A Dish Best Served With Spaghetti Sauce… Arrow’s VENGEANCE TRAILS Box Reviewed

BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

MASSACRE TIME (Lucio Fulci, 1966)
MY NAME IS PECOS (Maurizio Lucidi, 1966)
BANDIDOS (Massimo Dallamano, 1967)
AND GOD SAID TO CAIN (Antonio Margheriti, 1970)

Vengeance Trails, Arrow’s new Spaghetti Western roundup (hopefully the start of a series) kicks off in grand style with Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time (aka Colt Concert / The Brute And The Beast)… time, then, to bin that ropey, grey market DVD that’s been place holding on my shelf for so many years. This film was a significant release for its principal participants. For Franco Nero it followed hot on the heels of Django (1966) and consolidated his success in that Sergio Corbucci landmark, both of those constituting baby steps in his ascension to Hollywood Stardom. It was also future giallo icon George Hilton’s first substantial role in Italy, after serving as stooge to the comedy stylings of Franco & Ciccio in Giorgio Simonelli’s Two Mafia Guys Against Goldginger, the previous year. For Fulci, this tough Spagwest represented his own ticket out of Franco & Ciccioville (though there remains ill-judged knockabout stuff in the on screen relationship between Nero and Hilton’s characters) and an opportunity to start exploring the dark personal preoccupations that would ignite (after some well documented personal tragedies) in his later gialli and horror opera. The seeds are all here… Massacre Time opens with a fugitive being hunted down by dogs (“Attack, Dicky, attack!)… elsewhere there’s a horsewhipping scene that prefigures massacre times in the likes of Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) and The Beyond (1981)…. and is it going too far to identify the Scott brand that disfigures every landmark in Laramie Town as a precursor to the mark of Eibon? Probably is, yeah…

Prodigal prospector Tom Corbett (Nero), summoned back to his hometown by a cryptic note, finds the old family homestead occupied by the Scotts, a ranching dynasty nominally headed by Giuseppe Addobbati’s weak-willed Patriarch but effectively answerable to his deranged, sadistic son Jason aka Junior (a supremely twitchy Nino Castelnuovo). Tom’s brother Jeff aka Slim (Hilton), together with their childhood nurse Mercedes (Rina Franchetti), has been evicted into an adobe hovel where, despite his former sharp shooting prowess, he now spends his time getting drunk and hypnotising chickens (no, really!) Despite Slim’s active discouragement, Tom pops over to Mr S’s hacienda to query the current arrangements, arrives during a posh social do and is horsewhipped by Jr for his trouble. But it takes the murder of Mercedes to finally sober up Slim, setting up some fairly guessable family revelations before the climactic showdown…

Massacre Time’s screenplay (adapted by Fulci and Fernando Di Leo from the latter’s original story) is freighted with plot holes that wouldn’t hinder the passage of a speeding stagecoach (if, for one thing, Slim’s such an ace gunman, how did he allow the Scotts to spirit away his patrimony?), ostentatious and improbable displays of marksmanship and the aforementioned comedy hangovers (also involving a stereotypical Chinese undertaker / saloon pianist played by Tchang Yu) but Fulci handles everything with his accustomed technical proficiency and it’s becoming clear by this point that he’s a director with something to say. What he’s saying here is something about sibling rivalries, Oedipal angst and how corporations hijacked the American dream of rugged individualism. Another harbinger of Fulci things to come… if people are being whipped in the face (as here) or having sharp objects forced into their eyes (stay tuned), none of them ever seem to raise their hands in the most elementary and reflexive attempt at self-protection! 

Pecos… remember his name.

Massacre Time’s overwrought main theme and incidental music comes courtesy of Lallo Gori, who also scored Maurizio Lucidi’s My Name Is Pecos, the same year (and in doing so, flattered The Animals’ rendition of House Of The Rising Sun most sincerely). Lucidi, himself a director more than capable of psychological insights and social comment (witness his extraordinary giallo / Strangers On A Train knock off The Designated Victim, 1971) eschews any such approach here, outside of a perfunctory depiction of the casual racism which confronts protagonist Pecos Martinez (Robert Woods, his eyes contorted into pantomime ethnicity in a way that makes Lee Van Cleef look like Alexandra Daddario) as he sets out to hold the murderers of his family to account. The bad guys in his way dismiss him as a “greaser” (among other endearments) but he makes sure to tell them his name (hence the film’s title) just before or after gunning them down. This one’s a fair-to-middling Spagwest that did well enough in its day to spawn a sequel (Pecos Cleans Up, 1967, again with Lucidi directing and Woods in the title role). Watch out for versatile Umberto Raho’s great turn in the original as slimy preacher / gravedigger Morton.

