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Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot!

Blue Underground // Unrated // July 3, 2012
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 10, 2012 | E-mail the Author
Not that I've been keeping track or anything, but it seems like two-thirds of the Westerns I've watched over the years have a gang of murderous brutes swarming in on a sleepy, hopelessly remote desert town. You know how
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the story goes from there too, right? These brutes rape and plunder their way through everything in sight, and the terrorized townsfolk' only hope is a nameless gunslinger that just rolled into the saloon...

Sure, sure, Django Kill tosses in a lot of those same ingredients -- bloodthirsty, roving gang, check...nameless stranger, check...the speck-on-the-map desert town where everything collides, check -- but pulls something just about completely unrecognizable out of the oven. When the leader of the gang storms into the saloon and starts mouthing off, the townspeople don't cower in fear; they pull out their pistols and shoot these bastards fucking dead. What'd normally be the setup for a long, protracted battle is instead of a Grand Guignol display of graphic violence and depravity as the gang is chased down and slaughtered, with the townsfolk cackling and cracking jokes all the way.

Nothing in Django Kill is even a little bit conventional. This 1967 Spaghetti Western indulges itself with long, lingering scenes of manic laughter, prolonged hand washing sequences, and a bit where Union soldiers bathe in a river following the death of a central character a few minutes in. There's the ethereal image of a madwoman in a flowing white dress and lifeless, hollow eyes in a barred window, appearing and disappearing from view. The frantic, experimental quick-cutting I thought originated with Bonnie and Clyde was beaten to the punch several months by Django Kill's drug-trip cutways. Even by the brutal standards of the Spaghetti Western, Django Kill is startlingly violent, with its most memorable sequence -- a dying man's body torn apart by a mob in search of golden slugs -- still making me recoil in horror nearly a half-century after the fact. There's graphic scalping. Wardrobe slashing. A shootout with a prophetic parrot. Christ-like crucifixion followed up by vampire bats and the black lizard of darkness. Heavily-implied homosexual gang rape. One of the most demented denouements of a villain I've ever come across, predating a similar I-can't-believe-they-just-did-that kill from Game of Thrones' first season by fortysomeodd years. When the flipside of the case calls Django Kill "the strangest Spaghetti Western ever made", that's not just marketing copy; it's the honest-to-God truth.

It ought to go without saying that its disinterest in the traditional -- its willingness to careen so insanely over-the-top -- is what makes Django Kill so utterly entrancing. Its premise is definitely more complex
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than it might seem at first glance. A nameless bandit (Tomas Milian) is resurrected from the dead by a couple of Indians who vow to serve him faithfully, handing him a fistful of bullets molded from the gold he'd died stealing. The Stranger follows the gang that gunned him down into a remote desert town where he finds their bloodied, lifeless corpses dangling from nooses throughout the thoroughfare. The many bags of gold the thieves were carrying quickly tear the town apart, coveted by an overbearing landowner with an army of thugs at his command, a shopkeeper with a dark secret he keeps locked away, and the lecherous prick who runs the saloon. The Stranger couldn't care less about the gold but tries to scheme his way into taking control of the situation just the same, but he quickly finds himself caught in just about everyone's crosshairs. The plot takes sharp left turns at the most unexpected moments, and I love how mercurial it is who the central villain of the piece is meant to be. This is very much one of those movies where anyone can drop dead at any time, and that combination of unrelenting forward momentum and the unpredictability of where Django Kill is building towards next adds a genuine layer of suspense beyond the movie's surface thrills.

'Course, when you have a film that's as fiercely, unrepentently what-the-fuck as Django Kill is, it's obviously not going to play to all tastes. The violence is extreme, its imagery often surreal and dreamlike, and its editing wildly experimental. Some shots are literally just a couple of frames in length, and yet a number of scenes drag on interminably, keeping the audience from ever being able to settle into a comfortable, predictable rhythm. Django Kill is about as close as the Spaghetti Western has come to the arthouse, and...well, it's a challenging movie. If you're game for that sort of challenge, though, Django Kill is a hell of an experience. Recommended.

Though pretty much all of Blue Underground's Italian releases have been saddled with the same off-kilter look to them -- soft, smeary imagery with a sheen of analog video noise floating above it all -- some titles have it
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worse than others. In their most recent Spaghetti Western outing before this, A Bullet for the General, that sort of thing didn't get in the way too much. With Django Kill...? As is the case with everything about this movie, it's taken to an extreme. The image is distractingly, unnaturally smudged, and that persistent veil of video noise feels completely disconnected from everything beneath it. These transfers by LVR always struggle the most during more softly-shot sequences, and since Django Kill doesn't exactly boast the most startlingly sharp cinematography committed to celluloid, it's a particular headache here. At no point does Django Kill threaten to look like film.

On the upside, its palette is somewhat nicely saturated (even if the faux-fascists' uniforms are more blue than black), and there's no real wear or damage on display. Some of the acid trip imagery has a deliberately (or unavoidably?) dupey, multigeneration look to it, and those stretches come through as well as can be expected. Of course, with Blue Underground seemingly refusing to release anything but Italian movies transferred by LVR in Italy and with all these titles looking pretty much exactly the same on Blu-ray, the smart money says you already know what you're getting into. Here's hoping one day they'll do something a little different so I don't have to keep saying the same thing in the same way in one of my reviews down the road.

Django Kill's AVC encode spans both layers of this BD-50 disc, and the image is letterboxed to preserve the film's scope theatrical aspect ratio.

Django Kill serves up two monaural, 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks: one in Italian and the other in English. Seeing as how Django Kill was shot wild with all of the dialogue recorded entirely in post-production, one language isn't necessarily any more right than the other. The looping is pretty shaky in both languages, with the delivery of the dialogue rarely matching lip movements all that closely, especially during a big musical number where it doesn't even look like they're trying. Both tracks sound alright, not surprisingly showing their age. Although the Italian soundtrack is thinner and more shrill, it seems to suit Django Kill better. The dialogue just sounds a little ridiculous when spoken in a language I can actually understand, and the gutteral snarls that close out the film are definitely more horrifying in Italian than their muted, meeker English counterparts. Some Italian bleeds into the English track, and there's a fraction of a line in English that finds its way into the Italian audio as well. It's appreciated that Blue Underground is giving viewers a choice, but if you're looking for my vote, I'd go for the Italian audio.

There are two English subtitle streams; one is captioned for the deaf and hard of hearing, and the other translates the Italian soundtrack into English. That last one is a proper translation too, by the way, not just a transcription of the English dub. Subtitles are offered in French and Spanish as well.

  • Django, Tell! (20 min.; SD): The featured extra on Django Kill is this twenty minute interview with co-writer/director Giulio Questi and stars
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    Tomas Milian and Ray Lovelock. Questi chats about making the transition from documentaries to an impossibly violent, sadomasochistic Western and how his experiences in wartime influenced its graphic imagery. Its fiercely unconventional editing, the collaborative spirit between actor and director, the film's enduring cult success, and dissections of several of Django Kill's most shocking sequences are among the other topics of discussion.

  • Poster and Still Gallery (HD): Django Kill's image gallery features several dozen high-res scans of poster art, lobby cards, production stills, and video box art from all across the globe.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a fully-animated theatrical trailer.

The Final Word
With the past couple of months alone having seen the likes of Keoma, A Bullet for the General, and The Grand Duel finding their way to Blu-ray, it's a thrill as ever to see companies like Blue Underground continue to indulge our hunger for high-def Spaghetti Westerns. Especially for those with a taste for something left-of-center, the dementedly violent and entrancingly surreal Django Kill is well-worth adding to that stack. Recommended.
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