And God Said to Cain... Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: July 27, 2021 (with the Vengeance Trails set)
Audio: Italian and English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 100:12
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Arrow’s Vengeance Trails four movie set, which also includes Massacre Time (Italian: Le colt cantarono la morte e fu... tempo di massacro; aka: The Brute and the Beast, 1966), My Name is Pecos (Italian: Due once di piombo, 1966), and Bandidos (Italian: Crepa tu... che vivo, 1967).
Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski) has spent the last decade in a prison work camp for a crime he didn’t commit. Upon his release, he immediately sets out to wreak vengeance on the men who framed him. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Parallel to the spaghetti westerns’ rise to prominence, filmmakers were steadily developing an Italian-flavored twist on the new wave of Gothic horror films being produced by American and British companies during the early 1960s. Expectedly, the two genres occasionally mingled – Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966) pushed the boundaries of sadistic violence, Robert Hossein’s Cemetery without Crosses (Italian: Une Corde, un Colt; aka: The Rope and the Colt, 1969) takes place in a ghostly, windswept town, Sergio Garrone’s Django the Bastard (Italina: Django il bastardo; aka: The Stranger’s Gundown, 1969) heavily implies that its main character is an undead spirit, and Giulio Questi’s Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot! (Italian: Se sei vivo spara, 1967) completely embraces horror movie aesthetics, from gore and ghosts to vampire bats.
One film that really skirted the line between western and Gothic horror in tone and imagery was Antonio Margheriti’s And God Said to Cain… (Italian: E Dio disse a Caino…, 1970). The reportedly amiable Margheriti dabbled in just about everything, but his early career was characterized by pulpy sci-fi movies, namely Assignment Outer Space (aka: Space Men, 1960) and Battle of Worlds (Italian: l pianeta degli uomini spenti, 1961), and an enduring trilogy of black & white horror films that, along with the work of Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda, set the standard for Gothic horror in Italy. These were Castle of Blood (Italian: Danza Macabra, 1963), The Virgin of Nuremberg (Italian: La vergine di Norimberga; aka: Horror Castle, 1963), and The Long Hair of Death (Italian: I Lunghi Capelli della Morte, 1964). Margheriti brings a tasteful amount of that windswept eeriness, dramatic lighting, and phantasmagorical logic to this, his second western, following a mediocre effort in 1968’s Vengeance (Italian: Joko invoca Dio... e muori, 1968). There’s even a spooky pipe organ, a secret passage in the wall, and someone is killed by a falling church bell. Casting enigmatic asshole Klaus Kinski also delivers a significant degree of Gothic credibility.
Though he was a notoriously quarrelsome, even abusive figure throughout his four-decade-long career, the early part of Kinski’s time in Italy wasn’t fraught with too much controversy. Most accounts describe him as weird and off putting, but happy enough to cash a quick paycheck that he didn’t rock the boat too much. Kinski was largely cast as the bad guy and reveled in the grotesqueness of villainy, beginning with a hunchbacked heavy in Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965). By my count, he appeared in twenty-one spaghetti westerns and, by the time he appeared in And God Said to Cain (number eleven), Kinski was arguably a bigger celebrity in Italy and Spain than he was back home in Germany (the larger his fame, the larger his temper tantrums). Margheriti – who worked with the actor again for his fourth Gothic horror film, Web of the Spider (Italian: Nella stretta morsa del ragno, 1972) – understood that Kinski’s appeal was usually in his uncanny appearance and the way he projected it, not necessarily in the way he could read lines. Besides, he was going to be dubbed in post (pretty badly, in this case) and even fellow German Werner Herzog saw the value in a mostly silent Kinski performance. It is never stated, nor implied via context clues that Gary Hamilton is an undead spirit, like Tomas Milián in Django Kill! or Anthony Steffen in Django the Bastard, but Kinski certainly acts the part and Margheriti surrounds him with the atmosphere he needs to thrive and a capable supporting cast that can fill expositional and melodramatic roles he can’t.
Despite his penchant for action and willingness to make whatever movie producers wanted him to make, Margheriti only made two of what we’ll call “traditional westerns,” including this one and Vengeance (Italian: Joko invoca Dio... e muori, 1968). His other two cowboy movies were fusions of westerns and other popular exploitation genres. Blood Money (Italian: El karate el Colt y el impostor; aka: The Stranger and the Gunfighter, 1974) paired spaghetti western superstar Lee Van Cleef with a Shaw Brothers kung-fu superstar Lieh Lo, and Take a Hard Ride (1975) paired Van Cleef with blaxploitation superstars Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, and, in a shameless attempt to continue courting kung-fu fans, Black martial artist Jim Kelly. And God Said to Cain sits right in the middle of his filmography, between those early, groundbreaking sci-fi and horror films and the micro-budgeted rip-offs of popular Hollywood action adventures that led contemporary critics to unfairly label him a hack. It is the best of both worlds, representing the Margheriti’s creative and commercial impulses and, as such, is one of his best films.
