In Lucio Fulci’s (Zombie Flesh Eaters) Massacre Time (1966), Franco Nero (Django) and George Hilton (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail) star as estranged brothers forced to band together against the powerful businessman (Nino Castelnuovo, Strip Nude for Your Killer) and his sadistic son who’ve seized control of their hometown.
For the first title in their latest box set, Vengeance Trails: 4 Classic Westerns, Arrow Video presents Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time, presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a 2K restoration performed at L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna, and scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
It's a nice looking restoration and a perfectly fine looking digital presentation in the end, though ultimately I can’t say anything all that special sticks out about it. There are a handful of minor marks and scratches scattered about but they’re few and far between and the overall image is clean. Details are sharp, Nero’s stubble sticking out just fine, as do the finer details of the landscape. Film grain is present and rendered well enough, never looking like noise.
Colours lean warmer, though don’t really go the full-blown yellow I was expecting; the film’s villain usually wears a white outfit (or more of a cream in some cases) and it still comes out a bright white, not yellow. Black levels are also strong, never coming out murky and shadow detail is solid.
It all looks perfectly fine in the end, coming out just as well as many other restorations I’ve come across for Spaghetti/Euro Westerns the last little while.
Arrow includes three audio tracks for the film: an Italian soundtrack, an international English soundtrack, and a U.S. English soundtrack. The U.S. and Italian soundtracks are both presented in single-channel PCM mono, while the international English track is presented in 2-channel PCM mono.
The international and Italian soundtracks have had more effort put into their restorations and they come off far cleaner and sharper, though with very limited range and fidelity. The Italian track can also get a little edgy in places. For the film, both soundtracks were created in post-production so each has that “dubbed” quality to them, feeling detached from the visuals with lips rarely matching what is being spoken, which is just par for the course for most Italian genre films of the time.
The U.S. soundtrack hasn’t had much effort put into its restoration by the sounds of it as it features more background noise and a far flatter sound in comparison to the others, and that may be why it’s included more as a special feature and not as a default sound option. The soundtrack presents different actors doing the dubs and I’d say their voices fit the characters a bit better. It also features slightly different dialogue (apparently it better matches the Italian dialogue, though I didn’t do a direct comparison) along with some different background sounds and music cues, which even includes music in the background of a bar setting that doesn't appear on the other soundtracks, for example. I may prefer it to the international track, and the essay around the film in the set’s included booklet also suggests it is the better dub; it’s just that the sound quality is significantly weaker.
Ultimately it will come down to personal preference.
All of the films come with their own set of features, Massacre Time starting things off with a new audio commentary featuring authors and critics C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke. The film has a few distinctions, the big one being that it was directed by Fulci, a filmmaker better known for his later giallo thrillers—where Fulci’s heart was, as the two say—leading to discussion arounf the violence in the film, referred to as Fulci’s “sadistic touches,” which all proved controversial at the time (though pretty mild by today’s standards). They of course also bring up the rise of the “Spaghetti Western” during this period, bring up Leone and Corbucci, talk about the careers of the actors around this time, cover the film’s narrative construction, and even get into Fulci’s influences and the directors this film has influenced, most notably Quentin Tarantino and his film Django Unchained. Unfortunately there are times where it feels like the two (who have done many western commentaries) may be stretching for material to cover, but they manage to keep the track going and bring up some notable trivia, even managing to work in details about an abandoned Hammer film about the Spanish Inquisition when talking about international co-productions.
Arrow also throws in a couple of interview features, including an 18-minute one with Italian film historian Fabio Melelli—popping up throughout the set—who talks about the film’s stand-out elements (including its screenwriter, Fernando Di Leo) and its importance to the sub-genre. It’s a fine overview but the commentary probably does a better job.
There is also a 50-minute segment featuring interviews with actor Franco Nero and George Hilton, the former’s discussion recorded exclusively for this edition, the latter's (who passed away last year) contribution from a 2005 interview. The interviews are edited together in a way to cover similar topics, like details around their work from this period, before getting into details about Massacre Time. Each cover moments that stood out for them, Nero claiming the whipping scene is a sequence that is one of his most memorable film experience (which is fair, as it’s a pretty brutal sequence). Hilton, who claims to have never been a fan of westerns, feels the film led to some good things, noting that Michelangelo Antonioni became interested in him after the film, though it doesn’t appear they ended up doing anything together. He claims Antonioni intended to cast him in Identification of a Woman, the role going to Tomas Milian in the end. This only stood out to me since Parke (I believe) describes Hilton in the commentary track as a “Tomas Milian on meth.”
At any rate, the lengthy feature is a strong one, though I feel I’ve been watching so many Spaghetti Westerns lately along with any respective special features that a lot of this material is repeated from some of them, Nero sharing stories he has shared before.
The disc then closes with the film’s Italian trailer and a decent-sized image gallery. The gallery is listed as a German promotional gallery, and it does consist primarily of German promotional material, but it also features several production and cast photos, along with scans of the Japanese press book. Not at all surprisingly, the German posters and lobby cards sold the film as a Django sequel/continuation, the title being (as translated by Google Translate) Django, His Hymn Book was the Colt. The set’s included booklet also features an essay on the film by author Howard Hughes, covering its cynical nature and various versions and dubs.
In all, it’s not the most in-depth set of features, but the material does a decent job covering the film’s relevance and impact.
Not a stand-out edition by any means, but it features some insightful features and a nice looking presentation.