Film Review: Keoma (1976)

Also known as: Django Rides Again, Django Returns (both US informal titles), Desperado (US cut version), Keoma: The Avenger (US dubbed version), Coolman Keoma (West Germany video title)
Release Date: November 25th, 1976 (Italy
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Mino Roli, Nico Ducci, Luigi Montefiori, Enzo G. Castellari, Joshua Sinclair (dialogue – uncredited)
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos, Woody Strode

Uranos Cinematografica, Far International Films, 101 Minutes (original), 85 Minutes (US cut version)

Review:

“I need to find out who I am. To give the simplest of my actions a reason. I know by being in this world has some significance, but I’m afraid that when I found out what it is, it will be too late. In the meantime, I’m a vagabond. I keep traveling. Even when the earth sleeps, I keep traveling… chasing shadows.” – Keoma

Who doesn’t want to watch a movie where Franco Nero and his chiseled visage and dreamy eyes take on the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth as a badass gunslinger? Okay, he isn’t Jesus of Nazareth, he is Keoma, but damn, he looks like some sort of spaghetti western Messiah here to save us from mundane and derivative spaghetti schlock. I mean, it’s like Jesus and the original Django had a baby and gave him tight pants, a cool hat and some big guns. Never has a man looked so manly, so pretty and exuded some sort of mystical sexual fire by simply standing within the frame of scratchy and grainy celluloid.

I’ll admit, I have never seen Keoma, even though I am a big fan of Nero and spaghetti westerns. Now that I have, it is pretty high up on my list of Nero gunslinger pictures. Man, he is so damn good in this and his gaze is chilling when he needs to communicate that he’s coming for your ass. Franco Nero just has a presence and never has that presence been as strong as it is here, even if he isn’t spraying down dozens of evil soldiers with a giant Gatling gun yanked out of a casket.

The film is directed by Enzo G. Castellari, a guy not necessarily known for quality but known for having a real sense of style and accomplishing a lot with very little. The man made magic with the 1978 film The Inglorious Bastards, a film that inspired Quentin Tarantino to “borrow” its title. He also did the extremely low budget but impressive 1990: Bronx Warriors, a sort of Italian ripoff of Walter Hill’s classic The Warriors.

Keoma is damn good for what it is. It isn’t just a throwaway spaghetti western in a sea of similar films. It is ballsy and gritty and showcases the great Franco Nero in his best kind of role. It is also one of the best films Enzo G. Castellari ever directed.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Unofficial ‘Django’ Sequels, Part II (1966, 1969, 1971)

It has been too long since I did the first installment of this series of reviews for the unofficial Django sequels. So I figured that it was about time that I pick it up and do the second installment. I actually own enough Django films to do at least five of these.

Introduction:

The original Django was an enormous success in 1966. It opened a lot of doors for its star Franco Nero and its director Sergio Corbucci. The film also inspired unofficial sequels to be created by a multitude of studios because copyrights in Europe back then weren’t as strict as they are in the United States.

There are forty-six Django films listed on his character page on Wikipedia. Most of those are lost to time. A dozen and a half or so, are still out there on streaming services, DVD or VHS – if you can track them down. Some are free on YouTube. Anyway, I’m trying to see as many of them as I can.

Some actually feature the character of Django and some just use his name in the title due to its popularity, even though the character isn’t in the film.

As I watch these films, I will review a few at a time. They won’t necessarily be in chronological order, as that doesn’t matter anyway, as none of these films are really connected to each other apart from a word in their titles.

A Man Called Django! (1971):

Also known as: W Django!, Viva! Django
Release Date: September 29th, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Edoardo Mulargia
Written by: Nino Stresa
Music by: Piero Umiliani
Cast: Anthony Steffen

14 Luglio Cinematografica, 90 Minutes

Review:

Anthony Steffen has played a version of “Django” more times than the original Django, Franco Nero. Steffen’s movies are usually pretty good for knockoff spaghetti fare and he may be the most recognizable actor associated with the Django name, other than Nero… and now, Jamie Foxx.

A Man Called Django! a.k.a. W Django! a.k.a. Viva! Django is a better than decent spaghetti western on its own. It is one of a few examples of a Django picture that didn’t need to be connected to Django because it would have actually been better as its own standalone film. And in retrospect, it kind of upsets me for Anthony Steffen, who could have easily broke out as his own star and didn’t need to be the king of unofficial “Django”s.

