Why a Western section after all these years? Why not? I finally realized after watching plenty of Italian and Spanish westerns (dubbed "Spaghetti Westerns", which actually describes most European Westerns made during the '60s to the '80s) that they were basically horror films in a Western setting. Think about that for a moment. Both genres have bad guys killing innocent people. Both contain extreme violence and nudity (at least the good ones) and they are all watchable from beginning to end. Spaghetti Westerns are much different than American Westerns because of one distinct reason: Many of them were directed by people who would then go into making horror and giallo films, my two favorite genres of films. People like Lucio Fulci (ZOMBIE - 1979), Sergio Martino (TORSO - 1973), Dario Argento (THE CAT O' NINE TAILS - 1971), Mario Bava (A BAY OF BLOOD - 1971) and many other Italian greats got their start or worked in the Spaghetti Western genre, putting their own unique spin on them, making it an important category for me to review after all these years. So sit back, try to relax and read my reviews of the strangest Westerns out there. If you're not a fan (and why not?), I guarantee you will be after reading some of the reviews. (This section is dedicated to Steven Jackson, who gave me the impetus to create this new category, the first in over 30 years, by offering me important titles and other suggestions. Without his valuable input, this category would have never happened, proving to me that you're never too old to learn. Thanks Steven!)

APACHE WOMAN (1976) - A squad of Confederate soldiers attack an Indian village, callously killing any Indian they come in contact with, including women and children. New Recruit Tommy (Al Cliver; HEARTS AND ARMOUR - 1983) is shot off his horse accidentally by one of his own men, falling unconscious in the woods. The Apache warriors return to their village a short time later and when they see all their loved ones dead, they vow revenge and ride out to go after the soldiers. When Tommy wakes up, he finds a young squaw (Clara Hopf, as "Yara Kewa"; HALLELUJA TO VERA CRUZ - 1973) hiding in the bushes and grabs her. The destroyed village is then visited by Honest Jeremy (Corrado Olmi; SHOOT JOE, AND SHOOT AGAIN - 1971), who proves not to be honest at all, as he knocks out Tommy, steals his boots and pistols and takes the squaw prisoner, using her as a hostage should he run into any Indians (the real reason he took her is for sex and when he is done with her, he'll sell her as a sex slave to lonely cowboys). When Tommy wakes up and finds his boots and guns missing, he heads off on foot in nothing but his socks. Jeremy then runs into fellow scumbags Keith (Federico Boido, as "Rick Boyd"; RUN, MAN, RUN - 1968) and Frankie (Roque Oppedisano; A SPECIAL COP IN ACTION - 1976), who grab the squaw and try to rape her, but she delivers a head-butt to Frankie, steals his horse and rides off into the woods, her hands still tied behind her back. She runs into Tommy, who knocks her off the horse, unties her and says he has to go to Fort Cobb, but he doesn't know the way, only the squaw doesn't understand English. Keith shows up on horseback and tries to kill the squaw, but Tommy knocks him out, stealing his boots and gun. Frankie then shows up, so Tommy and the squaw run into the woods and hide until Frankie and Keith give up looking for them. When they are alone, the squaw tries to kill Tommy, so he grabs her and says he had nothing to do with the massacre in her village, even though she doesn't understand a single word he's saying. Tommy tells her his name and she tells him hers (it's Sunsirahe), but Tommy says that is a mouthful, he'll call her "Apache" instead (How white of him!). It's not long before they become friends and, eventually, lovers, as Tommy tries to may his way to Fort Cobb, but it won't be easy, as the West holds danger for both the white man and Indians.
     While walking, Tommy discovers his Confederate squadron dead, all with arrows in their bodies. Tommy becomes very distrusting about Indians, even Apache, but he changes his mind when Apache kills a poisonous snake that was about to bite him. Over time, Tommy and Apache begin to understand each other very well, without speaking to each other, so much so, that Apache sleeps naked next to Tommy to give him warmth on the cold nights. One morning, Tommy wakes up to the sound of gunfire and when he goes to investigate, he finds Apache tied spread-eagle between two trees, put there by Snake (Mario Maranzana; A LONG RIDE FROM HELL - 1968), an Indian-hating man who talks about himself in the third person ("Snake ain't stupid. He's smart, very smart!"). Tommy has to pretend he doesn't know Apache so he can save her from the clutches of Snake. He frees her that night and they both escape from Snake, but barely.
     When Tommy gets close to Fort Cobb, he tells Apache that they will have to go their separate ways because he can't bring an Indian into an Army base and he doesn't want to be accused of being a deserter, but the sad look on Apache's face changes his mind fairly quickly, because he now has lovin' on his mind. He kisses Apache and she laughs at him, showing Tommy the proper way Apache women kiss. Then they have sex. A short time later, Tommy sees some soldiers in the distance and he and Apache ride to them, only they are pinned down by the Apache warriors. Tommy joins his brethren in a gunfight against the warriors, only Apache stops him from killing any Indians. We soon find out why. The leader of the warriors is her brother and when the warriors kill all the soldiers, her brother tries to kill Tommy, but Apache stops him, only to have him shot in the back and killed by a barely-alive soldier. Later on, Tommy and Apache run into Preacher Masters (Piero Mazzinghi, as "Peter McSing"; GOD MADE THEM...I KILL THEM - 1968) and his family, including his beautiful daughter (Ely Galleani; BABA YAGA - 1973), who makes Apache jealous. Masters, also an Indian hater, tells Tommy that he is going to Fort Cobb and he would be pleased if he joined them ("It would be nice to have an extra gun around."). He also tells Tommy that Fort Cobb is offering a reward of ten silver dollars for any Indian they bring to the fort, women and children included, dead or alive. This preacher may be a man of God, but he's not a decent man (I have not yet met one that was), as he quotes from the Bible to try to convince Tommy that killing Indians is what God wants. Tommy's not buying it and goes to leave, but the Preacher tells him Apache stays. A fight breaks out between the Preacher's two sons and Tommy and Tommy is forced to shoot and kill the Preacher's daughter when she tries to kill Apache. Tommy now knows there is no way in hell he can bring Apache to Fort Cobb, but what can he do? He considers himself a good soldier and wants to do the right thing, but will the love of an Indian woman trump being a dedicated soldier?
     Tommy decides to settle down, build a home and start a family with Apache, but will the sudden appearance of Frankie, Keith and Honest Jeremy destroy that happiness? It looks so, as Keith shoots Apache and Frankie shoots Tommy, both in cold blood. As Tommy's body floats down river, Frankie rapes a severely wounded Apache, only Tommy is not dead. Can he save Apache before it's too late? Like many Spaghetti Westerns, expect a downbeat, sad finale. Tommy shoots and kills both Frankie and Keith and then impales Jeremy with a pitchfork. As Tommy is burying Apache, a squad of soldiers arrive and want to know if he has seen any "stinking Indians" around. All Tommy can do is say no, as the squad rides to Fort Cobb. While Tommy is praying at Apache's grave, he is shot dead by Preacher Masters. Is there a moral to this story? Does it really matter?
     This low-budget western, directed and written by Giorgio Mariuzzo (a screenwriter by trade, penning the scripts for the Lucio Fulci films CONTRABAND - 1980; THE BEYOND - 1981 and AENIGMA - 1987, just to mention a few), using the Anglicized pseudonym "George McRoots", is a fairly captivating tale about hatred. Hatred for a race of people the white man doesn't try to understand, not helped by the fact that the government has put a price on their heads, thinking they must all be the same, no matter if they are men, women or children. Now I don't want to get political because it has no place in a film review, but I will say it is still going on up to this day. This film portrays that hatred very well, as every man (besides Tommy) has a racial hatred of Indians, even though most of them have never laid eyes on a Indian their entire lives. Full of nudity and some bloody violence, this film will entertain you with its sleaze elements while making you feel uneasy by the way people act here. This film is a success for that fact alone. I was never a fan of Al Cliver's (real name: Pierluigi Conti) acting, because I always found him vanilla and plain, but he's quite good here because the story doesn't demand too much of him. Clara Hopf is easy on the eyes, both in and out of her clothes. Even though this film is low budget, it is still recommended.
     Shot as UNA DONNA CHIAMATA APACHE ("A Woman Called Apache"), this film never received a theatrical or home video release in any format in the United States. I saw a beautiful anamorphic widescreen print dubbed in English streaming on Amazon Prime. They have dozens (if not hundreds) of these little-known Spaghetti Westerns to view for free if you are a Prime member. If you are a fan of this genre, the cost of a membership more than pays for the amount of films you can view for free. Also starring Enrico Chiappafreddo (as "Henry Kalter"; TEXAS, ADIOS - 1966), Nadir Brown, Frank Warner, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua (A MINUTE TO PRAY, A SECOND TO DIE - 1968), Robert Thomas and Raul Cabrera (EMANUELLE IN PRISON - 1983) as Apache's brother. Not Rated.

BLACK KILLER (1971) - When lawyer James Webb (Klaus Kinski; THE GREAT SILENCE - 1968) rides into the town of Tombstone, Texas, a second horse behind him carrying dozens of his law books, the residents of this fairly new town mistakenly believe he is a Federal Investigator sent by the U.S. government to clean up lawless Tombstone. It is lawless mainly due to the O'Hara brothers, a Mexican (!) family who have already murdered eight sheriffs and are about to murder number nine, thanks to Webb (One resident says to Webb, "We have three undertakers, but only one preacher."). What the residents don't know is that James Webb is a puppet master, working in the background, peeping through windows and behind curtains and doors, to make Tombstone a town where everyone can feel safe, using the law against crooked Judge Wilson (Dante Maggio, as "Don May"; THE FIGHTING FIST OF SHANGHAI JOE - 1973), who pretends to be on the side of the law, but is actually working in conjunction with the O'Hara brothers to steal peoples' land by making them sign over the deeds and then killing them in cold blood. But is this actually Webb's plan or does he have other motives for doing it?
     We soon find out that Webb's law books aren't for readin', they're actually hollowed out to hold his collection of pistols and derringers, which he fires by pulling a string that are attached to the triggers! That day, Webb watches out his hotel window as the O'Hara brothers ride into town and murder the Donovan family (Webb secretly shoots two members of the O'Hara's using two of his "book guns"). The O'Hara brothers, led by Pedro (Enzo Pulcrano, as "Paul Craine"; BROTHER OUTLAW - 1971), then ride to the Donovan homestead and make the father sign the deed to the land over to them. When he does, Pedro and his brothers shoot him and the remainder of the Donovans, killing them in cold blood. Meanwhile, Webb goes to Judge Wilson (Earlier, the Judge made the O'Hara brothers sign a piece of paper turning over all the deeds to him if they should all should die, even though none of them can read or write, the brothers signing with an "X"!) and uses the law to make him put a $10,000 bounty on Pedro's head for the murder of the Donovan family, knowing full well that this will cause the death of the current sheriff. Sure enough, when Pedro learns about the bounty on his head (He thinks the amount is too low!), he and his brothers ride into town (after callously shooting and killing the elderly Federal Inspector, to stop him from entering Tombstone, stealing his pocket watch in the process!), throw a stick of dynamite into the sheriff's office and when he walks out in a daze, they tie him up spread-eagle and then shoot him dead, putting Pedro's wanted poster on his body, which Pedro makes sure doesn't fall off him by throwing two of his sharp knives into the poster, impaling the dead sheriff's chest (talk about overkill!).
     Webb goes to Judge Wilson once again and uses the law to make him hire a new sheriff by tomorrow morning. The Judge tells him that will be next to impossible, because Tombstone has gone through nine sheriffs in the past two months and no resident will take the position (The Judge asks Deputy Fred [director Carlo Croccolo] if he wants the job and he says no, concluding with "More pay, free room and board and a five minute future!"). Webb doesn't want to hear it, telling the Judge he has one day to hire a new sheriff. When the Judge threatens to quit, Webb reminds him that the law states that he must give 30 days notice to relinquish his position, so the judge has no choice but to find a new sheriff in 24 hours.
     Luckily (?) for the Judge, former resident Bud Collins (Fred Robsahm; SO YOUNG, SO LOVELY, SO VICIOUS... - 1975) rides into town, goes to the saloon and asks where he can find his brother Peter (Gerardo Rossi, as "Jerry Ross"; COLT IN THE HAND OF THE DEVIL - 1967). Prostitute Consuelo (Tiziana Dini; A BOUNTY KILLER FOR TRINITY - 1972) tells him that Peter lost the family home to the O'Hara brothers, but he built a house next to the lake and married an Indian girl named Sarah (Marina Malfatti, as "Marina Mulligan"; THERE'S A NOOSE WAITING FOR YOU...TRINITY! - 1972). While playing cards with the locals, Bud is accused of cheating by Ryan O'Hara (Antonio Danesi, as "Robert Danish"; SARTANA'S HERE...TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN - 1970), which results in Bud shooting and killing two O'Hara brothers and bashing Ryan in the head with the butt of his gun. All this is brought on with the influence of Ramon O'Hara (Antonio Cantafora; AND GOD SAID TO CAIN - 1970), who runs the saloon/hotel in Tombstone and reporting to his brothers (there sure are a lot of 'em!) what is going down in the town of Tombstone, so they are kept up to date. Judge Wilson has Deputy Fred arrest Bud, telling him he can either spend the rest of his life in prison doing hard labor or he can become Tombstone's new sheriff. After telling the Judge that he shot the men in self-defense and getting nowhere, Bud accepts the Judge's proposal, especially when he give him $5,000 and says he will get $5,000 more when the O'Hara brothers are dead. Bud becomes Tombstone's new sheriff and Webb then offers him a deal: 50% of the illegally obtained land if he plays his cards straight (We never hears the complete deal, as it is supposed to be a surprise).
     We then see Sarah trying to teach Peter how to shoot a bow, but he's a lousy shot (she, on the other hand, is an expert). It is obvious that they are very much in love, even though the town of Tombstone refuses to accept a white man being married to an Indian (I'm still trying to figure out what tribe would name her Sarah!). Bud pays his brother and new wife a visit and tells Peter he is a lucky man to be married to such a beautiful woman. He also tells Peter since he is sheriff, he will get their family home and land back from the O'Hara brothers. Thanks to Ramon, the O'Hara brothers ride to Peter house to kill Bud. Once they arrive at the house, they beat-up and knock out Bud and gang rape Sarah, forcing a tied-up Peter to watch. When Peter tries to intervene, Ryan and Miguel O'Hara (Calogero Caruana, as "Ted Jones"; VENGEANCE - 1968) shoot and kill Peter, set fire to the house and leave Sarah and Bud inside to burn to death. Bud and Sarah manage to escape and now both of them have good reason to see the O'Hara brothers dead, Sarah using her bow and Bud his pistols.
     We see the O'Hara brother celebrating the death of the new sheriff in the saloon, beating the crap out of a midget (!) for getting too handy with one of their whores (The midget hits one of the brothers over and over, yelling "Mine! Mine! Mine!" in a dubbed child's voice!) and acting like they just won the lottery. Webb keeps a close eye on what is happening in town and picks the right moment to rifle through Judge Wilson's desk and crack open his safe, finding the illegally obtained deeds and the paper the O'Hara's signed. When Sarah kills Slide O'Hara (Domenico Maggio, as "Dick Foster"; SHOOT THE LIVING AND PRAY FOR THE DEAD - 1971) with her bow, Pedro yells out, "We got to get those baaaastaaaards!", but Webb tells him that he saw Bud and Sarah ride out of town (they didn't). Ryan kidnaps Consuelo and brings her to the O'Hara fort. Miguel whips her to make her talk about where Bud is, but she refuses to say anything (earlier, they murdered one of her prostitute friends). Bud and Sarah begin picking off the O'Hara brothers one at a time at the fort. Ryan tries to rape Consuelo, only to have Bud interrupt him, offering Ryan something he never gave him: a fair fight. Of course, Ryan cheats, forcing Bud to kill him, but Consuelo is shot dead in the process. Sarah is shot in the ass, forcing Bud to dig out the bullet with his knife, where he is surprised by Sarah not crying out in pain, she telling him, "We learn to endure pain."
     Bud and Sarah lay siege to the O'Hara fort, killing many of their members (one shot through the neck with an arrow). When the gang sees how many of their members are dead, they leave the fort en mass like cowards, leaving the O'Hara brothers to fend for themselves, but they all end up dead. Back in Tombstone, Webb confronts Judge Wilson about his illegal activities and makes him sign all the deeds over to him. Webb then murders the Judge with a couple of his book guns, stealing everything in his safe. Sarah then shows up in Webb's hotel room, gun drawn, telling him that Bud said to make sure he didn't leave town. Bud then enters the saloon and gets into a fight with Ramon, while Webb overpowers Sarah, tying her up and then helping Bud kill the remaining O'Hara brothers. All the O'Hara brothers are now dead and Webb hands Bud his family's deed, but Bud arrests Webb for the murder of Judge Wilson, telling Sarah and the relieved Tombstone townsfolk that he is handing Webb over to a judge in Carson City. But is he really? It turns out he isn't and then we are hit with a revelation that is very hard to swallow. Warning! DO NOT READ if you don't want to be pissed off! It turns out Bud was working with James Webb from the beginning, not to get the deeds back to their rightful owners (that was just a side benefit), but to split the money in the safe with Webb 50/50! If you think too hard about it, all the killings, including that of Peter and Consuelo, could have been avoided if Bud would have just minded his own damn business. Webb calls Bud a "bastard" during the final scene and Bud turns to him and says, "Yeah, that's what my father use to call me." The End. WTF?!? END OF THE PISSED OFF ZONE!!!
     This is a pretty standard Spaghetti Western, Webb's method of killing and the unbelievably stupid conclusion notwithstanding. Throughout the film, even when they are alone with each other, Bud and Webb talk to each other as if they were total strangers, so when it is revealed that they are actually working together, it is not only a cheat on the audience, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Describing Bud as a "bastard" is an understatement, as he is not only responsible for his brother's death, he's culpable for every murder since when he was appointed sheriff. He's worse than a bastard, he's a mutherfuckin' bastard! I doubt that was director/co-screen writer Carlo Croccolo's (using the pseudonym "Lucky Moore") intention, but it sure comes across that way. This was only one of two films Croccolo directed, as he was an actor by trade. His other film, the Spaghetti Western GUNMAN OF ONE HUNDRED CROSSES (1971), was filmed back-to-back with this one and, based on this film, I have no intention of viewing it. While there is some nice nudity, by both Marina Malfatti and Tiziana Dini, as well as some nasty violence (Pedro throwing the knives in the dead sheriff's chest; various arrow impalements, etc.), the fact that this film ends on such a sour and unbelievable note will have you forgetting any of the good points this film has to offer. Not that there are many to begin with. Like most of Klaus Kinski's Spaghetti Westerns (and there are many!), he is horrendously dubbed here, sounding like a Rhodes scholar rather than is usual gravel voice. Fred Robsahm's acting can be politely described as one note, as he has the same look on his face when he is killing someone as he does when seducing someone. Making the O'Hara's Mexican also pushes the believability factor to new heights and it never even tries to explain why Ryan is the only non-Mexican brother. Was he adopted or did they kill his father? He stands out like a grain of salt in a mountain of pepper. It's best that you skip this film, as there are far better Spaghetti Westerns out there to waste your precious time on. I was expecting a much better film since it was co-written by Luigi Angelo, who wrote or co-wrote the screenplays to the above-average giallo film THE SLASHER...IS THE SEX MANIAC! (1972) and the Lola Falana western LOLA COLT (1967), but I should have known better, since he was also involved in writing the script to THE PUMA MAN (1980).
     This film never received a theatrical or home video release in any physical format in the United States (except for a DVD compilation of Spaghetti Westerns by PopFlix, which I am certain is not legitimate), making its first appearance on these shores streaming on Amazon Prime in a beautiful anamorphic widescreen print dubbed in English. Just because it looks fantastic is no reason to watch it. Also starring Claudio Trionfi (DEATH SENTENCE - 1968) and Xiro Papas (FOUR CAME TO KILL SARTANA - 1969). Not Rated, but would probably obtain an R-Rating based on the female nudity on view.

