Code Red // 1972 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Code Red // 1976 // 82 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // August 26th, 2011
The Hammer's back, and Code Red's got him! But is he any match for some killers on the road?
It's guns, gals, and grue in the Lawless Land Double Feature from Code Red.
Somewhere in the Old West, seven criminals are being transported through a snowy mountain range to prison. Their wagon is ambushed by a family of desperadoes, convinced that they are actually carrying gold. After a bit of carnage, the bandits take off empty handed leaving only the psychotic prisoners, a sergeant who seems a bit "off" himself, and his nubile daughter. Since the bandits' farewell to the group involved sending the wagon careening down the side of a steep hill to a big crash, our guys are not only sociopaths and killers, but shaken up and injured sociopaths and killers. Now they must travel the 50 or so miles on foot, all chained together (except the sergeant and his daughter, of course).
One convict is so injured that he can't walk, so the sergeant insists that he be carried. The convicts express their displeasure by stabbing their comrade. Peeved, the sergeant demands to know who's responsible. When no one 'fesses, the sergeant makes them carry the guy's corpse. The cons disrespectfully set the corpse on fire.
From there, it's march, march, march through the snowy terrain, with stops along the way to kill, maim, beat, decapitate, burn, assault, and have flashbacks, some violent, others not so much. It's all part of the whacking good time waiting in Cut-Throats Nine.
Meanwhile, somewhere else in the West, black soldier Joshua (Fred Williamson, Death Journey) is headed home from the Civil War, eager to see his Ma. Ma works for Sam, who's just purchased a bodacious young mail-order bride (Brenda Venus, The Eiger Sanction). When some strangers come upon the modest homestead, Sam invites them in for a meal. Bad move. The lovely Mrs. Sam gets their outlaw hormones in a rage, so they shoot Sam, slaughter Joshua's Ma, and kidnap the fair catalogue bride to use the same way future generations would use a plain-brown-wrapper sex toy. When Joshua shows up and surveys the carnage, he takes off after them -- not to save the captured damsel, but to avenge his murdered kin.
A Spanish production, Cut-Throats Nine is billed as one of the most violent westerns of all time. While there's plenty of grue, I don't know if it's one of "the most violent," but it's certainly one of the most wantonly violent. There's little in the way of plot or characterization, so the whole point seems to be waiting around for something gory to happen -- which it does around every six minutes. Director Joaquin Luis Romero Marchent, who directed a bunch of other Euro-westerns with titles like I Don't Forgive...I Kill!, offers up loving renderings of heads being shot open, knives plunging into gullets, human roastings, strangulations, and the like, with a fairly wispy story keeping it all together.
There's a bit of a hook here: One of the convicts killed the wife of the sergeant (and mother of his daughter), and this is referenced every now and again -- it adds a kind of limp mystery element to the whole thing. It's also shown in bloody flashback, with the assailant's face out of camera range. You'll probably figure it out before the reveal, but it doesn't matter all that much. There's also some business about one of the prisoners crushing on the sergeant's daughter that's just there to pass the time.
Since there are only nine main characters, Marchent couldn't make a gorefest by just having them kill each other, so he adds gruesome flashbacks of the prisoners' crimes, usually introduced by a freeze frame. There's plenty of the red stuff, but not much in the way of special effects; usually, we see a gun pointing at someone, cut to the person it's pointing at, cut back to the gun going off, and then cut to something like this:
I really wanted to like this one more than I did, but the sometimes slow pace, bad dubbing, less-than-interesting plot and characters, and -- by 21st Century standards -- gratuitous yet unremarkable violence just made the whole thing less campily compelling than I expected. Cut-Throats Nine does seem to have a following, though, and evidently a remake starring Harvey Keitel is in the works as I write this.
Far more satisfying for me was once again seeing Fred "The Hammer" Williamson saddle up and ride back into action in (and as) Joshua.
Here, The Hammer isn't exactly the Man with No Name -- his name's in the title, after all -- but he's a tight-lipped loner and a mysterious, deadly stranger to his prey.
The outlaws he's pursuing are a mean and motley lot; they kill, they rape, and when they laugh, they cackle like the Wicked Witch of the West. While Joshua's good with a gun, he uses a variety of methods to take down the baddies, including death by rattlesnake and some cute business with some fortuitously available sticks of dynamite.
Of course, next to the Hammer, everyone looks motley, including Isela Vega (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia), who turns up as a hard-bitten range honey who has a thing for our macho hombre. Who can blame her? With his skin-tight leather ensemble and jaunty black cowboy hat (complete with metallic band), Joshua is sexier than a bathhouse full of Village People.
On top of that, he's a gentleman -- a lethal gentleman, granted, who shows his affection for the lady by gunning down unpleasant and bigoted townspeople and leaving her bed to complete his quest, but in these badlands, you take your heroes as they come. Unfortunately, this is an uncharacteristic PG-rated adventure for Williamson, so Vega's trademarked nudity is limited to a shoulders-and-back shot, while Joshua's ambitious and savage retaliation tour ends up being largely bloodless.
Director Larry Spangler had worked with Williamson before, and he knew how to use his star to best advantage: don't make him speak too much; avoid at all costs any kind of emoting; dress him in something form fitting; make sure he comes out on top; and surround him with the least charismatic actors available. Veteran Vega all but blows him off the screen; fortunately, Williamson basically works alone, though one sequence, wherein our lone rider encounters a random couple in the middle of nowhere, is performed with such arresting ineptitude, it's mesmerizing.
Otherwise, this is a pretty standard western revenge drama, though there's an interesting -- if not unforeseeable -- plot twist involving the kidnapped bride and one of her captors. It's not explored too deeply, but it does justify Joshua's otherwise reckless way of tying everything up.
Code Red sent over a screener, so I can't give a judgment on what the actual disc will look like. Cut-Throats Nine has evidently shown up before in bad VHS and/or bootleg form. The print here is speckled and damaged, nothing to write home about, but it's watchable. Joshua fares far better, with a very clean-looking print. Both films feature serviceable mono audio tracks.
For the "Lawless Land" Double Feature, Code Red offers up its own version of The Grindhouse (or Drive-in) replication. In this case, you are offered the option to Play "42nd Street Experience. (Yes, the second set of quotation marks is also missing from the menu screen.) What this does is start with a pair of trailers (for a great looking Italian cop thriller, Detective Belli, as well as Code Red trailer stand-by Brute Corps) before playing Cut-Throats Nine; then, two more trailers -- for The Black Gestapo and Cut-Throats Nine -- then, onto Joshua.
Another good time from the Code Red vault of obscurities.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice, Cut-Throats Nine
Perp Profile, Cut-Throats Nine
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Distinguishing Marks, Cut-Throats Nine
Scales of Justice, Joshua
Perp Profile, Joshua
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Distinguishing Marks, Joshua
* IMDb: Cut-Throats Nine
* IMDb: Joshua