This spaghetti extravaganza follows Django, as he sets out to exact revenge on the man who murdered his wife. He has help from a horse thief named Jeff and what we end up witnessing is a movie with more layers to it than what is first suspected. It starts out like a straight up revenge flick but evolves nicely due to some twists and turns.

The action is pretty good, the acting is solid from Steffen and fairly average from the others. The music really stands out but a lot of these Django films have pretty stellar scores that mimic the original’s style.

If you are going to delve deep into Django ripoffs and clones, as I have, I’d have to say that this is one of the few high points. Although, the editing is a bit sloppy in parts and in one scene Django literally punches a guy from a nighttime shot to a daytime shot.

Rating: 6/10

Django the Runner (1966):

Also known as: Le colt cantarono la morte e fu… tempo di massacro, lit. The Colt sang death and it was… Massacre Time (Italy), The Brute and the Beast (US), Colt Concert (UK), Massacre Time
Release Date: August 10th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Fernando Di Leo
Music by: Lallo Gori
Cast: Franco Nero, George Hilton, Nino Castelnuovo

Mega Film Colt, I.F. Produzioni Cinematografiche, Panta Cinematografica, American International Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

Lucio Fulci, most famous for directing several classic Italian horror films – most notably Zombi 2, also directed a handful of spaghetti westerns.

In Massacre Time, he directs Franco Nero, who was just coming off of his biggest hit Django. This movie was actually repackaged as a Django film in some international markets, making it one of several dozen unofficial Django pictures. Although, this has nothing to do with the character of Django. Nero plays someone else entirely.

Massacre Time sees Franco Nero return home to find everyone that he knows and loves to be under the rule of evil land barons. He quickly develops a rivalry with the son of the evil patriarch. This leads to a brutal bullwhip fight and other confrontations between the two. The bullwhip fight is the highlight of the film for me, as it was actually quite intense and nasty.

Nero teams up with his brother in a war against the land barons. There is a lot of action and typical spaghetti western violence. The style of the film isn’t all that refined but it certainly feels like the tone of a Fulci picture.

It isn’t a great movie but it gets a lot of praise from spaghetti western aficionados. I found it to be pretty dull for the most part, except for the bullwhip battle. The final battle is a bit clunky and has no real suspense. The film just sort of ends with a resolution that felt half-assed on execution. But it was also an early film in Lucio Fulci’s catalog and probably a big learning experience for him.

Rating: 5/10

 

Hanging For Django (1969):

Also known as: Una lunga fila di croci (Italy), A Noose For Django, No Room to Die
Release Date: April 18th, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Garrone
Written by: Sergio Garrone
Music by: Vasco Vassilli
Cast: Anthony Steffen, William Berger

Junior Film, 97 Minutes

Review:

Anthony Steffen is back!… Again! Apparently he wasn’t sick of playing various incarnations of Django. In fact, maybe his movies are actually sci-fi pictures, as we are peeking in on different Djangos from different dimensions and timelines. Actually, he isn’t even named Django in this one, he is referred to as “Johnny Brandon”.

This movie teams up Steffen with another spaghetti western great, William Berger. Both men form an alliance, as bounty hunters, to stop a rich guy that is smuggling in immigrants and doing other criminal things. It sort of starts like the relationship between Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in For A Few Dollars More but then there are double crosses and lots of fun twists to the plot.

For another film ripping off the Django name, this one could have survived on its own merits. It was a good spaghetti picture and the chemistry between Steffen and Berger was pretty awesome. Steffen is such a good hero and Berger always does a magnificent job with these sinister weasel roles. Just look at how he almost steals the show away from Lee Van Cleef in the original Sabata.

Hanging For Django is actually my favorite of the three pictures from this set. Strangely, the one actually starring Nero (the original Django) was the one I liked least. However, all three are pretty close to the same level. This one just gets a slight edge because I really liked the Steffen-Berger match up. This one was also better shot and edited than the two other pictures here.

There’s also a seven barrel shotgun in this movie… seven!

Rating: 7/10

Retro Relapse: Top 50 Spaghetti Westerns of All-Time

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Originally written in 2015.

Spaghetti westerns are better than westerns, at least in my opinion. Sure, there are fantastic American-made westerns but as a whole, the Italian-Spanish (sometimes German) films are superior. There is more grit, more bad ass shit and a level of violence that adds realism and authenticity to a genre that has typically been family friendly in the U.S.