Massimo Dallamano brought some serious Spaghetti Western pedigree to his fiction feature directing debut Bandidos (1967), having served as DP on the first two instalments of Sergio Leone’s legendary “Dollars Trilogy”. Expectations are inevitably high, which inevitably (and sadly) works against this film. There are innumerable beautiful widescreen shots in it, as you’d expect from a DP-turned-director collaborating closely with another classy cinematographer, Emilio Foriscot. Operator Fernando Guillot, likewise, renders sterling service in the realisation of Dallamano’s more imaginative camera moves. The screenplay (worked up by Romano Migliorini, Giambattista Mussetto and Juan Cobos, from Cobos and Luis Laso’s original story) picks up a plot point from Django and runs with it, but Dallamano wastes little time developing its broad brush themes, characterisations are thinly drawn and some of the performances distinctly run-of-the-mill. Enrico Maria Salerno is a stand out, honourable exception as protagonist Richard Martin, a renowned sharp shooter whose hands were shattered by his star pupil-turned-bad guy Billy Kane (Venantino Venantini). Reduced to MC-ing a travelling trick shot show, he thinks he’s hit upon the instrument of his vengeance when he discovers Ricky Shot (Terry Jenkins) but the obviously pseudonymous Mr Shot has motivations of his own. English actor Jenkins (debuting here) looks the part (and like everybody else on this box, has surprisingly good teeth for a denizen of the Wild West), though this never translates into actual screen presence. After some TV work and an appearance in Paint Your Wagon (1969), Terry’s screen career had run it course.

The box concludes in strong style with Antonio Margheriti’s And God Said To Cain (1970), in which the Wild West gets appreciably wilder. The film opens with Mr Acombar (Peter Carsten) and his clan lording it over a small town… but a storm’s coming. In fact two storms are coming, a literal tornado and the return of Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski), whom Acombar framed for the heist that made his fortune and who wants to pay his former partner back for ten years breaking rocks. He’ll probably want to have to have a quiet word with his former girlfriend Maria (Marcella Michelangeli)  too, concerning the role she played in fitting him up…

Acting on hints from Giulio Questi’s Django Kill, 1967 and Sergio Garrone’s Django The Bastard, 1969 (hints so heavy that they would still be resonating in Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, 1973), producers Giovanni Addessi (who co-wrote AGSTC with its director) and Peter Carsten thought that it might be a good idea to press Margheriti’s impeccable Gothic Horror sensibility into the service of a Spaghetti Western… and hot dignity dang if they weren’t absolutely right! Reconciling the requirements of the two genres might seem like a tall order but trust Antonio Margheriti to deliver the goods. Casting Klaus Kinski as a sympathetic (ish), improbably named and even more improbably dubbed lead is a good start (he’s so supernaturally elusive, it makes you wonder how they managed to confine him in that quarry for a decade). Then obliterate all that Southern sunshine with stormy skylines, moodily shot by Margheriti’s go-to DP, the ill-fated Riccardo Pallottini (who also lit Massacre Time to beautiful effect). Throw in a Carlo Savina score that’s quite bonkers, even by the general standards of these things (and an anguished main theme emotively rendered by one Don Powell… not the former Slade drummer, I imagine)… all of this plus sinister organ music and bells that strike up of their own accord, a tunnel to an underground Indian burial place, and a climactic Cormanesque conflagration, into which Margheriti also manages to insert a “hall of mirrors” quote from Orson Welles’s The Lady From Shanghai (1947). Whatever your favourite genre, nobody’s going to come away from And God Said To Cain feeling they’ve been short-changed. 

This limited edition set is characteristically well packaged by Arrow and each film has been restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negatives. Bandidos has sustained brief cuts for horse falls. Commentary tracks come courtesy of Howard Hughes, Kat Ellinger and C. Courtney Joyner (with Henry Parke on Massacre Time, Robert Woods on My Name Is Pecos). Italian film historian Fabio Melelli contextualises each film in a collection of featurettes. Interviewees include Franco Nero and George Hilton (interesting to hear their contrasting takes on each other), Pecos cinematographer Franco Villa, Bandidos assistant director Luigi Perelli and (audio only) Marcella Michelangeli (who seems to have been the Italian answer to Jane Fonda). The interview time allotted to “George Eastman” (Luigi Montefiori) seems more in proportion to his physical presence than the minimal screen time he gets in My Name Is Pecos, but this guy always gives value for money and here (when not being upstaged by his dog’s dick) he reminisces amusingly about that film in particular and his amazing career generally. Fellow cast member Lucia Modugno shares her own memories of the production and (among other things) being tricked into getting her norks out for a Norman J.Warren film. Gino Barbacane (Bandidos) adds to the our growing inventory of Lucio Fulci anecdotes and serenades us on accordion, while Antonio Cantafora  (And God Said To Cain) hints at the darkness in Klaus Kinski’s private life. Also included, an illustrated collector’s booklet including new writing from Howard Hughes, a fold out double sided poster and original / newly commissioned (from Gilles Vranckx) sleeve art options. 

Go get it, Floyd…

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