COMIN' AT YA! (1981) - Yes, I know, I usually don't review Westerns, but after witnessing the ultra-weird GET MEAN (1975), I just had to watch this film since it was directed and co-written by the same people involved with MEAN and features the same actor from that film. This Italy/Spain/United States co-production was also the film that kickstarted the early-'80s 3-D craze. It was so successful, in fact, that it made over $6,000,000 in just 200 theaters, unheard of at the time for a low-budget feature (over $20,000,000 when inflated to current American dollars) and rumor has it that the film had to be temporarily pulled from circulation when the distributor ran out of 3-D glasses.
     H. H. Hart (Tony Anthony; The STRANGER trilogy - 1967-1968; BLINDMAN - 1971) is a Confederate Army gunslinger who, in a flashback, is gunned-down by Polk Thompson (Ricardo Palacios; MONSTER DOG - 1985) and his brother Pike (Gene Quintano; screenwriter of the Jean-Claude Van Damme actioner SUDDEN DEATH - 1994) at his wedding, his bride Abilene (Victoria Abril) ripped from his arms and carried away into the sunset. (I wonder if there is where Quentin Tarantino got the idea for KILL BILL?) He has been searching for his bride and the Thompson brothers since that fateful (but not fatal) day. Hart corners a bagpipe-playing Preacher (Lewis Gordon; CRYSTALSTONE - 1987) in a confessional, the Preacher telling him that this is a ghost town because two evil brothers came here and murdered all the men and children, kidnapping all the pretty women. Hart tells him about the Thompson brothers, so the Preacher joins him on his quest. We then see that the kidnapped women are being held captive in a rundown church, where they are attacked by cheesy-looking bats, who attach themselves to some of the women's faces (and fly directly at the camera), but they all fly away when the Thompson brothers enter the room (Yes, they are so mean, even the bats are scared of them!).
     A short time later, Polk forcefully enters the home of a baby girl's mother (we know it's a baby girl, because her baby vagina is thrust at the camera!), where he begins to rape the unfortunate woman. Hart then enters the house, killing Polk's henchmen, and begins to beat the crap out of Polk, demanding to know where his wife is. Polk says he doesn't want to know and we see Abilene and several other women walking on a large table, while men (and women) bid on them, buying their bodies for sex. Hart enters the church where the current crop of kidnapped women are being held, telling them that he will lead them to safety, but first he sneaks into the auction house and kills a couple of buyers with his shotgun. He then hold Pike at bay with his shotgun, telling him that if he wants to see Polk alive, he will do what he says. He holds Pike hostage, giving Abilene and the other kidnapped women enough time to escape, but someone with a bullwhip disarms Hart, Pike demanding to know where his brother is. When Hart refuses to tell him, he burns Hart's hand with a red hot poker, Hart spilling the beans (sorry, this is not a 3-D effect!) and Pike riding out to rescue his brother, leaving Hart tied-up in his hideout.
     We then see Polk tied to a pipe, while rats feast on his flesh. Pike saves his brother before he becomes a three-course meal for the rats (but they still managed to eat his left eye!). "He kicked me!" says Polk, Pike telling him not to worry, Hart is tied up back at the hideout and he can kill him when they get back.  Meanwhile the Preacher and all the escaped women have formed a miniature wagon train, but when a squad of Thompson henchmen  show up, the women run for their lives, but they are caught. Abilene, too, as we see her lassoed and dragged through a beach. Polk returns to the hideout and beats the stuffing out of Hart, but Hart manages to turn the tables and kills Polk, escaping while trying to avoid the flying spears and flaming arrows coming his way, being sent by one of Polk's Indian henchmen (This scene must have looked excellent in 3-D). Hart manages to kill the Indian with one of his own spears, but Abilene is a prisoner once again. When Pike discovers Polk dead, he begins a long sexual assault on Abilene. Hart discovers Abilene's dress on the beach and knows what he has to do. He also discovers all of the escaped women dead, tied to the ground on spikes, left there to slowly die in the blazing sun.  He finds a barely-alive Preacher, who tells Hart that Pike killed all of the women except for his wife, leaving the Preacher alive to tell Hart where to meet Pike if he wants to see his wife alive. Will Hart kill Pike and his numerous henchmen (who seem to grow in number as the film progresses) and save his wife? What do you think?
     While not as batshit crazy as GET MEAN, director Fernando Baldi (TEXAS, ADIOS - 1966; TERROR EXPRESS - 1979; WARBUS - 1985), working with a script written by Gene Quintano, Wolfe Lowenthal and Lloyd Battista (the last two also responsible for the screenplay of MEAN), still manages to milk the many 3-D effects for all they are worth. The opening credits are in 3-D, written in unusual places, such as a snake wrapped around a wine bottle (and the wine bottle's label), the bottom of a horse's hoof, a bag of coffee beans, and a gun barrel, just to name a few. It should also be noted that the opening 15 minutes are dialogue-free, just Carlo Savina's excellent music score and various sound effects, yet it still manages to tell the story about what happened to Hart and his bride. There are also 3-D effects that you will not see in any other film, including the baby girl's nudity, which makes this film stand out from the pack. Even though I watched this film in 2-D, the 3-D effects still manage to pack a punch. Sure, there are a lot of gun barrels thrust into the camera and plenty of slow-motion deaths (with bloody bullet sqibs exploding in your face), but it's the little things used for 3-D that makes this film so enjoyable. I should footnote this review by explaining that I never saw a 3-D movie. Hell, I can't even see in 3-D, since I was born with only one working eye (no cyclops jokes, please, I still have two eyes, it's just that one doesn't work). Whenever I wanted to see a 3-D movie, I had to find a theater playing it in 2-D (otherwise it would just be a blur to me), making it tough, especially in the elongated 3-D craze that hit us in the New Millennium (the longest in 3-D history). Since this is an R-Rated 3-D film, even the plentiful female nudity is in your face, as are the bloody deaths. Even Pike's explosive death registers in 2-D, proving to me that you don't need two good eyes to enjoy a 3-D film. Baldi directed a 3-D companion film, the RAIDERS clone TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983), but it didn't register with audiences as this one did since people were growing tired of 3-D films when it was released.
     Released theatrically in the U.S. by Filmways Pictures, with a VHS release a couple of years later by Rhino Video, who then released a widescreen version on DVD early in the New Millennium (both OOP). MDV Visual re-released the film on DVD, only this time it was converted to the modern-day Real 3-D, the first vintage film to receive the conversion. I saw this converted version streaming on Amazon Prime (free for Prime Members). The film looks like it was shot yesterday, as it is crisp, clean and colorful. No Blu-Ray at the time of this review. Give it a chance, you'll probably like it. Also featuring Luis Barboo (THE LORELEY'S GRASP - 1973), Charly Bravo (NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF - 1980), Domenico Cianfriglia (SUPER STOOGES VS. THE WONDER WOMEN - 1974), Goffredo Unger (SNOW DEVILS - 1967) and Joaquín Gómez, all as Thompson henchmen. Rated R.

CUT-THROATS NINE (1971) - This Spanish/Italian Spaghetti Western is so bloody and violent it could be considered the first gore western. But it didn't start out that way, or so the story goes (More on that at the end of this review). It is also the most nihilistic western I have ever laid eyes on, as it goes in directions that you don't expect, offering bloody surprises and even a touch of humanity. Those of you who have seen Quentin Tarantino's THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) will notice the similarities to this film and it is no coincidence, as this is one of Tarantino's favorite Spaghetti Westerns.
     The film opens with lawman Sgt. Brown (Claudio Undari, as "Robert Undar"; THE FIGHTING FIST OF SHANGHAI JOE - 1973) escort a wagon containing seven of the worst convicted criminals, all who are serving life terms. Also on this trek are Sgt. Brown's virginal daughter Cathy (Emma Cohen; CIPOLLA COLT - 1975) and five Army soldiers, two of them driving the wagon and the other three on horseback, guarding it. We discover that the prisoners, as well as Sgt. Brown, worked in a now played-out gold mine and are being transported to a prison in Fort Green, which is 400 miles away. In voiceover narration, Sgt Brown introduces us to the seven prisoners, their crimes and how they are to spend the rest of their lives. There's Dick Patterson (Rafael Hernandez; SEVEN GUNS FOR THE MACGREGORS - 1966), who committed so many crimes, he's to serve a lifetime on a chain gang, only his lifetime is only about six months, because he is dying of cancer; Joe Ferrell (Ricardo Diaz; EVE - 1968), known as "El Comanchero", he plucked scalps from the Indians and then did the same to his neighbors and family. Chain gang for life; Slim (Carlos Romero Merchant; DON'T TURN THE OTHER CHEEK - 1971), who's a "snake and a backstabbing traitor." Life on a chain gang; Ray Brewster (Antonio Iranzo; THE UGLY ONES - 1966), an arsonist and thief known as "The Torch." Chain gang for life; Thomas Lawrence (Alberto Dalbes; 100 RIFLES  - 1969), known as "Dandy Tom", a gambler, forger blackmailer and killer. Hard labor for life; John McFarland (Jose Manuel Martin; GOD FORGIVES...I DON'T - 1967), known as "Weasel", a robber, rapist and murderer. Chain gang for life; and Dean Marlowe (Manuel Tejada; DEATH KNOWS NO TIME - 1969), no one knows what he is in for (not even Sgt. Brown), but he got life in hard labor. (My biggest problem with this film, and it doesn't interfere with your enjoyment of the film, is why in the hell did Sgt. Brown put his daughter in a wagon containing seven of the of the worst scum of the earth?). All seven men are connected to the same long chain attached to one of their ankles, about three feet of chain separating each prisoner. Sgt. Brown doesn't have the key to unlock the chain (or so he says), it can only be unlocked when they reach the Army prison in Fort Green.
     Ray tells one of the soldiers driving the wagon that he has to take a piss and the soldier tells him to do it in his pants, he is not stopping the wagon. Ray does just that (!), saying, "Orders completed soldier!" and everyone has a good laugh. It will be the last laugh any of them will have, as they are about to experience brutality on an epic level. About halfway to Fort Green, the wagon is held up by a family of bandits, the father (Francisco Nieto; IF YOU SHOOT...YOU LIVE! - 1975) demanding to know where the shipment of gold is hidden. Both soldiers driving the wagon tell him there is no gold on the wagon, they are transporting prisoners, so the son kills one of them with his rifle (When the grandfather [Juan Antonio Elices; DEATH ON HIGH MOUNTAIN - 1969] takes off the dead soldier's boots to claim them as his, the father yells at him and says not to embarrass him, check his teeth for gold first!). The father then checks the inside of the wagon and sees the prisoners (Sgt. Brown pretends to be one of them, hiding his daughter behind his back) and tells his son to search the wagon carefully for the hidden gold. When the son finds nothing, he pulls the other driver off the wagon and crushes his skull in with the butt of his rifle (The first gore scene, very bloody). The father then orders the remaining three soldiers to dismount their horses and kills them (including a nasty throat slicing), slaps the horses attached to the wagon, sending it on its way down a twisty icy mountain road without a driver. Sgt. Brown tries to stop the wagon, but when he can't, he and Cathy jump off the wagon just before it tumbles down an incline off the road (I felt really bad for the horses, as we see them fall with the wagon down a snowy hill into some trees. It's obvious the ASPCA was not involved with the making of this film!). After checking on Cathy to see if she's OK, Sgt. Brown then checks on the prisoners and finds them all bloody and bruised, but OK, only Slim has a badly broken leg and can't walk. Sgt. Brown makes the prisoners carry Slim in turns as they head off on foot to Fort Green, ignoring Thomas' pleas to cut off Slim's ankle with his machete because he's about to die (Remember, Sgt. Brown says he doesn't have the keys to the chain).
     Sgt. Brown estimates that it will take six days or more to travel to Fort Green on foot, so he makes the prisoners ration the food and provisions that they have (We then hear the prisoners sing a song about how they are going to kill Sgt, Brown if he turns his back on them!). That night, we see the prisoners picking straws, the shortest one is to kill Slim in his sleep. We then see someone killing Slim (we don't see who is doing it...yet). The next morning, when Sgt. Brown discovers Slim dead, he orders the prisoners to tell him which one of them killed Slim. When they won't tell him, Sgt. Brown punishes them by making them carry Slim's corpse instead of cutting off his ankle and removing the chain from his body. One of the two horses Sgt. Brown saved breaks its leg in some deep snow, forcing him to shoot it in the head with his pistol (It doesn't go unnoticed by the prisoners that Sgt. Brown treats the horses better than he does them). When Sgt. Brown wakes up the following morning, he discovers Slim's corpse roasting in the campfire while the prisoners laugh. He hands his machete to Dean, who cuts off Slim's leg off at the ankle (nothing is left to the imagination). Then a revelation is revealed that I didn't see coming.
     When John is bashing the chain with a rock (to annoy Sgt. Brown), he discovers that the chain is made of gold! That's right, the chain that binds these six prisoners together is made from gold taken from the played-out mine and Sgt. Brown knew all about it. He tells Thomas what's a better way to hide gold than to use it as restraints on prisoners who would kill to get their hands on it. The irony is not lost on Thomas, who then throws another revelation our way, asking Sgt. Brown if he still believes that one of them killed his wife (and Cathy's mother)! That's right, one of these prisoners viciously murdered Sgt. Brown's wife, Ely (Mabel Karr; KILLER TONGUE - 1996). Flashbacks show up throughout the remainder of the film showing us that any one of the prisoners could have done it (She is stabbed in her stomach until her intestines fall to the floor!). Now things get very interesting, as we try to discover who did it, but there is more than one surprise in store for the viewer.
     After discovering that their chain is made of gold, the prisoners refuse to move, so Sgt. Brown shoots Joe in the face, killing him (very graphic) and then cuts his foot off with his machete. Cathy begins to realize that her father is no better than the prisoners, asking him if he is willing to kill four innocent men to get to her mother's killer. He says yes, all these men are killers and they are guilty of something far worse than murder, they just were caught for another crime. They are a waste of human skin according to him. As they make the long walk though deep snow and freezing temperatures, Cathy passes out from exhaustion and Sgt. Brown is forced to carry her (he won't allow her to get close to the prisoners).  The prisoners then find an abandoned house and run to it, leaving an exhausted Sgt. Brown behind them, still carrying Cathy's body. The prisoners look out a window and see Sgt. Brown pass out from exhaustion and when he wakes up, he finds himself tied-up inside the house, as the prisoners take turns beating him. He is then forced to watch as Ray, Dick and John take turns raping Cathy (very hard to watch) over Dean and a reluctant Thomas' objections (Thomas watches them rape Cathy, but the look on his face tells us he doesn't approve). In another plot twist I didn't see coming, the prisoners burn down the abandoned house with a tied-up Sgt. Brown still inside, as we watch him burn to death (another scene very hard to watch).
     The prisoners continue their trek through the snowy mountains with Cathy as their hostage, only Dean protects her so she doesn't get raped again (Dean kills John for raping Cathy as they are walking in the snow and then uses the machete to cut off his leg). The prisoner are starving, as they haven't eaten for days, yet Thomas refuse to relinquish Sgt. Brown's pistol to Dean, who is a crack shot, wasting a bullet trying to kill a deer for dinner. Thomas finally relents due to severe hunger and Dean shoots and kills a deer. Everyone then has a nice meal, but Dean refuses to give the pistol back to Thomas, figuring he and Cathy would be safer if he kept it. Gold fever then hits the prisoners and they begin to turn on each other, but Dick intervenes, saying he has a plan and if they all stick to it, they all will be rich. The plan involves a trading post a few miles ahead that Dick visited years before where they can all have a drink and a good meal, because he knows the proprietor, Caldwell (Emilio Rodriguez; THE TOUGH ONE - 1966), but first they have to find a way to remove the chain from their bodies. They come upon some railroad tracks and follow them until they get to the tunnel. Thomas comes up with the idea to lay the chain across the railroad tracks so a passing train will cut them off. It works like a charm and the prisoners are no longer chained together, each of them having the same length of gold chain on their possession. Ray begins going crazy, partly due to hunger, partly due to alcohol (which he found at the abandoned house) and partly because, well, he is crazy. He breaks off from the group by himself, where he hallucinates that Sgt. Brown has returned from the dead to kill him (this sequence is haunting and very well done, as Ray imagines the burned abandoned house becoming whole again [thanks to running the film backwards, but it is still effective] and a hideously burned Sgt. Brown walking out of it). The bandit father discovers a delirious Ray babbling in the snow and when he discovers his chain is made of gold, he demands that Ray tell him where the rest of the prisoners are headed. They all head to the trading post, where the film concludes, but not before both Ray and Dean are killed and we find out, from flashbacks, who actually killed Slim and Sgt. Brown's wife. Warning SPOILERS!!! It was Dean and when Cathy realizes that life's not worth living anymore, she decides to kill Dick and Thomas, as well as herself, by lighting a stick of dynamite and putting it on top of a crate of explosives while Thomas and Dick are about to slaughter a regiment of Army soldiers riding towards the trading post. The film ends with the trading post exploding and there are no survivors. I told you it was nihilistic, didn't I? END OF SPOILLERS!!!
     This downbeat Spaghetti Western, directed by Joaquin Romero Merchant (IMPLACABLE THREE - 1963; I DO NOT FORGIVE...I KILL! - 1968), keeps things interesting by going left when you are expecting a right, keeping the viewer off guard, such as Sgt. Brown's unexpected death. The film is also full of gory deaths, still considered shocking today, due to the realistic manner they are displayed (and it doesn't hurt that they are very well done). When Dick savagely kills Caldwell by stabbing him in the stomach with a large knife and the impales his back with a baling hook while hoisting him up in the air with a pulley, all because he owed him five dollars from years ago (!), you know this film isn't going to play fair. Believe me, this is not your standard Spaghetti Western, as no one here has anything representing a moral center, not even Sgt. Brown. The screenplay, by Joaquin Romero Hernandez (KILL THEM ALL AND COME BACK ALONE - 1968) and Santiago Moncada (SHOOT FIRST...ASK QUESTIONS LATER - 1975), doesn't concern itself with the small stuff, delivering the bloody goods from the very begging and never letting up. Now, the next bit of information may not be true (I have my doubts about its validity given its source), but I'm going to tell you anyway. This is verbatim from the back of the double feature DVD sleeve released by Code Red: "Distributor Seafirm Kalalexis picked up this film several years later, re-shot gory violence as a gimmick to bring in the audience at 42nd Street with a cardboard mask given to paying attendence (sp) to wear to avoid watching the violent scene when it happens. The gimmick was a failure, but thanks to today's youth audience the film now gain a cult following thanks to Kalalexis added scene. Code Red and Seafirm Kalalexis is proud to bring you for the first time the gory classic out authorized in USA!" Not only does that quotation contain Code Red's founder William Olsen's usual fractured sentence structure, as he butchers the English language, I also doubt that much of it is true at all. Sure, a cardboard mask was offered to audiences (the posters prove that), but I doubt there are any extra "scene" that were filmed "years later", as all the gore scenes show the same actors clearly being killed. It seems quite hard for me to believe, if not impossible, that Kalalexis would find the same actors years later and then getting them to appear in re-shoots. It just doesn't wash.  Still, this movie should be on your "must-see" list if you are a fan of Spaghetti Westerns. It contains everything we expect from a film in this genre, only this one is taken several degrees higher than we expected.
     Shot as CONDENADOS A VIVIR ("Condemned To Live") and also known as BRONSON'S REVENGE (I know, it makes no sense), this film had a theatrical release in the United States courtesy of American International Pictures (AIP), as well as a few VHS releases, including one from Liberty Entertainment Group. Originally released on DVD by Eurovision Digital Entertainment in a very battered widescreen print, full of emulsion scratches and damage, especially at reel changes, where there is also some abrupt dialogue cuts. It was released in much better condition by Code Red, who issued it on a double feature DVD, with Fred Williamson's boring western JOSHUA (1976). Code Red also released it a few months later on a stand-alone Blu-Ray, pissing off people who just purchased it on DVD (including me, but William Olsen and I have a long history with each other and it is not a good one). Also starring Eduardo Calvo (CURSE OF THE DEVIL - 1973), Lorenzo Robledo (CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES - 1969), Antonio Padilla (COMPANEROS - 1970) and Mel Welles (the director of LADY FRANKENSTEIN - 1971) as the voice of Ray. Rated R.