The greatest film of all-time is a spaghetti western. And many of the other greatest films ever also fall into this genre.

I have spent the last several months watching a lot of these films. I have always been familiar with the greats but I had to delve deeper into the more obscure reaches of the genre. A special shout out goes to the Spaghetti Western Database for the hours of research I was able to accomplish in mostly one place. Also, thanks to Amazon, Hulu and YouTube for providing several of these films. The rest were an adventure to track down.

This list is the result of my hundreds of hours of film watching.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. The Great Silence
4. The Big Gundown
5. For A Few Dollars More
6. Django
7. A Fistful of Dollars
8. The Mercenary
9. Face to Face
10. Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
11. A Bullet For the General
12. Compañeros
13. Duck, You Sucker! (A Fistful of Dynamite)
14. Day of Anger
15. Keoma
16. Sabata
17. Return of Ringo
18. Death Rides A Horse
19. Cemetery Without Crosses
20. My Name Is Nobody
21. The Grand Duel
22. A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe
23. A Pistol for Ringo
24. If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death
25. The Dirty Outlaws
26. Django, Prepare a Coffin (Viva Django)
27. Run Man Run
28. Tepepa
29. Navajo Joe
30. Four of the Apocalypse
31. Massacre Time
32. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead
33. Mannaja
34. Django Strikes Again
35. The Return of Sabata
36. A Few Dollars For Django
37. Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming
38. Machine Gun Killers
39. Beyond the Law
40. Ace High
41. The Bounty Killer (The Ugly Ones)
42. Trinity Is Still My Name
43. Hellbenders
44. Django the Bastard
45. God Forgives, I Don’t
46. Minnesota Clay
47. God’s Gun
48. They Call Me Trinity
49. Ringo and His Golden Pistol (Johnny Oro)
50. Arizona Colt

Film Review: Face to Face (1967)

Also known as: Faccia a Faccia (Italy), Cara a Cara (Spain)
Release Date: November 23rd, 1967 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Sollima
Written by: Sergio Sollima, Sergio Donati
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Gian Maria Volontè, Tomas Milian, William Berger, Jolanda Modio, Carole André, Gianni Rizzo, Lidya Alfonsi

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Butcher’s Film Service, Peppercorn-Wormser Film Enterprises, 112 Minutes, 93 Minutes (English version)

Review:

Face to Face is the second of three spaghetti westerns directed by Sergio Sollima. It also stars Tomas Milian, as do all of Sollima’s western movies. Opposite of Milian is Gian Maria Volonte. The cast is then rounded out by William Berger.

Needless to say, there are three great spaghetti western actors in this picture. In fact, it almost plays like it is Sollima’s version of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

The story sees two characters come together. One is a bandit, the other is a pacifist college professor. As the story evolves, the bandit starts to turn from his ways and becomes tired of the senseless violence. The professor, on the other hand, grows into becoming a revolutionary bandit and leader. The third character has a secret agenda that plays out wonderfully – assisting in the transformation of both of the main characters throughout the tale.

Sollima weaved together a near perfect tapestry with Face to Face. The plot is solid, the landscapes are vast, the acting is top notch and the action is fierce. The film also benefits from a nice score provided by Ennio Morricone.

This isn’t my favorite Sollima western, that would go to The Big Gundown but this is a stellar film, nonetheless. It belongs alongside the great films in the upper echelon of spaghetti western pictures.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Devil Fish (1984)

Also known as: Shark – Rosso nell’oceano (Italy), Monster Shark, Monster from the Red Ocean, Devouring Waves, Shark: Red in the Ocean
Release Date: September 7th, 1984
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici, Dardano Sacchetti, Herve Piccini, Vincenzo Mannino, Luigi Cozzi, Sergio Martino
Music by: Fabio Frizzi
Cast: Michael Sopkiw, Gianni Garko, William Berger

Filmes Cinematografica, Nuova Danis Cinematografica, Filmes International, National Cinematografica, Films Du Griffon, DLF Distribution, Lanciamento Film, 90 Minutes

devil-fishReview:

This is an Italian ripoff of Jaws. Except in this film, we have a giant sharp-toothed fish that also has squid like tentacles. This was pretty unique for 1984 and the Syfy Channel, whose new spelling I will never get used to, pretty much stole the concept with all their weird hybrid creature features such as  SharktopusDinosharkCrocosaurusPiranhacondaSharktopus vs. Pteracuda and Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf. What in the holy hell is a “whalewolf”?

