Kill the Poker Player! (1972)

Hai sbagliato... dovevi uccidermi subito! / Creeping Death

poster for Kill the Poker Player

It's been too long, folks, so here I am, with another random pick, this time Mario Bianchi's 1972 effort, Kill the Poker Player! The Italian title of this is Hai sbagliato... dovevi uccidermi subito!, which means, "You made a mistake... you should have killed me immediately!" This would have certainly made for a more interesting English title, although the alternate English title of this film, which is what was on this old VHS-rip version that I watched, was called Creeping Death, more like the title for an Italian gore flick than a spag.

The film starts with a bank robbery in which all of the people in the bank are killed. Later, as the two robbers set up camp, they're visited by a third person whose face is hidden, but he's obviously involved in some way. The next scene has the two robbers waking up to fatal poisonous snake bites, with the inference that the mysterious person is responsible.


As usual for the genre, the special effects budget for this film basically allowed for a few rubber snakes,
outfitted with what appears to be cat teeth. Rowr! ...I mean... hiss!

Back in town, a stranger appears, although he's hardly the typical, mysterious, gruff, poncho-clad type we're used to. It's a rather dapper-looking, well-dressed guy with really good hair and a British accent, who introduces himself to some of the town bigwigs as Jonathan Pinkerton, who's supposedly investigating the robbery for an insurance claim for Lloyd's of London. Pinkerton is played by genre stalwart, Robert Woods (credited as "Robert Wood" in this film).

Robert Woods, with fantastic 70's hair.

Robert Woods, with fantastic 70's hair.

We soon find out that it's all a ruse... he's really a federal agent named Alan Fields, trying to bring the one remaining bank robber to justice. I don't want to reveal the secrets of the plot, but it involves several of the town bigwigs, as well as lots of poisonous snakes. Of course, after many twists and turns, Fields finally gets his man.

I liked this movie, for several reasons. First off, let me be clear... it's your typical low-budget spag. Character development and excellent scriptwriting are not its hallmarks, although I did enjoy the most awkward threat made by one of the characters, "I'll cut your hands off on my own personal life!" That said, there are some rather colorful and interesting characters here. In addition to Woods atypical spaghetti protagonist, there's a corrupt sheriff, a rancher, and a rather nutty snake-loving mad doctor. There's a few other things that kept my interest, mostly because they defied the usual spaghetti conventions.

It played more like a detective story in a spaghetti western context, which I found rather refreshing, as when one gets into the lower-budget outings, orignality is not usually commonplace. Up until the last twenty minutes of the film, I really didn't know who the criminal mastermind was going to be, as, throughout the course of the film, we're thrown a few curveballs and false leads, a hallmark of any decent mystery film. The device of using poisonous snakes as a weapon was also an interesting aspect of the film... real snakes were sometimes used, in addition to the rubber snakes. It also was used, in part, in that same false lead, putting our suspicions in a certain direction that turn out to be unfounded.

As far as the conventions go, there were a lot, and I mean A LOT of the close-up, Leone-esque eye shots:

The eyes have it.

Unlike, say hack-extraordinaire Demofilo Fidani, whose gratuitous use of eye close-ups seem to serve no purpose other than he read it in the book, Directing Spaghetti Westerns for Dummies, Bianchi often uses them very effectively. There's one scene where Woods' character and a baddie almost seem to have a conversation going back and forth with nothing but their eyes. It made something that is often an overdone cliché into something rather interesting.

The one quirk that sometimes didn't work was Carlo Savina's soundtrack. It mostly consisted of the late-60's sounding organ and mod guitar-driven pieces, which had already sounded quite dated by 1972, cool as it may be. But there are two scenes where the music just ain't right. One is during a scene where Woods is attacked by four guys, where he then proceeds to beat the tar out of them. The music got kinda lighthearted and made the scene appear somewhat slapstick, out of character for the rest of the film. Also, in a chase scene, there's a fast walking-bass jazz score going on behind the action... it just seemed terribly out of place.

This is hardly a masterwork, by any stretch, and at times the pacing lags a bit, but it breaks away from the conventions enough to make it an interesting, and recommended watch, if you can find it. As far as I know, there is no current DVD release of this.


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