director Lucio Fulci
Fulci’s first Western has requisite grit, perversity, and blood, the stuff that set the Spaghetti Western apart from the Hollywood ones and revitalized the genre. Also Massacre Time is a pretty badass title and that poster is killer too.
Massacre Time itself is not all meat, but it is pretty toothsome featuring Franco Nero and George Hilton as brothers, reunited to inflict some vengeance on a clan of nogoodniks who have taken over their small town.
There is a similar, if less effective, half-brother twist as in Adios, Texas (also 1966 — released in the same month, no less). There is also a foppish Sadist archetype (played here by Nino Castelnuovo – how old is this archetype, I wonder).
Fulci pulls off some stylish shots and sequences, but it’s the violence that elevates the film, from the more pointed cruelty of the whipping scene to the somewhat elegant shootout towards the end.
I also liked the scene with the kid playing the diegetic harmonica.
director Joe D’Amato
The things we do for love…
Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness takes several elements of Hitchcock’s Psycho to their logical(?) extremes. With a few twists and turns. And a dead baboon.
Unlike fellow taxidermist Norman Bates, Frank Wyler (Kieran Canter) had a real life love. But she is killed via voodoo by Iris (Franca Stoppi), his housekeeper-cum-wet nurse. Frank and Iris’s relationship is far more wrought and perverse than Norman and his mother’s. Iris understands when she finds that Frank has uninterred his dead wife, pulled out her guts, has eaten her heart, and taxidermied her. She’s also cool with the killing and dissolving of other women Frank brings home.
At heart, Beyond the Darkness is a love story, or a twist of two love stories, mixed with hatred, jealousies, retributions, and an inevitable dance toward mutual death.
director José Ramón Larraz
Director José Ramón Larraz’s 1980 horror flick Stigma is a walking ghostly bad dream. Actually, it’s Sebastian’s (Christian Borromeo) bad dream, psychic visions, or past life recollections.
Are his incest obsessions fantasies or tricks of repressed memories of a prior existence?
Larraz surprises at times with genuinely eerie images, somewhat surreal. Inflected as it is with a confused and violent sexual maturity, Stigma winds up being pretty interesting and evocative, even with a rough dubbing and a print in need of restoration.
director Ferdinando Baldi
Texas, Adios isn’t necessarily a vital Spaghetti Western. It’s an adequate one.
It does have prime age Franco Nero going for it. But this is no Django.
It does, as others have noted, feel at times more Hollywood than other Italian Westerns. But it shifts around in vibe, at times more typical of its Spaghetti brethren. But that shifting also denudes it of feeling particularly compelling as well.
I don’t know what else to say.
director Sergio Grieco
Cinematography is the star in Beast with a Gun (aka Mad Dog Killer). It’s brutal and somehow quaint at the same time (The Italy of the time and all those little cars and mopeds!)
Occasionally I picked up a sort of A Clockwork Orange vibe, maybe just in the rampant sadism rather than the film style.
“Have you any money? These are all false, all counterfeit. Only good for the movies.”
director Giancarlo Santi
Giancarlo Santi’s The Grand Duel isn’t itself quite grand. It features some excellent sequences, stylishly shot, but it shifts back and forth between more dramatic scenes and comic ones, giving an odd, unsettled tone.
Apparently, it suffers the impact of They Call Me Trinity (1970), a watershed of sorts for the Spaghetti Western, in which a successfully comic tone was then forced upon many other comers, signalling the beginning of the fade of the genre.
This was Santi’s first film as head director, having worked alongside Sergio Leone and other notable Italian filmmakers. The comedy is particularly odd in its placement, coming right after some very serious dramatic sequences, really throwing off the vibe.
The cast is good, in particular Klaus Grünberg, who plays a pockmarked pretty boy sadist (also clearly meant to be read as homosexual and not in a progressive way). Grünberg exhibits the malice of a good villain.
The Duel itself comes at the end, and even as the dramatic climax happens, the music breaks into a more jovial tune, a final punctuation of the film’s mixed-up sensibility.
director Lamberto Bava
Meta-horror moves from the movie theater into the home via television in Lamberto Bava’s sequel, Demons 2.
Watching horror films apparently makes them come to life in mid-Eighties Berlin. At least we have a pretty solid “alternative music” (what it was briefly dubbed round about that time) soundtrack to go die to.
A lot of people seem to diss or dismiss this movie, but I thought it was hilarious and entertaining.
director Franco Rossetti
The Dirty Outlaws is another of the Quentin Tarantino top 20 Spaghetti Westerns.
It begins in media res, with a horse thief being hung for his crimes, only to be rescued by a fellow outlaw garbed as a priest. This is all before the main plot is established in which near-hangee, Andrea Giordana (billed as Chip Carman) takes the identity of a dead Confederate soldier.
The crucible for the story is a ghost town abandoned in plague and war except for a blind old man and his aide holding out hope for the return of his son from the waning days of the Civil War. Throw in some other escaped soldiers and the titular gang of “dirty outlaws” after a gold shipment, not to mention the lead moll of the gang, an ex-compatriot of our anti-hero, and the tinderbox is lit to explode.
Though not as stylish or bizarre as the best of the genre, the story drives the film. Which may be in part because director Franco Rossetti was known more as a screenwriter than director.
It’s a good yarn. Good movie.
director Tinto Brass
The 1960’s and early 1970’s were radical times, in the world, and in the cinema. “Avant-garde” may have been a recycled term to describe a lot of what was coming out influenced by the French New Wave and further radicalization, but challenging times made for challenging films, and particularly, films that challenged cinema, meaning, and all things status quo.
Though Tinto Brass is often described as avant-garde, as is his 1969 film Attraction, I found myself questioning its rigor.
Anita Sanders is a young woman about town (the town being London), and the film is arguably all her perspective, her looking (voyeurism and desire) and interior images from her mind and impressions. It’s about sex and sexuality, sure, but also Vietnam, advertising, art, race, violence, all to the decidedly psychedelic groove of Freedom (the band).
For my money, the success level of Attraction‘s avant-garde-ness is moderate. I’m thinking of other films of the era that I’ve seen that were more radical and challengeing. Take a lot of Godard, but more specifically Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966), Jaromil Jireš’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Dušan Makavejev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971), and to some extent as well, Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger Is Dead (1969).
I don’t know. I’ll see how it sits. It’s cool but not too cool.
director Eugenio Martín
The Ugly Ones features a lean, deft premise: a bounty hunter is after a popular criminal. Tomas Milian is Jose, the Mexican kid turned storied outlaw, a “Jesse James type”, ensnared by fortune-seeking free agents, not traditionally legitimate lawmen. Richard Wyler is the straight-shooting freelancer, but who is the real villain of this picture?
The Ugly Ones is also known as The Bounty Hunter, which is the name of the Marvin H. Albert novel from which it was adapted. Eugenio Martín’s Spaghetti Western offers a kind of noirish characterization – moral ambivalence, at least initially, on either side. Though, as the film wears on each protagonist starts to show his true colors.
In between the men is Eden, an interesting role for Ella Karin (a.k.a Halina Zalewska). No shrinking violet, she’s reaching for a pistol when we first spot her, hearing an intruder breaking in. She is at the heart of the village’s understanding of Jose, an active participant in the story, and moral barometer as well. Maybe a little too stylish for a Western but an interesting character and good performance.
It’s tight and aesthetically pleasing production. The Ugly Ones makes Quentin Tarantino’s list of top Spaghetti Westerns. As usual, his favorites are worth investigating.