Tag Archives: Spaghetti Western

248. DJANGO KILL! (IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!) (1967)

Se sei Vivo Spara; AKA Oro Hondo

“That [If You Live, Shoot!] should be part of the small group of films that become a part of film history, embedded in the viewer’s imagination, obviously pleases me greatly… But I have to quickly add that it is a cult phenomenon for a few young likable nutcases. Every generation has a few of those.”–Giulio Questi

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Tomas Milian, Roberto Camardiel, Francisco Sanz, Piero Lulli, Ray Lovelock

PLOT: Two wandering Indians find a half-dead Stranger climbing out of a makeshift desert grave. They also find a bag of gold on his body, which they melt down and fashion into bullets for him. They then take him to the nearest town, which the Indians call “the Unhappy Place,” where the Stranger goes after the man who betrayed him, stole his share of the gold, and left him for dead.

Django Kill (If You Live, Shoot!) (1967) still

BACKGROUND:

  • Franco Arcalli served as editor and collaborated on the screenplay. Arcalli later became a big name in the Italian film industry, going on to collaborate with (on Zabriske Point), Bernardo Bertolucci (on The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris) while also collaborating on screenplays for Last Tango and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, among others. As his fame grew, he continued to work on Questi’s movies, as well.
  • Questi drew on his experiences as a paramilitary resistance fighter during WWII for the action sequences.
  • Italian audiences complained to censors about gruesome scenes where a man’s torso is torn apart to get at the golden bullets inside and another where a man is scalped. These scenes were immediately re-edited—in different countries, between twenty and thirty minutes of violence were cut out. Since they weren’t included in prints sent to the U.S., these scenes were never dubbed into English; therefore, when watching the restored version on Blu-ray, these scenes suddenly appear subtitled when the rest of movie is dubbed.
  • Originally titled If You Live, Shoot!, distributors later added Django Kill to the title (against Questi’s wishes) in a shameless attempt to cash in on the popularity of Franco Nero’s Django series. Thomas Millian does not play Django, and If You Live, Shoot! has nothing to do with the series.
  • Repo Man director is one of this film’s champions; he provided a 1997 introduction for a BBC series called “Forbidden Films,” where he he called it “the creepiest film I’d ever seen.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Based on sheer grisly shock value, it’s the scene where the villagers rip into Oaks’s still-breathing body trying to dig out the golden bullets inside it. Due to skillful editing, you don’t actually see as much blood and torn flesh as you imagine you do, but that’s part of what makes the scene so masterful—you and the filmmakers collaborate on building it in your mind’s eye.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Golden bullets; gay cowpokes of the Old West; alcoholic oracle parrot

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: With its ambiguously dead antihero who shoots golden bullets fights Mr. Sorrow and his gang of gay fascist cowboys, Django Kill‘s subversive, surreal subtext befuddled 1967 viewers expecting warmed-up Spaghetti Western leftovers. It still has the power to perturb the unsuspecting today. Go into it looking for weirdness, and you’ll be amply rewarded.


British DVD release trailer for Django Kill

COMMENTS: Halfway down the dusty road that leads from A Fistful Continue reading 248. DJANGO KILL! (IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!) (1967)

LIST CANDIDATE: GET MEAN (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Ferdinando Baldi

FEATURING: Tony Anthony, , Lloyd Battista

PLOT: An abandoned town, a gypsy family, a very Spanish princess: enter, the Stranger. Offered $50,000 to ferry the displaced sovereign back home, before she can be reinstated there’s a question of reclaiming an ancient treasure. Alas, standing in the way of our Hero is a sadistic fop, a hot-tempered Mongol chieftain, and a Shakespeare-quoting hunchback.

Still from Get Mean (1976)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: By setting the bulk of his Spaghetti Western somewhere along the coast of Spain, Ferdinando Baldi’s Get Mean elicits an initial reaction of “oh realllly…,” then cranks things up to all the way to bizarre with its visionary combination of temporally and geographically misplaced clashing adversaries. Tony Anthony adds to this movie’s peculiar brand of “magic” with his gristly voice and an unceasingly sardonic grin in lieu of a stoic Clint Eastwood imitation. Toss in no fewer than three main villains, chin-stroking xenophobia, and a string of food motifs, and you’ve got yourself a Western.

