Friday, January 11, 2013

Django Month: Django Kill, If You Live, Shoot! (1967)

Django Kill, If You Live, Shoot! is quite possibly one of the strangest westerns I've ever seen. Like most of the other Django "sequels" it has very little to do with Corbucci's original film. There's a few similar motifs, such as gold heists going wrong and characters being left for dead managing to survive, but for the most part it is it's own film. The main character isn't even referred to as Django, he's simply "the Stranger". In fact, the producers only stuck the 'Django Kill' part of the title on to the film a few weeks before it was released in an effort to drum up more public interest. They needn't have bothered because actually the shocking and surreal violence in the film gained it much more publicity than expected. A week after its release an Italian court forced the producers to take it out of cinemas and cut 22 minutes. And then later when it was released in the UK and States they cut even more!

The plot begins eerily with the Stranger (played by Tomas Milian, looking a lot like C Thomas Howell and dressing like Han Solo) crawling out of a shallow grave where he recuperates with two Native Americans. We quickly learn through flashbacks that the Stranger was part of a gang (a mixture of Americans and Mexicans) who pulled off a gold heist from the US Army. Instead of splitting the gold equally the Americans, led by a man called Oaks, decide to murder the Mexicans and keep it all for themselves. So the Stranger survives and heads to the nearest town, which the Native Americans call "The Unhappy Place". Here he runs into the unsuspecting Oaks and his men but this time, with the help of the townsfolk, he manages to kill them all. Sounds like your run of the mill western plot but this is only the first 25 minutes. The rest of the nearly two hour film goes off in some very bizarre directions. The townsfolk decide to hide the gold and the film introduces a new antagonist, Mr Sorrow, a larger than life bandit who rides with a group of black clad (and heavily implied gay) cowboys. And these guys will do anything to get their hands on the hidden gold including raping the Saloon owner's son (which forces him to commit suicide), scalping Native Americans and torturing the Stranger on a crucifix with hungry vampire bats!

This is a deeply strange film. It's not incomprehensible - the film is never confusing - it just veers off in so many odd directions that it's difficult to get a bead on it. I enjoyed it for the most part. It's got an infectious energy to it and I'm a big fan of offbeat westerns. Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man and Jan Kouen's Blueberry are two of my favourite films. The fact that the film starts off like a fairly traditional western sort of lulls you into a false sense of security - which is cleverly mirrored by Oaks' gang slowly realising "The Unhappy Place" is far from a normal town when they witness the townsfolk casually stepping on children's necks. Then, slowly, the film gets weirder and more experimental like some sort of feverish nightmare.

I think a lot of the strangeness is down to the fact the makers were working on a metaphorical rather than literal level most of the time. The film is loaded with political overtones. The American characters are universally portrayed as twisted and evil, the relentless and disgusting pursuit of gold by everyone (more on that later) is a heavy handed comment on capitalism and the black clad gang are (according to the director) analogues for Mussolini's Fascist Blackshirts. I think the makers were also trying to deconstruct the western genre itself. The Stranger is a very tortured lead character both figuratively and literally. Rather than being a taciturn anti-hero, the Stranger is a weary and confused character who struggles to make sense of the violence happening around him. There's little catharsis when he rides off into the sunset at the end.

The violence in the film is some of the most disturbing I've seen - I can see why, at the time, the censors were shocked. Again, like Django the Bastard, it's reminiscent at times of an gothic horror movie only this time there's much worse fates for the characters than just getting shot. For example, the Stranger is given gold bullets by the Native Americans and so when he shoots someone, the townsfolk instinctively tear open the dead body to retrieve the bullets - possibly foreshadowing the zombie films of Fulci et al. And the film ends on a truly grotesque scene in which a man dies after accidentally covering himself in molten gold inside a burning house! By far, the most disturbing element has to be the rape of Evan, the saloon owner's son (played by Ray Lovelock who would go on to star in the excellent Italian zombie film The Dead at the Manchester Morgue). It happens off screen but the way it's implied - by the black clad cowboys feasting on a huge piece of meat before hungrily turning their eyes on Evan is really creepy.

The film is actually really well shot, acted and edited. The one thing that lets it down is the very cheap town set that they use that looks like its going to fall down any second. The score by Ivan Vandor is especially good and perfectly mirrors the film's descent into madness. It starts off with a very baroque Morricone-esque sound but halfway through it starts to degenerate until by the end it sounds like some child playing random out-of-tune piano chords. The only major problem with the film is that it feels quite static after the first half hour and the amount of plot involved doesn't really justify its two hour running time. It could have quite easily been cut to 90 minutes AND managed to keep all the surreal and horrific scenes. All in all though, the film’s decision to keep twisting the classic western tropes in new and unusual direction make it a must watch. But I will say that it might be of more interest to lovers of Italian horror films more than lovers of westerns.

Fun fact: According to this film "You Chiseler!" is a legitimate insult!

GRADE: B+

5 comments:

  1. Good job on the review. I actually haven't seen a Django movie yet. And I've never seen a title quite like that before!

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  2. Yeah, this film is a one of kind in many senses. You should definitely check out the original Django (1966) - it's pretty influential.

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  3. Shit man, you sold me. This sounds amazing and right up my alley. Really great review!

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  4. Thanks Jason! Good to see you back man. Yeah, definitely check out this film if you get a chance.

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