundtrack is presented in clear Mono English (with additional English subs). Neither score nor dialogue suffer background distortion.

Extras are enticing and informative, featuring "Mitchum the Mean Machine," a concise and enthusiastic interview with Christopher Mitchum. Mitchum is well spoken and engaging, covering everything from his stint as a dead extra, his choice to enter acting as a profession, and his gigs with such cinematic legends as John Wayne and producer Howard Hawks. A lot of time is spent discussing his time in Spain, where he starred in Ricco and other action films. A Trailer (in Italian) concludes the disc.

Review by William Simmons

Released by Dark Sky Films
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review