DEATH SENTENCE (1968) - Really strange Spaghetti Western in both structure and characters, especially the one portrayed by Tomas Milian, but more on him later. This is actually four mini-films in one, as Cash (Robin Clarke; BORDER COP - 1979), who is sometimes referred to as "Django", gets even with the four people who killed his brother in cold blood years earlier (which he witnessed). Cash has had many years to get his revenge and has plans to kill all four men, each plan more complex than the last.
     The film opens with Cash following land baron Diaz (Richard Conte; THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS - 1973) as they trek through a desert, Diaz carrying the guns and Cash behind him with the only canteen of water. Flashbacks then show us how they ended up in this situation. Cash entered Diaz's town (which he created for his sole pleasure, telling Cash that he will never know how it feels to own and control land, or even experience owning grain!) and killed all of his men, taking Diaz's wife hostage. Diaz begs for his wife's life and then betrays her, jumping out a window with a bagful of money and running into the desert, Cash grabbing a canteen of water and not realizing he has bullets, but no gun. Back in the present, a few days later, Diaz is dying of thirst while Cash splashes his face with water, telling Diaz that there is a well he missed just behind him that has plenty of water. Diaz walks to a homemade graveyard cross in the middle of the desert and keeps Cash at bay by firing his pistol at him, running out of bullets. When night comes, a delirious Diaz (who drops his gun at the cross) crawls to the well behind Cash and discovers it is a fake, Cash creating it out of racks. Cash grabs the pistol at the cross and guns down Diaz, sand slipping through his dead fingers like freshly harvested grain. One down, three to go.
     Cash then enters the town of high-stakes gambler Montero (Enrico Maria Salerno; NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS - 1974), a man who enjoys winning other people's money and leaving them penniless, killing those who can't pay up. Cash gets into a high stakes game of poker with him and wins all of Montero's money, telling him to come back when he has more money. Montero does just that, so the next day, Cash and Montero have another game of poker and Cash wins all of Montero's money on the first hand, telling Montero that if he wants to play another hand, the stakes will be much higher. Being a gambler, Montero agrees. The next game will be for their lives, whomever wins this hand gets to kill the other one. They both put their pistols on the table and Cash deals the cards. Montero has four Kings and grabs his pistol to shoot Cash, thinking he has the winning hand. A shot rings out and we see Montero falling to the floor, dead, Cash walking away. When someone looks at Cash's hand of cards, they discover he had four Aces. Two down, two to go.
     The next time we see Cash, he is in a Mexican town run by Friar Baldwin (Adolfo Celi; WHO SAW HER DIE? - 1972), who forces his brand of deadly vigilante religion on the Mexican people, thanks to his flock of black-wearing followers. Friar Baldwin knows who Cash is and why he is here, taking him prisoner and then dragging him through the desert on the back of a horse, leaving him there when he refuse to tell him where the money is hidden (Money is more important to Baldwin than religion). Baldwin shows Cash how powerful he is by taking one of Cash's bullets and pulling the projectile off the cartridge, dropping the shell at his feet. He then shoots Cash in the leg with his own pistol and hands it to him, no bullets in it and no bullets on his person. The Friar and his flock then leave Cash out in the desert, telling him they will return the next night and he better tell them where the money is or he will be dead. The next night, The Friar and his black-clad flock return to the desert and confront Cash. He still refuses to tell Baldwin where the money is hidden, so the Friar tells his flock to ride away, he will kill Cash himself. Cash pulls out his pistol and pulls the trigger, but all there is is the sound of a click. Just when it looks like curtains for Cash, he pulls the trigger a second time and shoots Baldwin in the face, killing him. How can this be, when Cash had no bullets?  Remember that cartridge that the Friar dropped at Cash's feet? Well, he picked it up, dug out the projectile from his leg with a sharp rock and made a complete bullet! Three down, one to go.
     This is the most enjoyably weird episode in the film. Cash rides into a run-down town without a bank. It seems that there is an albino named O'Hara (Tomas Milian; DJANGO KILL...IF YOU LIVE SHOOT! - 1967), who is so obsessed with gold, he reaches orgasm when he touches it. He loves gold so much, he would steal it out of your teeth, just so he could rub it between his fingers. O'Hara is also obsessed with women with blonde hair, treating them the same way he does gold. Cash arrives in a wagon with three heavy crates, telling the people in town that he intends to open a bank and the crates contain gold. Cash re-opens the old, deserted bank and it is not long before O'Hara and his gang break into it, O"Hara finding a gold coin on the counter and fondling it like it was a sexy woman (it's quite the sight, as the white wig-wearing Milian, who is also dressed in all white, caresses the coin with a look as if he is about to ejaculate, saying, "How warm it is...just like a woman's skin"!). When O'Hara tells his men to open the crates (He tells them to open the crates slowly, because he wants "savor this pleasure to the limit"!), all they find are rocks inside it (When Milian see the rocks in the crate, he gives a look that can best be described as a man suddenly losing an erection!). Cash then kills a few of O'Hara's men and rides away, but O'Hara knows that Cash has gold, because he can smell it (Cash has some people in town take the crates to an old cemetery on the outskirts of town, where an old church stands). The next time we see Cash, he is on horseback with Sally (Eleonor Brown; NAKED YOU DIE - 1968). They are riding through a valley that leads to the old cemetery, when Sally sees some men with guns watching them overhead. Cash tells her not to worry and to take off her scarf. When she removes the scarf from her head, revealing blonde hair, O'Hara tells his men not to shoot Cash because he must touch that woman's beautiful blonde hair! That night, after Cash kills all of O'Hara's men (and we then discover that this is the cemetery Cash's brother was buried in), OHara gets the drop on Cash (by pretending to be dead) and makes him dig his own grave in the cemetery, digging up his brother's grave. Cash then throws some dirt into O'Hara's eyes and disappears. O'Hara goes looking for him and finds Sally instead and he is instantly smitten, telling Sally he is not going to hurt her, he just wants to run her hair through his fingers ("Never in my life have I seen hair so beautiful!"). O'Hara then goes full-tilt loony on Sally, grabbing her, kissing her and saying, "Your golden hair makes me crazy!" and acting like a dog in heat. Sally pushes him away and he apologizes, telling Sally he is going to fetch a couple of horses so they can ride away together, completely forgetting about Cash (which was Cash's plan from the beginning). As O'Hara goes to fetch the horses, he passes by the freshly dug grave and looks inside. He is surprised to see Cash rising from the darkness out of his brother's grave, where he shoots and kills O'Hara and he falls into his brother's grave. A fitting end to to a clever plan. Four down, vengeance over.
    Not only is this film a pleasure to watch, it is also a very strange Spaghetti Western, full of great performances and set pieces. Director/screen writer Mario Lanfranchi (MERCILESS MAN - 1976) has delivered a film that may seem fractured when initially watched, but makes perfect sense when viewed all the way through. It doesn't concern itself with secondary characters, as any of them are disposable, such as a woman Cash meets in Montero's town.  Cash kisses her and the next time we see her, she is lying dead in the street, no explanation how she got there. There really is no explanation needed, because we already know that Cash is dealing with scum of the highest order, where a person's life means nothing. The only two secondary characters to register are Sally and Paco, played by hunchback actor Luciano Rossi (DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER - 1973), a peasant in O'Hara's town that Cash pays with a gold coin to drag the crates into the bank. Rossi cleverly hides his hump behind a sombrero he wears across his back, hanging from his neck, and the look on his face when Cash hands him a gold coin is priceless. But this film registers thanks to the cast of villains, all of them given different personalities and their deaths fitting of those personalities. It should also be noted that Cash himself also has some peculiar quirks, the biggest one being that he only drinks milk (!), even in bars, which opens him up to many jokes at his expense. He also doesn't like to waste bullets, as every pull of the trigger he makes is a death shot. He does not shoot to injure. But this film clearly belongs to Tomas Milian. His portrayal of an albino is so unexpected and unusual, you can't help but love him, even though he is a bad guy. When you see how he reacts to a single gold coin, you can only imagine how he will react to a pile of gold. His performance is what makes this film so special and his episode in this film is rightly the longest. Milian was an actor (he passed away in 2017) who always delivered and was like a chameleon, looking different in every film he appeared in. Equally talented to play both good and bad guys, Milian was the man you wanted if a role called for something unusual, because he could make it memorable. I liked this film a lot and admire its strange structure, which was off-putting at first, but is satifying when seen as a whole. Reccomended to both Spaghetti Western addicts and fans of the unusual.
     Shot as SENTENZA DI MORTE (a literal translation of the review title) and also known as NOOSE FOR DJANGO, this film never had a theatrical or home video release in any format in the United States. I saw a nice anamorphic widescreen print in Italian with English subtitles (non-removable) streaming on Amazon Prime, free to Prime members. I know I have stated this before, but if you are not a member of Prime and films like this interest you, it would be foolish not to be a Prime member if it is offered in your country. Also featuring Lilli Lembo, Claudio Trionfi, Donato Di Sepio, Glauco Scarlini, Raffaele Di Mario and Monica Pardo. Not Rated.

