Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns [Blu-ray]
(Peter Carsten, Maria Martin, Pier Paolo Capponi, George Eastman, Enrico Maria Salerno, et al / 4-Disc Blu-ray / NR / 2021 / Arrow Films UK - MVD Visual)
Overview: In the mid-1960s, the runaway success of Sergio Leones Dollars trilogy gave rise to an explosion of similar productions as filmmakers by the dozen sought to capitalize on this new, uniquely Italian take on the western, characterized by their deeply cynical outlook, morally compromised antiheroes and unflinching depictions savage violence.
This specially curated selection gathers together four (4) outstanding examples of the genre from the height of its popularity, all centered around a theme of revenge.
Blu-ray Verdict: In Lucio Fulci’s (Zombie Flesh Eaters) Massacre Time (1966), Franco Nero (Django) and George Hilton (The Case of the Scorpions Tail) star as estranged brothers forced to band together against the powerful businessman (Nino Castelnuovo, Strip Nude for Your Killer) and his sadistic son who’ve seized control of their hometown.
Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time is quite simply one of the Spaghetti Westerns finest hours, of that have no doubt. Fulci and scriptwriter Fernando Di Leo are of course better known for their Euro Horror outings and Italian police thrillers, but this is a fantastic film in any regards and one of the finest Westerns ever made regardless of country of origin.
Even non-fans of the genre will find it an entertaining and worthy experience that will command multiple viewings, of that you have my word.
All of the action is performed in a quick-edit upbeat manner, with judicious use of the widescreen picture format in an almost painterly manner that as with the best of the Spaghetti Westerns is more reminiscent of a big, violent cartoon than something like The Searchers or My Darling Clementine.
Not that there is something wrong with those approaches either, but the novelty aspect of the Spaghetti genre is in full play here with the offbeat locations, bizarre set designs and oddball characterizations that Italian made Westerns are so famous for!
In Maurizio Lucidi’s (The Sicilian Cross) My Name is Pecos (1966), Robert Woods (Johnny Colt) stars as the eponymous Mexican gunslinger, returning to Houston to settle a long-standing score against the racist gang boss (Pier Paolo Capponi, The Cat O Nine Tails) who wiped out his entire family.
What Hercules the Avenger director Maurizio Lucidi’s My Name Is Pecos lacks in terms of the style and scope of a Sergio Leone western, this cynical, low-budget, revenge-themed Italian horse opera makes up for it with its standard-issue, nihilistic violence.
The sweaty, unsavory villains shoot anybody without a second thought. They show no mercy for even unarmed, handicapped men. As far as that goes, the solitary hero displays a similar predilection to violence, motivated primarily out of vengeance.
The character of the undertaker emerges from the background for a change and participates in the action, not necessarily on the side of the protagonist, and this is a difference between My Name Is Pecos and run-of-the-mill European westerns.
Swarthy Robert Woods is convincing enough as the resilient, swift-drawing, crack-shot shooting protagonist forged in the Man with No Name mold.
In Massimo Dallamano’s (What Have You Done to Solange?) Bandidos (1967), Enrico Maria Salerno (Savage Three) plays a former top marksman who, years after being maimed by a former protégé (Venantino Venantini, City of the Living Dead), teams up with a fresh apprentice (Terry Jenkins, Paint Your Wagon) to get his revenge against the man who betrayed him.
Rugged famous gunslinger Richard Martin (an excellent performance by Enrico Maria Salerno) has both of his hands shot in a brutal hold-up on a train by ruthless former student Billy Kane (a perfectly nasty turn by Venantino Venantini).
The bitter and vindictive Martin joins forces with amiable and mysterious escaped convict Ricky Shot (a solid and engaging portrayal by Terry Jenkins) to exact revenge on Kane and his men.
Director Massimo Dallamano relates the complex and absorbing story at a steady pace, maintains an appropriately harsh and gritty tone throughout, stages the plentiful exciting shoot-outs with rip-roaring aplomb, and tops things off with a nice sense of deliciously dry dark humor.
The sound acting from the capable cast rates as a substantial asset: Salerno and Jenkins display a pleasingly natural chemistry as the appealing protagonists, Venantini makes for a suitably hateful villain, Cris Huerta is amusingly scuzzy as slimy bandito Vigonza, the lovely Maria Martin adds considerable sass and sexiness as Martins loyal lady friend Betty Starr, and ubiquitous character actor Victor Israel has a neat bit as an ill-fated train conductor.
Finally, in Antonio Margheriti’s (Cannibal Apocalypse) And God Said to Cain (1970), the inimitable Klaus Kinski (Double Face) stars as a man who has spent the last decade in a prison work camp for a crime he didn’t commit and who, upon his release, immediately sets out to wreak vengeance on the men who framed him.
After enduring ten years of hard labor for a crime he did not commit, Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski) is given a a presidential pardon (preposterous, but who cares?) and is let out of prison.
After ten years of shoveling and smashing rocks in the hot sun there is only one thing on his mind, revenge. Revenge on Acombar, the man who framed him.
Gary soon finds out that this same man is now the wealthiest land baron in the territory and is also sleeping with his wife. Gary purchases a rifle and (with what seems to be a never ending supply of bullets) sets out to extract his revenge on Acombar.
But before Gary can get to him he must face 30 of Acombars bodyguards during a conveniently well timed tornado at night.
Antonio Margheriti (better known as Anthony Dawson or Anthony S. Dawson) returns to his horror roots to direct this suspenseful revenge story.
The movie has some fabulous atmosphere. The character of Gary Hamilton is treated as a supernatural by the villains. Wind picks up whenever he appears, animals make strange noises when his name is uttered and his arrival is signified by a threatening Tornando.
This all adds to the horror element of the movie (also the fact that a large portion of the film takes place at night).
Featuring a wealth of key Euro cult talent both behind and in front of the camera, Arrow Video is proud to present these four classic westerns in sparkling high definition restorations, three of them produced specially for this release, alongside a plethora of brand new bonus materials. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentations of all four films
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
Restored lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks
Galleries for all four films
Illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing by author and critic Howard Hughes
Fold-out double-sided poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeves featuring original artwork and a slipcover featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
DISC 1 – MASSACRE TIME
Alternate US dub
New commentary by authors and critics C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke
New documentary featuring a new video interview with actor Franco Nero and an archival video interview with actor George Hilton
New video interview with film historian Fabio Melelli
DISC 2 – MY NAME IS PECOS
New commentary by actor Robert Woods and C. Courtney Joyner
New interview with actor George Eastman
New interview with actress Lucia Modugno
New documentary featuring a new interview with Fabio Melelli and an archival interview with cinematographer Franco Villa
DISC 3 – BANDIDOS
New commentary by author and critic Kat Ellinger
New interview with assistant director Luigi Perelli
New interview with actor Gino Barbacane
New interview with Fabio Melelli
Alternate end title sequence
DISC 4 – AND GOD SAID TO CAIN
New commentary by author and critic Howard Hughes
New documentary featuring a new interview with Fabio Melelli and a new audio interview with actress Marcella Michelangeli
New interview with actor Antonio Cantafora