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Fulci goes spaghetti,
This review is from: Four of the Apocalypse (DVD)
Spaghetti westerns are, in my opinion, generally the best fictional films about the American West. You can argue that John Wayne made a bunch of great movies about life in the Old West, and you would be right to say so, but for some reason the Italians captured perfectly the specific elements of the era that made their movies seem more realistic. The frontier was a dirty, violent place full of unsavory types trying to get rich quick. Italian westerns capture this mood expertly whereas American films portray characters whose outfits look like they just came back from the dry cleaners. Hollywood films also tend to apply a black and white dichotomy onto their characters, the old "good guys wear white, bad guys wear black" philosophy that obscures the reality of the time and place. Not so in Italian films, where even the good guys often have distinctly unsavory traits. It's too bad spaghetti westerns went the way of the dinosaurs a few decades back; I never tire of watching these films even though I am not an expert on the genre. "Four of the Apocalypse," part of the larger Anchor Bay "Once Upon a Time in Italy" spaghetti western box set, serves as an excellent example of how powerful the genre once was. Too, none other than goremeister Lucio Fulci directed the picture.
Fulci's contribution to the spaghetti western genre contains some of the great cult classic actors of the Italian film era. Fabio Testi, who later teamed up with Fulci again for the mobster picture "Contraband," plays a renegade gambler named Stubby Preston. Testi's character looks the part; he wears the clothing of a dandy, possesses an oily smile that could melt steel, and has four or five decks of marked cards tucked away in his suitcase. Unfortunately for this poker shark, the local sheriff promptly arrests him when he steps off the coach in a small Utah town. It seems the townspeople are weary of dealing with miscreants, so they've taken the step of cleaning up the town the hard way. The process involves waiting until nightfall, donning masks, and gunning down all of the goons. One poor chap takes a header out of a window with a noose around his neck. Bodies litter the street the next morning when the sheriff orders Stubby and three of his fellow detainees to hit the bricks. The four individuals, now traveling companions, form an odd bunch. Besides Stubby, there's a pregnant harridan named Bunny (Lynne Frederick), an alcoholic called Clem (Michael Pollard!), and a scary guy answering to Bud (Harry Baird) who actually says "I see dead people" years before "The Sixth Sense" arrived on the scene. For better or for worse, these four set out across the alkali flats (or is it a desert?) of Utah in search of Sand City, a town full of the vices all four have come to love.
Problems emerge from the get go. First, the four run into a shaggy looking fellow named Chaco (Thomas Milian), a crack sharpshooter with a penchant for violent outbursts, peyote, and whisky. At first, Chaco befriends the group, but at some point he paints crosses under his eyes and turns as mean as a snake. The thug literally skins a prisoner captured in a shootout, then turns his attentions to Stubby's cohorts. He critically wounds Clem and terrorizes poor Bunny before riding off into the mountains with the group's wagon and horses, leaving the four to plod miserably through the blasted climes. It's not long after this incident that the group begins to melt away. By the time Bunny and Stubby arrive in Altaville, a small town peopled by a ragtag bunch of grizzled men, the movie oddly turns into a rather sappy series of scenes about caring for an infant. The conclusion to the film whips "Four of the Apocalypse" right back to where it should be with the obligatory showdown between Stubby and the evil Chaco. I've watched all but one of the films contained in the Anchor Bay boxed set at this point, and Fulci's film is the strangest of the lot.
Odd though it is, the picture is still a lot of fun to view. The performances on the whole stand well above usual Italian film standards. Milian is the one to watch, though. His villainous Chaco ranks as one of the most despicable bad guys I've seen in awhile. The humorous, languid attitude Milian's character exuded in "Companeros" is nowhere apparent here--this guy is just plain evil incarnate. He even overshadows the general weirdness Michael Pollard brings to the Clem character, and that's quite a feat if you're familiar with any character portrayed by Pollard during his lengthy career. Beyond the performances, "Four of the Apocalypse" shows us a hint of the Fulci gore that would become a staple in his later horror films. When bullets strike down guys in this film, the wounds explode like miniature atomic bombs. Then there's that skinning scene. Yep, shades of the grotesqueries of "The Beyond," "The Gates of Hell," and "Zombie" are perceptible in this ultra violent spag western. A series of great prog rock ballads serve as the musical score.
All in all, I'd say this film is one of the best I've seen from Fulci. Heck, the guy even forgoes the usual eye zoom shots so prevalent in his later work. A big round of applause should go to Anchor Bay for bringing us this flick on DVD. Even better, they added in the gory scenes cut out of prior releases, and even throw in a seventeen-minute documentary containing interviews with Fabio Testi and Thomas Milian. You also get talent biographies, a trailer, and an easter egg accessible from the extras screen. Spaghetti western fans will want to add this one to the collection. So will fans of Fulci in general.