THE FIGHTING FIST OF SHANGHAI JOE (1973) - Here's a Spaghetti Western with a twist, mixing Hong Kong-style martial arts action (which was becoming hugely popular at the time) with Western elements, where the hands and feet are far more deadly than the six-gun.
     San Francisco, 1882: Chin Hao (Japanese actor Katsutoshi Mikuriya, using the name "Chen Lee"; THE THREE MUSKETEERS OF THE WEST - 1973) arrives from the Orient to San Francisco's Chinatown, looking to become a cowboy in Texas. He buys a stagecoach ticket to Texas (after showing a severely buck-toothed young boy how to split a coconut with his bare hands!), where he gets his first taste of American racism, being told, "Chinks and niggers aren't allowed inside a stagecoach because you're different. You'll have to ride on top of the stagecoach!" Chin then arrives in Texas, but the stagecoach driver stops in the middle of nowhere, telling Chin to get off his stagecoach because he paid to come to Texas, but he didn't pay enough to go to a civilized Texas. Chin walks miles to the nearest town, where he has to put up with inflated prices and racial jokes at his expense ("Why do the Chinese eat with chopsticks?" "Because they're too stupid to use a fork! Ha, ha, ha, ha!"). After ordering a glass of milk and eating a bowl of rice in a saloon, Chin overhears one drunk resident say, "We finally got rid of the Indians and now we're up to our asses in Chinks!" Chin now knows it won't be easy for him in Texas, yet he walks up to the bartender and asks for a fork, just to piss off the drunkards in the saloon. When one of the drunks orders Chin to shine his shoes, he can take no more. He lets out a yell ("Eeeaaaeeaaggghhhh!", which he will do constantly in this film!) and beats the crap out of everyone in the bar with his martial arts skills.
     Chin then walks to the nearest ranch looking for a job, telling the ranch boss that he doesn't want a menial job, he wants to be a cowboy. Everyone laughs at him, but the boss offers Chin a horse on credit if he can do a couple of things better than him, like shoeing a horse and jumping from a fence onto a saddled horse. Rather than using a hammer, Chin shoes a horse with his bare hands (!) and then does an acrobatic jump from the ground to land on a saddled horse, but instead of getting a horse on credit, the boss tries to whip him. (Eeeaaaeeaaggghhhh!) and the boss and his workers fall to Chin's martial arts skill. Chin then takes a horse, promising to pay for it every week on credit (He's nothing if not honest!). An old timer at another ranch tells Chin if he proves himself to be a worthy cowboy, he will have a job. He then bunks with the rest of the ranch hands, who teach him how to play Poker. He wins the first hand after discovering that the deck is marked, which doesn't win him any new friends. (Eeeaaaeeaaggghhhh!) and then beats the snot out of the ranch hands using his martial arts prowess.
     Chin then builds up a reputation as a cowboy who can handle himself, so he is offered a job by Stanley Spencer (Piero Lulli; GOD MADE THEM...I KILL THEM - 1968), the largest cattle rancher in all of Texas, but is Mr. Spencer on the up and up or does he want Chin Hao on his side for another reason? Chin quickly gets the nickname "Shanghai Joe" (which is what I will call him from now on) and begins to work for Mr. Spencer's ranch boss, Craig (Alfonso De La Vega; SHOOT FIRST...ASK QUESTIONS LATER - 1975), who tells Joe that Mr. Spencer smuggles cattle in from Mexico so he doesn't have to pay taxes. Joe can live with that, but when he discovers what Spencer really is doing, he can no longer be in Spencer's employ. It turns out Craig and some other people on Spencer's payroll are actually slave traders who smuggle Mexicans across the border to sell them as slaves and cheap laborers. Joe watches as Craig and some of his men heartlessly gun down some illegal Mexicans for sport and, you guessed it, (Eeeaaaeeaaggghhhh!) beats the crap out of Craig and his men with just his hands and feet. A severely wounded illegal tells Joe that this isn't the first time this has happened, so Joe puts him on a horse and sends him back to Mexico, telling him to tell his people that slavery is a lot worse than hunger (Should I put a Trump joke here?).
     Mr. Spencer's men then capture Joe and Spencer tells them not to kill Joe, he has special plans for him.  He puts a tied-up Joe in the middle of a bullring with his most violent prized bull. It tries to gore Joe, but he is too quick. Joe knocks out the bull by kicking it in the head (!) and then takes Spencer hostage, dropping him off in the middle of the desert without a horse to teach him a lesson. Joe reports Spencer's illegal activities to Sheriff Andy Corrato (Andrea Aureli; ADIOS SABATA - 1970), not knowing that he is on Spencer's payroll, but he quickly learns how far Spencer's reach goes. After his men rescue him from the desert, Mr. Spencer hires four of the best killers to dispose of Joe, offering $5,000 to the first person to bring him Joe's dead body. Each of these killers' specialties can be gleaned by their nicknames: They are Scalper Jack (Klaus Kinski; THE GREAT SILENCE - 1968), Burying Sam (Gordon Mitchell; SEVEN DEVILS ON HORSEBACK - 1975), Pedro The Cannibal (Claudio Undari, as "Robert Hundar"; CUT-THROATS NINE - 1971) and Tricky The Gambler (Giacomo Rossi Stuart; GUNFIGHT AT RED SANDS - 1963; one of the first Spaghetti Westerns). Joe finds an ally in beautiful Mexican girl Cristina (Carla Romanelli; GANG WAR IN MILAN - 1973), who tells him about the price on his head and offers him shelter, which he accepts. Pedro the Cannibal is the first to try and kill Joe ("I always wanted to know what a Chink tastes like!"), but Joe (Eeeaaaeeaaggghhhh!) and quickly decimates Pedro with his quick hands, killing him. Joe and Cristina then travel to Mexico and stop at a hotel for the night, run by a fellow Chinaman, but he turns out to also be on Spencer's payroll and, that night, Cristina disappears, kidnapped by Burying Sam. While searching for Cristina, Joe falls in one of Sam's spiked booby traps in the desert, but he is just playing possum, beating the stuffing out of Sam (Eeeaaaeeaaggghhhh!), who then dies in one of his own booby traps, impaled on sharp bamboo spikes (Where in the hell did Sam find bamboo in Mexico???). Joe then rescues Cristina and discovers that she is suffering from a "raging fever", so he goes looking for a doctor. One resident of the town tells Joe that a doctor can be found in the saloon, but it turns out to be a trap, Tricky The Gambler and his men are waiting for him, guns drawn. Joe turns out to be the smarter man, as he forces one of Tricky's men to wear his clothes and when he enters the saloon, he is violently gunned-down. We then hear Joe (Eeeaaaeeaaggghhhh!), as he takes out everyone in the saloon except for Tricky, who offers a fair fight to Joe. But like any gambler, he cheats, forcing Joe to rip out one of Tricky's eyes with his bare hands! Joe then leaves town with a doctor (Dante Maggio; RUN, MAN, RUN - 1968), who attends to Cristina. When the doctor leaves, he is confronted by Scalper Jack, who wants to know where the Chinaman is. When the doctor refuses to tell him, Jack scalps him (offscreen). It turns out Scalper Jack already knew where Joe was, he's just a sadist who loves his nickname a little too much. When Joe exits the house, Jack shoots him twice, but he is surprised to discover Joe is still alive, so he tortures him in front of a tied-up Cristina (Jack has a doll he puts his collection of scalps on, calling it "pretty"!). Jack begins to scalp Joe, but we then hear Joe yell and we know what comes next. Jack is impaled by his own knives, which he keeps hidden inside his jacket. The doctor, who is still alive (!), attends to Joe's wounds and delivers a package to Mr. Spencer. Inside the box is Jack's scalp!
     The finale finds Joe facing off with Mr. Spencer, after healing himself using acupuncture so he feels no pain. Joe doesn't know that Mr. Spencer has one final surprise for him. He has hired Joe's old martial arts teacher, Master Yang (George Wang; THE EXECUTIONER OF GOD - 1973), who has parted ways with "The Way of the Lotus" (an ancient Chinese code of doing no harm to the innocent) to combat his former student in one final battle. Will thousands of years of oriental fighting defeat Joe in the Wild West? Don't count on it, because Joe cuts off Master Yang's right hand with a sword and then sends his fist clear through Yang's chest until it exits out his back, putting an end to the violence and Mr. Spencer's illegal slave trade. (If you want to see if and how Spencer dies, you'll have to watch the film!).
     This unusual Spaghetti Western, directed/co-written by Mario Caiano (NIGHTMARE CASTLE - 1965; SEVEN PISTOLS FOR A MASSACRE - 1967; EYE IN THE LABYRINTH - 1972; and one of the many fired directors of VAMPIRE IN VENICE - 1988), starts out innocently enough, but every killing gets bloodier and gorier than the last, making you wonder how in the hell the final battle can get worse than Tricky's eye removal or Jack's scalping, yet it does. Just listen for Joe's yell and be prepared for bloody battle. The final battle between Joe and Master Yang is a doozy, full of slow-motion acrobatics and swordplay, ending with Yang getting his hand cut off and shooting at Joe with a pistol in his other hand. Joe catches a bullet (!) aimed at his heart and then rips out Yang's heart with his own hand, sending his heart exiting out his back. (Cut out of most of the available prints, but not the one I saw!). While the martial arts sequences are very well done, the film is spoiled somewhat by giving Shanghai Joe a normal Texas-twanged voice, without a hint of an oriental accent, making him seem commonplace, not a fish out of water, which would have worked much better in the confines of this film. Also surprising is how little screen time the hired killers are given, leaving very little time for any of them to leave an impression (I would say that Giacomo Rossi Stuart makes the biggest impression as Tricky the Gambler, as Klaus Kinski is horrendously dubbed, destroying any tension that would have been there if they used Kinski's real voice.). But these are just minor complaints, as this is an offbeat little time-waster that is different enough to be entertaining (Gordon Mitchell as Burying Sam sings a funny song as he is hunting for Joe, something he made up on the spot and was kept in the film.). A sequel was made, RETURN OF SHANGHAI JOE (1975), directed by Bitto Albertini (ZAMBO, KING OF THE JUNGLE - 1972), this time starring Kinski, but in a different role and someone else playing Shanghai Joe (Japanese/Vietnamese actor Ernest Nguyen Duong Van, using the obviously fictional name of "Cheen Lie"!). The less said about it the better, as it is just a pimple on the ass of this film. Speaking of asses, there were a few martial arts Spaghetti Westerns made during the '70s, my favorite being THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER (1974; look for a review soon), director Antonio Marghereti's comedy/western starring Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh, a co-production between Carlo Ponti and Sir Run Run Shaw, one of the first films I saw when cable came to my hometown in the mid-'70s (HBO use to show it endlessly in its infancy). That one was a PG-Rated foray into trying to find a dead elderly Chinaman's treasure, the map being in four pieces, tattooed on four of his mistress's asses! The mistresses are played by some of Italy's most beautiful genre actresses, including Femi Benussi, Erica Blanc and Patty Shepard. Ah, the '70s, we will never see the likes of it again!
     Shot as IL MIO NOME E SHANGAI JOE ("My Name is Shanghai Joe") and also known KARATE JACK, this film was released to American theaters by United International Pictures under two titles, the first being SHANGHAI JOE, to cater to Western fans and the other being THE DRAGON STRIKES BACK, to cater to martial arts fanatics (I'm still trying to figure out who "Pancho Del Rio" and "Black Belt Johnson" are, since they are listed as two of the stars!). I believe this film fell into the Public Domain (PD), since it is available on many DVD compilations, such as Mill Creek Entertainment's FISTFUL OF BULLETS SPAGHETTI WESTERN COLLECTION 16 FILM SET, which is how I viewed it. It is a fairly sharp fullscreen print, which looks to be open matte, as no information seems to be lost on any sides of the frame. It also looks to be the most complete version available (Be aware that Mill Creek offers two versions of this film in their compilations: The unedited version and the cut version, so if you want to see this film in all its bloody glory, I would advise you purchase this set). In the pantheon of oddball westerns, this one ranks in the upper ten per cent. Also starring Umberto D'Orsi (RETURN OF HALLELUJA - 1972), Federico Boido (as "Rick Boyd"; SHOOT JOE, AND SHOOT AGAIN - 1971), Lorenzo Fineschi (THE UNHOLY FOUR - 1970), Enrico Marciani (13 WAS A JUDAS - 1971), Roberto Dell'Acqua (KEOMA - 1976) and the prolific Carla Mancini (MY NAME IS NOBODY - 1973) as Conchita, a Mexican prostitute. Rated R when shown in U.S. theaters, it would still receive an R-Rating today due to the bloody violence and racial epithets.

THE FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (1975) - Gambler Stubby Preston (Fabio Testi; CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES - 1969) arrives by stagecoach to the town of Salt Flats, looking for a game of cards. The Sheriff (Donald O'Brien; KEOMA - 1976) knows Stubby is a world-class cheater, so he destroys all his marked decks of cards by throwing them into the fireplace and locks him in a cell with three other prisoners until the next stagecoach arrives to take them all out of his town. Also in the cell are prostitute Emanuelle "Bunny" O'Neill (Lynne Frederick; PHASE IV - 1974), crazy black man Bud (Harry Baird; TRINITY AND SARTANA ARE COMING - 1972) and town drunk Clem (Michael J. Pollard; DIRTY LITTLE BILLY  - 1972). Right off the bat, we can see that Bud is as insane as they come, as he tells Stubby, "I talk to dead people and they talk back!" and also telling him that cemeteries are his favorite places to make new friends. Little do these four people know that they are about to experience Hell on Earth, but they will do it as a makeshift "family". To pass away time waiting for the stagecoach, Stubby starts a game of racing beetles, using bugs found in the jail cell, where Bud bets on which beetle will win crossing the finish line (proving that Stubby is a degenerate gambler and will do anything to get a "game" going).
     Meanwhile, vigilantes in white hoods (actually potato sacks with eyeholes cut in them) sneak into Salt Flats and begin shooting up the town, killing many prominent citizens and making sure no one is able to leave town, yet the Sheriff sits at his desk and eats his dinner as if nothing is going on, even though Stubby and his cellmates plead with him to let them out. The next morning, the Sheriff escorts Stubby and the other three prisoners outside, telling them that there is going to be a change in Salt Flats and there is no place for gamblers, prostitutes, crazy people or drunks in the new Salt Flats, because the Citizens Committee is cleaning up this town (the Sheriff tells them this as they walk past dead bodies littering the streets and a man hanging by his neck out the window of the once-popular whorehouse). The Sheriff then puts them on a wagon, telling them to never come back to Salt Flats, if they do, they will wish they were dead (The Sheriff, proving what an honest guy he is, refuses to give Stubby the $1,000 seed money he had on him to start a card game!).
     Stubby tells his new friends that they are going to Sand City, because, "They got women, they got music and they got gambling. That's good enough for me!" He also tells Bud that they have a nice cemetery where he can make new friends and tells Bunny that Sand City also has a whorehouse, so she will have a job. When Clem asks how far away it is, Stubby says two hundred miles, to which Clem replies, "Two hundred miles without a drink? I don't even remember my name!" As they get close to their destination, Clem tells Stubby that Bunny is looking pale and she is throwing up. Yep, she is pregnant and Stubby says, "That bitch is going to hold us back!" Bunny hears him and says, "What are you going to do, leave me here?" Stubby begins to lose control, slapping Clem around for drinking his toilet water (!), but snaps out of it when Clem says, "That toilet water sure smelled funny!" and everyone has a laugh for the first time together.  They then run into a group of religious folk from the "Joyful Church of the Living Christ". The preacher tells Stubby they are from Switzerland and have come to America looking for brothers that need saving. The foursome join the group for a meal and some talk, but soon realize they don't belong there and leave, but it won't be the last time the quartet will run into them.
     It doesn't take long for this disparate group to become family, looking after each other and having arguments like any "normal" family (Is any family normal?). They celebrate Bunny's 19th birthday by a lake, where they meet Chaco (Tomas Milian; DEATH SENTENCE - 1968), an unstable man who is good with a gun. He joins their caravan, but to make sure Bunny is safe, Stubby tells Chaco that she is his wife (Chaco, proving how good he is with a gun, shoots birds out of the sky while on horseback, so they all have something to eat). Three men ride towards them and Chaco kills them, finishing off one of the men by cutting skin from his torso and pinning his badge on his naked chest (a scene missing from most English language prints of the film). That man was a sheriff looking for Chaco, who is wanted for rape and murder. That night, Chaco talks all of them into trying peyote and while they are tripping, Chaco ties them all up and rapes Bunny, as the others watch (Clem is not tied-up, as he is too drunk on Chaco's booze to give a damn). After Chaco is done, he kicks Stubby in the nuts, steals his straight razor and says, "Thanks for your wife!" and goes to leave, telling Clem he is welcome to join him. Clem has a moment of clarity and tries to cave-in Chaco's head with a rock, but Chaco shoots him in the leg instead and leaves. Stubby uses the last of the alcohol to remove the bullet from Clem's leg, only now they have to travel on foot to Sand City, dragging Clem on a makeshift stretcher, since Chaco stole their horses.
     Chaco is a real bastard, as he comes back to get some more of Bunny with two of his outlaw friends, only Stubby and his new family hide. Chaco rides away empty-handed and the group continue on foot, only to discover that Chaco and his cohorts have slaughtered the preacher and his flock, including the women and the children. Stubby yells out that the next time he and Chaco meet, he is a dead man. During a rainstorm, they find shelter in an old mine next to a ghost town. Bud sees a cemetery, so he strips completely naked and talks to the tombstones as if they were old friends. Clem's condition gets much worse, as the infection in his leg is spreading, so he grabs Stubby and Bunny's hands and makes them swear that they will get married when they reach Sand City, which they do, then he dies (It's quite touching, as Bud tells him there are millions of happy people waiting for him where he is going). Stubby and Bunny seal the promise by making love. Bud later announces that he caught an animal, so he cooks it and everyone has a hearty meal. In the morning, Bud says that there are people living in the ghost town, but when Stubby goes to investigate, he makes a horrifying discovery: It's Clem's body, missing a huge chunk of flesh from his backside. That's right, the terrific meal that Bud served Stubby and Bunny came from Clem's ass! When the rain stops and it is time to leave the mine, Stubby tells Bunny that Clem left without saying goodbye, but I think we know what actually happened.
     As they are walking, Stubby meets old friend Reverend Sullivan (Adolfo Lastretti; DEAF SMITH & JOHNNY EARS - 1972) and Bunny suddenly goes into labor. They take her to the small new town of Altaville, but they have no doctor to attend to Bunny, so she'll have to have the baby the natural way. Altaville resident Lemmy (Bruno Corazzari; ADIOS SABATA - 1970) helps Stubby and Bunny deliver her baby. The residents of this new town realize that this baby will be the first born in this town, so they bet on whether it will be a boy or a girl. They then hear Bunny cry out in pain and then hear a baby cry, so they start celebrating by shooting their guns into the air, not knowing that Bunny has died giving birth (another touching scene, as Stubby tries to hold back the tears as he tells a dying Bunny that she is his wife). Lemmy holds out a hat to the residents for donations for the baby boy and they happily donate, wondering which one of them will adopt the baby. They ask Reverend Sullivan to christen the baby boy, but he says he can't do it until the baby is given a proper name. The town comes up with the name "Lucky", which gambler Stubby agrees to (he gives a sly smile) and the Reverend then christens the baby. The question remains: Will Stubby take Lucky with him or will he leave the boy in Altaville? If you want to know the answer, you'll have to watch the film. Did I leave something else out? Oh yes, Chaco. If you want to know if Stubby gets his revenge, you'll also have to watch the film (Hey, I have to give you something to discover for yourself!). I'll just say this: Stubby uses his straight razor for more than shaving (but not in the way you think).
     When I discovered that Lucio Fulci directed this Spaghetti Western (this was the second of his Spaghetti Western triptych, the first one being MASSACRE TIME [a.k.a. THE BRUTE AND THE BEAST - 1966] and the final one being SILVER SADDLE - 1978), I was expecting bloody gore, but what I wasn't expecting was a literate and affecting story (screenplay by Fulci and Ennio D. Concini [CHINA 9, LIBERTY 37 - 1978], based on stories by real-life cowboy writer Bret Harte, who died in 1902). While there is some graphic gore (In the opening town massacre, bullets hit bodies like miniature explosions), the story takes us places we would never expect, as these four contrasting people become an ad hoc family. And just like any family, things get fucked-up, especially the cannibalism angle, which came as a total surprise (at least for me). Watching this film for a second time, I noticed that all the signs were there, pointing towards cannibalism, but you had to pay very close attention to pick up the clues (especially when Stubby first meets Bud in the jail cell). Still, this is a pretty violent film, foreshadowing Fulci's future success as a director of gory horror films, like ZOMBIE (1979), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) and THE BEYOND (1981), just to mention a few. This was made during the waning days of the Spaghetti Western and was not popular in Italy when released theatrically, but it has become a cult item long after Fulci passed away (in 1996). It's easy to see why. It's excellently acted by everyone involved, even by Michael J. Pollard, who tones down his usual crazy side, turning in a totally humanistic performance. Some of his scenes are very touching, just as the scenes by Tomas Milian are totally frightening (Milian is a chameleon, able to transform any role into something surprising). Lynne Frederick just got married to Peter Sellers when this film was made and her performance here is remarkable, especially her death scene, which hits you with an emotional gut-punch. Her real life was tragic. She died of alcohol poisoning at the age of 39 in 1994. Some believe she became an alcoholic when married to Sellers, who use to beat her senseless before his death in 1980, even though she married English personality David Frost six months after Sellers' death. That marriage lasted less than two years. She was so protective of Sellers' name that she was blacklisted by Hollywood and the filmmaking industry due to her lawsuits against several big production companies for tarnishing her former husband's name. Her mother has gone on record saying that her daughter wasn't an alcoholic, she died of a seizure while sleeping. That was never verified. But, I digress. Even all the background players in this film, especially the residents of Altaville, turn in realistic performances, as they are people with heart and soul, not ones prone to violence as in other Spaghetti Western flicks, so it comes as no surprise when Stubby has to make the hardest decision of his life. I have been admiring Fulci's non-horror films and if you think he only excelled in horror, I would suggest you view this film. It will change your mind. Fulci had talent and it is abundantly clear here.
     Shot as I QUATTRO DELL'APOCALISSE (a literal translation of the review title) and also known as CHACO, this film never had a theatrical or VHS release in the United States until Anchor Bay Entertainment released it simultaneously on VHS and DVD early in the New Millennium, uncut and in its proper OAR. Blue Underground later released it on stand-alone DVD or as part of the three-disc MIDNIGHT MOVIES WESTERN TRIPLE FEATURE VOL. 2, with the films COMPANEROS (1970) and RUN, MAN, RUN (1968), which is how I viewed it. The Blue Underground DVD has a fourteen-minute interview with Fabio Testi (who speaks Italian with English subtitles) and the late Tomas Milian (who speaks English), filmed in 2001. Milian is a hoot and tells some funny stories. There is also an Easter Egg (Remember them? Go to the Extras section and press the right arrow on your remote until the Sheriff's Badge is highlighted) where Milian tells a hilarious story about the first time he rode a horse on screen. No Blu-Ray at the time of this review. Also starring Giorgio Trestini (THE GRAND DUEL - 1972), Charles Borromel (WHITE APACHE - 1987), Goffredo Unger (SHOOT THE LIVING AND PRAY FOR THE DEAD - 1971) and the voice of dubbing artist extraordinaire Edward Mannix (THE GREAT SILENCE - 1968) as the Narrator. Not Rated.

