Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot! (US - BD)
Gabe revisits another of his personal favourite spaghetti westerns in HD...
An unnamed half-breed bandit (Tomás Milián) is double-crossed by his white partners in crime and left for dead in a sandy, shallow mass grave along side his Mexican cohorts. With the help of two Native shamans, the ‘Stranger’ rises from the grave to seek his revenge. But when his quest leads to a bizarre town called ‘The Unhappy Place,’ he is plunged into an odyssey of gruesome torture, graphic violence and relentless sexual depravity. (From the Blue Underground official synopsis)
Django Kill…If You Love, Shoot! (aka: Se Sei Vivo Spara) is among the strangest and most nihilistic spaghetti westerns ever made, which places it pretty far down the list for those not yet initiated in the genre’s usual idiosyncrasies. And despite the ‘preferred’ title, it has nothing in common with Sergio Corbucci’s original Django, though it’s probably the best or at least most striking of the in-name-only Django follow-ups. Director Giulio Questi’s stark, pseudo-arthouse vision ranks among the most inescapably fascinating of the spaghettis, blending Corbucci and Sergio Leone’s tough guy tropes with moody, Gothic photography and semi-subliminal editing practices. In fact, Django Kill is so disturbing and singular in tone that it’s one of only a handful of Euro Westerns I tend to recommend on its merits outside of the genre and one of two spaghettis I recommend to horror fans; the other being Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent’s Spanish made Cut-Throats Nine. The horror elements aren’t only reserved to the obvious stylistic choices and graphic violence, there are also vaguely fantastical story elements to contend with. It’s never implicitly stated that ‘The Stranger’ has risen from the dead, but there’s evidence to support him being an actual zombie, or even a ghost, as evident by occasional imperviousness to bullets. There’s also plenty of evidence to consider the town of ‘The Unhappy Place’ a straight analogue for hell, or at least purgatory (as Oaks’ men enter the town, they witness a Hieronymus Bosch version of a western thoroughfare, including images children fist-fighting, standing naked in the streets and being nonchalantly crushed under adult boots). The UK poster shouted ‘Terror from the depths of Hell!’ and, at one point, Milián plainly states, ‘You see, we got problems my friend…even up here in heaven.’
The screenplay, which is credited to seven writers, at first glance seems strange and haphazardly constructed. It becomes difficult to keep up with its surreal turns, but, soon enough, the screenwriters begin to slyly subvert subgenre tropes. Outside of the arguable zombie subtext, the early story is laid out like a traditional spaghetti revenge story – the half-breed bandit is betrayed, shot and left for dead, only to rise and chase down his enemies for bloody revenge. Seems pretty cut and dry, but when The Stranger catches up to his killers he finds that a spooky town’s local citizens have already strung them up (except the leader, Oaks, who he shoots with his pseudo-mystical golden bullets). Shocked by the townsfolk’s brutality and left with nothing in particular to do, The Stranger then changes his tactics and takes a route similar to that already heavily traveled by other spaghetti western antiheroes in Fistful of Dollars and Django – he infiltrates the evil ranks. But, even when his plot is readjusted for familiarity, Questi can’t help but continue to twist the story towards his dark vision of wild-west hell. And for the most part it seems that the horror/fantasy-inspired photography is Questi’s key focus, sitting above even the subversive storytelling and violence. Questi and cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli (who would later work as director of photography on Once Upon a Time in the West, In the Name of the Rose and Life is Beautiful) draw more from Mario Bava and Roger Corman than Leone or Corbucci, at least when it comes to the film’s more memorable and haunting images, specifically excelling where evocative shadows and broken views are concerned.
