Tuesday, July 25, 2023


 by Anthony King

Head to the wild west of Italy with Arrow once again.

With the second volume in Arrow Video's quest to introduce underrated and underseen Spaghetti Westerns we explore the gamut of the genre. From a traditional Django revenge movie to the Italian version of an acid western, Blood Money – Four Western Classics Vol. 2 is a thoughtfully curated and stacked-to-the-gills box set looking for a home on your shelf.

On disc one we find the Sergio Martino-produced $10,000 Blood Money (1967). From director Romolo Guerrieri, it stars Gianni Garko in his turn as the popular-by-name-only bounty hunter character of Django. He's chasing the criminal called Manuel (Claudio Camaso) in order to collect on the bounty, using sneaky tactics to get his man, including joining Manuel's gang. Manuel is a ruthless villain, willing to kill anything or anyone that stands in his way, including his own men. Django teams up with his friend Fidelio, an unlikely sidekick whose holster weighs as much as he does.
Garko's modern-day equivalent may be early Russell Crowe. Not only in looks, but the swagger, charm, and volatility bubbling just below the surface make Garko as Django a magnetic and likable hero who is easy to cheer on. Garko's/Django's equal in the film is his nemesis, Camaso/Manuel. Claudio Camaso is able to immediately seduce the audience with his good looks, eyeliner, and arrogant swagger. Rarely any more do we see a villain who isn't afraid to die, a monster willing to trample those closest to him if he has a chance to kill his enemy or collect more gold. More than once Django is referred to as a ghost in the film. Add to this Nora Orlandi's haunting score that includes the wobbly saw sound of a theremin and $10,000 Blood Money could easily be considered a haunting movie. This is a very strong start to the set.

Disc two once again pairs Garko and Camaso in the Giovanni Fago film Vengeance Is Mine (1967). The film spends much of the first act in flashbacks, swimming through a thick soup of romance all for the sake of a set-up. This is all well and good once we get into the meat of the story. Garko is John Forest, who was wrongfully accused of murdering his father. John's brother Clint (Camaso) is the true killer, who committed the act in a wave of jealousy-fueled rage. Years later, John is a bounty hunter and Clint has turned to a life of crime. On her deathbed, Ma Forest begs John to bring his brother in to jail to ensure his safety. John hunts Clint down and has to reconcile his love for his brother and his promise to his mother with his job as a bounty hunter.
While most westerns are hot and dusty, Vengeance Is Mine takes the top prize of dirtiest western ever. In the back of my mind while watching westerns I've always thought, “These people are just a little too clean for living the frontier life.” Vengeance shows just how filthy the human body can become living in a dust bowl. The model-good looks of Garko and Camaso from Blood Money are tossed aside here, and along with the dust-caked skin, these characters are drenched in heartbreak and desperation. This is another strong entry in the set.

On disc three we find Giuliano Carnimeo's men-on-a-mission film Find a Place to Die (1968). It opens with a man and woman caught in a valley defending their gold mine. A rock slide pins the man, leaving the wife to go and find help. Pascale Petit stars as Lisa, the woman with no other choice than to abandon her trapped husband in order to look for men to help. Lisa arrives in town and meets Joe Collins (Jeffrey Hunter) who is promised a percentage of the gold if he can assemble a crew of “bastards” to rescue her husband and fend off the evil Chato and his gang. Collins and Lisa conjure up a team of questionable men to aid in the rescue of Lisa's husband. The team sets out and, almost immediately, the men, besides Collins, assault Lisa. Left with no other choice, Lisa and Collins stick with the scoundrels and head straight into a massive war with Chato.
Jeffrey Hunter was a bonafide Hollywood star in the '50s and '60s, co-starring alongside John Wayne in John Ford's The Searchers (1956), and later starring as Jesus in Nicholas Ray's King of Kings (1961). At this point in his career he was heading the way of Rick Dalton and started taking work in Italy. He's as suave as someone could be in a Spaghetti Western of the '60s, and a confident lead of his band of misfits (and of this movie). French actress Pascale Petit, while stunningly beautiful, is a not-so-helpless woman who charges straight into hell with her hired help, and stands right alongside Hunter as not only one half of a romantic plot but as co-leader of this Italian Wild Bunch. (The Wild Bunch, incidentally, doesn't come out till the following year; the similarities between the two films are unmistakable.) The location shooting of the film delivers some of the most striking Italian landscapes I've ever seen, including foliage-covered mountainsides, and ruins of ancient churches standing in a clearing of a forest. These aren't the typical hot, dusty, and barren landscapes we're used to seeing in Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns.