For a film boasting the talents that this one does, it should have been better. Director Lamberto Bava, the son of Mario Bava, went on to make the Demons film series and those were fantastic. But maybe like James Cameron, this is Bava’s version of Piranha II. It certainly feels similar to that film.

This movie also has the acting talents of spaghetti western regulars Gianni Garko, known mostly as Sartana, and William Berger. But then, Luigi Cozzi was also involved in the film and he was responsible for the horrendous Lou Ferrigno Hercules movie, as well as Starcrash, which is mostly watchable because the angelically majestic Caroline Munro is scantily clad the entire picture.

Devil Fish or Monster Shark or whatever of the half dozen other names it’s called is not a good movie. It is amusing in some parts but there just isn’t a lot to sink your teeth into (pun actually intended). It is full of a lot of sciencey mumbo jumbo that isn’t very engaging. Most of the times the creature actually does show up, it is pretty obscured or shot with such tight closeups that it is hard to get a grasp of what this monster looks like. Nothing about the creature makes much sense. Even the poster doesn’t make sense, as it shows the fish coming out of the water to swallow its victim but the victim’s arms are in front of and under the fish’s jaw. That is not the attack of a skilled predator.

As is customary with the films I review that have ended up riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000, I should mention that you can watch this in an episode of that show. You’ll find it near the end of season nine.

Rating: 3/10

Film Review: Django Strikes Again (1987)

Also known as: Django 2 – Il grande ritorno, lit. Django 2 – The Great Return (Italy)
Release Date: December 3rd, 1987 (Italy)
Directed by: Ted Archer (Nello Rossati)
Written by: Franco Reggiani, Nello Rossati, Anna Miserocchi
Based on: Django by Sergio Corbucci
Music by: Gianfranco Plenizio
Cast: Franco Nero, Christopher Connelly, Licia Lee Lyon, William Berger, Donald Pleasence

National Cinematografica, Dania Film, Filmes International Reteitalia, DMV Distribuzione, Surf Film, 88 Minutes

django_2Review:

This, right here, is the only official sequel to the original Django, despite three or four dozen other films wanting you to believe something different.

It is also the only film to star Franco Nero as Django since the original. The film was also going to be written and directed by the original director, Sergio Corbucci. However, western films were in decline in the 1980s and Corbucci pulled out after another spaghetti western was a bomb at the box office. He did work on the film in more of a consultant type of role.

The film stays pretty true to its spaghetti western roots, but it was certainly tapping into the successes of the American films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Also, it was filmed in Columbia, as opposed to Spain or Italy, like most other spaghetti westerns.

The film’s plot is very similar to Schwarzenegger’s Commando but the tone is more in line with Rambo: First Blood Part II.

Years later, Django is a retired gunfighter now living in peace as a monk. A woman informs him that he has a daughter and she has been kidnapped by the villains of the story. Django sets out to get her back and initially attempts it peacefully and with reason. He is captured, tortured, forced into slavery and witnesses the atrocities that the evil men do to the young girls they abduct. He eventually escapes and goes to a grave site marked “Django” where he unearths his infamous machine gun. Then, all hell breaks loose.

Nero is stunning in this picture. He is also accompanied, at parts, by the always awesome Donald Pleasence (known most famously as Dr. Loomis from the original Halloween films).

It is a pretty big and lush expansion on the original Django mythos. The world is much larger in this picture and the villains, even more sinister. The big black steamboat they drive up and down the river is menacing and pretty cool.

This isn’t nearly as beloved as the original and the IMDb score is 5.5 but it is worth watching if you are a fan of the original and want to see what became of the official Django character. It is also worth your time if you like Franco Nero, spaghetti westerns or high octane 80s action movies. Frankly, I like all of those things, so I really like this film.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The ‘Sabata’ Trilogy (1969-1971)

The Sabata films were made during the height of the classic spaghetti western era.

All three films were directed by Gianfranco Parolini. He started the series just after he birthed the Sartana film franchise with his film If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death. That movie became a big hit but he was not brought on to direct the sequel (or any of the others after that).

The character of Sabata was then created and became a sort of spiritual successor to Parolini’s Sartana.

