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Mimi Miceli (Duke Mitchell) is the son of a high-profile mafia don Mimi, a first-generation Italian American who has been exiled back to Sicily for his crimes in America. Years after his wife dies from inoperable cancer, the rambunctious Mimi Jr. is itching to make the family relevant again and contemplates moving business from New York City to the mean streets of Hollywood. Mimi heads to California, where he hooks up with an old Mafioso friend, Jolly (Vic Caesar). The duo paints the town red with bullets and dynamite.

 Massacre Mafia Style
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather redefined the American gangster film as an operatic, elegant, deeply dramatic saga. It replaced the James Cagney and Paul Muni template of the psychotic, smirking antihero with Michael Corleone – a complex man made evil by his commitment to his family. But The Godfather was also based on a likeable, but really trashy Mario Puzo novel – one that included a subplot about Sonny’s mistress getting surgery to shrink the size of her vagina. Among the dozens of films that The Godfather inspired was at least one that was every bit as salacious and sensationalistic as Puzo’s book – Duke Mitchell’s Mafia Massacre Style. Born Dominic Miceli, Duke Mitchell had a long and semi-illustrious career as a popular lounge singer in California. Dubbed ‘Mr. Palm Springs,’ he hung out with crooner royalty, was the official singing voice of Fred Flintstone, and appeared in a handful of movies. When he saw The Godfather, he was inspired to write, direct, produce, self-finance, and star in his own, supposedly more truthful Italian gangster picture.

The stories have striking similarities and Massacre Mafia Style ends with a climatic speech that directly references The Godfather in everything but name (it’s a very meta-textual moment), but the two films have very little in common, stylistically or tonally speaking. This is a good thing, since Mitchell didn’t have the budget to ape Coppola and apparently disapproved of The Godfather’s sense of grandiose dignity. But Massacre Mafia Style does recall the wilder tones of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (which Mitchell likely saw) and, more aptly, Goodfellas. Mitchell’s artistic prowess never matches Scorsese’s, but both films are unpredictable, episodic, and, at times, proudly comedic. This is, most likely, because they take place around the same time and are based (however loosely) on actual events. Goodfellas’ Henry Hill came of age, so to speak, in ‘60s and ‘70s New York. Mitchell was not a gangster and had operated out of California, but his job as a crooner often put him in contact with gangsters. He claims that many scenes in Massacre Mafia Style are based on true stories he was told over the years. This leads me to the tantalizing possibility that Hill and Mitchell might have even interacted at some point.

 Massacre Mafia Style
Mainstream viewers expecting traditional filmmaking will probably be a bit flummoxed by Mitchell’s lack of discipline, but his confident amateurism is really what makes the film special, beyond even the outrageous moments the film is so famous for. The 1970s independent film scene in America was mostly divided between arthouse features – your Andy Warhol Factory types and your John Cassavetes – and pure exploitation features, usually of the horror or porno varieties. Massacre Mafia Style fits into either category, though its vulgar ambitions probably marks it as exploitation in most circles. The hectic, jittery camera work is never rough enough to overwhelm the obvious thought that Mitchell and cinematographer Ken Gibb put into most of their compositions. Tony Mora’s bold, sometimes avant-garde editing is also often up to the standards of the more critically acclaimed films of the era, especially the kaleidoscopic montages and abrupt cuts between locations that helps move the ambitious, but often jumbled plot.

Massacre Mafia Style is notorious in exploitation fan circles for its graphic violence and Mitchell doesn’t disappoint. However, aside from the meat-hook-through-the-eye money shot (one that adorned the UK VHS release cover), the onscreen mayhem isn’t necessarily more graphic than other post- Godfather mob movies (especially not the ones coming out of Italy a few years later), but the quantity of people killed and the often comedic tone of the slaughter sequences is definitely crass. It’s the kind of stuff that tends to offend people more than gross-out gore gags. The tongue-in-cheekiness of some of the massacre scenes and the steady stream of vulgar jokes undercuts Mitchell’s repeated messages about the Italian American community’s reputation being ruined by mafia carnage – something I assume he is being genuine about. At the same time, the hypocrisy of this impulsive pro-Italian American rhetoric overlapped with desensitizing violence and genuinely offensive racism is endlessly fascinating. Could this duplicity be Mitchell’s entire point? Is he accidentally arriving at something meaningful while unloading a smorgasbord of scattershot ideas? It’s probably a little from each column (though Mitchell was legitimately racist in real life).

The amateur cast is, generally speaking, another unsung asset. Most of the major speaking roles are filled by believable scumbags that are probably just playing slightly icky versions of themselves. Though some of them clearly have problems remembering/speaking lines, Mitchell is smart enough to keep dialogue running, unlike far too many similar DIY productions, where stilted line reads are made all the more awkward by a director waiting until a performer has finished speaking to cut away. Still, some of the supporting performances are so stiff that they can’t be mistaken for anything but inadvertently laughable, which is probably where Massacre Mafia Style gets its otherwise unfounded ‘so bad, it’s good’ reputation.

 Massacre Mafia Style

Video


Massacre Mafia Style isn’t exactly a ‘lost film’ – it had a brief theatrical run and appeared on home video, unlike Grindhouse Releasing’s An American Hippie in Israel, which was practically unreleased. The initial VHS versions included an US tape from Video Gems and a heavily-censored UK ‘big box’ tape from Video Tapes International under the alternate title The Executioner (it ended up on the BBFC’s unprosecuted ‘Section 3’ list, mostly because of the graphic box art). Though Grindhouse has had official access to the film for years, there was a limited edition DVD issued via Mitchell’s son, Jeffrey Mitchell (the production company was listed as JM Music). It was loaded with extras, but the transfer was taken from a 1.33:1, VHS-quality source. During the period when Grindhouse’s output was temporarily on hold, a 1080i HD transfer was shown on television (I believe it was part of the TCM Underground series). It may have been a compressed version of the transfer utilized for this new Blu-ray release.