The set wraps up with an Italian version of the acid western. While Monty Hellman's consecutively-filmed The Shooting (1966) and Ride the Whirlwind (1966) might be considered acid westerns, they're both too straight forward in my opinion (but both very good). For me, an acid western needs to feel like you just ate a pound of silly mushrooms. Jodorowski's El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) – both which took multiple watches for me to appreciate; Robert Downey Sr.'s Greaser's Palace (1972), and Jim McBride's Glen and Randa (1971) – both of which I do not like; or the John Rubinstein and Don Johnson rock musical Zachariah (1971) – a damn near masterpiece – all come to mind as perfect examples of the acid western. Add to that list Cesare Canevari's Matalo! (1970), a movie that took a second watch to “get” (I watched it for Junesploitation years back), and a fascinating conclusion to this box set.
Like $10,000 Blood Money, Matalo! is heavy on atmosphere and leans all the way into the horror aspects of a film set in an abandoned western town. Out of all the films included in this set, Matalo! is the one that feels most Sergio Martino-like, yet the giallo master wasn't involved at all. The film follows a group of thieves who rescue one of their own from the gallows, proceed to rob a stagecoach, leave the man they rescued for dead, and proceed to hide out in a ghost town. While the haunting score from Blood Money may have been the right fit on paper for this film, Mario Migliardi's psychedelic rock score is the base for this trip of a film. As the film makes the familiar turn into revenge territory, we begin to feel the influence of Mario Bava or Martino with a giallo aspect coming into play. Aside from two players, the entire cast is composed of the most unlikable characters that make up a group that can only be likened to the Manson family. One of the final shots of the film is an incredible Oner that keeps the camera constantly moving from one character – dead or alive – to the next that nearly had me on my feet pumping my fist and cheering.

Each film comes with a fascinating introduction by journalist Fabio Melelli, commentaries chock full of fun facts, and interviews galore covering nearly everything you'd want to know about this era of the spaghetti western. While Sergio Leone will forever be the godfather of the Italian Western, Arrow has once again put together a mini festival of four more fabulous westerns highlighting lesser-known actors and filmmakers.

Blu-ray release date: July 25, 2023
Region: A
Bonus features
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of all four films
Brand new 2K restorations of all four films from the original 35mm camera negatives by Arrow Films
Original Italian and English front and end titles
Restored lossless original Italian and English soundtracks
English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks
Brand new introductions to each film by journalist and critic Fabio Melelli
Galleries for all four films
Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing by author and critic Howard Hughes
Fold-out double-sided poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeves featuring original artwork and a slipcover featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

DISC 1 – $10,000 BLOOD MONEY
Brand new audio commentary by author and film historian Lee Broughton
“Tears of Django” – newly edited featurette with archival interviews with director Romolo Guerrieri and actor Gianni Garko (22 min.)
“The Producer Who Didn't Like Western Movies” – brand new interview with producer Mino Loy (14 min.)
“How the West Was Won” – brand new interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (19 min.)

Brand new audio commentary by critics Adrian J. Smith and David Flint
“Cain and Abel” – newly edited featurette with archival interviews with actor Gianni Garko and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (25 min.)
“In Conversation with Nora Orlandi” – newly edited archival interview with the film's iconic composer (16 min.)
“Movie After Movie” – brand new interview with producer Mino Loy (17 min.)

Brand new audio commentary by author and critic Howard Hughes
“Sons of Leone” – newly edited archival interview with director Giuliano Carnimeo (18 min.)
“Traditional Figure” – brand new, in-depth appreciation of the soundtrack and its composer, Gianni Ferrio, by musician and disc collector Lovely Jon (31 min.)

Brand new audio commentary by critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
“A Milanese Story” – brand new, in-depth interview with filmmaker Davide Pulici, discussing the career of Matalo! director Cesare Canevari (45 min.)
“Untold Icon” – brand new, in-depth appreciation of the soundtrack and its composer, Mario Migliardi, by musician and disc collector Lovely Jon (39 min.)

$10,000 Blood Money
100 minutes / 1967
2.35:1 (1080p)
PCM Mono (Italian, English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)

Vengeance Is Mine
92 minutes / 1967
2.35:1 (1080p)
PCM Mono (Italian, English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)

Find a Place to Die
89 minutes / 1968
1.85:1 (1080p)
PCM Mono (Italian, English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)

Matalo! (Kill Him)
100 minutes / 1970
1.85:1 (1080p)
PCM Mono (Italian, English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)

1 comment:

  1. "BLOOD MONEY: FOUR WESTERN CLASSICS VOL. 2 is a cinematic gem! The Blu-ray review perfectly captures the essence of these timeless Westerns. I was enthralled by the thrilling narratives and stunning visuals. If you're a fan of the genre, this collection is a must-have. Check it out and discover more exciting events at https://icoholder.com/en/events."