DJANGO KILL!, a prime example of the Italian “spaghetti” western as horror movie, is one of the most violent westerns made. Director Giulio Questi gives the film a haunting, surreal veneer that suits well the many horrific elements. If not for poor pacing and an overlong running time, DJANGO KILL! would be a genre classic.
The long cycle of
spaghetti westerns, which spanned the years 1961-75 (and spawned
a few great films such as Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE
WEST and Enzo Castellari’s little-seen KEOMA), began with
Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. Sergio Corbucci’s 1966
slaughterfest DJANGO was by no means a great film but was one of
the most financially successful spaghettis. Innumerable
DJANGO sequels were inevitable and unrelated films were retitled
to cash in on the series popularity--such was the case with
director Giulio Questi’s IF YOU’RE ALIVE, SHOOT!, which was
DJANGO KILL! was made during
the late sixties, the spag west peak period. It hits all
the bases of the genre: excessive violence, an ultra-stoic
Eastwood-esque anti-hero, the ugliest desert landscapes you’ll
ever see, and strong Gothic overtones. Any worthy spag
west features at least one scene set in a graveyard, and DJANGO
KILL! has more than its share!
DJANGO KILL!’s opening
shot, of hands clawing their way out of an open grave, gives us
fair warning not to expect a Disney flick. Those hands
belong to The Stranger, a mysterious, perhaps supernatural
individual (in one oft-cut scene bullets seem to pass through
his body). He was left for dead by a ruthless gang of
bandits who enter a community dubbed “The Unhappy Place” by
locals. The town lives up its moniker when the citizens band
together and murder all the bandits.
Complications ensue when a rival band of homosexual
criminals enter the scene, having heard that the slain bandits
carried a cache of gold which the town’s mayor now possesses.
They attempt to blackmail the mayor out of his newfound treasure
by kidnapping his young son and gang raping the kid (thankfully
offscreen) until he commits suicide. Later, they learn
that the gold may be buried in the town cemetery--in their zeal
to find it the criminals proceed to dig up every grave.
The Stranger for his part remains aloof, occasionally popping in
to shoot somebody or romp with the madwoman locked in the
Giulio Questi directs with hallucinatory
style while sticking closely to the particulars of the genre.
The exteriors are drab and ugly, and none of the characters
appear to have bathed in years (if ever). The violence is
unusually graphic and so are the horrific scenes, in particular
the Stranger’s torture by crucifixion--in a cell containing
dozens of bloodthirsty vampire bats--and the evil mayor’s death,
with melting gold turning his head into a gleaming mask.
But for all of its interesting qualities, Giulio
Questi’s film is not one of the great spaghetti westerns.
With a 2-hour plus running time, it’s overlong by at least 30
minutes. This is especially noticeable during the second
half, when Questi’s pacing slows--in fact, it very nearly comes
to a standstill as the film nears its conclusion, definitely a
poor spot to drag!
DJANGO KILL! (a.k.a. IF YOU'RE ALIVE,
C.I.A. Cinematographica/Hispamer Films
Director: Giulio Questi
Producer: Alex J. Rascal
Screenplay: Franco Arcalli, Guido Questi
Cinematography: Franco Delli Colli
Editing: Franco Arcalli
Cast: Thomas Milian, Marilu Tolo, Piero Lulli, Milo Quesada, Roberto Carmardiel, Patrizia Valturri