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Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns
Arrow Video brings together four Spaghetti Westerns in their aptly titled Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns boxed set. Here's what's inside…
Disc One: Massacre Time
Also known as The Brute And The Beast, this first entry was directed by none other than Lucio Fulci in 1966 and while he'll always be best remembered for his horror output, this picture, along with Four Of The Apocalypse, proves that he was just as good at making western movies as he was giallo pictures and zombie films.
The story follows Tom Corbett (Franco Nero, immortalized forever as Django), a prospector who has been roughing it on his own for quite some time when, out of the blue, he gets a letter from a family friend named Carradine (John Bartha). The latter has written to request that Tom make the trek back to his home town as soon as possible.
And so Tom does just that, but is quite taken aback upon his arrival when both his mother (Rina Franchetti) and his younger brother Jeff (George Hilton) basically tell him to get packing. Tom learns that the family home has been taken away from them, but not how that happened and neither relative wants to tell him. All he finds out is that one Mr. Scott (Giuseppe Addobbati) is now the owner, and he's got a veritable army of heavily armed goons to keep everyone in line. He basically rules the town with an iron fist, with Scott's son Junior (Nino Castelnuovo) only to keen to let his itchy trigger finger get to work anytime anyone acts up. When Carradine winds up getting shot and killed after talking to Tom, Jeff starts to warm up to his brother and they take out some of Scott's men, but Tom winds up seriously beaten by Junior. However, when Tom and Jeff learn that their mother has been killed, all bets are off…
Written by Fernando Di Leo, Massacre Time is a nicely shot and stylish film with a great score and a solid cast. Franco Nero is in fine form here and he plays his part well. The role isn't as iconic as his lead in Django (few roles are!) but he makes it his own and is a lot of fun to watch here. In fact, he and Hilton make a solid team, playing well off of each other, they're quite good. Giuseppe Addobbati and Nino Castelnuovo are also quite good as the bad guys, with Castelnuovo in particular really doing a great job of showing off his character's sadistic side when he tortures Nero with a nasty whipping session.
Thematically the film may not be the most original Spaghetti Western ever made but there are some nice Fulci touches and other little quirks evident here and there that help it to stand out. The portrayal of the Scott family's various relationships in the film stands out, these guys are pretty sadistic, but the big ‘twist' at the end of the film that ties a lot of this together is fairly easy to see coming. Either way, Massacre Time gets a whole lot more right than it does wrong and it proves to be as well made as it is entertaining.
Disc Two: My Name Is Pecos
Directed by Maurizio Lucidi in 1966, My Name Is Pecos stars Robert Woods as a gunfighter named Pecos Martinez. He's got a bit of a Robin Hood vibe to him, he cares not for the concerns of the rich and speaks often of the plight of Mexico's poorer residents. He finds himself in Houston where Joe Clane (Pier Paolo Capponi) is essentially holding the city hostage with some help from his gang of villainous supporters (one of whom is Italian movie cult superstar George Eastman!).
Many of the town's residents split for greener pastures before Clane and company moved in, but more than a few stragglers stayed behind for various reasons. Eddie (Luigi Casellato) and his brother Ned (Maurizio Boni) run the local watering hole and they've stuck around to take care of thier business. Nina (Corinne Fontaine), who works the bar for them is also still around. Dr Burton (Giuliano Raffaelli) and his daughter Mary (Lucia Modugno) are hanging on as is Morton (Umi Raho), the local minister who also happens to tend to the graveyard.
The reason that Clane and his cronies are so interested in what's happening in Houston is that he's learned that the partner who double-crossed him in a bank robbery job they pulled off has stashed the stolen loot somewhere within the town's borders. Pecos may, on the surface, just appear to be yet another innocuous stranger passing through town, but the fact of the matter is that he knows a little something about where the money has been stashed and, not only that, he's got ties to Clane's past that he'd very much like to lay to rest.
Robert Woods is very good in the lead here (he'd reprise the role in the film's sequel, Pecos Cleans Up made a year later in 1967, also directed by Maurizio Lucidi). He looks the part and handles himself well, bringing a confident sense of righteous cool to the character. His back and forth with many of the film's supporting characters is quite entertaining and his rivalry with Pier Paolo Capponi makes for a strong backbone for the picture. It's also always fun to see Eastman pop up in a Spaghetti Western, even if this is only a supporting role. He was born to play bad guys and he does it well in this film.
