"If a man's gonna be lucky, ain't no words gonna change it."
The popularity of the spaghetti western was starting to wane by the time Four of the Apocalypse (original title I Quattro dell'Apocalisse) appeared in 1975. The director was Lucio Fulci, later better known for his exploitive horror films. Four of the Apocalypse was one of three spaghetti westerns filmed by Fulci, the others being 1966's Massacre River starring Franco Nero and 1978's Silver Saddle. It is the best of Fulci's western efforts, but has problems of its own which prevent it from being among the best of the genre.
Anchor Bay has recently released Four of the Apocalypse on DVD as part of its Spaghetti Western Collection.
Facts of the Case
Gambler Stubby Preston arrives in Salt Flat, Utah for one of his regular visits only to find himself put in jail as an undesirable. Sharing his cell are a pregnant prostitute named Bunny, a drunk named Clem, and Bud, who claims to see dead people. That night, the local vigilantes cleanse the town of other undesirables on the loose with a succession of shootings and hangings. In the morning, Stubby and his cellmates are released and sent out of town on a wagon. While wandering through the lawless countryside, they encounter a sadistic bandit named Chaco, who at first appears to befriend them, but soon shows his true colours by taking them prisoner and subjecting them to a nightmare of torture and brutality. Left to die by Chaco, the four manage to free themselves, but soon only Stubby and Bunny are left alive. With the help of an itinerant preacher, Stubby strives first to get Bunny to safety where she can have her baby, and then sets out to seek revenge on Chaco.
This film has as many problems as it does high points. The resulting variability prevents it from being among the best of the genre. The script is a good example. The basic plot is a rather interesting revenge story, but it is very episodic and the film's flow suffers as a result. Individual parts of the story are quite interesting with somewhat unique twists to them: the idea of a town where the sheriff operates at the whim of the town's vigilante committee, which then purges the town of undesirables with methods that are as bad if not worse than anything done by those they are trying to get rid of; or the concept of the male-only mining town that gets won over by a newborn baby. On the other hand, we get the old chestnut of the renegade bandit who preys on travelers, except in this case, he's presented as a sadistic brute. The scenes where he captures Stubby and his companions and subjects them to various brutalities are unpleasant and unnecessary. Many of these scenes and several others where Chaco tortures other victims were in fact cut from initial international release prints of the film and seeing them restored to this DVD release does nothing to improve the film, even if their inclusion does represent the director's (and co-scriptwriter's) original vision. The other problem with such scenes is simply that they look amateurish; the use of a pastel shade of red for blood gives a laughably bad result.
It would have been far better had director Lucio Fulci devoted less of his time to the graphic brutalities of various sequences and more to ensuring smoother and more believable transitions between sequences in the film. Thus, at one point we have Stubby and his companions left tied up or staked out to die by Chaco, yet in the next scene, they're all free and planning their next step. In another instance, Stubby sets out to find Chaco in a vast lawless territory, yet in the next scene, he immediately comes upon Chaco and his companions sleeping in an old stable.
Despite all this, there is no denying that the film has some appeal. There are some very memorable sequences such as the above-mentioned wintry mining town with its all-male population. (I was briefly reminded of the setting of McCabe and Mrs. Miller.) For another thing, the film looks great, courtesy of cinematography by Sergio Salvati. The feel of the desolate American Southwest comes across very strongly and there's great attention to detail in such things as Stubby's personal effects and his use of them—his shaving things, for example. The conclusion is a satisfying one, given what has gone before.
Four of the Apocalypse also benefits from strong lead performances by Fabio Testi as Stubby and particularly Tomás Milian as Chaco. Then things become more variable again. Michael J. Pollard as Clem is pretty much forgettable (although I find him to be so in most of his films) as is Harry Baird as Bud. Lynne Frederick who plays Bunny doesn't quite ring true, possibly due to her English accent.
Anchor Bay's transfer of the film is somewhat variable in quality too. On the whole, it's a reasonable-looking 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation, but there is evidence of occasional softness and the odd speckle as well as the appearance of fine white vertical lines in the image during the early part of the film. Colours appear fairly true, although they look subdued in accord with the dusty earth tones that dominate the film. Edge enhancement is detectable from time to time, but it is generally not an issue.
The film's audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Both English and the original Italian soundtracks are provided. The English track includes the use of English subtitles for a few scenes that have been restored to the film but for which no English dubbing had originally been done. The audio is unremarkable. It conveys the dialogue and gunfire effects adequately, but there is no sense of any great depth or vibrancy to it. Fortunately, the music is nothing to write home about, so we don't suffer on that account by virtue of the audio's limitations.
The main supplement on the disc is a new 17-minute featurette providing reminiscences on the film by Fabio Testi and Tomás Milian. Curiously, it's entitled "Fulci of the Apocalypse," yet it deals with Fulci mainly only in its last five minutes. Both Testi and Milian have interesting comments to make about each other and the film itself, so the featurette is a pleasure to listen to.
Included on the disc are a theatrical trailer and admirably thorough biographies/filmographies for Testi, Milian, and Fulci. The insert card in the keep case contains a nice reproduction of the film's poster, though interestingly a Spanish version (Los Cuatro del Apocalipsis).
Four of the Apocalypse is not one of the best spaghetti westerns. It has elements of excellence in its overall plot line, cinematography, and lead performers, but it is marred by unnecessary and crudely-presented violence and an episodic script with poorly handled scene transitions. Anchor Bay's DVD presentation mirrors the film's variability.
The defendant is released into the custody of the rental stores. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Featurette: "Fulci of the Apocalypse"
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