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Hudson River Massacre
"But why look at each other with hatred? Why, instead of being enemies, can't we make an attempt to live in peace here? Is it possible that Canada is not large enough to shelter both the English and the Canadians? Why did you rise against us, Victor?"
"We're proud, and we have our dignity too. It's impossible to treat us like simple slaves."
A Eurowestern set in French Canada, helmed by the director of Tombs of the Blind Dead: I haven't even pressed 'Play' yet, and you've already got me, MVD Classics. But then I did fire up this disc, and...errr...
You might need to open that screenshot to full-size to really see what I mean, but that's a conversation for later in the review anyway. Hudson River Massacre – also known as Canadian Wilderness, Three From Colorado, and Rebels in Canada – is set against the backdrop of plucky rebel forces seeking to free Canada from the thrall of Great Britain and the de facto government of the Hudson's Bay Company. It's a conflict that trapper Victor DeFrois (George Martin) has long avoided, but when his brother is murdered under orders by company man James Sullivan (Santiago Rivera), he can no longer stand on the sidelines. Victor joins rebel leader Leo Limoux (Franco Fantasia) in his scheme to kidnap Sullivan for leverage, but they're forced to settle for his daughter Ann (Giulia Rubini) instead.
It's a rash decision that Victor vehemently opposes, and...well, he's not wrong. Ann doesn't take to captivity, requiring rescue from would-be rapists after one escape attempt. Leo's dead certain that Captain Doyle (Mirko Ellis) and the Mounted Police will be combing another side of the territory altogether in search of Sullivan's missing daughter, but they're closer than he suspects and in far greater numbers to boot. Those in whom the rebels have placed their trust will soon betray them. And between the constant disruptions in the pelt supply chain and Ann's kidnapping, when the Mounties do finally get Leo and his forces in their crosshairs, it's going to be a bloodbath. A massacre, even! On the Hudson River.
Though I'm familiar with Canadian-set Northwesterns like The Cariboo Trail and Canadian Pacific, this Spanish/Italian co-production is the only Eurowestern I'm aware of to have taken place in the Great White North. Perhaps that's because Amando de Ossorio, in one of his earliest feature-length efforts as a director, didn't create anything worth emulating.
Hudson River Massacre is an indifferent shrug of a film, devoid of any energy, suspense, or intrigue. Production values are low, relying on fringe jackets, coonskin caps, and bright red Mountie uniforms to evoke Canada. Action throughout the bulk of the film is largely limited to fistfights, kicks, and a stabbing so swift that the movie has to explain at length what had just transpired. And while there are a couple of confrontations on a staggeringly large scale between the Mounted Police and rebel forces, those battles royale are clumsily staged and haphazardly edited. Rather than ensuring that viewers feel immersed in the chaos, the manic quick-cutting is instead disorienting and woefully uninvolving. The body count is enormous, yet only a couple of bursts of violence stand out as shocking. I didn't find myself caring about any of these characters, their plights, or their romantic entanglements, even with the lovely likes of Giulia Rubini, Pamela Tudor, and Diana Lorys sharing the screen. de Ossorio's keen visual eye is rarely on display. Though there are a few standout shots – a horse kicking mud directly at the camera; a longing look at a small bridge reminiscent of the iconic final shot of The Searchers – his direction is otherwise disappointingly routine or poorly executed.
Hudson River Massacre might have slunk by with a hesitant recommendation, with its director and unconventional setting elevating the film as some sort of collectible curiosity. I can't honestly say that the movie is worth seeking out on its own merits, especially when presented on a Blu-ray release this appalling. Skip It.