Directed with style and set to a great soundtrack from Coriolano Gori, My Name Is Pecos hits all the right notes at all the right times. It's politics are subtle, though righteous, and it has as bit of a compassionate message to it but this never overpowers the action or excitement that a good western needs to succeed.
Disc Three: Bandidos
Massimo Dallamano made a fantastic directorial debut with this rough and tumble Spaghetti Western before he went on to shoot the film he'd be best known for, the classic giallo What Have You Done To Solange? in 1972. Though he'd worked behind the scenes as a director of photography on Sergio Leone's A Fistful Of Dollars and its sequel, For A Few Dollars More, his first film, Bandidos, allowed him to branch out from under Leone's wing and do things his way. Though the influences of the master of the genre are obvious, Dallamano gives the film enough of a personal touch to make it a lot more than just another Man With No Name.
The film opens when a gang of bandits led by the insidious Billy Kane (a younger Venantino Venantini of Umberto Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox) holds up a train travelling through California. They find the man they're looking for onboard in the form of a well-dressed pistolero named Richard Martin (Enrico Maria Salerno of The Execution Squad) who quickly makes short work of many of Kane's men. Martin's luck doesn't hold up, however, and the vengeful Kane puts a bullet through each of Martin's palms so that he'll never hold a gun again.
A few months later we find a disheveled looking Martin running a sideshow wherein he's trained a young man, who he dubs Ricky Shot, to shoot as well as he could before his hands were ruined. A rowdy man in the crowed puts a bullet through Shot's heart and kills him on the spot. This leaves Martin looking for another protégé and it isn't long before he finds one, a wanted man who becomes the new Ricky Shot. The pair head out to make some money, which they agree to split fifty-fifty. Martin soon hears word that Kane is back in the area though, and he starts grooming his new student to not only act as his meal ticket, but also his instrument of vengeance. He wants Kane to pay for what he did, and he intends to use Ricky Shot to make that happen.
Bandidos is a grim, action packed picture that piles up the bodies in style. The movie moves along at a very fast pace and crams as many shoot outs and stand offs into its ninety five minute running time as possible. It's also got a very good story to it as well, and while a student seeking revenge for his teacher is hardly an original idea (it's been played out in westerns, samurai films, kung-fu movies, you name it!) it lends itself well to the western setting and the script, with a clever twist or two towards the end of the film, makes it work nicely. Martin does a great job of grooming Ricky from a gullible schmuck into a cold blooded killing machine as the film progresses that you rightly want him to get his revenge on Kane, and by the time the finale rolled around I found myself yelling at the TV rooting for the good guys to win the day!
The Leone influence is definitely there. The animated opening credits, the slightly Morricone-esque score by Egisto Macchi, and especially the camera movements and close ups in the final showdown all could have easily been lifted straight out of Leone's Dollars Trilogy without blinking an eye. But Dallamano packs so much action into the film and fills it with some memorable villains, down to earth heroes, and interesting supporting characters and also adds his own sense of flair to the camera work that it is all very much forgivable.
The characters have sufficient motivation and the story has a tight pace, a great ending, and some excellent tough guy dialogue. The cinematography is gorgeous and the camera work is very fluid (watch as the steady cam rolls horizontally across the train once the bandits have littered it with bodies in the opening scene). The action hits in the first five minutes and doesn't let up until the ‘Fin' hits the screen and is handled with an almost Peckinpah-esque sense of nihilism that you almost expect Pike Bishop to show up. In short, Bandidos is everything a great Spaghetti Western should be, and it's amazing that this film doesn't have a bigger following.
Disc Four: And God Said To Cain
Saving the best for last, this Antonio Margheriti film from 1970 opens when Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski) is set free after doing ten years in prison. And what does he do now that he's out of jail? Heads straight back to Torson City, the town he once called home, with revenge on his mind. See, Gary wound up on a chain gang when his pal Acombar (Peter Carsten) and his girlfriend Maria (Marcella Michelangeli) framed him for a crime he didn't commit.
