1975, Italy, Directed by Lucio Fulci
Colour, Running Time: 104 minutes
DVD, Region 1, Anchor Bay, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Mono
In a town called Salt Flat, a passing outlaw, Stubby, is thrown into jail for his sins where he meets several other downbeats including the mentally imbalanced Bud, a man who may or may not be able to see ghosts, the alcoholic Clem, and an attractive young prostitute called Bunny. The town comes under a nocturnal attack by a horde of masked raiders who bloodily to wipe out a significant portion of the population but forget to invade the small prison before departing. Everyone in the jail is overlooked during Death’s brief visit and the sheriff decides to release his prisoners. The four mismatched associates set off into the desert, heading for some utopian place called Sand City. Along the way they come across a group of travellers who they temporarily bond with, later meeting a malevolent lone bandit called Chaco who invites himself into their party. He soon betrays them by drugging them, tying each of them up (using this opportunity to violate Bunny), and leaving them to die in the desert as he takes off with their transport and possessions. Chaco fails to acknowledge that the group are stronger than he expected: soon they’re on the move again by foot but it’s not long before they find the travellers they met earlier on during the trek - Chaco has slaughtered them all; Stubby vows that the bandit has to die. Increasingly encumbered with the disadvantages that his friends bring with them (Bunny is pregnant and weak, Clem has been shot and now unable to walk, Bud is rapidly losing his marbles) Stubby leads them on south through the blistering heat towards their near-mythical objective. Discovering and deciding to briefly stay the night in a deserted ghost town, Bud appears to be in his spirit-witnessing element and Stubby begins to realise just how far gone the black man is, Clem’s physically deteriorating condition adding significantly to these problems (not to mention Bunny‘s expanding belly). The group is falling apart but Stubby still has his vow to fulfil and Chaco is not far ahead.
One of the last of the spaghetti westerns Fulci makes a distinctive mark on the fading genre. The characters exhibit problems that make their journey through hell even more difficult - Clem lives to drink, Bunny has been impregnated by one of her unseen customers, Bud can barely act sanely, progressively becoming more unhinged as the distance travelled increases. Stubby is the only one amongst them who can keep things moving and it makes one wonder why he even bothers tagging them along. Scenes of gore and violence punctuate the action sequences that were extreme for their period - not expecting them I found them all the more gruesome; a man is tortured by being skinned, the pregnant Bunny is raped, a bullet is graphically removed from Clem’s bloody wound, the horrifying revelation of Bud‘s insane attempt to find the group some food, etc. The impact of these scenes is enhanced by the respective character responses, which are quite convincing sometimes. Anchor Bay have done well to locate and reinstate the nastiest of this footage back into a print that was once excised of it. The landscape is appropriately photographed and utilised to create the backdrop of an almost surreal nightmare, this being underlined by the environmentally incongruous towns the group encounter - some blisteringly hot, one drenched in pouring rain, and one seemingly womanless place that’s covered in snow. The film does lose pace somewhat during the prolonged birth sequence, unnecessarily focusing on the effects that it has on the townsfolk and remaining primary characters, and shortening this could have improved the sombre pace (which sometimes drags for me) significantly in my opinion. Otherwise we’re left with something that may not appeal to fans of traditional westerns, but has merits in many areas for those willing to undertake its fairly harrowing voyage.
As mentioned, AB have compiled the most complete cut retaining the Italian audio track in its entirety along with an English dub that covers 98% of the dialogue (one scene was never dubbed for English markets and switches to Italian with English subs for a minute or so). They’ve also put together a series of retrospective interviews with Fabio Testi (Stubby - the actor later also appeared in Fulci’s boring Contraband) and Stubby’s nemesis Chaco, played by Tomas Milan, the latter speaking in English for his segments. They’re quite revealing both in opinions and facts (e.g. the snow-town was shot in Austria; Lynne Frederick (Bunny) was the wife of Peter Sellers, etc.) and the 17-minute piece makes a worthwhile addition. Film image looks very good considering its age, being clean and free of damage, and this disc (along with its recently re-released identical brother on the Blue Underground label) can be looked at as the definitive rendition of one of Fulci‘s more interesting projects.