Grindhouse was working with some rough material (though not as rough as what they had for their An American Hippie in Israel release) and what they’ve done with this remastered 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is commendable and comparable with bigger studio restorations of higher budget movies. With a handful of exceptions – a wave of water damage here, a couple of scratched frames, a hair in the gate, et cetera – the image consistency is strong, including steady grain levels and details that are limited only by the depth of field. Contrast levels seem to have been pressed beyond the brink, causing some blow-out (specifically in bright white backgrounds) and crush, but this fits the material and counteracts the muddy fuzz seen on older VHS releases. Strong contrast helps punch up the details a bit too. Colours have been punched-up as well, especially reds, greens, and softer blues. The poppier, warmer hues bloom a bit and skin tones can appear pretty orange, but, given the fashion sense of the period, this isn’t out of the ordinary. I didn’t catch any notable compression issues aside from what might be banding in some of the darkest colour transitions. The slightly bulgy qualities of some of the edges might be signs of CRT machine noise, but that’s really just a nit pick and a guess.

 Massacre Mafia Style

Audio


The original mono soundtrack sounds pretty good here in this digitally remastered, uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Again, like the image quality, the sound quality is limited by the condition of the material, which wasn’t outrageously crisp to begin with. The relative clarity is marred on occasion by slight audio drop-out (more often it’s a problem with missing frames), a couple of fuzzy bits of reverb, and the usual hiss on aspirated consonants. I’ve honestly heard more obviously damaged mono tracks from major studio re-releases. The most persistent issues pertain to the over-stuffed qualities of the track – a problem shared by any number of single-channel mixes. Mitchell’s love of music plays a vital role throughout in the form of old Italian classics and lounge act standards, some of which the director himself sings. These tend to be the only sound during montages and other scenes that don’t require dialogue. The songs are uniformly well-mixed (the few times that onscreen characters are singing, it’s obvious that they are lip-syncing along to prerecorded music), while the score, which is credited to Mitchell (even though some of it sounds like catalogue tracks), is a little more uneven, occasionally buzzing a bit during bassy or loud moments.

 Massacre Mafia Style

Extras


  • Like Father, Like Son (43:20, HD) – This intimate documentary on the life and work of Duke Mitchell was put together by his son Jeffrey and had been included (in SD) with the older limited edition DVD. It includes interviews with the younger Mitchell and family friends. The pace is a bit stifling, but there stories are interesting, especially the ones that cover the making of the film. The director’s upsetting racial politics are further muddied by tales of the racist things he did in his personal life – yet Jeffrey also discovers that the original script called for a black supporting character, which would’ve entirely changed the message.
  • Matt Cimber and Jim Lobianco interviews (10:10, HD) – Mitchell’s friends, filmmaker/distributor Matt Cimber and Gone with the Pope co-star Jim Lobianco, discuss their outsider impressions of the making of and selling of Massacre Mafia Style.
  • Duke Mitchell’s home movies (52:00, HD) – These raw, 8mm home videos are divided into 12 categories that include standard issue family moments and impressionistic video collages. There is no sound, so Grindhouse has included songs from Mitchell’s long musical career.
  • Bonus Features:
    • Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1:14:20, 1.33:1 SD) – Mitchell’s feature debut as a lead was this 1952 comedy featuring Sammy Petrillo and an aging Bela Lugosi. Also known as The Boys from Brooklyn and directed by William Beaudine, it was built around Mitchell and Petrillo’s stage act, which rather blatantly ripped off Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ more famous routine (the duo was actually sued by their counterparts at one point). It also emulates the Abbott and Costello horror/comedy formula. It’s almost unwatchable, but it’s nice to have it here for completion’s sake. The movie’s menu page also includes a trailer and still gallery
    • An Impressionistic Tribute to Jimmy Durante (37:10, 1.33:1 SD) – Apparently made for television, this is a videotaped version of Mitchell’s Jimmy Durante impression act, including staged interviews. It is incredibly surreal and features a raw gallery of 16mm dailies, which are accessible via the title screen (6:30, HD).
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Radio spots
  • Still Galleries:
    • Production stills and materials
    • Color stills
    • Theatrical production art
    • Home video art
    • Duke Mitchell promotional photos
  • Duke Mitchell and Cara Salerno filmographies
  • Grindhouse Releasing trailers
  • DVD-Rom Extras
  • Easter Egg – More Matt Climber interview footage (1:50, HD)


 Massacre Mafia Style

Overall


Massacre Mafia Style isn’t quite the gorefest the old trailers promise (‘The most violent film ever made’), but it’s a very enjoyable, surprisingly potent, DIY crime epic. Grindhouse Releasing has, once again, outdone themselves in terms of turning a largely forgotten relic into a shining star, on par with most major studio releases in terms of image and sound quality. The extras are also an extensive catalogue of director/writer/star Duke Mitchell’s entire professional life, including interviews, 8mm home movies, photographs, and even a copy of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, the first movie he ever starred in.

 Massacre Mafia Style

 Massacre Mafia Style

 Massacre Mafia Style

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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