Questi was not a particularly industrious filmmaker and Django Kill stands as his only western or even western-flavoured film, which partially explains its uncommon genre qualities. Before Django Kill, Questi mostly worked on short-subjects and documentaries, some of which were sexually explicit enough to be heavily censored or banned in Italy. Following Django Kill, which was generally pretty popular despite its strange qualities and heavy censorship, Questi made a handful of under-seen thrillers and horror films (many made for TV), including Arcana (1972) and Vampirismus (1982). Most of these are next to impossible to find on DVD (especially in English). His one modestly popular post- Django Kill release was a bizarrely existential giallo entitled Death Laid an Egg, which actually pre-dated the onslaught of post- Bird with the Crystal Plumage genre entries. Death Laid an Egg (the title actually makes sense in the context of the film) features relentlessly Avant Garde photography and editing practices, almost tipping over the edge into maddening (some of the super-fast inter-cutting could easily induce seizures), all while managing to collect every major genre trope – as if Questi was given a laundry list of required story elements. It’s sadomasochistly sexually charged and features a few bloody sequences, but isn’t ever as salacious or cruel as Django Kill, leading one to assume the director was only giving the western audience what he thought they wanted. Or deserved.
Tomás Milián would eventually develop a name for himself as a charming rogue later in his career. He was the go-to anti-hero clown for many Zapata and other western satires like Sergio Sollima’s Run, Man, Run! and Corbucci’s Vamos a Matar, Compañeros, and starred in a series of popular ‘poliziotteschi’ (Italian crime) flicks throughout the ‘70s. At the time of Django Kill’s release, Milián had started developing his loveable scoundrel act with Sollima’s The Big Gundown, but still appeared comfortable acting in darker roles like this one. He also began to take his regular place as a torture victim in his period work, including Lucio Fulci’s Beatrice Cenci, and Sollima’s The Big Gundown and Run, Man, Run! (he finally got to do a little torturing himself in Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse). The ritual torture of the hero/antihero was a regular spaghetti practice, beginning somewhere around Fistful of Dollars. This usually occurred as part of a third act crisis and rather blatantly paints the hero/antihero as a martyr/Jesus analogue (the Jesus analogue is particularly blatant here). Following Corbucci’s original Django, most pretenses were dropped and spaghetti heroes regularly found themselves literally crucified (the hero’s crucifixion became the central image for Enzo G. Castellari’s Johnny Hamlet). Milián’s crucifixion in Django Kill is almost lost in a sea of pain and depravity, but manages to standout as one of the subgenre’s most memorable ‘hang-ups.’ There’s something genuinely haunting about Milián’s character’s emotional emptiness. This is largely due to the actor’s methodical performance, which is obviously comparable to the more famous spaghetti heroes of few words like Eastwood (who’s usually defined by an unspoken invincibility) and Franco Nero (who’s often defined by his underlying frailty).
Django Kill was originally ceased by the Italian censors when released and re-released, shorn of 22-minutes. Later, it was cut even further by an estimated 30-minutes for release in the UK and US, and remains particularly controversial not only for its brutality (the shock of which has definitely dulled over the decades), but because of its almost malevolent moral ambiguity and a particularly bizarre semi-subplot involving homosexual rapist bandits – three years before James Dickey wrote a similarly disturbing scene for Deliverance. This sequence more or less halts the already listless plot, which might imply it held some kind of subtextual importance, but I’m not sure any of the atrocities on display hold any deeper meaning outside of Questi’s goal of merging the popular western tropes with uncomfortable and unexpected psychological horror elements. There is a heavy-handed morality to the greed displayed by characters, but it’s not particularly meaningful. The impression of the scene doesn’t seem to be particularly judgmental either. It’s not about the fact that the bandits are gay (they really aren’t), it’s about the torture and humiliation of gang rape and the dread that precedes it (the rape, by the way, happens off-screen). Other bits of largely subtextless violence that go beyond the usual spaghetti western expectations include: a first-act firing squad mass murder, point-blank gunshots to various heads, dragging and hanging sequences that don’t cut away from the pain of the act, an incredibly bloody scalping, the aforementioned crucifixion scene (which includes some not particularly frightening ‘vampire’ bats and iguanas), a man taking molten gold to the face and a particularly harrowing scene where the townspeople greedily tear into a living man’s chest to retrieve golden bullets.