COMMENTS: This breezy little movie starts off with weirdness hanging off its sleeve. A man (Tony Anthony) is being dragged through a desolate countryside past a mysterious reflective orb nestled among bedraggled plants. Pulled into an empty town, he stumbles into one of the buildings. Inside, of course, is a family of gypsies. The eldest woman of the group says, ominously, “We have been expecting you.” The Stranger accepts their task of bringing a Spanish princess back to her home country. After a quick brawl with some local toughs, one dressed in Mongol garb, the Stranger heads off on a burning-map travel montage. Starting from somewhere in the Great Lakes region and heading across the sea, within minutes we find the escort and his ward on the beaches of Spain, staring down two hostile armies.

By this time, things have not gone well for the stranger. Nor have things gone well for those who prefer a little historical accuracy, even in their Spaghetti Westerns. The rival bands are Moors, who in this world seem to be soldiers of the Spanish monarchy, and a clutch of barbarians, which explains the outfit of the baddie in the opening fight. I’m not certain how many Central Asian warriors are named Diego, but Get Mean taught me there’s at least one. Aiding the Mongol antagonist are a refined, bordering-on-maniacal hunchback (Lloyd Battista) and one of those caricatured homosexuals only found in ’70s movies. These three are keen on the power that can only be unlocked through the discovery of the ancient “Treasure of Rodrigo” (!).

Quips, beatings, explosions, and large firearms are scattered throughout the movie. These are to be expected in a low budget Western. Less expected is the Stranger’s trial in a quasi-Land of the Dead. Conniving with the hunchback, the Stranger infiltrates an ancient mosque that has teamed up with Christian clergy. He squares off against the psychic attacks of unhappy undead in a chapel, travels through some chintzy-looking caves, and dispatches perhaps the least effective treasure guardian ever encountered in cinema. Enough? Heavens no — an explosion renders him black(face)ened for a stretch, during which he matches wits with a wild bull in the middle of nowhere. Get Mean‘s writer and director have cheerily decided to throw believability to the wind in pursuit of a movie that looks like what might’ve happened had ever tried his hand at the Western genre.

Tony Anthony’s performance is reminiscent of something by Clint Eastwood’s illegitimate half-brother. We know he’s either in for travel or trouble whenever a very jaunty, very Spaghetti tune gears up—perhaps the only note of consistency to be found in the movie. The combined elements of this Western set over 4,000 miles East of the Mississippi were enough to make me wonder what the heck would happen next. Sadly, Get Mean was ignored upon release and didn’t find a cult following in the intervening four decades. Thankfully, that did not stop the good people at Blue Underground from resurrecting it. Perhaps over the next forty years Get Mean might find the fringe adoration that eluded it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“One of the strangest and most obscure spaghetti westerns ever to come out of Italy…”–TV Guide

LIST CANDIDATE: DJANGO KILL… IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! (1967)

Django Kill has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made. Please read the official Certified Weird entry and make any comments there. Comments are closed on this post.

Se Sei Vivo Spara

DIRECTED BY: Giulio Questi

FEATURING: Tomas Milian

PLOT: A bandit is betrayed and left for dead by his comrades, then rides into a strange and corrupt town looking for vengeance and the stolen gold.

Still from Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: An ambiguously dead antihero who shoots golden bullets fights Mr. Sorrow and his gang of gay fascist cowboys. How could we not at least consider it for a spot as one of the weirdest movies of all time?