I've been reviewing high-def media from the dawn of its existence, and over that time, literally thousands of Blu-ray discs have passed through my hands. Ranking somewhere in my all-time bottom five, this dismal presentation of Hudson River Massacre is easily the most dire release I've come across in more than a decade. I wouldn't have the least bit of trouble believing that this transfer was struck thirty-plus years ago. For one, this is an interlaced presentation dished out at 30 frames a second rather than the expected 1080p24. The upscaled image is devoid of any fine detail whatsoever, slathered in noise reduction and oversharpened to the point that it looks like an oil painting:
The processing is so excessive that Hudson River Massacre devolves into a distorted blur with any camera movement or vaguely quick motion:
And whatever film elements were still handy those many decades ago weren't exactly in the best of shape besides:
Not only is Hudson River Massacre's palette lifeless and dull, there's shockingly little consistency to the color timing. For instance, note how different the reds of the Mounties' uniforms are in the screenshots below, which have all been culled from the same sequence. And, of course, that's not to mention the ghosting of phantom-sabres, thick ringing around edges, what would've just been mosquito noise if it hadn't been blown up to four times its original size or whatever, and the uneven presence of coarse, chunky "grain" that looks as if I'm peering through gauze:
The image is noticeably aliased. Contrast can be flat in some sequences and completely blown-out in others. Look at the specular highlights on the Mounties' faces and how some of their gloves are an explosion of pure, blinding white:
Hudson River Massacre is in every way a disaster. The ostensibly 1.66:1 image – more like 1.62:1, for whatever reason – suffers from such overzealous sharpening that halos ring around damn near everything on-screen, up to and including the pillarboxing bars. It's an inexorably video-like presentation, which checks out since I suspect film hasn't been a part of this equation for decades on end. There is literally nothing positive I can say about what Eurociné and MVD Classics have slopped out here. If I could rate the visual end of this presentation less than zero stars, I would.
Hudson River Massacre features two monaural soundtracks: a 16-bit PCM English dub alongside a Spanish track in lossy Dolby Digital with a DVD-quality bitrate. Effectively everything you're hearing in both soundtracks was recorded in post-production regardless, so there isn't a singularly canonical language that's just correct; it all boils down to personal preference. In situations like this, I pretty much always opt for whichever track is lossless or uncompressed, so English it is. I definitely didn't choose it on the merits of its spectacular performances:
Okay, okay, most of the English dubbing isn't that dreadful. It's bland more than anything else, and it doesn't help that despite the movie being littered with Brits, indigenous peoples, and French-Canadians, basically everyone speaks in the exact same accent. Here's a more fair comparison:
Although the English dub is ostensibly the superior of the two given that it's uncompressed and all, it's saddled with a persistent, heavy crackle, as if someone took a Brillo pad to a vinyl record. Pops, thumps, and grating scratches creep in as well, along with, uh, this:
The English dialogue shows significant strain throughout virtually every minute of Hudson River Massacre's runtime. And while the score never roars with any real ferocity, there are at least a few scattered moments where it's reinforced by a respectable low-end. More often than not, though, I doubt I could've told too much of a difference if I were listening to this through the built-in mono speaker on the 13" TV with the half-peeled-off Garfield sticker I had in my bedroom growing up. The English audio is such a wreck that the score abruptly cuts off when the movie ends, suggesting that no one actually watched this Blu-ray disc all the way through. While the reproduction of dialogue isn't any great shakes in the Spanish track either, the alternate audio is considerably more clean and clear overall, not plagued by anything in the same hemisphere as the English dub's background noise in the moments I sampled.
Also included is a set of English (SDH) subtitles. On one hand, they're transcribing the English dub, which may be disappointing to those making a beeline towards the Spanish language soundtrack. At the same time, as rusty as my Spanish is, it doesn't sound as if the English language dialogue is taking much in the way of liberties. While the English subs may be accurate enough to still serve as a translation, the whole SDH thing does mean that anyone pairing the Spanish audio with English subs will be seeing stuff like "(suspenseful music)" and "(hooves thumping)" flash across the screen.
- Trailer (2 min.): Well, it's not a trailer so much as an excerpt from the film that fades out, shows off the cover art for this Blu-ray release (complete with the MVD Classics logo!), and just...stops.
The list of bonus features begins and ends there. Oh, and for whatever it's worth, Hudson River Massacre is an all-region release, so there's nothing to stop you from importing. Nothing but my fervent pleas, anyway.
The Final Word
It's no exaggeration to say that Hudson River Massacre is a bootleg-quality release; even the vintage painted artwork on the cover looks low-res. It's a colossal disappointment because I know that MVD is capable of so much more. Admittedly, even a world-class remaster would be difficult to recommend in this case, but pairing a misfire of a movie with this atrocious a presentation...? Skip It.