Shortly after Gary's arrival, Dick (Antonio Cantafora), Acombar's son, also returns to town. A recent graduate from West Point, Dick is unaware of his father's past with Gary. Acombar figures his son is bound to make something of himself, even figuring he might run for the highest office in the land when the time comes. He's also not above bribing whoever he needs to bribe in order to get Dick a leg up. When Acombar learns that Gary has returned, he hires some gunmen to take his former partner out of the pictre permanently, but Gary is faster on the draw than anyone else around. At the same time, a storm comes into town, leaving Gary to shoot his way to Acombar and through a few interesting twists in the film's story line, he might not have to go it all alone...
The plot is simple enough but completely effective, making And God Said To Cain a lean and efficient western with some nice gothic horror elements at play. With the story basically set over a single day (and night), Margheriti is sure to keep the pacing quick but not at the cost of atmosphere or mood. The film makes excellent use of shadow and light and the cinematography is so good that you almost don't notice that the last half of the film is really just one big, prolonged shoot out. Carlo Savina's moody score also helps out here, accentuating the darker side of the film's storyline and making the dramatic moments even more compelling. It's a score that's less interested in Morricone-esque twang than it is in weird, mood-heavy musical bits (with some occasional organ work thrown in), again cementing its connection to some of the Gothic horror pictures that the film's director remains known for (Castle Of Blood, Horror Castle and The Long Hair Of Death for example).
At the center of all of this is Klaus Kinski. Though he appeared in quite a few Spaghetti Westerns over his storied and insane career, a lot of those roles were smaller supporting parts or villainous parts (The Great Silence being a great example of how good Kinski could be as a bad guy in a western!). Here he gets the rare chance to play something close to the good guy. While Gary Hamilton is very much an anti-hero, given that he's pretty keen on killing people, his thirst for revenge is warranted. Kinski plays the part perfectly, often bathed in or almost completely obscured by shadow, bringing a weight to his performance that makes it one for the books.
Arrow offers "2K restorations of all four films from the original 35mm camera negatives, with Massacre Time, My Name Is Pecos and Bandidos newly restored by Arrow Films for this release." Each films is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc and framed at 2.35.1 widescreen.
Massacre Time uses up 29GBs of space, My Name Is Pecos gets 22.8Gbs of space, Bandidos gets 27.9Gbs of space and And God Said To Cain uses 29.3Gbs of space on their respective discs. There's a little bit of print damage here and there but overall, all four of these transfers look quite nice. Bandidos looks a little softer than the other three movies and some of the darker scenes in And God Said To Cain are a tad murky but the good definitely outweighs the bad and we see very substantial improvements here over past DVD editions of these films. There are no problems with color reproduction anywhere in the set and black levels are typically strong here as well. Detail is, generally speaking, quite strong and we get a lot of improvements in terms of depth and texture as well. Compression artifacts aren't ever an issue and there are no problems with any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement issues. All in all, the transfers here are very strong.
Massacre Time and My Name Is Pecos both get 24-bit LPCM 1.0 mono audio options in Italian and English with English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks. Bandidos and And God Said To Cain both get 24-bit DTS-HD 1.0 mono audio options in Italian and English with English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks. Audio clarity is very strong here, and for single channel mixes there's quite a bit of depth, particularly as it pertains to the way that music is used in each of these movies. Dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion.
Disc One: Massacre Time
Extras on the first disc start off with a new audio commentary by authors and critics C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke. They cover AIP's distribution of the film and note the influence of this movie on Tarantino's Django Unchained, how and why the movie turned out to be shot entirely in and around Bologna, Italy rather than in Spain, Fernando Di Leo's script, the use of violence in the film, how Fulci's two Spaghetti Westerns hold up against the established classics of the genre, Nero's thoughts on what it was like to work with Fulci, how the film works as a journey of discovery, the quality of the foreshadowing in some of the film's earlier scenes, the way that Fulci plays up Junior's sadistic aspects, why it's important that some of the scenes in the film be as uncomfortable as they are, the yin and yang qualities of Hilton and Nero's characters and lots, lots more.