GET MEAN (1975) - This should be titled "Stranger In A Strange Land"! This is certainly the strangest Western that I have ever seen and that is a good thing. As a matter of fact, this doesn't play like a western at all. It plays more like some twisted fantasy where our hero is put in so many unusual situations, it seems like some fever dream come alive.
     The film opens with The Stranger (Tony Anthony; BLINDMAN - 1971) being dragged by a horse through the Wisconsin countryside and across an old rickety wooden bridge into a ghost town. As soon as the horse enters the ghost town, it dies and the Stranger frees himself from his binds (there are multiple shots with metal reflective spheres that I guess symbolize something, but damn if I know what is is!). He walks into a tavern, where an old woman gypsy says to him, "We were expecting you!" Another gypsy pours $10,000 in coins on a table and tells him that the money is his if he will escort Princess Elizabeth Maria de Burgos (Diana Lorys; HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN - 1973) to Spain. The Stranger asks for $50,000 (he has no idea where Spain is!), telling the Princess for that amount of money, "Lady, I'll take you any goddamned place you want to go!" Suddenly, a group of Barbarians enter the tavern (one of them is wearing a horned helmet, like a Viking!) and begin to throw the Stranger and the gypsies across the room (Look for this film's director in a cameo as one of the gypsies). The Stranger gets the upper hand (branding a couple of them with a hot poker) and realizes that this trip to Spain is not going to be an easy one.
     They make it to Spain (thanks to footage borrowed from MY NAME IS NOBODY - 1973), where the Princess shows the Stranger her castle, telling him it was built by the Moors years ago to protect her people from the Barbarians. She then tells him about the "Treasure of Rodrigo", which gets the Stranger's undivided attention. The treasure is hidden somewhere and only their General, Emir (George Rigaud; EYEBALL - 1975), knows where it is. Suddenly, they are stuck in the middle of a large-scale battle between the Moors and the Barbarians. A huge battle ensues, the Barbarians using a unique cannon setup (multiple cannons mounted on a revolving lazy susan!) and the Moors using guns and swords (lots of impalements and cut faces). The Barbarians win, the Moors retreating, their General seriously injured. The head of the Barbarians, Shakespeare-quoting hunchback Sombra (co-screenwriter Lloyd Battista; THE SILENT STRANGER - 1968; also with Anthony) has to rein-in the brutish Diego (Raf Baldassarre; ZAMBO, KING OF THE JUNGLE - 1972) from killing the Stranger. Instead of killing him, they string him up by his feet and leave him there, the gay member (!) of the Barbarians, Alfonso (David Dreyer; FUZZ - 1972), laughing as they take the Princess prisoner and head back to the castle (Alfonso says of the Princess: "She's not a Princess, she's an ill-bred bitch!"). The Stranger hangs there for hours in the blazing sun, until beautiful gypsy woman Morelia (Mirta Miller; COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE - 1972) frees him and takes him to her village. He meets a dying General Emir and asks for his $50,000, only to be told that when they find Rodrigo's Treasure he'll be paid. The General dies, but before he does, he mentions "a temple in the mountains" to Morelia. Is this where the treasure is hidden?
     The Barbarians then attack the village and, once again, the Stranger gets the upper hand, making one Barbarian hold up two other Barbarians by their feet over a steep wall, as payback for him being hung up by his feet. The Barbarian's arms get tired and he drops his comrades on their heads on the rocks below, killing them. The Stranger then rides to the castle, asking Alfonso to take him to their leader (Alfonso says, "Move that animal and I'll take you there!" in his effeminate voice). The Stranger says to the crowd gathered, "Nobody get nervous, because I come in peace!" and then proceeds to talk to the Barbarians as if they were cavemen, offering them beads and other trinkets as a sign of friendship. This only makes Diego mad and, once again, Sombra has to calm him down. Sombra, who quotes Shakespeare's Richard III (He thinks he is the reincarnation of Richard III!), tries to talk to the Stranger, but he has no idea what he is saying, pissing off the hunchback (They really should have used hunchback actor Luciano Rossi [DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER - 1973] for this role, as there would be no need for extra padding on his back!). The Stranger offers a trade, Rodrigo's Treasure for the Princess, and Sombra agrees, but the Stranger still has no idea where the treasure is. He finds the Princess tied to a rack and Sombra agrees to free her if he takes him to the treasure. The Stranger then sees a very surreal Barbarian party, where a bunch of lesbians are making out, while a group of blind men watch them! (The Stranger says, "Oh, dear God, they got some ugly women in this country!") The Princess is then told that in order for her to get her hands on the treasure, she will first have to go through the "Trials of Death", an ancient ritual where danger and death lurk around every corner. The Stranger takes her place and what he goes through next is a real piece of surreal cinema. The Stranger enters a cave filled with coffins and begins to howl like a wolf, as invisible fists punch him in the face (He says, "All you people in those coffins, I don't believe in such stuff, so don't you try turning me into a wolf!"). In the cave, he is almost blown-up and when he exits it, he discovers his whole body has turned black (when he looks down his pants and sees his penis is black, he screams!). He is then chased around by a bull and falls down a crevasse into another cave, where he steals a small gold horse statue. The Stranger then enters an old temple, where Diego is waiting for him, wanting to know where the treasure is. He hands the horse statue to him and says, "But, mister, now you got to get me a doctor, because I turned black all over and I think I'm gonna die!" Diego is not happy and searches Diego and a piece of jewelry called the "Scorpion's Sting" falls from his body. Alfonso, who is visibly frightened, says that the Scorpion's Sting brings death to whomever claims it and hands it to the Stranger. He is then tied-up and placed on a platter of what looks like the world's biggest salad, looking like a pig about to be roasted, a potato in his mouth! Sombra then gets into a fencing match with Morelia and kills her when she tries to run away, stabbing her in the back with his rapier. The Stranger is then roasted over a spit, Sombra saying to Diego, "The flames are very low, so it's up to you whether he be rare, medium or well done!"
     Alfonso, who is disguised as one of the red-hooded members of the Barbarian cult, frees the Stranger, as long as he agrees to take him to the treasure. Once free, the Stranger turns the tables on Alfonso, making him swallow a large ball of wax (!), and telling him to deliver that message to Sombra. Sombra and Diego force-feed Alfonso like a "stuffed turkey" until his "message" is delivered (WTF?!?). Alfonso eventually passes the ball of wax and Sombra and Diego discover that the wax concealed the Scorpion's Sting inside it (a portend of things to come).
     The Stranger is tired of all the abuse, now is the time for him to "Get Mean". But first he is captured by the lesbians, who use him for their pleasure! Alfonso appears and challenges the Stranger to a duel, slapping him across the face and saying that the weapons are of the Stranger's choosing. The Stranger then gives Alfonso a series of slaps and the lesbians pile-on the gay Barbarian. The Stranger says, "What a country. Women are men and men are women!" The Stranger shoots dynamite-laced arrows over the castle walls, causing mass confusion for the Barbarians. When they put the revolving cannons in place, the scared Barbarians retreat, leaving Sombra by himself. The Stranger kills Diego's men with his four-barrelled shotgun (!), leaving Diego and the Stranger to battle it out, mano-a-mano. He pours gunpowder down Diego's throat and, as he convulses, the Stranger finishing him off with his pistol. "You're worse than trash. You're garbage!" says the Stranger, shoving a potato in Diego's mouth. The disembodied voice of the Stranger taunts Sombra, who accidentally discovers Rodrigo's Treasure when an errant cannonball exposes it. Sombra kills Alfonso by burning him alive, as the Stranger approaches him (multiple dynamite explosions behind him, in a very effective scene). Sombra pleads for his life, saying, "I am Richard III, King of all of England!" as the Stranger challenges him to a duel, his cannons against his six-shooter. As Sombra's cannons miss him, the Stranger kills him with his pistol. "The King is dead. Long live the King or whatever they say." are the Stranger's final words, as he exits this strange country called Spain and returns to America (cue the shiny metal sphere. WTF?!?).
     Wow. Just wow. While watching this film (recommended to me by my friend Steven. Thanks Steven!), all I could think of was how it resembled Sam Raimi's ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992; thanks once again Steven!), making me wonder if Raimi saw this film before he made his. Besides horses and six-shooters, this really is not a Spaghetti Western in the traditional sense (or even in the non-traditional sense!), but a fantasy adventure film with Vikings (although we never hear that word), Moors, supernatural elements and above all, a strong gay subtext that is tossed in the viewer's face, something you never see in a Spaghetti Western (or any Western). Director Fernando Baldi, who made many Spaghetti Westerns (TEXAS, ADIOS - 1966), as well as the brutal thriller TERROR EXPRESS (1979) and the actioners WAR BUS (1985) and JUST A DAMNED SOLDIER (1988; his final film), was also responsible for the film that kicked-off the early-'80s 3-D craze, COMIN' AT YA! (1981) and its companion piece, TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983), both starring Tony Anthony. Speaking of Tony Anthony, he made a series of "STRANGER" Spaghetti Western films in the late-'60s and basically carried-over that character to this film, although with more dialogue. When it comes to really "out there" films, this one is hard to beat. The battle scenes are large in scope (and it needs to be seen in widescreen to appreciate the large quantity of background actors who were hired to participate in the battles) and there is a sense of brutality herein, even though it is basically played for broad comedy. It's also hard to believe that this gained a PG Rating when released to U.S. theaters (distributed by Cee Note Inc., a company I never heard of before), but it doesn't surprise me because many adult themed films in the '70s achieved that rating, deservedly or not. Recommended for both Western and weird film lovers (you know who you are!). As far as I can discern, this never obtained a legitimate VHS release in the United States, making its first appearance on these shores as a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Blue Underground in 2015 (It was released on DVD and Blu-Ray in Germany under the name TIME BREAKER). I saw it in widescreen on YouTube (Thanks again for the link, Steven!), which seems to be the go-to site for undiscovered gems like this one. I will be purchasing the Blue Underground disc set because I always want to do the right thing (and BU always delivers the goods in primo fashion). Also starring Sherman 'Big Train' Bergman (RUNNING SCARED - 1980), Raul Castro and Remo De Angelis (MY DEAR KILLER - 1972) as the horn-helmeted Viking that attacks the Stranger in the tavern. Rated PG.

