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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Death Rides a Horse (Blu-ray)
Death Rides a Horse (Blu-ray)
Kino // R // November 7, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted November 1, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Movie

Directed by Giulio Petroni in 1967, Death Rides A Horse, which features an excellent score by Ennio Morricone (parts of which Quentin Tarantino would ‘borrow' for Kill Bill), doesn't reinvent the wheel but it is a more than solid Spaghetti Western highlighted by a great performance from none other than Lee Van Cleef.

When the movie beings, a quartet of murderous thieves slaughter a family and make off with a sizeable chunk of cash for their efforts. There's only one survivor of the massacre, a young boy named Bill Meceita. Years later, this boy grows into a man (John Phillip Law) and his main goal in life? You guessed it, revenge. More than willing to pay the four men back in kind, Bill's been having trouble tracking down those responsible for the killings. His luck changes when a man named Ryan (Van Cleef), recently released from prison, wanders into town. It turns out Ryan is looking for the same four men that Bill's been pursuing. Things get complicated when Ryan realizes that they're after the same prize and makes it clear to Bill that he intends to take care of this on his own, and for his own reasons…

Written by Luciano Vincenzoni (the man responsible for plenty of great Spaghetti Westerns, highlighted of course by The Good, The Bad And The Ugly), Death Rides A Horse may be a fairly basic tale of revenge but it remains a tale well told. The movie is nicely paced, never overstaying its welcome even as it closes in on the two hour mark. From the opening scene, a fairly brutal massacre involving the death of a family and the rape of some unfortunate woman, to the film's tense conclusion it's a picture that hits hard. The film takes place in a violent world and while there are fleeting moments of humor (most of which stem from the interplay between Bill and Ryan), Petroni wisely plays things very straight for the most part.

The production values in the picture are impressive. This was a glossy film made with a reasonable budget. The cinematography from Carlo Carlini is top notch. Clearly inspired by the success of Leone's efforts, we get plenty of very wide angles to take in, and then of course the requisite close ups to show off the tension that exists between the characters as the story plays out. Morricone's score does a wonderful job of heightening said tension, playing up the drama and the adventure and the tragedy inherent in the storyline. Costumes are nicely handled, the locations where the film takes place look great and the editing Eraldo Da Roma contributes to the production ensures that the film moves quickly and rhythmically.

Of course, this would all be for naught if the cast weren't up to par. John Phillip Law is better than usual here. His character is nicely written and he plays the part well. He does, however, play second fiddle to the perpetually cool Lee Van Cleef (it's probably no coincidence he was cast here, given the film's similarities to Tonino Valerii's classic Day Of Anger). As Ryan, Van Cleef is at the top of his game. He does all the things that made him such a great character actor in his day: he's mysterious, he's tough, he's whip smart and he's appropriately dangerous. Ryan is not a man to mess with, and Van Cleef embodies this persona perfectly. Supporting work from Spaghetti Western regulars Luigi Pistilli and Anthony Dawson is also noteworthy, but the two stars are the ones that deliver the most memorable material.


Death Rides A Horse is presented on Blu-ray in 2.35.1 widescreen (not 1.85.1 as is mistakenly stated on the back cover) in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer on a 50GB disc with the transfer taking up roughly 28GBs of space. Generally speaking it looks really nice. There are a few small scuffs and scratches evident here and there but overall the picture is very clean. The increase in detail is frequently very impressive when compared to what DVD could provide while texture and depth are strong throughout as well. Black levels are solid while shadow detail is quite good as well. There is no evidence of any noise reduction or edge enhancement nor are there any compression artifacts.


Audio options are provided for the feature in your choice of English and Italian DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks with subtitles are provided in English only (they appear to translate the English dialogue rather than the Italian dialogue). The score has more depth and clarity to it while balance is spot on in both tracks. That means that there aren't any problems understanding the dialogue when the music or effects kick in. Hiss and distortion are non-issues. These are both very fine mixes overall. As to which one is better? Well most of the principals in the film appear to be speaking English so for that reason, and the fact that the English track features Van Cleef's real voice, it's the preferable way to watch the movie.


The main extra here is the inclusion of an audio commentary from filmmaker Alex Cox. While obviously Cox had nothing to do with the making of the film, he clearly understands the filmmaking process and knows his stuff when it comes to Spaghetti Westerns. As such, he offers up a track that is as much a critical reading of the film as it is a series of facts and trivia. He offers up some observations about the effectiveness of the direction and the performances, the politics of the film, the quality of the cinematography and score and quite a bit more. Interesting stuff, Cox is very listenable and does a nice job here.

Additionally the disc includes trailers the feature, bonus trailers for For A Few Dollars More, Barquero, The Return Of Sabata, The Mercenary, Valdez Is Coming and Navajo Joe as well as menus and chapter selection.

Final Thoughts:

Death Rides A Horse might not tell the most original story, but it sure is well made. It's beautifully shot and nicely put together and it makes the most of its two leading men. Kino's Blu-ray is a good one, presenting the film in very nice shape and with a genuinely interesting audio commentary from Alex Cox. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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