Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns
In the mid-1960s, the runaway success of Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy gave rise to an explosion of similar productions as filmmakers by the dozen sought to capitalize on this new, uniquely Italian take on the western, characterized by their deeply cynical outlook, morally compromised antiheroes and unflinching depictions savage violence. This specially curated selection gathers together four outstanding examples of the genre from the height of its popularity, all centered around a theme of revenge. 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. In Maurizio Lucidi’s (The Sicilian Cross) My Name is Pecos (1966), Robert Woods (Johnny Colt) stars as the eponymous Mexican gunslinger, returning to Houston to settle a long-standing score against the racist gang boss (Pier Paolo Capponi, The Cat O’ Nine Tails) who wiped out his entire family. In Massimo Dallamano’s (What Have You Done to Solange?) Bandidos (1967), Enrico Maria Salerno (Savage Three) plays a former top marksman who, years after being maimed by a former protégé (Venantino Venantini, City of the Living Dead), teams up with a fresh apprentice (Terry Jenkins, Paint Your Wagon) to get his revenge against the man who betrayed him. Finally, in Antonio Margheriti’s (Cannibal Apocalypse) And God Said to Cain (1970), the inimitable Klaus Kinski (Double Face) stars as a man who has spent the last decade in a prison work camp for a crime he didn’t commit and who, upon his release, immediately sets out to wreak vengeance on the men who framed him. Featuring a wealth of key Euro cult talent both behind and in front of the camera, Arrow Video is proud to present these four classic westerns in sparkling high definition restorations, three o
For their latest western box set, Arrow Video presents four tales of revenge in the aptly titled Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns. The set includes, over four dual-layer discs, Lucio Fulci's Massacre Time, Maurizio Lucidi's My Name is Pecos, Massimo Dallamano's Bandidos, and Antonio Margheriti's And God Said to Cain. All four films are presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and given 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes. Arrow's notes indicate they received the high-def master for And God Said to Cain from the rights holder, while the other three films have all received new 2K restorations from L'Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna.
On the whole the presentations are all pretty much the same quality wise, even And God Said to Cain, despite coming from a different restoration house. All four films have a nice film-like quality, rendering the heavy-yet-fine grain structure cleanly, noise never being an issue. The finer details come out, whether it be pebbles found the in long shots of the numerous desert landscapes or the stubble that is found on every protagonist's face in close-up. Well, everyone's but Klaus Kinski's face.
Arrow mentions they did some colour correction on some of the titles, and I suspect they masters may have been warmer originally, meaning they leaned more of a yellow. There's some evidence of this in the blacks at times, but past that the colours—which still lean warm as I expect they would—are saturated decently, with some nice looking blues and reds scattered about, and whites still looking white. Black levels are decent overall, but there are times where they can eat up shadow detail a bit, flattening the image. And God Said to Cain, which has more in common with a horror film, is probably the darkest of the four, but it comes out looking good, all sequences still easy to see.
The restorations have also been quite thorough, and at worst only some minor marks and small scratches remain across all of the presentations. When all is said and done, these films, as presented here, are probably the cleanest they've ever been, at least on video.
Nothing admittedly sticks out as "special," but all four have gone under some impressive restorations and they are all encoded beautifully here by Arrow.
All four films comes with both English and Italian soundtracks. Bandidos' soundtracks are presented in DTS-HD MA 1.0 monaural, while most of the other soundtracks are presented in lossless PCM 1.0 monaural. For whatever reason, Massacre Time's international English track is presented in 2-channel mono. Massacre Time also comes with an alternate English dub (1.0 PCM), which is the U.S. dub, apparently closer to the original Italian dialogue.
The U.S. dub for Massacre Time doesn't sound to have gone through the same efforts as the other audio tracks found throughout the rest of the set: the audio is much flatter and more distorted, with some pops and such coming up every so often. The track is actually presented as a special feature and not one of the default sound options, and I wonder if the quality is why that is the case.
Other than Massacre Time's U.S. dub, all of the tracks are about the same in quality, sounding decent at best. They can come off a bit flat while music and some effects can sound distorted, but they're still all pretty clean, no heavy damage present thanks to restoration efforts. Since most Italian films of the time dubbed dialogue during post-production, whichever language viewers choose will come down to personal preference: lips rarely synch with spoken words, and they all have a detached feel from the visuals.
Arrow's set spreads some notable supplementary material across all four discs, with each film even receiving its own exclusive commentary. C. Courtney Joyner provides a track for both Massacre Time and My Name is Pecos, accompanied by fellow author and critic Henry Parke on the former and Pecos himself, Robert Woods, on the latter. Both are good but I caught myself enjoying his pairing with Woods more, the actor sharing stories of his time working in Italy. Kat Ellinger ends up providing a commentary for Bandidos, which goes the surprising route of focussing on that film's director, former Leone cinematographer and future giallo director Massimo Dallamano, who she considers to be a severely underrated director. It's a very passionate and well researched look at the man's work with a good appreciation for the film itself.
Author Howard Hughes' track for And God Said to Cain ends up being the driest of the four tracks, sometimes feeling to pad things out, best felt when the track will go down the route of simply going through filmographies. This proved to be a bit disappointing because Hughes has also provided essays in the set's included booklet, which not only features one general piece around the themes of revenge commonly found in Spaghetti Westerns (mentioning several other titles not in this set), but also feature lengthy and well-researched writings on each film in the set. I enjoyed his essays quite a bit but sadly found his commentary track to be the least engaging of the four.
Also a bit of a mixed bag is Italian film historian Fabio Melelli's contributions. He pops in throughout the supplements to talk about each film, touching on their productions, stories, noteworthy aspects, and their importance (where appropriate) to the genre. Sadly, most of his interviews are just him sitting there explaining, and it can feel like he's just reiterating the films a good amount of the time, but he does have some interesting things to say. For two of segments he ends up getting some guest participants (at least through previously recorded interviews) in cinematographer Franco Villa for My Name is Pecos and actor Marcella Michelangeli for And God Said to Cain.
Other interviews with various members of the cast and crew are also scattered about. A new interview with actor Franco Nero is edited with an older interview with actor George Hilton for Massacre Time, the two going over their careers around the time period of the film. Franco does repeat some stories I've come across in other interviews with him (like Arrow's recent Django) but I guess that is to be expected. Actors Luigi Montefiore and Lucia Modugno get their own interviews on the My Name is Pecos disc, Modugno sharing an unfortunate story about how the film's director cut down her role. Bandidos presents an interview with actor Gino Barbacane, who appears in three of the films in this set, as well as one with assistant director Luigi Perelli. An interview with actor Antonio Catafora then appears alongside And God Said to Cain, Catafora questioning the blonde wig (or whatever that was) he had to wear and recalling what it was like working with Kinski.
All of the films then come with image galleries that focus on German promotional material, Massacre Time's gallery also featuring a Japanese press book (the German promotional material for that film also sold the film as a Django film). Massacre Time and My Name is Pecos also come with trailers, while Bandidos also receives an alternate end title sequence; the credits play over black in this version. Along with the booklet, the set also feature a double-sided fold-out poster, featuring artwork for Massacre Time on one side and Bandidos on the other. Each disc is packaged in an individual slim Blu-ray case with reversible cover art, and then all held in a solid cardboard sleeve.
The features do peter out a bit as you go through the set, but there is some good material, the Joyner and Ellinger commentary tracks probably being the stand-outs.
Arrow's box set gathers together a fun group of Spaghetti Westerns, throws in some solid supplementary material, and gives each film a nice looking presentation. For anyone into the sub-genre or Italian genre films in general, this nicely packaged set is a no-brainer.