KEOMA (1976) - "The world keeps going around and around, so you always end up in the same place." This is the answer Keoma Shannon (Franco Nero; DJANGO - 1966) gives to a witch woman (Gabriella Giacobbe; BEHIND CONVENT WALLS - 1988) when she asks, "Why did you come back?" in this biting Spaghetti Western, an effective and affecting foray into the mind of a man returning to his adoptive home after years of killing. Directed and co-written by Enzo G. Castellari (KILL THEM ALL AND COME BACK ALONE - 1968; COLD EYES OF FEAR - 1971; THE LAST SHARK - 1981), this film is notable for its religious symbolism, some overt and some cleverly hidden. This is also one of the best Italian westerns ever made (at least in my opinion), thanks to a talented cast and a literate screenplay. This is one of the films that made me decide to create a Spaghetti Western section on my site, only because fans of this site should be watching Spaghetti Westerns, if only to see how good some of these film are. And they don't get much better than this one.
     Keoma has arrived home just in the nick of time, saving a pregnant Lisa Farrow (Olga Karlatos; TASTE OF KILLING - 1966) from a band of cruel cowboys who are affiliated with Mr. Caldwell (Donald O'Brien; MANNAJA: A MAN CALLED BLADE - 1977), the bloodthirsty leader of Keoma's hometown, which he rules with an iron fist. We watch the cowboys slaughter some townsfolk and they are about to kill Lisa when Keoma intervenes (with a well-placed throwing knife). The cowboys tell Keoma that everyone they killed had the Plague, including Lisa, but Keoma is not buying it (he has to shotgun one cowboy in the chest for laughing at him), so he grabs Lisa and brings her to the town saloon/hotel. The people inside tell Keoma to get that woman out of here, she's infected with the Plague, forcing Keoma to kill two men inside the saloon who draw down on him to make his point. He gets Lisa a room and then meets childhood friend George (Woody Strode; THE UNHOLY FOUR - 1970), who taught Keoma how to use a gun and be an expert with a bow. George is now the town drunk, telling Keoma that everything changed when Mr. Caldwell rode into town. He forced people out of their homes, took their land (he may be responsible for bringing the Plague into town, just to make it easier to get people out of their homes and to make the non-infected scared silly), and he's coming after Keoma's adopted father's land next. Keoma is an Indian who, as a boy, survived a massacre at his village (thanks to the witch) by the white man. He was then adopted by William Shannon (William Berger; SABATA - 1969), but his half-brothers, Butch (Orso Maria Guerrini; RUN, MAN, RUN - 1968), Sam (Joshua Sinclair as "John Loffredo"; HITCH-HIKE - 1978) and Lenny (Antonio Marsina; A STRANGER IN TOWN - 1967), never considered him family, making his younger years pure torture. William tells the returning Keoma that his three sons have affiliated themselves with Mr. Caldwell and he is no longer the "big man" in town, Caldwell now is ("I can't shoot my own sons", says William, but we get the feeling it won't be too much of a problem for Keoma, who doesn't suffer fools gladly). George (whom Keoma calls "nigger" to snap him out of his drunken stupor) tells Keoma that Caldwell keeps all the "sick people" in the old mine and they are never seen again. Keoma goes to the old mine and recognizes his half-brothers, even though they are wearing bandanas over their faces (to ward off the Plague). It's not long before Keoma takes a shine to Lisa (and vice versa). She looks at him with eyes that can best be described as how the Virgin Mary looked at her son (and that's not a coincidence). Thanks to Keoma, George finally has hope again, so he and the town doctor (Leonardo Scavini, as "Leon Lenoir"; Castellari's ONE DOLLAR TOO MANY - 1968), on Keoma's suggestion, head out of town to find help and get medical supplies. They get by a Caldwell roadblock by George pretending to be dead of the Plague, but the doctor says it may have been easy to leave town, but it will be much harder to get back in.
     Keoma then faces down his half-brothers, beating the snot out of them one at a time, but when he is giving Butch a taste of what he did to him as a child, Lenny pulls out a gun and is about to shoot Keoma in the back, but William appears and tells Lenny to stop, which he does (there is so much religious symbolism in this sequence, especially a wayward son still listening to his father). Keoma keeps an eye on the town from the top of a mountain (more religious symbolism), watching the doctor and George returning to town with the medical supplies needed to cure the Plague, the doctor telling the brothel owner (Victoria Zinny; SHOOT THE LIVING AND PRAY FOR THE DEAD - 1971) that a Federal Marshal is coming to town in a few days to clean things up. The half-brothers come up with a plan to pit Mr. Caldwell and Keoma against each other, knowing full well that Keoma will win and they will become bosses of the town. What the brothers don't count on is that their own father and George will take Keoma's side, causing a lengthy shootout in the middle of town (George manages to kill over a dozen of Caldwell's men with his bow before he is gunned-down, but he still manages to kill the man that is shooting him point-blank). For the good of the town, Keoma gives himself up, but when he watches as Caldwell callously kill William by emptying his pistol into his back, Keoma tries to kill Caldwell, but his men subdue him, dragging Keoma on the back of a horse through town and then tying him to a wagon wheel (Keoma looks like Christ on the cross). The three brothers, seeing their father dead, gun down Caldwell and then take over the town, appointing Lenny as sheriff and rally all the townsfolk against Keoma, blaming him for all the bad that has happened in town. The townsfolk fall for it and leave Keoma tied to the wheel for days, the witch and Lisa the only people on his side. Keoma then disappears and we see him ride to a ghost town with a very pregnant Lisa, who delivers her baby on some hay in a makeshift shelter (I really don't tell you what it represents, do I?). The three brothers ride into the ghost town to kill Keoma and Lisa dies when giving birth to a baby boy, the witch holding up the baby to show Keoma. Instead of killing his half-brothers, Keoma hops on his horse and begins to ride out of town.  The witch yells to Keoma, telling him that the baby will die without him, but Keoma looks at her and says the baby is free, concluding with, "He can't die. And you know why? Because he's free. And a man who is free never dies!" as he rides alone into the sunset. THE END.
     The parallels to the Old Testament are obvious, but this film never seems preachy, thanks to Enzo G. Castellari's taut direction and a literate screenplay by Castellari, Mino Roli (MATALO! - 1970), Nico Ducci (COVERT ACTION - 1978 and Luigi Montefiori, better known to us as "George Eastman" (THE THREE MUSKETEERS OF THE WEST - 1973), based on a story by Montefiori. Great westerns should make you think and this film satisfies on so many levels, not just religiously (I am not religious at all, although I am very interested in it), but also in tone and atmosphere. There's a song titled "Keoma", sung by Sybil Amarilli Mostert, that runs throughout the film, telling us, sometimes in Keoma's own voice (actually, sung by Cesare De Natale), how things should turn out but, as in life, things don't always turn out the way we hope (Music by Guido De Angelis & Maurizio De Angelis; Castellari's FATHER JACK-LEG - 1972). Was Keoma coming home the cause of all the carnage, including William, Lisa and George's deaths or did he give them all a reason to live? It's a complex question that gets an answer here, thanks to Franco Nero's terrific acting (he has never been better than he is here), which is full of little nuances the astute viewer will appreciate. All lovers of the Spaghetti Western genre should have this film on their "must-see" list. It is action packed, has some memorable kills (filmed Sam Peckinpah style, in extreme slow motion) and there is a high-fall stunt that is amazing. It is filmed in one take with no edits, showing a stuntman falling from a tower to the ground below. It took me by surprise because you usually don't see falls from that height in one take, as they usually stop before the stuntman falls on an air mattress.
     This film is known under a plethora of titles, including DJANGO'S GREAT RETURN, DJANGO RIDES AGAIN, THE VIOLENT BREED and a cut version known as DESPERADO, but you can easily pick up the uncut widescreen version in many different formats, including a wonderful-looking stand alone DVD from Blue Underground or as part of the 4-disc SPAGHETTI WESTERNS UNCHAINED (which is how I viewed it), also from Blue Underground. BU also issued a Blu-Ray (which I plan on purchasing). Those who are Amazon Prime members can also see the same anamorphic widescreen print streaming for free. However you see it, see it! I can't praise this film enough. Also starring Wolfango Soldati (TOUGH TO KILL - 1978), Domenico Cianfriglia (COMIN' AT YA! - 1981), Roberto Dell'Acqua (THEY CALL ME TRINITY - 1970), Giglio Gigli (VENGEANCE - 1968), Roberto Messina (CRY OF DEATH - 1968) and Massimo Vanni (Castellari's CIPOLLA COLT - 1975). Not Rated.

KILL THE POKER PLAYER (1972) - I've seen many Spaghetti Westerns that borrow elements from other genres, be it fantasy (TEX AND THE LORD OF THE DEEP - 1985), martial arts (THE FIGHTING FIST OF SHANGHAI JOE - 1973), horror (GET MEAN - 1975), good old gory sleaze (SCALPS - 1987) or even a western version of the JFK assassination (THE PRICE OF POWER - 1969), but this is one of the first times that I have viewed an honest to goodness giallo western. And, unlike 13 WAS A JUDAS (1971), this one, an Italy/Spain co-production, is pretty good. The mystery really works and the killer's choice of weapon is unique, to say the least.
     The film opens with a bearded man riding into the dusty town of Red Sands. He gets off his horse, carrying a saddlebag over his shoulder, and walks into the bank, which he holds up with a pistol, complete with silencer (Were they even invented yet?), making the bank manager empty out the safe of all its cash, stuffing it into the saddlebags. He then shoots the manager and bank employees point blank and walks out of the bank. The bank manager, who is not quite dead, stumbles out of the bank with gun in hand and goes to shoot the bearded robber, only someone in the hotel above the saloon across the street shoots and kills the manager from the window. The sound of gunfire alerts the people in the saloon, but the bearded man has a partner, who shoots and kills everyone in the saloon, including the bartender. We then see the bearded man and his partner eating some beans around the campfire (no fart jokes please!), when a horse approaches, carrying a man (or woman) whose face we do not see. It turns out to be a second partner, the one who shot the bank manager from the hotel window. We then see the bearded man and his first partner waking up from a short siesta, only they are not alone. There are highly poisonous (and butt-ugly) snakes slithering on them and they strike, killing both of them almost instantly. We then see the faceless second partner grab the saddlebags, hop on his (or her) horse and ride away. Why is this sequence unusual, you may ask? The entire first eight minutes go by without a single line of dialogue, yet it still tells us more than mere words could ever convey. We now have an unknown killer that uses snakes to get rid of his (or her) enemies and we must discover who it is in this film's rather large pool of red herrings, which are introduced to us after this effective sequence. I'll count them off for you, so you won't need a score card.
     We then see Sheriff Lewis Burton (Frank Brana; IF YOU SHOOT...YOU LIVE - 1975) and his posse chasing down a criminal named Indio (Ernesto Vanes; THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER - 1974), who has taken a woman hostage.  A gunfight takes place in the hills just outside of Red Sands and Indio gives himself up, raising his hands in the air and letting the woman go free. Instead of arresting Indio, Sheriff Burton guns him down in cold blood (Suspect #1). We then see Lloyds Of London Claims Investigator Jonathan Pinkerton (Robert Woods; SEVEN GUNS FOR THE MACGREGORS - 1966) talking to Sheriff Burton, telling him his company will not pay the bank's claim until he finds out the identity of the third person involved in the robbery/murders, believing it was an inside job by a bank employee. Sheriff Burton doesn't believe Jonathan is who he says he is because he doesn't sound British, Jonathan showing the Sheriff his papers and telling him he moved to London from the States when he was sixteen. News spreads quickly of Jonathan's arrival and everyone he meets calls him "Mr. London". Jonathan registers at the only hotel within a hundred miles, but why does the desk clerk look at him with hate in his eyes (Suspect #2)? While Jonathan is making himself comfortable in his hotel room, we see the Sheriff and his deputies torturing a prisoner and they want him to talk, but he won't. Does he have something to do with the bank robbery (Suspect #3)? We then watch as a scientist, Dr. Norton (Ernesto Colli; RED COAT - 1975), milks some poisonous snakes, the same type that killed the robber and his partner and then writing in his journal. Is he a red herring? Count on it (Suspect #4).
     Jonathan then questions Mr. Clinton (Ivano Staccioli; HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND...SARTANA WILL PAY - 1970), the town's biggest cattleman, and asks him if he knows anything about the robbery. Mr. Clinton wants to know why he is being questioned and Jonathan says that since he is such an important man, he would know if anyone new has come into town recently, but he says no, he hasn't seen anyone new in the past couple of weeks. But why does he look guilty about something (Suspect #5)? Mr. Clinton is having an affair with the married Kate (Nieves Navarro, as "Susan Scott"; LIGHT THE FUSE...SARTANA IS COMING - 1970), but it couldn't be that could it (Suspect #6)? Jonathan then questions the manager/owner of Red Sand's gambling hall/saloon, Mr. Karl Brown (Carlo Gaddi; SARTANA'S HERE...TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN - 1970), Kate's husband (and Suspect #7), and offers a $200,000 reward to anyone who can give him the identity of the third accomplice. Karl tells Jonathan that is a bad idea because Sheriff Burton is a new sheriff in town and may not be experienced enough to handle such a situation like this. It seems the old sheriff died mysteriously of snakebites and Sheriff Burton took his position. As Jonathan and Sheriff Burton are walking out of a saloon, someone pins them down with gunfire, which results in a gunfight, the shooter getting away. The Sheriff notices that it was the prisoner he was torturing, but he says nothing to Jonathan, yet he tells his deputy that he better bring back the prisoner he let escape and if he doesn't, there will be a new murder in town: his.  Jonathan then talks to Dr. Norton, picking up an important clue (listen closely to their conversation). Jonathan gets into a bar fight with Mr. Clinton's foreman, Fred (Omero Capanna; ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK - 1970; and also Suspect #8), while Mr. Clinton, Sheriff Burton, Karl and Dr. Norton have a high stakes poker game in Clinton's office, which seems to happen on a regular basis. After the game, Karl accuses Kate of having an affair with Mr. Clinton, but she lies and denies it, telling Karl that she loves only him.
     After getting into a comical street fight with four local yokels (totally out of place in the context of the film), Sheriff Burton once again accuses Jonathan of not being who he says he is, because he never saw a claims investigator fight like that, especially after witnessing Jonathan's quick reflexes with a gun when someone tries to shoot him while getting a shave, the gunman's bullet hitting and killing the barber (The Sheriff says to Jonathan, "Looks like we need a new barber."!). Is Jonathan really someone else? (If you do not want to know, don't look up the credits on IMDb!)
     There are several attempts on Jonathan's life, especially when he discovers Clinton's branding iron matches the brand on one of the bank robber's horses. Is it possible that Clinton is the unknown accomplice or is someone setting him up? As a matter of fact, anyone in town could be the accomplice, as everyone has a reason for needing a large sum of cash, including Clinton, whose cattle business is failing. The Sheriff warns Jonathan to drop the $200,000 reward because it will only bring trouble. So who is the accomplice?  We know it's not Dr. Norton, because Jonathan finds him dead, bitten by a snake, but not one of his own, who were milked of all their poison. It's also not Karl or Kate, as Jonathan finds Karl hanging from his neck in Clinton's office and Kate laying dead on the floor. The killer knocks out Jonathan, takes his gun and shoots Karl's dead body, putting Jonathan's gun back in his holster and making it look like a murder. The Sheriff arrests Jonathan, but he knows he is not the killer. Fred walks into the Sheriff's office and guns down the Sheriff, throwing Jonathan the keys to his jail cell and telling him to get immediately out of town. Is this a set-up? So, just who is the deadly accomplice? Since the suspect pool is down to two, it should not be hard to figure out, or is it? If you paid attention to this review, you will have all the clues you need to unmask the culprit.
     There is actually a decent mystery to go along with all the Spaghetti Western trappings. Director/co-screenwriter Mario Bianchi (FASTHAND - 1973; SATAN'S BABY DOLL - 1982; THE MURDER SECRET - 1989), who is credited as "Frank Bronston" on some prints, uses many giallo tropes, like seeing the murders from the killer's POV, people who we thought were dead that really aren't, the killer's unusual murder tool, rooms full of shadows and other ingredients, making this a tasty giallo western. There's also a tense scene during the conclusion, where Jonathan, the killer and other people are trapped in a room full of poisonous snakes that strike, causing a couple of surprising deaths, proving that old adage: Don't cheat death and expect to live. When work in Italian genre films dried up, Bianchi would give up directing straight genre films in the late-'80s and start directing porn! It should come as no surprise that the giallo elements work here, since the screenplay was co-authored by Luis G. de Blain, who supplied the screenplays to THE MURDER MANSION (1972) and KNIFE OF ICE (1972), two above-average giallo films. If Spaghetti Westerns could all be like this, I would be a happy man, but for every good Spaghetti Western, we have pseudo-crap like BLACK KILLER (1971), so I am here to steer you in the right direction. This film is worth your time. You can thank me later.
     Shot as HAI SBAGLIATO...DOVEVI UCCIDERMI SUBITO! ("You Were Wrong...You Had To Kill Me Right Away!") and also known as CREEPING DEATH, this film never obtained a theatrical or home video release in any physical format in the United States. Like many Spaghetti Westerns I have been watching lately, this one is offered streaming on Amazon Prime in a beautiful anamorphic widescreen print dubbed in English, free to Prime members. If you're not a Prime member and it is offered in your country, there is no excuse for not becoming a member, because they literally have hundreds of Spaghetti Westerns for free, which more than pays for itself in the long run. Also starring Saturno Cerra (CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES - 1969), Maria Luisa Tobar (WEREWOLF SHADOW - 1970), Jose Luis Lizalde (A FEW DOLLARS FOR DJANGO - 1966), Rafael Albaicin (SHOOT FIRST...ASK QUESTIONS LATER - 1975) and Francesco D'Adda (HERE WE GO AGAIN, EH PROVIDENCE? - 1973). Not Rated.

