Appellate Judge Tom Becker Kill...time watching bizarre-o spaghetti westerns. Shoot!
Terror from the depths of hell!
Just as The Godfather spawned a rash of gangster-film knock-offs, The Exorcist a raft of demonic-possession movies, and Halloween (arguably) the entire slasher sub-genre, Sergio Leone's successful Italian-made, Clint Eastwood-starring westerns birthed a whole new class of low-budget, European-made films: the spaghetti western. Like many American westerns of the '40s and '50s, most of these were cheaply made little action films, frequently with little to distinguish them. Some, however, were well made and proved popular with U.S. and international audiences. One such successful film was Django, starring Franco Nero.
In the grand tradition of Eurosploitation films that co-opted a popular title for films that had nothing to do with the original—such as The Last House on the Left: Part 2, Beyond the Door II, or The Return of the Exorcist—Django Kill! If You Live, Shoot! has nothing to do with Franco Nero's popular western import Django. In fact, Django Kill! doesn't even feature a character named Django.
But don't let the polygraph-defying title fool you: Django Kill! If You Live, Shoot! is not only not an imitation, it's a uniquely perverse, wickedly violent little horror western allegory that takes a few old adages, drenches them in blood, and hangs the out to dry.
Facts of the Case
A bunch of bandits—some Americans, some Mexicans, and one "half-breed" (Tomas Milian, Cop in Drag)—robs a Wells Fargo wagon full of gold. The celebration is cut short when the Americans announce that they're taking all the booty and order the Mexicans to dig themselves a mass grave.
After the Americans shoot everyone and leave, the Half-Breed Stranger somehow crawls out of the grave. He is befriended by a pair of old Indians who are convinced that he has returned from the dead—and perhaps, he has—and who want him to tell them what things are like on the "other side." They take some gold that the stranger had hidden and fashion it into bullets.
The Americans land in a grimy border town, with the Stranger and his new friends in slow pursuit. The townspeople, realizing that these men are criminals, slaughter them and hang their bodies in the village square.
The Stranger arrives just in time to finish the job, but the townsfolk are a bunch of greedy, sanctimonious hypocrites, no better than the bandits they'd just executed. They don't know anything about the Stranger, except that they want him gone.
But then, a war breaks out over the ill-gotten gold, and before it's over, there'll be bodies a'plenty in this nasty little desert haven.
The western is such an elastic genre, so why not stretch it even further with a tale that's a little bit supernatural, heavily homoerotic, stirringly illogical, and violent as a cockfight? Django Kill! If You Live, Shoot! is really a mess of a movie, but it's so much fun and so "out there," you barely notice how little sense it all makes.
While it's held together by a throughline of sorts, Django Kill! is really a series of bizarre episodes, all featuring varying degrees of grotesquerie. The gold is but a MacGuffin, a wisp of a line to hold things together as the characters lie, betray, ravage, seduce, torment, and butcher each other.
The town is called "The Field of Anguish" (or "The Unhappy Place" in the English dub), but it might just as well have been named Fetid. Everyone and everything is corrupt; even the bandits are put off by the sight of naked children (some being openly abused) and the shifty-eyed stares of the locals.
After dispatching the outlaws, the gold is commandeered by a pair of locals: a weak-willed saloon keeper who lives with the local temptress and has a disturbed son; and an unctuous merchant with a crazy wife. For some reason, no one else in town seems to be aware of—or concerned about—the gold, though there's a lot of fussin' when they realize that the Stranger has gunned down a bandit using gold bullets. In fact, the citizens become overzealous trying to dig the pricey hardware out of the still-living victim (a scene so gruesome that it was apparently cut for U.S. distribution, as it's only available here in Italian language).
Besides the saloon keep and the merchant, someone else is interested in the gold: an already-wealthy local raider named Mr. Sorrow who keeps a corral-full of handsome, black-clad cowboys (his muchachos) who seem awfully close to each other. Mr. Sorrow is a win-at-any-price kind of guy, so he sends his muchachos to kidnap the saloon owner's teenage son, Evan (Ray Lovelock).
And here we get one of the weirdest scenes to ever grace a western, spaghetti or otherwise: The Persecution and Seduction of Ray Lovelock as Performed by the Muchachos of the Big Hacienda Under the Direction of the Leering Mr. Sorrow. Lovelock, prodigious star of such Eurosleaze classics as Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, Last House on the Beach, and Almost Human was around 15 when he made his debut here as the unfortunate Evan. At first, Sorrow and his muchachos hold Evan for a gold ransom; when that doesn't pan out, the boys decide they just wanna have fun with the wide-eyed blond youth. While the Italian sub-track is much more Spartacus-like double-entre heavy compared to the English dub, there's no mistaking what's going on here, particularly when one cowboy eyes Lovelock up and down and then puts a banana in his mouth and takes a big bite.
(For the record, Evan Lovelock seems none too horrified at being the center of the revelry, though his post-party actions might be seen as severe morning-after regret.)
Although the Stranger has ostensibly returned from the dead, he doesn't have any supernatural powers; in fact, he's quite vulnerable to things like liquor, carnal desire, and pain. In one scene, Sorrow's men torture him for information about the gold—though at that point, it almost seems like an afterthought. The Stranger is tied up in a Christ-Crucified pose and threatened with stock footage of bats and geckoes; surprisingly, this works, and he actually divulges information. So he dies, is resurrected, and then crucified, sort of like Jesus in reverse. Actually, the scene plays out like it was edited in reverse, with Sorrow announcing that the Stranger has talked before the Stranger has, in fact, talked, but no matter; by this point, Django Kill has already gone so far off the rails that a little continuity confusion hardly seems like a distraction.
In the meantime, there are plenty of killings, including a scalping; a seductive (female) lunatic; explosions; a spectacular, poetically justified fire; and incongruous scenes in which the characters moralize for no apparent reason. There might be a political subtext here, but mostly this is violent, kinky splendor, a film that luxuriates in sadism.
And that's what makes it skeevy fun.
When Blue Underground released its Blu-ray upgrade of A Bullet for the General in May 2012, it featured not just a tech improvement, but new supplements, as well. I was hoping this signaled a new approach for BU Blus, which for the most part have been little more than tech upgrades of their standard-def releases.
Unfortunately, Django Kill! If You Live Shoot! (Blu-ray) offers nothing new in the supplement department, merely porting over the only significant supplement from the 2006 release: a 21-minute interview with Milian, Lovelock, and director Giulio Questi, Django, Tell! The image does look significantly better than the earlier release, though, with solid detail and rich colors.
Like some other Blue Underground Blu-rays (including Strip Nude for Your Killer), there are more subtitle options for this release than were available on the SD (including an English dub track as well as subtitle translation of the Italian track). There were a few Easter eggs on the Django Kill SD that don't seem to be here.
A cynical tone, sordid goings-on, ultra-violence, and Milian and Lovelock—count me in.
Not guilty, Hombre.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
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