I've seen Killer contro killers (Death Commando) (1985) at least ten times, now; and while I notice more of its flaws with each viewing, the film still ranks as one of my favorites from writer and director Fernando di Leo. Killer contro killers is di Leo's final film. While most would see this film as an ignominious ending for the master filmmaker, his playful spirit is still very evident and his most dominant theme in all of his work, freedom, continues to pervade.
Scumbag and broker for the local criminal syndicate (Franco Diogene) is approached by His Excellency, the local kingpin (Edmond Purdom) to assemble a crew for a heist. Diogene's financial greed trumps his good sense and he agrees to assemble a crew for the heist, despite not knowing the particulars of the job. Diogene hires safecracker, Jaffe (di Leo regular, Fernando Cerulli); conwoman Cherry (Dalila Di Lazzaro); jack of trades, Ferrari (Albert Janni); and loner hitman, Sterling (Henry Silva). They all agree to work the heist. The heist involves breaking and entering into a military facility; stealing an important document out of the safe; neutralizing all hostile targets with non-lethal means; and blowing up the facility to erase all traces of a heist. The crew is successful, but it appears that each of the crew is another loose end in need of tidying up. Time to grab the firearms.
The first and second act of Killer contro killers are strong in their execution, primarily in their pacing, and the dramatic structure is easy-to-follow and competent. The first act is the exposition and introduces all characters while the second act involves the heist. None should find any distracting flaws, here.
The first and second acts are highlighted by their di Leo-ian flourishes and touches. During her character exposition in the first act, Di Lazzaro's Cherry is posing as an expectant mother, shuffling through a thoroughfare. Her mark is a businessman with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. He is accompanied by two bodyguards. Cherry's boyfriend is in on the con and he is posing as a leisure-time roller-skater. Cherry gives the signal and her boyfriend grabs the mark. Cherry reveals a pair of wire cutters, but her mark kicks her in her belly, temporarily stunning her. She gets back up and defiantly, instead of cutting the handcuff, she cuts of the mark's hand.
Jaffe, the safecracker, is a voyeur. He likes to spend money on women and watch them disco dance in the nude in his apartment. His employers bring to his apartment a facsimile of the safe that he will encounter in the heist. Jaffe is supposed to practice upon this facsimile safe to prepare for the heist. I don't know why this sequence is brilliant, but when Jaffe practices on the safe, it is the ladies who like to watch.
As the hitman, Silva's Sterling must utilize non-lethal methods on his marks during the heist. He is given a tranquilizer rifle with darts as ammo. He goes to the park and practices using the rifle on the park's patrons. I bullshit you not. I do not laugh during these sequences but obnoxiously cackle.
Finally, during the evening of the heist, in order to gain access into the facility, the crew hires an extremely attractive young woman to bounce on a trampoline on the outside of the walls to attract the guards' attention. The crew is beyond successful.
The final act of Killer contro killers suffers from too many conversation scenes between Silva's Sterling and Janni's Ferrari. The substance of their conversation is repeated over and over. An especially long conversation occurs between Silva and Purdom. This scene wants to be confrontational and intense but it goes on too long to sustain its energy. The final shootout is fantastic. The scenes that are particularly noteworthy are Sterling unleashing his exotic pet (Puma? Cheetah?) upon an incoming gangster and the numerous scenes of Silva blowing up a single person with a bazooka. (Note: I obnoxiously cackle during these sequences, as well.)
All joking aside, Fernando di Leo envisioned Killer contro killers as a remake of John Houston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950). The original Spanish producers pulled out of the production and eventually the small production company, Robur, based in Rome, agreed to finance the film. Robur was comprised of producer, Mario Colajanni and actor, Albert[o] [Cola]janni and while they agreed to finance the film, the budget would not be much. As a result, di Leo significantly altered his script. Di Leo would have preferred Harrison Muller from his previous film, The Violent Breed (1984) as Silva's "co-protagonist." (from Fernando di Leo e il suo cinema nero e perverso, by Gordiano Lupi, Profondo Rosso, Rome, Italy, 2009, pp. 171-172.) This is speculation, but perhaps di Leo originally envisioned an American-style noir with Melville-ian undertones, as with his Milano calibro 9 (1972). Lupi suggests that Killer contro killers is "un noir ironico" in the vein of I padroni della citta (1976) or Colpo in canna (Loaded Guns) (1975). (Lupi, p. 172.)
Killer contro killers is definitely not for the uptight, and in my opinion, the veteran filmmaker played fast and loose with the film. Dalila Di Lazzaro performed a pop song entitled Cry baby cry within the film, and the entire song and her performance is captured, like a proto-music video. This sequence is strong evidence that the man was definitely not uptight. God bless you, Fernando di Leo.