I leave you with a word on the film’s labyrinthine connections to similar Euro-westerns. In his book, 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western (Kamera Books, 2009), filmmaker Alex Cox was researching the suspicious similarities between Django the Bastard and And God Said to Cain, when he ran into the musings of Italian critic Marco Giusti. Giusti claims that Margheriti’s film is essentially a remake of Salvatore Rosso’s A Stranger in Paso Bravo (Italian: Uno straniero a Paso Bravo, 1968), from general concept all the way down to the character’s names. Among these ‘coincidences’ was the fact that Django the Bastard star Anthony Steffen plays a pseudo-ghostly cowboy named Gary Hamilton. In his book, Spaghetti Westerns: the Good, the Bad and the Violent (McFarland Press, 2005), Thomas Weisser calls And God Said to Cain the inferior version of Tonino Cervi’s Dario Argento's Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die (Italian: Oggi a me... domani a te, 1968), though the similarities in that case extend to Carlo Lizzani’s The Hills Run Red (Italian: Un Fiume di Dollari; aka: A River of Dollars,1966) and Ferdinando Baldi’s Django, Prepare a Coffin (Italian: Preparati la bara!, 1968), and neither of those feature implied ghosts. Credited story writer Giovanni Addessi, who is also producer, has zero credits on any of the mentioned films and none of the screenwriters of the aforementioned films. It seems likely that he and Margheriti (who has a screenwriting credit) just stole their ideas outright.
The other three movies in the Vengeance Trails set were restored from the original 35mm camera negatives, which were scanned in 2K and restored by L'Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy, then additional grading was done at R3Store Studios, London. Apparently, And God Said to Cain was also restored in 2K from the original negative, but by a company called Movietime. It looks pretty much the same as the other discs, though, if I really squint, I think the Movietime scan is maybe a teeny tiny bit mushier. Otherwise, it is, again, typical of Arrow’s other ‘60s/’70s Italian genre releases, including consistent colors, tight details, and natural grain levels. Cinematographers Riccardo Pallottini & Luciano Trasatti revel in darkness and hard shadows, which wreaked havoc with fuzzy DVD transfers, where quite a few scenes appear almost completely black. The HD upgrade fixes the issue with delicate dynamic range, though doesn’t entirely fix the occasional snowiness of the deepest, darkest shadows.
And God Said to Cain comes fitted with original Italian and English dub options, each presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono. As a reminder, the Italian westerns were shot without synced sound, often with international casts who are speaking multiple languages on-set. All language tracks are dubbed and the choice as to which dub to listen to can change from film to film and is largely one of personal taste. The English dub, while featuring a particularly dubious choice for Kinski’s voice, is otherwise the best-sounding track in the entire Vengeance Trails collection. Perhaps Movietime had better materials to work from, perhaps Margheriti had more money to put into the mix – whatever the reason, this is a nicely layered track with little crowding for a single-channel mix. Dynamic range is limited by type, but things can get pretty loud without notable distortion. The Italian dub is also quite good, coming up just a hair short in terms of volume and range. The score was composed by Carlo Savina, including the main title theme, “Rocks, Blood and Sand,” sung by lyricist Don Powell.
Commentary with writer Howard Hughes – The author of Once Upon A Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers' Guide to Spaghetti Westerns (I.B. Tauris, 2006) and Spaghetti Westerns (Oldcastle Books, 2010) takes an extensive look at And God Said to Cain, remaining relatively screen-specific as he discusses the greater context of the spaghetti westerns (shared themes and images, as well as history), the careers of the cast & crew, the histories of various locations/sets, the intricacies of the plot, and Kinski’s acrid reputation. He also compares/contrasts And God Said to Cain to A Stranger in Paso Bravo, which is valuable for those of us that haven’t seen the latter.
Between Gothic and Western (19:57, HD) – A new featurette with historian/author Fabio Melelli and actress Marcella Michelangeli (interviewed separately). Melelli breaks down Margheriti’s horror pedigree, similarities to and differences from A Stranger in Paso Bravo, Kinski’s unusual turn as a hero, and the careers of the other cast members. Michelangeli, via speaker phone, chimes in with memories of working with Margheriti and Kinski.
Of Night and Wind (12:56, HD) – Actor Antonio Cantafora talks about being cast in the film, his childhood love of westerns, working with the rest of the cast, and Kinski’s mild weirdness on set and shittiness as a person outside of the film.
German promotional gallery
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.