Curiously, Blue Underground has used the same wording on the back of both their original DVD and this Blu-ray releases, stating that both transfers are ‘created from original Italian negative materials.’ I’m going to give the studio the hard-earned benefit of the doubt here and assume that this means they worked from the original negative in both cases and aren’t simply presenting an uncompressed version of their SD release. My eyes tell me my assumption is correct and I can find little reason to complain about the quality of this new 1080p, 2.35:1 (with slightly more information than the DVD on all sides) transfer. Detail levels are noticeably sharper all-around. The extreme close-ups look the best overall, but there’s also quite a bit in the way of complex background textures that are mushy on the DVD. I do notice some digital artefacts that may point to unnecessary DNR enhancement (some of these sweaty faces are a bit waxy) and others that may point to the same CRT scanning issues that have tickled other Blue Underground releases, but these are minor disturbances. There is a suspicious lack of film grain overall, but fuzzy bits usually come out of focus pulling, rather than obvious digital smoothing-over. Previously troubling non-digital artefacts, specifically tracking lines, have been eradicated, leaving only a handful of dirty spots to mar the experience. Even more noticeable than the detail increase is the vibrancy and major improvements in overall contrast levels. The DVD release has a particularly yellow tint, which this release ‘corrects’ with a solid bump in reds, which warms things up and creates better hue variance. Blues look particularly strong and consistent as well, both in terms of poppier contrasts and a last-act night scene that is entirely gelled in the hue. The deeper and sharper black levels outmatch the DVD’s muddied dark edges easily (though the crushed quality of the blacks might put off some fans), but the pumped up whites threaten to blow out some of the brighter sequences (some shots are intentionally blown out to create the illusion of a dream state).
As per the usual Blue Underground western treatment this disc features both the English and Italian dubs of the film and both are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound. And as in the case of many of the studio’s Italian releases, there was no English audio recorded for some of the scenes that were never released on an English language print. The quality of the sound of both tracks is generally comparable to the original DVD release and it carries all the usual shortcomings that go along with old, entirely post-dubbed tracks (remember, these films are shot without sound and feature international casts speaking at each other in their native languages, so there isn’t really a ‘definitive’ dub choice). The one major advantage to the uncompressed state of the audio is that the highest volume levels, usually a particularly loud shout or gunshot, there’s little in the way of distortion, but otherwise there’s really not much difference between these and their Dolby Digital counterparts. Sound effects are set to the usual spaghetti western minimum, only cropping up when entirely necessary, but they aren’t quite as flat at expected, especially on the English track, which is the better of the two. I wouldn’t call either track ‘natural,’ but there’s definitely a warmer texture to the foley work (though the Italian track does have the edge in volume). Ivan Vandor isn’t among the more famous or celebrated Italian composers, but does an awfully good job impersonating the Ennio Morricone standard while still maintaining a particular flavour of music in this score. There’s really only one major theme (which actually reminds me more of Riz Ortolani’s galloping guitar theme to Tonino Valerii’s Day of Anger than any of Morricone’s tracks), but it is effectively used in different contexts, appearing heroic or tragic depending on the frame of reference.
The extras, which match those of the DVD release, begin with Django Tell! (20:40, SD), a series of interviews with Questi, Milián and co-star Ray Lovelock. The discussion mostly centers around the film’s graphic content and the fact that no one really was all that interested in making it. Questi also discusses his early documentary work a bit, Milián and Lovelock’s charms, and his supposed intellectual intentions for Django Kill (I’m still not sure I believe him), while Milian mostly talks about how weird Questi was and Lovelock, who hadn’t appeared in a film before, recalls only vague details (even though his character is gang raped). Other extras include the film’s stylistic trailer in HD and a still and poster gallery.
Once again, Django Kill…If You Live, Shoot! is not the best place for spaghetti western newbies to start with the genre, but it belongs a bit further down any must-see list and will probably please discerning horror fans as well. Blue Underground has done their usual bang-up job with this 1080p Blu-ray restoration, but didn’t find anything new to add in terms of extra material, which is a slight bummer. I highly recommend this release, but only to those that know precisely what they’re getting into. While you’re at it, try to find yourself a copy of Giulio Questi’s giallo, Death Laid an Egg. It’s one of the better gialli not yet available on US DVD or Blu-ray.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and DVD releases and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the Blue Underground Blu-ray screen-caps.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 3rd July 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono English and Italian
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Django Tell!, Trailer, Poster and Still Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Giulio Questi
Cast: Tomás Milián, Ray Lovelock, Marilu Tolo, Roberto Camardiel
Genre: Horror and Western
Length: 117 minutes
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