COMMENTS: Django Kill (which has nothing to do with Django—American distributors tacked on the name of Franco Nero’s popular cowboy in hopes of selling more tickets) is one of the first movies to recognize the hallucinogenic properties of the overripe oater. Flirting with surrealism while laying on the stage blood in ludicrous quantities, Giulio Questi’s bizarre 1967 western must have set off light bulbs inside Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s skull. The plot, involving a protagonist who is rescued from death by Indian spirit guides, also appears to have at least subliminally inspired Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 Dead Man. Although most of the shocking content—a man being scalped, an (offscreen) homosexual gang rape, and quick-flash subliminal editing techniques designed to induce seizure in epileptics—seems dated or tame today, in 1967 Django Kill was a real sizzler. Italian authorities banned the movie until certain (now-restored) scenes, such as a gang of townspeople’s flesh-ripping treasure hunt for golden bullets suspected to be lodged inside a fresh corpse, were excised. Even though Kill‘s violence no longer carries the same visceral impact it did in the late 60s, it’s still a lot of bloody fun; at times, it’s like watching running loose on a Sergio Leone set. One of the surprising things about Django Kill is that, despite all of the bizarre touches Questi adds, it’s accessible enough to work as a satisfying exploitation western, albeit with a supernatural tinge to it. With his hazel eyes gleaming above his scrub-brush cheeks, Cuban-born Thomas Milian makes for an attractive, ethnically ambiguous antihero (he’s supposed to be a half-breed) who needs to do little more than act cool and aloof to make his presence felt onscreen. The admittedly meandering plot hits all the genre highlights: shootouts, stolen gold, cruel villains, hangings, saloon fistfights, God-forsaken desert landscapes, betrayal, revenge, and closeups of grizzled macho faces aplenty. The strangeness comes in small doses, giving the weirdophiles in the audience secret thrills without alienating the drive-in/grindhouse patrons. Other than the gold bullets, the first fifteen minutes are played almost totally straight. When a gang of desperadoes roll into a nameless town, things start to take on a strange tinge: naked children stand calmly watching their progress through the dusty main street, while other kids are being used as footstools. Figures are briefly glimpsed in windows and there seems to be something unspeakably depraved happening behind every door. As we progress through the movie these quirks multiply, from the villain improbably named “Mr. Sorrow” and his gang of black-clad “muchachos” to a mock-crucifixion scene featuring vampire bats to an alcoholic parrot. The subtext appears to be that Milian, known only as the Stranger, is dead and is wandering through a bandito’s vision of Hell; or, perhaps the Stranger is a Christ figure, redeeming the debauched town through his suffering. The answer is probably both, and neither, of the above; Questi keeps the existential implications of the tale as wide open as the dome over a Montana prairie. To modern eyes Django Kill isn’t the weirdest of the acid Westerns, but it was a pioneer among crazed cowboy pics, and its mixture of unabashed exploitation, arty surrealism and psychedelic editing makes it a cult item par excellence.

Giulio Questi had a short but extremely curious feature film between 1967 and 1972 before being exiled to TV movies. Starting with Django Kill, he made three films in three different b-movie genres—a Spaghetti Western, a giallo (Death Laid an Egg), and a horror film (Arcana)—each co-written with his editor, Franco Arcalli, and each informed by the aesthetics of surrealism. This is the most widely seen of the trio, but it’s far from the weirdest. Blue Underground put out a Django Kill Blu-ray in 2012, while Questi’s other films remain yet unreleased in Region 1.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…determinedly weird… [a] savage and surreal smorgasbord for cult-film aficionados.”–Bud Wilkins, Slant Magazine (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by The Awful Dr. Orloff, who called it “the most insanely violent spaghetti western of them all.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD [JOHEUNNOM NABBEUNNOM ISANGHANNOM] (2008)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Ji-Woon Kim

FEATURING: Kang-ho Song, Byung-hun Lee, Jung Woo-sung

PLOT: Set in 1930’s Manchuria (during the Japanese occupation of China) and loosely based

Still from The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2009)

on Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the film concerns the mad-cap, gunslinging antics of three men in search of a mythical treasure.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Sure it’s got a fun premise and goofy atmosphere, but the weirdest thing about the film is the “Weird” of the title, who’s primarily a wacky take on Eli Wallach’s “Ugly” character from Leone’s film, with spiky hair and the best jokes in the script.  It’s an excellent, peculiar movie, but never reaches List-worthy levels of bizarre.

COMMENTS: Yoon Tae-goo—AKA “The Weird” (Song Kang-ho)—is a resilient petty thief who chances upon a treasure map while robbing a group of Japanese soldiers. Park Chang-yi—AKA “The Bad” (Lee Byun-hun)—is a malicious assassin sent to reclaim the map, who resigns himself to hunting down Tae-goo. Park Do-won—AKA “The Good” (Jung Woo-sung)—is a taciturn bounty hunter chasing after both men’s rewards, who eventually teams up with Tae-goo in the search for the treasure.  Sprinkle in some curious Manchurian bandits and a dedicated group of Japanese soldiers, and soon you’ve got an all-out chase replete with wackiness, gunfights, and thrills!

