Director: Sergio Grieco
Producer: Armando Bertuccioli
Cast: Helmut Berger, Richard Harrison, Marisa Mell, Marina Giordana, Luigi Bonos, Ezio Marano, Vittorio Duse, Alberto Squillante, Nello Pazzafini, Maria Pascucci
Running Time: 95 min.
Beast with a Gun could loosely be associated with the Poliziotteschi genre (Italian police films) since the hero is a cop, but most of the film’s screentime is devoted to actor Helmut Berger’s crazed bad guy and his violent antics. As such, this movie falls more in line with the glut of “kidnapping” films that were popular in the 70’s. These movies tended to feature hapless suburbanites kidnapped and taken on the road by vicious criminals; they asked audiences “What would you do in this situation?” and offered the grindhouse-style titillation of seeing housewives roughed up by convicts. The founding father of Italian horror, Mario Bava, even lent his hand at one of these movies just a few years before Beast with a Gun with 1974’s Rabid Dogs – a much superior film to this, let me tell you.
Helmut Berger was an Austrian-born actor who later found fame doing filmwork in Italy and France. He crackles with a demonic intensity in Beast with a Gun, looking for all the world like a young Kenneth Branagh crossed with a sadistic gang member from Death Wish 3. He seems to relish in his role as a “mad dog killer”: from the opening of the film when he escapes from prison, he never stops lashing out at the world. He beats the crap out of a security guard and some poor gas station attendants; he gets revenge against the man who squealed on his gang, then forces himself on the guy’s wife and takes her along for the rest of his crime spree. Meanwhile, a mustached and rather ineffectual cop tries to pinpoint Helmut’s whereabouts and bring him to justice. The film builds to its inevitable conclusion as these two opposing forces of the law must eventually meet.
Beast with a Gun has a certain sleazy momentum to it, much like Helmut Berger in the lead role, which makes it watchable. But overall I found the film to be a droll and unenjoyable trip into the world of one loathsome human being. For all his posturing and beatdowns, Helmut’s character just seems like a poser – you get the sense that without a gun in his hand or his gang backing him up, he’d shrink from a fight like the coward he is. Italian b-movies are all about providing lurid thrills but sometimes you just have to ask yourself: do we really want to spend 90 minutes with this character? There’s nothing charismatic or compelling about an antisocial lunatic who beats and rapes people because he has a a gun and they don’t.
Beast with a Gun garnered some attention back in the late 90’s due to a cameo appearance in Jackie Brown – it’s the film Robert DeNiro and Bridget Fonda are seen watching on TV while they get high. Although I typically trust Quentin Tarantino and his innate ability to dig up obscure b-movie gems, this is one mad dog I suggest you put down.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 4/10