Arrow also includes a new documentary titled Two Men Alone featuring a new video interview with actor Franco Nero and an archival video interview with actor George Hilton that runs just under fifty-minutes. This is a great piece, very interesting, as it goes over in a lot of detail on Hilton's thoughts on and relationship with the Spaghetti Western genre, the physicality of the roles he played, how he was never really influenced by American western films at all, learning to shoot in his younger days and hunting with his brother, meeting Leone and auditioning for him but not getting the part, his thoughts on his character in Massacre Time, preparing for the role, having to learn fencing when he made some swashbuckler movies, the impact of a certain death scene in the movie and how Fulci directed him in it and more. Nero goes over his love of John Ford and John Wayne and his love of the genre in general, using weapons and firearms in different films and training that he undergo for that, working with John Milius, doing some filming with Sergio Leone in Tuscany who wanted to make a movie with him alongside Eastwood and Terrance Hill, what it was like on the set of Massacre Time which he made right after the success of Django, getting along with Fulci and working with Hilton, learning to do Shakespeare phonetically without understanding it, getting whipped in the movie, the film's soundtrack, the dubbing that was used in the film and more.
The disc also includes a new video interview with film historian Fabio Melelli titled The Era Of Violence that runs just under nineteen-minutes. He notes how this was Fulci's first western and where the director's career was at during this period of time when he was known primarily for doing comedy films. He then goes on to talk about the importance of this film's success to Fulci's career, the importance of having Hilton and Nero in the two lead roles and how the two actors complement each other, notes on some of the other cast members, some of the themes that the movie explores, the score and the opening theme song used in the movie, details on the crew that worked with Fulci on the movie and how Fulci's westerns differ greatly from Leone's Spaghetti Westerns.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original Italian theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
Disc Two: My Name Is Pecos
Actor Robert Woods and C. Courtney Joyner provide a new audio commentary on this disc. They cover the film's fantastic opening scene and how this scene and the rest of the movie were shot around Rome and how none of the film was shot in Spain at all. They talk about how the Pecos character is introduced and how Woods never liked his characters flared pants, what it was like on set, his preference for tequila over beer, how he got along with the rest of the cast members, the stark production qualities of the film and the atmosphere it provides, the film's shooting schedule (or lack thereof), the cinematography in the film, how he really liked working with everyone in the cast especially Cristina Iosani, differences between the American and Italian film industry, the quality of the sets used in the picture and lots more.
As to the featurettes, A Giant In The West is a new twenty-one minute interview with the always entertaining George Eastman (and a fluffy white dog!). He talks about how his relationship with westerns has always been 'childish' since he was really into them and inspired by them as a kid, how he enjoyed working on them because they allowed him to ride horses, his thoughts on the simple and linear storyline of this film and how he feels it was quite well made, getting along with the director who he describes as being rather strange, having to lower his stance to not appear taller than certain actors during the shoot, writing Keoma and acting in it as well, how he didn't really interact much with Woods on the set of My Name Is Pecos, what it was like on set and how he feels about the movie overall.
Actress Lucia Modugno appears in a nineteen minute interview titled Indecent Proposal. She talks about how she came to work on the film, how she feels about it these many years later, how she didn't wind up getting the part that she wanted at first until the actress who did get it decided she didn't want to die in the film, changes that were made on set to accommodate this, cuts that were made to many of her close up shots, meeting Robert Woods but only seeing him a few times during the shoot, wardrobe complications that have occurred throughout her career and why she's always been fine making sacrifices for her work.
Also included on the disc is Pecos Kills, a new documentary featuring an interview with Fabio Melelli and an archival interview with cinematographer Franco Villa that clocks in at twenty-minutes. Melelli goes over the history of the film and its director, tracing his career to this point, the typical and atypical aspects of the feature, notes on some of the cast and crew involved in the production, Villa's craftsmanship behind the camera and his career overall, the makeup sessions that Woods had to undergo each morning before the shoot could start and how the film shapes up overall. Villa covers how he came to work on the film despite being paid less than he wanted for it, how the industry has changed over the years, the importance of having a proper love of film if you're going to work on a picture, the stress involved in the job, working with a sometimes less than cooperative lighting crew and some of the tricks of the trade for filming shoot outs.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original Italian theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
Disc Three: Bandidos
A new commentary by author and critic Kat Ellinger starts off the extras on the third disc. She talks about the impact that the Spaghetti Western had on the Italian film industry, her thoughts on Dallamano's work and why she feels he's very underappreciated and his work as Leone's cinematographer. She goes over why she feels that the film interesting and what sets it apart, some of the themes that the picture explores, details on the lives and careers of the cast and crew members and more.