There’s a lot going on in this film, but the sheer enthusiasm that brings it together makes it all completely work.  The story is fun and interesting, the action is loud and inventive, the characters are appealing, and the visuals are detailed and colorful.  There’s a range of costumes, weapons, and gadgets, giving the movie a slightly anachronistic/steampunk feel.  The premise is both an homage to and appropriation of Leone’s original, but infused with its own imaginative mythos and offbeat sense of humor, distinguishing it from a simple remake.  The addition of complex Manchurian history involving a multinational conflict gives the story a unique perspective.

The three leads are superb, but Song Kang-ho really owns the film.  As “The Weird” he’s hilarious, likable, and unexpectedly capable.  Plus, he’s got a secret past!  The writers did well to make him the central character, devoting the most time to his story and giving him the best lines.  Song is adept at wacky comedy but never slides into flat characterization, making him both engaging and intriguing to watch.  Lee Byun-hun as “The Bad” spends most of his time being incredibly badass and looking sharp.  Jung Woo-sung as “The Good” is a bit bland, and it doesn’t help that there isn’t much attention paid to his character.  He has impressive firearms and his mustache looks silly.

There is very little about this movie to criticize (except perhaps the under-utilization of The Good’s character).  With its oft-frenetic pace, out-there stunts, and silly, exuberant atmosphere, it had the audience laughing out loud and gasping at crazy moments in equal measure.  The final chase scene at the end is guaranteed to have everyone riveted, while the film itself leaves viewers instinctively smiling from ear-to-ear. I believe the technical critical term is “a rip-roarin’ good time.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a live-action comic book. More good than bad, and with a liberal sprinkling of weird, it’s got a rock ’em, sock ’em energy that knocks the dust off a dying breed of storytelling.” –Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post (contemporaneous)

NOTE: This review is published in slightly different form at Film Forager.

7. EL TOPO (1970)

AKA The Mole (literal translation)

“Q: You’re creating this story right now.

A: Yes, this very moment.  It may not be true, but it’s beautiful.” -Alejandro Jodorowsky in “Conversations with Jodorowsky”

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alejandro Jodorowsky

PLOT: El Topo, a figure dressed in black and carrying his nude son on horseback behind him, uses his supernatural shooting ability to free a town from the rule of a sadistic Colonel.  He then abandons his son for the Colonel’s Woman, who convinces him to ride deep into the desert to face off against four mystical gunfighters.  All of the gunfighters die, but El Topo is betrayed, shot, and dragged into a cave by a society of deformed people, who ask the outlaw turned pacifist to help them build a tunnel so they can escape to a dusty western town run by degenerate religious fascists.

el-topo

BACKGROUND:

  • El Topo is considered to be the first “midnight movie,” the first movie to be screened in theaters almost exclusively after 12 AM.  Although the heyday of the midnight movie has past, it was a clever marketing gimmick that stressed the unusual nature of the film and positioned El Topo as an event rather than just another flick.
  • El Topo was famously championed and promoted by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
  • Due to an acrimonious dispute over ownership rights between Jodorowsky and Allen Klein, the film was withdrawn from circulation for 30 years, during which time it could only be seen on bootlegged VHS copies.  The scarcity of screenings vaulted El Topo‘s already powerful reputation into a legendary one.  Jodorowsky and Klein reconciled in 2004 and the film had a legal DVD release in 2005.

INDELIBLE IMAGEEl Topo is a continuous stream of unforgettable images; any frame chosen at random inflames the imagination.  My personal favorite is the lonsghot after El Topo kills third master gunfighter, where his body lies bleeding in his own watering hole while the rest of the landscape is littered with rabbit corpses.   The iconic image, however, is  El Topo riding off on horseback with a naked child sitting behind him, holding a black umbrella over his head.  This image is particularly representative because it shows not only Jodorowsky’s gift for composition, but his penchant for shamelessly borrowing from other sources of inspiration: the concept is pinched from the most surreal moment of Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  In the first scene, a man clad in black carrying an

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Original trailer for El Topo

umbrella rides through an endless desert waste.  Behind him in the saddle is a male child, naked except for a cowboy hat.  The man stops his horse by a lonely hitching post in the sand, ties the umbrella to the post, and hands the boy a teddy bear and a locket and a photograph.  The man says, “Today you are seven years old.  You are a man.  Bury your first toy and your mother’s picture.”  He pulls out a flute and plays while the naked child follows his instructions.  What makes El Topo weird is that this is the most normal and comprehensible thing that happens the film.

COMMENTS:  In Judges 14, Samson (the Hebrew version of Hercules) is attacked by a Continue reading 7. EL TOPO (1970)