Sabata (1969):

Also known as: Ehi amico … c’è Sabata, hai chiuso!, roughly translated as Hey buddy … that’s Sabata, you’re finished! (Italy)
Release Date: September 16th, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer)
Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini
Music by: Marcello Giombini
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, William Berger, Pedro Sanchez, Aldo Canti, Linda Veras, Franco Ressel, Antonio Gradoli, Robert Hundar, Gianni Rizzo

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 102 Minutes

sabataReview:

The iconic Lee Van Cleef took on the role of Sabata and made it something spectacular. While his roles in the Sergio Leone films The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and For A Few Dollars More are more widely known, I’ve always seen Sabata as his best role, overall. He was great in the Leone films and proved that he was a stellar actor but the character of Sabata showed Van Cleef having the most fun and thus, the character felt closer to the real man than the other roles.

Sabata is a bit gimmicky but that is what makes it unique. It is gimmicky done well.

The character of Sabata is a master trick shooter and he has all types of trick guns and wacky tools at his disposal. If you think he’s out of bullets, think again because there is a secret barrel in the gun handle or a tiny gun hidden away in an unorthodox place.

The first film is the best, by far. The plot was the strongest in the series and the cast of characters, many of whom return in different roles throughout the other films, just gelled so well in this installment.

The character of Banjo, played by William Berger, is an annoying yet awesome banjo-strumming minstrel who could be a villain or a hero. You never really know. And as for his banjo, it packs a surprise.

The effeminate villain Stengel, is the best baddie of the series. And his scheme is the most impressive out of all the criminals Sabata comes to face in the series.

This is Lee Van Cleef at his best and he looks like he is having a damned good time, as does everyone else. I just kind of wish the characters of Banjo, Carrincha and Alley Cat would have also gone on to be in the sequels. Their lack of presence in the later films, are one of the reasons why this is the superior movie of the three.

Rating: 8/10

Adiós, Sabata (1970):

Also known as: Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di…, roughly translated as Indio Black, you know what I’m going to tell you … You’re a big son of a …. (Italy)
Release Date: September 30th, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer)
Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Yul Brynner, Dean Reed, Pedro Sanchez, Gianni Rizzo, Joseph P. Persaud, Susan Scott

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 104 Minutes

adios_sabataReview:

The second film doesn’t star Lee Van Cleef. It stars Yul Brynner as the title character. While I like Brynner, Van Cleef’s portrayal of this character was so good in the first movie, that it just doesn’t work as well with a very different looking Brynner as the lovable Sabata.

The odd thing, is that Van Cleef turned the movie down as it conflicted with the filming of The Magnificent Seven Ride, where he was playing the character made famous by Yul Brynner. They could’ve just swamped films and both franchises wouldn’t have had character consistency issues.

Adiós, Sabata is still an enjoyable film. Despite Brynner not feeling like Sabata, looking at it as it’s own thing, it was well done and a good vehicle for Brynner.

The characters are less dynamic than the first film and the story just feels like a cookie cutter western plot that’s been seen a dozen times over but the spirit of the series is still alive.

And even though it is a better than decent movie, it is still quite forgettable other than it is wedged between the two Van Cleef films.

Rating: 6/10

Return of Sabata (1971):

Also known as: È tornato Sabata … hai chiuso un’altra volta, roughly translated as Sabata is back … to end another time (Italy)
Release Date: September 3rd, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer)
Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini
Music by: Marcello Giombini
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Reiner Schone, Giampiero Albertini, Annabella Incontrera, Jacqueline Alexandre, Pedro Sanchez, Gianni Rizzo, Aldo Canti, Vassili Karis

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 100 Minutes

return_of_sabataReview:

Return of Sabata, in my opinion, has one of the most bad ass trailers of all-time. That’s why I am including it below instead of the trailer for the original movie.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to the amazingness of the trailer. It is several steps behind the original film and it isn’t as good as the Brynner one either, even though Lee Van Cleef is back to play Sabata.

The plot is very thin, the film is mostly boring. There are a few good action sequences but not a lot happens in this movie other than the cool stuff you can see in the trailer.

It was great seeing Van Cleef back and the character doesn’t let you down. The problem, is that the plot surrounding the character just isn’t there. It is nice to see more of the original Sabata, as it is usually great to revisit familiar characters. However, he didn’t have much to do and we’ve already seen him do all of his cool tricks. The gimmick has run its course.

The movie is worth a watch if you want to complete the series but you really aren’t missing much if you pass on it.

Rating: 6/10