Assistant director Luigi Perelli speaks for nineteen minutes in a new interview called A Man In the Saloon. He talks about falling in love with cinema as a kid and how he made his way into the business as he grew into an adult. He then shares some experiences about ditching school to go to the movies, using his college experience to meet certain important figures in the Italian film business and making connections. He then talks about some of his early work before then going on to cover memories of what it was like to work on Bandidos, collaborating with the film's director and the rest of the cast and crew, the influence of Leone and other directors, how and why a few key scenes were shot the way they were, what he directed on the film, going on to direct in other genres like musical comedy and how he'd like to keep working on films even in his older years because he's in favor of embracing new technologies.
Actor Gino Barbacane is up next in a twelve minute piece titled They Called Him Simon that goes over working with Nero on Massacre Time, moving on to get increasingly bigger and better roles after that picture, some of the co-stars he acted with and what it was like taking direction from Fulci, how much he appreciates the talent that goes on behind the camera when making a movie, working with Fellini, learning how to use weapons for his role and 'shooting myself in the balls,' acting alongside Robert Wood, why he was credited as Simon Lafitte for this movie, shooting most of Bandidos at a studio and shooting his character's death scene multiple times. At the end he pulls out an accordion and plays a song!
In an eleven minute interview titled Western Bandits, Fabio Melelli speaks about how Massimo Dallamano made his debut with this film, what sets his directing style apart from many of his contemporaries, the influence of Leone, the performances in the film and how Dallamano felt about some of the performances he got out of his cast, the strength of the visuals employed in the film, the use of violence and the lack of irony in the movie, how certain scenes almost feel like a music video, the connection the film makes to classic painters, the experimental aspects of the score and how much of what we see Dallamano foreshadows the work he would do in the years to come.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are an alternate title sequence, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
Disc Four: And God Said To Cain
On the last disc we get a new commentary by author and critic Howard Hughes, who has written extensively about Spaghetti Westerns. He goes over the film's release history, talks a fair bit about the film's opening song, the locations used for the film (all of which were in Italy), subtleties of Kinski's performance and thoughts on his character, notes on the cast and crew that worked on the picture, how this picture compares to other Margheriti films, the importance of the saloon and the church in terms of this and many other Spaghetti Westerns, comparisons between this picture and Django, the gothic elements in the movie and more.
This disc also includes a new documentary titled Between Gothic And Western featuring a new interview with Fabio Melelli and a new audio interview with actress Marcella Michelangeli that runs for twenty minutes. He offers up background info on Antonio Margheriti and his career leaing up to the making of And God Said To Cain and some thematic connections to his earlier Castle Of Blood, what makes the movie unique compared to other Italian western pictures of the day, the gothic look of the movie, the appeal of seeing the typically villainous Kinski play the good guy in the movie and the qualities of his subdued performance in the movie, and what the other cast members bring to the film. The interview with Marcella Michelangeli goes over how she got into acting, how she liked working with Margheriti, her film acting methodology, getting slapped quite violently by Kinski a few times during their key scene together, how most of the actors got along very well on the set aside from Kinski, working with Sergio Martino on Arizona Colt Returns, how she chose her stage name and more.
In Of Night And Wind, actor Antonio Cantafora speaks for thirteen minutes about his involvement the film. This piece covers how he came to appear in the film, meetnig Klaus Kinski for the first time, his thoughts on American western films, shooting a few different westerns in Spain, how much he really enjoyed workign with Margheriti, thoughts on his character and the role that he played in the film, getting along with Peter Carson but not so much Kinksi who seems to have been quite difficult, the quality of Kinski's acting and how he's got Godfather to his daughter's children, how much he apprecaited working with the rest of the cast including the beauitiful Marcella Michelangeli, the quality of the cinematography in the film, having to film so much of the film at night, working with animals on the shoot, having to practice to learn how to use a pistol, his death scene and how he feeks about the film overall.
Rounding out the extras on the last disc is a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options.
As to the packaging, Arrow has done a nice job here. The four films each get their own separate keepcase with double-sided cover art and fit nicely inside a hard slipcover box that features newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx. Inside this box along with the disc is a full color, nicely illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing by author and critic Howard Hughes. Also in the box is a nice fold-out double-sided poster featuring that same aforementioned artwork by Vranckx. It's a very nice package overall.
Arrow's release of Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns presents for excellent Spaghetti Western's in very nice presentations on discs loaded with extras and with some impressive packaging as well. Overall, this is an excellent set for anyone with an interest in the genre, and it comes 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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