MATALO! (1970) - "There are only two good men: One is dead; the other must still be born." Almost from the very beginning I could tell that this Italian/Spanish Spaghetti Western was going to be different. The opening minutes are nearly dialogue-free and the choice of music is eclectic, to say the least, yet you'll be watching, spellbound.
     We watch convicted murderer Bart (Corrado Pani; WATCH ME WHEN I KILL - 1977) being escorted out of the sheriff's office to a makeshift gallows, where he happily sticks his neck in the noose, while a priest gives him last rites and the widow (Mirella Pamplili; CRY OF DEATH - 1968) of one of Bart's victims watches the show, along with the rest of the town. A gang of Mexican banditos then rides into town, shooting and killing everyone in the streets and killing the two sheriff's deputies standing on either side of Bart (fuzzy psychedelic rock, almost Jimmy Hendrix-like, plays on the soundtrack, giving this sequence a very eerie feel). They then free a smiling Bart, who goes to the sheriff's office to collect his weapons (instead of wearing a hip holster like most gunfighters of the period, he wears a pair of shoulder holsters) and a key. He uses the key to open a desk drawer, which contains a bag of money. The widow appears, pointing a pistol at Bart, but instead of shooting him, Bart gives her a passionate kiss (while he opens the drawer and takes the bag) and then walks away.  As Bart is leaving town with the banditos, we hear a gunshot and see that the widow has committed suicide with the pistol, as we see all the dead people littering the streets, the priest now giving them the last rites.
     Bart and the banditos part ways at a fork in the road, one road leading to Mexico and the other to Colorado. Bart give the head bandito the bag of money and they ride off to Mexico, but Bart pulls out his rifle and shoots all the banditos in the back (kissing his rifle affectionately when he is done), going to the body of the head bandito and taking back the bag of money. Bart then introduces himself to the audience, saying he will never forget the words his father told him: "Money is everything. It's love, it's life and everybody steals it. Money is like ripe fruit on a tree. All you have to do is stretch out your hand and grab it." This tells us all we really need to know about Bart. He enjoys murdering people and money is more important to him than anything else.
     Bart then meets his two partners in crime, Phil (Luis Davila; DYNAMITE JIM - 1966) and the mute Ted (Antonio Salines) and they travel up the road to Colorado to Phil's secret hideout, a ghost town formerly known as Benson City. To get there they must pass a cemetery, full of Benson family tombstones (pay close attention to the names and dates on the tombstones, it tells you all you need to know about the Benson family). Bart is so tired, he nearly falls off his horse, not noticing how creepy this ghost town is (the filmmakers got very lucky and filmed a miniature sand twister happening in the streets of the ghost town. It's eerie and creepy).  The questions soon become: Why did Phil choose this ghost town as his hideout and why are the horses so skittish? When Bart makes his way to the saloon/hotel to look for a place to sleep, he finds Phil and Ted are already in a deep slumber. Later on, Bart takes a much needed bath in the horse's water trough (!) and sees the beautiful Mary (Claudia Gravy; JOHN THE BASTARD - 1967), Phil's girlfriend, ride into town, pulling a pack mule behind her  (you can tell by the look on Ted's face that he doesn't trust her, or he is jealous of Phil). When night comes, Mary throws Ted's chain through a bedroom window at Bart to stop him from making a grating creaking noise as he sits and rocks on a child's swing (it becomes obvious after a while that Bart gets off on getting on people's nerves). The next morning, Mary flags down a passing stagecoach, pretending to be a lost woman who needs a ride. She then shoots one of the coachmen, but the stagecoach takes off, as Bart, Phil and Ted chase after it, firing their pistols at the men who are shooting back. Bart is apparently shot and killed during the chase, but who shot him? Phil and Ted stop the stagecoach and find everyone inside it are dead, except for a young boy and his father. Ted shoots and kills the father while the son watches (Phil calls Ted "Matalo", which is Spanish for "kill it"). When Mary arrives at the stagecoach on Bart's horse and tells them that Bart is dead, Phil puts the boy on a horse to find his own way to civilization, while Ted and Phil take the box containing the Army payroll and they all head back to the ghost town, not even checking to see if Bart is actually dead, leaving his body to rot in the blazing son. We then see a young man named Ray Hanson (Lou Castel; A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL - 1967) wake up in the barren land and ride to the ghost town. Just who is this mysterious person, who carries a bunch of boomerangs (!) with him? Is it possible that the spirit of Bart has entered his body or is there a more down-to-Earth explanation? The next morning, someone walks off with the box containing the Army payroll, right under Phil, Ted and Mary's noses and they become wary of each other, believing one of them is the thief. Is Bart responsible or are supernatural forces at work?
     Phil finds an old woman living in one of the ghost town's decrepit buildings. He name is Gertrude Benson (Ana Maria Noe; SABATA - 1969) and this ghost town was once her family's home. Gertrude's house is full of valuable relics (including a gold harp) and expensive clothing, which Mary tries on, much to Gertrude's displeasure. Another young woman then enters the ghost town (this "ghost town" is teeming with people!). Her name is Bridget (Anamaria Mendoza; UP THE MACGREGORS - 1967) and she finds Ray passed out next to Bart's horse. Ted and Phil torture Ray to find out why he is here, but Ray tells them he has no idea how he ended up in this ghost town (his torture is painful to watch). But who is the other stranger in town (all we see is his rifle)? Could it be Bart?
     This extremely strange Spaghetti Western, directed by Cesare Canevari (THE GESTAPO'S LAST ORGY - 1977) and written by Eduardo Manzanos (SEVEN PISTOLS FOR A MASSACRE - 1967), Mino Roli (KEOMA -1976) and Nino Ducci (YOUNG, VIOLENT, DANGEROUS - 1976), is full of weird camera angles, creepy psychedelic music (by Mario Migliari; THARUS, SON OF ATTILA - 1962) and fucked-up situations, such as Mary swinging back and forth on the child's swing while holding a knife above a prone Ray, acting like a western version of Poe's The Pit And The Pendulum. As a matter of fact, this film is full of Gothic horror-styled sequences, from the creepy ghost town, which seems to be alive, to the unseen horrors that await Ted, Phil and Mary and the torture they put Ray through (including Ted whipping Ray with his long chain and refusing to give him water as he is tied to a pole in the blazing sun). This film is also rich in symbolism, including the gold harp, which seemingly plays by itself (Are angels involved?) and the child's swing, which we see moving on its own (Are ghosts involved?). This film can best be described as a Gothic horror western, especially when we see a tied-up Ray hiding from Ted in a room thick with cobwebs or the scene where Ted mercilessly whips Ray with his chain until Bart's horse attacks Ted, stomping him unconscious. We really don't know what is happening until the very end, where every question is answered and the explanation is a doozy. Some questions are answered outright (Is Bart alive?) and some are cleverly hidden among the symbolism (Who exactly is Ray?). We also learn that Ted is not actually mute, he just doesn't have much to say (!) as the film concludes with the pack mule standing in the middle of the ghost town, the box containing the Army payroll strapped to its back, as all the parties, including Gertrude, shoot it out to see who gets to it first (Gertrude wants the money to restore her town to its former glory). Warning: SPOILERS!!! The conclusion is properly fitting and outright full-tilt gonzo, as Ray throws his boomerangs (!) to kill a hiding Ted and disarm a still-alive Bart (Mary, Phil and Gertrude die during the shootout). END OF SPOILERS!!! The finale is all too weird to describe, so I hope I have convinced you to search for this film and put it on your "must see" list. Believe me, it's worth it.
     Mario Migliari's music soundtrack, full of fuzzy guitar work, is unlike the music for any other spaghetti western soundtrack. Just listening to it makes you feel very uneasy, which is perfect, considering the story. It should also be noted that the cinematography, by Julio Ortas (SEVEN PISTOLS FOR A MASSACRE - 1967), is very unusual for a film in this genre. The camera keeps moving, sometimes to dizzying heights, never letting you focus on a single image. It also makes us feel uneasy, the same way Corrado Pani makes us feel when he kisses his weapons after every kill, telling us that he loves killing. I could go on and on explaining why this film is so different, but it is best if you witness it for yourself.
     Shot as MATALO! ("Kill It!") and also known as MATALO KILL!, this film never received a theatrical or VHS release in any format in the United States. Wild East Productions released it on DVD as part of their Spaghetti Western Collection (Vol. 15). I saw it for free streaming on Amazon Prime (free to Prime members) in a beautiful anamorphic widescreen print dubbed in English with non-removable Spanish subtitles (the fan who subtitled this film has a tenuous grasp of the English language, but the subtitles are small and don't get in the way of your enjoyment of the film). Also starring Miguel De Castillo (APOCALYPSE JOE - 1970), Bruno Boschetti (THE THREE MUSKETEERS OF THE WEST - 1973), Diana Sorel - ASSIGNMENT TERROR - 1969) and Joaquin Parra (ALIVE OR PREFERABLY DEAD - 1969). Not Rated.

SCALPS (1987) - Here's something you don't see on my site often (or at all): A gore Western. No, not a horror film set in a Western setting (I've reviewed plenty of them), but an honest-to-goodness Western with plenty of gore. During the Civil War, a squad of psychotic Southern soldiers murder Indian chief Black Eagle and most of his tribe (they shoot them in the head, stab them in the backs with swords and even decapitate them) and then kidnap the Chief's beautiful daughter, Yarin (Mapy Galan; CITY OF LOST CHILDREN - 1995). She eventually escapes from the psychotic gang, which makes the squad's leader, Gordon (Albert Farley; who, using his real name, "Alberto Farnese", appeared in NO WAY OUT - 1973), very unhappy. He hires a halfbreed named Hondo to track her. Yarin ends up at the ranch owned by Matt (Vassili Karis; who, as "Vic Karis" starred in THE ARENA - 1973), who cleans her up, cleans out her infected eye and puts clothes on her back, yet she still tries to kill him because he is a white man. We find out Matt's wife was raped and killed by Indians, yet he still protects Yarin from Gordon (he shoots and kills Hondo for being nosey) and his men. Matt was once Gordon's lieutenant, but he quit because he got tired of all the needless killing. Yarin and Matt begin to depend on each other and they'll need the comraderie as Gordon and his squad surround Matt's ranch.
     Matt and Yarin sneak out of the ranch and escape (Yarin scalps one of Gordon's men and slits the throat of another when they make their retreat), with Gordon and his men not far behind. Yarin catches-up with the remaining survivors of her tribe and Matt must fight a young buck to prove his worth. Matt does just that and he and the tribe manage to thin Gordon's squad one man at a time, but Matt is shot and seriously wounded, which slows their progress. They avoid detection, which again pisses-off Gordon (he whips one of his own men in anger). Matt makes a miraculous recovery (thanks to Yarin's Indian medicine), but gets captured by Gordon and tortured by having two hooks attached to his chest while Gordon's men tug at them with ropes. Yarin goes on the warpath, scalping, skewering and blowing-up Gordon's men, until only Gordon is left. We then learn the real truth of how Matt's wife died and justice is done, leaving Yarin and Matt to live a long and happy life. 
     Directed by late Italian sleasemeister Bruno Mattei (Using the pseudonym "Werner Knox", which website IMDB misidentifies as Claudio Fragasso [MONSTER DOG - 1985], who was Assistant Director on this film using his normal pseudonym "Clyde Anderson". Why would someone be the director and the assistant director on the same film? It makes no sense.), SCALPS is bound to upset anyone who whistles "Dixie" on a regular basis. Southerners are portrayed as murderous, women-raping perverts who think nothing of killing innocent Indian women and children and proudly hang their severed heads on their horses.  Since this is an Italian film, it's an equal-opportunity offender, as most of the Indians (actually Italians wearing greasepaint) are seen either holding scalps or scalping every white man they encounter, whether they are a threat or not. There's not much meat to the plot, which was written by Mattei and Robert Di Girolamo (with a co-story credit going to actor Richard Harrison [BLOOD DEBTS - 1983], who doesn't appear in this film). It's just basically a long chase film, but the final 30 minutes is a non-stop gorefest. Gordon performs a nasty scalping on a helpless Indian; Yarin shoots people through the neck and other body parts with her bow (she even blows one guy apart with an arrow/dynamite combo); Gordon shoots his own wife in the head for betraying him and Matt gets his ultimate payback by scalping Gordon, when he learns that Gordon, who was Matt's wife's father, killed his own daughter when he tried to rape her, then blamed her death on the Indians. The hardest scene to watch is when Matt has two hooks (which look like eagle claws) pierce his chest and Gordon's guys pull on them in opposite directions, kind of what happened to Richard Harris in A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970). The easiest parts to watch in this film are the plentiful nude scenes of the beautiful Mapy Galan. Bruno Mattei, better known for his crazy horror and action films like RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR (1983) and ROBOWAR (1988), made this film back-to-back with his only other western, WHITE APACHE (1987). I'm a big fan of Westerns (especially Spaghetti Westerns) and this film would make a great companion piece with CUT-THROATS NINE (1971), a Spanish/Italian Western with plenty of gory scenes. Mattei's death in 2007 brought an end to Italian exploitation cinema (Yeah, I know Dario Argento is still making films, but it's just not the same thing, if you know what I mean.), as he was the only living director making cheap Italian gore films on a regular basis (ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING - 2007 was his last film). Also starring Charlie Bravo (NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF - 1980), Beny Cardosa (BARBED WIRE DOLLS - 1976) and Emilio Linder (SLUGS: THE MOVIE - 1987). An Imperial Entertainment Home Video Release. Also released on Spanish and German DVD. Not Rated.

STOP OVER IN HELL (2016) - "In 1865 the stage coach was the only mode of overland travel in the United States until the coming of the railroads. They transported merchandise, people, money, the post and gold. They were constantly under threats of attack by bandits. None could be sure of a safe arrival at their appointed destination except those of the company Black Hell." This late-in-the-game Spanish/Italian (filmed in English) Spaghetti Western can best be described as western torture porn (God, I hate that term, but it is fitting here). It's violent as hell (some scenes are painful to watch) and, like most torture porn, is so nihilistic and grim, you'll want to stab yourself in the eyes to stop watching it, but you won't because it is a well made film. It should come as no surprise that this was directed and co-written by Victor Matellano, who gave us the equally graphic WAX (2014) and the bloody remake VAMPYRES (2015), two films that I also found interesting, not because of the gore, but because they were also well made. Fans of Matellano are calling him the new face of Spanish horror but, personally, I wouldn't go that far, even though his films are professionally made, using actual film rather than digital video.
     The film opens with the "Colonel" (Pablo Scola) torturing a father who is traveling west with his family. The father is tied to a wagon wheel (a Spaghetti Western trope) while the Colonel kicks him in the head repeatedly, calling him a coward and saying, "The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual it calls a crime. So let it be so." We then see one of the Colonel's followers, Red (Maarten Dannenberg), fucking the father's dead wife (!), while the Colonel's other follower, the black Cuba (Armando Buika), holds her dead body prone, laughing like a madman (and setting Civil Rights back more than a hundred years!). The Colonel then finishes off the father with his special weapon of death, a miniature trident-like object with a sharp hook on the shaft, graphically ripping his throat open, his blood flowing like water. Cuba then goes to the dead father and cuts off his right ear, not just the ear, mind you, but all the skin on the right side of his head (!), putting it in a leather pouch with his collection of human ears (later in the film, it is implied that he eats them!). The Colonel then sees the father's young son, who was hiding in the brush, and points his pistol at him, but he doesn't pull the trigger and begins to ride away. Red calls out the Colonel's name and he looks at the boy, saying, "Now you know my name. Sorry kid." And kills the boy by shooting him point blank.
     We then see grizzled old man Ernest (Denis Rafter) trying to teach his twenty-something son Chris (Victor Vidal) how to fire a shotgun, but Chris is a terrible shot, telling his father that he has no use for a gun. Ernest tells him that if he is traveling west (which he plans on doing next week), he better know how to use a gun, because people out there are not so forgiving as they are here. Ernest and Chris are the proprietors of the Black Hell Stagecoach Station, an out-of-the-way station in the middle of nowhere, where stagecoaches stop to water their horses, drop off passengers and have a good meal (All the stagecoaches stop several hundreds of yards away from the station until Chris or Ernest ring a bell telling them that it is safe to proceed.). The stagecoach that has just arrived has dropped off a drunken doctor (Fernando Valdivielso), as well as Liz (Tania Watson) and Anne (Veki G. Velilla), two sisters on their way to Oregon to spread their father's ashes (he was one of the first Americans to be cremated) and to sell valuable parcels of land that their father willed to them, keeping the deeds in a trunk that travels with them. Chris takes an instant shine to the virginal Anne and she with him, but Liz doesn't approve (she is a real tight-ass who is hard to please), telling Chris point-blank, "Don't even look at her!" Little does anyone know, their lives are about to change and not for the better.
     While Liz and Anne walk to a nearby river to bathe, the Colonel and his minions, as well as a mute Indian girl named Mestiza (Tabata Cerezo), who can't talk because her tongue has been cut out (probably by the Colonel), arrive at the Black Hell Stagecoach Station and almost immediately begin their sadistic brand of torture. Cuba knocks out Chris, Red shoots and kills the doctor and the Colonel holds Ernest's head underwater in the horse's water trough, demanding to know when the stagecoach containing the monthly Army payroll in gold is about to arrive. Ernest tells him that they are never told when it is going to arrive, it just shows up unannounced. The Colonel is not satisfied with that answer, so he crucifies Ernest on a wagon wheel, pounding spikes into his hands with a small sledgehammer, demanding to know when the gold shipment is to arrive. When Ernest doesn't give him a satisfactory answer, he pounds the spikes out of his hands and then uses his special weapon on Ernest, ripping his throat out. Cuba then cuts off his ear, still laughing like a madman. When Chris wakes up and sees his father's dead body, he gives the Colonel a look like he is about to kill him, but he does nothing. Can this pacifist change his ways and become a cold-blooded killer? Don't count on it.
     Meanwhile, Liz and Anne are at the river finishing their baths, when a man, all bloody and missing all of his fingers, approaches the sisters, but he can't speak because his lips have been sewn shut. Liz cuts the string holding his lips together and he spits out his own penis (!) and dies on the spot. Yes, the sadistic Colonel and his violence-loving Confederate Army deserters got to this man before they arrived at the station. Liz tells Anne that it is lucky that their father taught the how to shoot and begin to walk back to the station, unaware of the horrors waiting for them. The Colonel sees them coming and orders Red to bring them to him, which he does after a short chase. Red ties both Liz and Anne up and looks at Anne with lust in his eyes. When Chris tells Red to keep his hands off the women, the Colonel puts him through a series of tortures no man should ever experience, breaking his ribs by kicking him repeatedly in the chest, making it hard for him to breathe. Another stagecoach arrives, but it is not the one containing the gold. After Chris rings the bell to tell them that it is safe to come to the station, we find out it contains the uppercrust Miss Whitman (Andrea Bronston), her daughter Rose (Nadia De Santiago) and snake oil salesman Zingarelli (Italian director Enzo G. Castellari; KILL THEM ALL AND COME BACK ALONE - 1968; FATHER JACKLEG - 1972; CIPOLLA COLT - 1975; and the classic KEOMA - 1976). Together with the stagecoach drivers, they all sit down at the dinner table and have a meal, while Red watches a tied-up Liz and Anne in another room. The Colonel regales them, quoting from books he has read and telling one of the drivers that he is a "collaborator with the law", who says to the Colonel, "This is the first time I ever met a bounty hunter that has read a book!" The Colonel corrects him, saying he is not a bounty hunter, but a man who follows the law, his law and always does what is right for himself. Red then starts raping Anne in the other room while Liz watches. Liz manages to free herself and screams, which alerts the people at the dinner table. When one of the stagecoach drivers wants to know who else is here and when Chris pulls out his father's sawed-off shotgun and fires it, missing Cuba by a good three feet (!), the Colonel and Cuba gun everyone down, shooting Miss Whitman point-blank in the face and shooting Zingarelli in the nuts (Words cannot describe the look on Castellari's face as he holds his bloody scrotum!). Rose slips on a pool of blood and breaks her neck when she hits her head on the fireplace mantle, killing her. Mestiza is accidentally shot in the stomach, but instead of putting her out of her misery, the Colonel non-chalantly and without emotion tells her that her death will be long and painful, but he will soon regret saying that. Only Chris is still really alive, because the Colonel needs him for his plan to work, but it doesn't stop him from breaking Chris' left hand by pounding it repeatedly with the sledgehammer (very hard to watch) for daring to discharge a weapon his way.
     Things come to a conclusion when the stagecoach with the gold arrives at the station. The Colonel makes Chris ring the bell to tell them that it is safe to come to the station, but Federal Agent Tim Rogers (Manuel Bandero), who is escorting the stagecoach, feels something is wrong and tells the coach to proceed slowly and carefully, noticing Chris does not look right. Chris gets some balls and runs to the coach to warn them to ride away, only to have the Colonel shoot him in the back, Chris being trampled to death by horses and then has his head crushed under one of the stagecoach wheels. A huge gunfight breaks out and during the fracas, a mortally wounded Mestiza crawls to Liz and cuts her binds. Anne grabs a shotgun and blows Red's head off (a nifty effect) after Liz stabs him in the stomach with his own knife. Liz then blows the fingers off of Cuba's right hand and then shoots him several times with a pistol, killing him (he even laughs when he's dying!). Everyone on the stagecoach perishes bloodily and when the Colonel sees both Red and Cuba dead, he shoots Anne in the back, killing her. When Liz goes to attack him, the Colonel shoots both Liz and Mestiza, but Mestiza grabs the Colonel's special weapon and give him half a "Glasgow Smile" (Google it), before both she and Liz perish. The Colonel, who is mortally wounded, grabs a few bars of gold and rides off into the sunset, but before he gets very far, he falls off his horse, dead, with buzzards circling overhead and bars of gold lying next to his dead body. In this Wild West saga, no one lives to see tomorrow.
     Yes, this film is ultra-violent. It is like a western version of HOSTEL (2005), only the torture here is much more brutal. This was made in the wake of Quentin Tarantino's THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) and it's apparent that director Vincent Matellano (who also directed the Spanish documentary CLAWING! A JOURNEY THROUGH THE SPANISH HORROR - 2013) follows that film closely, but it is much more violent and gory than that film, if you can believe it. I usually hate torture porn, but this film is so well made, with excellent cinematography (by Daniel Salas Alberola; who also shot Matellano's previous feature films) that details the loneliness of the location, that I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. If I do have one complaint, it is this: Even though the film was made in English, whomever dubbed the Colonel's voice did a terrible job, making his line readings having no emotions at all, like reading a phone book out loud. It makes the Colonel sound like a complete idiot, not the bloodthirsty, sadistic man he really is, cutting down on the tension needed to turn his character into a flesh-and-blood version of the Devil. While the screenplay, by Matellano, Antonio Duran and Juan Gabriel Garcia, is pretty standard, I did like the way it played with your perceptions, such as making us think that pacifist Chris would change his ways and get revenge, only to have him get shot unceremoniously in the back. I love films that play with your emotions, which this film does in spades. The station itself becomes a character, as it is so far away from anything considered civilization, it becomes an outpost for lost souls, the last remaining piece of civilization located in the middle of nowhere, where help is hundreds of miles away. I'm a western genre film fanatic and this film satisfies in so many ways, the Colonel's voice being the exception.
     Shot as PARADA EN EL INFERNO ("Stop In Hell") and also known as ROAD TO HELL, this film is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Gravitas Ventures. It is also available streaming on Amazon Prime, free to Prime members. Also starring Guillermo Montesinos, Jorge Quesada, Karlos Klausmannsmoller and Antonio Mayans (THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK - 1975). Not Rated and damn proud of it!

TEX AND THE LORD OF THE DEEP (1985) - This is certainly an odd one. A Spaghetti Western with fantasy trappings, based on a popular Italian comic book series by artist/writer Giovanni Luigi Bonelli (who has a cameo role here as an Indian sorcerer). That fact that it was directed and co-written by Duccio Tessari (ALIVE OR PREFERABLY DEAD - 1969; THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY - 1971; NO WAY OUT - 1973) should tell you that this film is going to be good, but I'm sad to say it isn't, it's too erratic to be interesting and will remind you of a cheap version of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984).
     Tex Willer (Giuliano Gemma; Lucio Fulci's SILVER SADDLE - 1978) is a Texas Ranger and a friend to all Indians, the Navajo tribe giving him the name "Night Eagle". According to an old wise man in a cave, "Death rides by Tex's side" and he is sworn to do what is right for all mankind. The film begins with Tex and his constant companion, Tiger Jack (Carlo Mucari; BLACK ANGEL - 1989) discovering the remains of a good Indian friend, who is tied to a wagon wheel and looks like he has been mummified. Since Tex just saw him a few days before, he wonders how he could be in such a condition. Tiger says, by the looks of the tracks left behind, it was two white men in a wagon who did this, so Tex follows the tracks to their camp and guns down the two men, not because they killed his friend, but because they are selling whiskey to the Navajo (The Native American's drug of choice). The next day, Tex's good friend, Kit Carson (William Berger; KEOMA - 1976), rides into camp to ask Tex and Tiger for some help. Kit's friend, Ted Murphy, has disappeared. He was part of a wagon train delivering weapons to an Army base and they never got there, seemingly disappearing into thin air. Tex and Tiger follow the tracks of the wagon train and find it has been attacked, the weapons gone and everyone dead. What is unusual is the condition of Ted Murphy's body. He looks like he has been mummified, in the same condition as his Indian friend, only there is a small Indian fetish next to Ted's body. Tiger says the fetish doesn't look like any he has seen from other Indian tribes he knows, but Tex aims to find out whom it belongs to.
     It leads him to army depot boss Mr. Bedford (an uncredited Frank Brana; PIECES - 1982), who doesn't like the questions Tex is putting towards him. Bedford and his men draw on Tex, Tiger and Kit, forcing them to kill all but one of Bedford's men. Just as he is about to spill the beans to the trio, an Indian at a window fires a blowgun dart into the man's arm, making him instantly shrivel-up like a mummy. Tex, Tiger and Kit give chase, but they lose the Indian when Tex almost dies in some quicksand. Tiger says the Indian may be from Mexico, so the trio cross the border and talk to old frenemy El Morisco (the late Peter Berling; writer/star of THE THREE MUSKETEERS OF THE WEST - 1973). Tex shows him the Indian fetish and El Morisco recognizes it as an ancient Aztec god called Xiutecutli. When El Morisco takes a closer look at the fetish, he notices that its mouth is hinged and when he opens the mouth, some strange particles fall from it. He tells them not to touch it and when he looks at the particles under a microscope, he come up with an idea of what it is. He places a piece of the particle in his fish tank and when a fish eats it, it shrivels up instantly. El Morisco tells the trio that he believes the particles came from an ancient volcanic region in the Sierra Encantada mountains, a dangerous area where "you'll roast by day and freeze by night", but why does El Morisco's Indian servant, Kanas (Flavio Bucci; SUSPIRIA - 1977), look like he knows more than he is saying? That night, an Indian tries to kill Kanas, but fails, and he tells the trio what he knows. An ancient Aztec cult hopes to unite all the Indian tribes in Mexico to cross the border into America and wreck havoc on the white man, but first they need lots of guns and explosives before they raid the United States. Tex, Tiger and Kit must find a way to infiltrate the cult, but first they have to deal with El Dorado (Aldo Sambrell; A LONG RIDE FROM HELL - 1968), the leader of a group of bandits that raided the wagon train and stole all the weapons, which El Dorado is about to deliver to the cult. It leads to a shootout in a Mexican town, where Tiger is shot and Kit must put his favorite horse out of its misery when El Dorado shoots it, but El Dorado escapes in the fracas. Tex tells Tiger and Kit that he is going to Sierra Encantada alone to take care of El Dorado and the Aztec cult.
     We then see Aztec cult leader Quetzal (Pietro Torissi; Mario Bava's ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK - 1970) performing an ancient ritual in a cavern room in honor of Xiutecutli, also known as the Lord Of The Abyss, telling the god that they are close to obtaining their goal. El Dorado enters the cavern and tells Quetzal that the delivery of weapons is delayed, thanks to Tex Willer. Female cult member Tulac (Isabel Russinova) then tells the Lord of The Abyss (Riccardo Petrazzi; MANNAJA: A MAN CALLED BLADE - 1977) that without the white man's weapons, they will never defeat the white man. The Lord Of The Abyss tells Tulac that is hogwash, the ancient way of fighting has always worked before, so it should work now. Will Tex and his buddies be able to foil this plot? Tex rallies all the Navajo tribes together to fight this menace, but is it enough?
     This spaghetti western/fantasy is missing a certain something that would make it a good film, namely a coherent plot. The film is all over the place and I don't mean the many locations. It is so erratic, it's hard to keep track of what is going on. Maybe it is because it took four people to write the screenplay: Director Duccio Tessari, Gianfranco Clerici (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST - 1980), Marcello Coscia (THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY - 1970) and Giorgio Bonelli, the brother of artist Giuseppe Bonelli, who wrote the story this film is based on. This is a case of too many writers spoiling the story. While it has the look and feel of a spaghetti western, the fantasy elements get in the way, reminding me of a western take of all those Indiana Jones films, especially TEMPLE OF DOOM. Just like in that film, this one tosses-in some gruesome special effects, such as the man shot with the dart. His face shrivels up until his eyes pop out of the sockets. While most of the film can be watched with the entire family, you never know when something disgusting is about to happen (it's sudden and without any warning), so if you have young children, I don't recommend you let them watch. While there are many shootouts and explosions, something we are prepared for in a spaghetti western, there are also human sacrifices, various impalements (by arrow and spear) and sliced throats, making this film an uneven mix that is hard to swallow. And the film doesn't conclude, it just merely ends with our heroes riding off into the sunset. It's not a total write-off, though. There is beautiful location cinematography (by Pietro Morbidelli, who usually works for Italian TV. It's hard to believe that the entire movie was filmed in Italy!), some good action and plenty of atmosphere, especially the Lord Of The Abyss' cavernous ritual room, which is bathed in bright neon red (you get hot just looking at it!). There's also a pretty good miniature volcano explosion and the destruction it causes, making this an OK film for the adventurous. Be aware that there is no nudity (there's only one female role), heed my warnings and you may have a good time.
     Shot as TEX E IL SIGNORE DEGLI ABISSI ("Tex and The Lord Of The Abyss"), this film never received a U.S. theatrical or home video release in any format. I saw a fullscreen print dubbed in English with non-removable Spanish subtitles on YouTube. After the film there is a touching tribute to Giuliano Gemma (who passed away in 2013) by Wild East Productions, showing clips from the many spaghetti westerns (and there were a lot!) he starred in. I always found Gemma to be somewhat vanilla and plain with his acting, and it's no different with this film, but people liked him. Also starring Jose Luis De Vilallonga (SCARAB - 1982), Charly Bravo (SCALPS - 1987), Ricardo Palacios; RUN, MAN, RUN - 1968) and Hugo Blanco (TEXAS, ADIOS - 1966). Not Rated.

13 WAS A JUDAS (1971) - Just after the Civil War, Captain Ned Carter (Donald O'Brien; KEOMA - 1976) returns to the Mexican town of Sonoma after three years of war. Ned is about to marry Mary Belle Owens (Adriana Guiffre; THE GREAT SILENCE - 1968) and he has brought a bunch of friends to Mexico to celebrate with him. While waiting for Mary Belle's stagecoach to arrive, Ned's friends get rowdy and fight with some Mexicans (they hate Mexicans). Ned breaks it up, telling his fiends that they are not so innocent, naming off their crimes. We have gambler Tim (Maurice Poli; Lucio Fulci's WHITE FANG - 1973), who cheats whenever possible; Preacher Bellman (Enrico Marciani; THE FIGHTING FIST OF SHANGHAI JOE - 1973), who steals from the collection plate, The Ross Brothers (Alessandro Perrella; VIVA! DJANGO - 1971; and Gabriele Villa), who hate Mexicans and have killed a few; Judge Stump (Fortunado Arena; BLINDMAN - 1971), who uses the law to break the law; and various other despicable people, who would kill you if you looked at them funny. Tim mentions that there are thirteen people sitting at this table and that is an unlucky number. Preacher Bellman says that, in religion, the thirteenth guest is a Judas, a traitor to his friends. Right after he says that, Mary Belle's stagecoach arrives and they all go to greet it, only to find that everyone has been murdered, including Mary Belle, who was shot between the eyes. Ned carries her body into the church and instead of performing a wedding, Preacher Bellman performs a funeral. Ned then tells everyone that they can't leave Sonoma, as he believes one of them is responsible for the stagecoach massacre. But which one of them is a Judas, the thirteenth guest?
     We then find out that when Ned was to marry Mary Belle, her late father was to will her husband a played-out silver mine, which Ned was about to reopen, thinking that there is still plenty of silver in it and giving all his friends legitimate jobs. Is it possible that this has something to do with Mary Belle's murder? Local girl Emilia (Maily Doria; THEY CALLED HIM TRINITY - 1972) tells Bellman that Mary Belle's father robbed a Mexican Army payroll stagecoach and he hid all the gold in the mine. He died without telling anyone where he hid it. Emilia tells Bellman to not tell anyone else this bit of information because, if he finds it, they can split it 50/50. Meanwhile Ned and Tim discover that two of the dead men on the stagecoach were not Postal Inspectors at all, they were U.S. Government Agents. Why were they on the stagecoach? Judge Stump finds a map in one of the dead agent's pockets, showing a shaft in the mine no one knew that was there. Stump is then killed (we don't see who did it), but Ned's friend, explosives expert Joe (Dino Strano, as "Dean Stratford"; SEVEN DEVILS ON HORSEBACK - 1975), takes the map to Bellman and asks him if he can find this hidden shaft in the mine (Bellman is not only a preacher, he also knows mines and caves very well). Bellman says yes, it probably can't be seen because of a cave-in, so he will have to use Joe's expertise with dynamite (Joe loves to blow up trains) to open the shaft. Joe says he will do it, but tells Bellman not to tell anyone.
     Ned's friend Jack (Giuseppe Bellucci) tells Ned that out of 13 people at the wedding table, four are now missing and one is dead. Are those four missing people dead, too? We then discover that Emilia is playing the men against each other because she wants the hidden gold all to herself. She is not above tempting Preacher Bellman with sex in order to get her hands on the map. When Bellman refuses her offer, she poisons him and he dies on the spot, Emilia taking the map. When Bellman doesn't show up at the mine at the appointed time, Joe tells Tim he believes Bellman betrayed him (and yet he tells Tim everything!). Suddenly, they are pinned down by gunfire. Joe is wounded, but Tim gets away. The gunfire comes courtesy of Ned and some of his other "friends" (he certainly has a lot of them!) and they bring Joe back to town and torture him. He then spills the beans about the treasure map and the hidden gold. Now everyone knows about it, but why are people still being murdered? Is it greed or is it another reason? Flashbacks shown throughout the film fills in the blanks...
     This is more like a giallo film with western-style trappings than an outright Spaghetti Western, as we must discover who is committing the murders and their motive for doing it. There is no one in this film that can be considered a hero or even an antihero, as everyone here is so unlikable, even the women, we don't care who gets killed. This is a major sin for a mystery. Since there is no one to root for, the entire film seems anticlimactic. Director/co-screenwriter Giuseppi Vari (DJANGO, THE LAST KILLER - 1967; SHOOT THE LIVING AND PRAY FOR THE DEAD - 1971; URBAN WARRIORS - 1987), using his pseudonym "Joseph Warren", fails to make this film seem anything but a lesser mystery flick with nothing much to offer the audience. Even the shootouts and violence seem old hat, you've seen it done much better than here. Even the final shootout in the mine, between Ned and Tim, is unexceptional. The discovery of the Judas is not very surprising at all since only two of the thirteen are still alive and we only see the deaths of three people, the others simply mentioned in the dialogue. Skip this one because it is a minor and uneventful foray in the western thriller genre. The screenplay was co-written by Adriano Belzoni, who penned the script to the much better giallo flick YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972), as well as authoring the screenplay for the Lucio Fulci western SILVER SADDLE (1978). Watch those instead.
     Shot as IL TREDICESIMO E SEMPRE GIUDA ("The Thirteenth Is Always Judas") and also known as THE LAST TRAITOR, this film never received a theatrical or home video release in the United States in any format. I saw a nice anamorphic widescreen print dubbed in English (badly) streaming on Amazon Prime (free for Prime members), but just because it looks marvelous doesn't mean it's worth seeing. It isn't. Also starring Giuseppe Castellano (ADIOS, SABATA - 1970), Gianni Bernini, Attilio Dottesio (BAD KIDS OF THE WEST - 1973), Enzo Filippi, Mimmo Maggio (BLACK KILLER - 1971) and "John Ely' (real name Giangiacomo Elia; SLAUGHTER HOTEL - 1971). Not Rated, but no nudity and very little blood, so why bother?