Tragedy strikes as two ruthless brothers kidnap a bride during her wedding. Hurt and angry, H.H. Hart (Tony Anthony) begins his quest to find the love he lost and take vengeance upon the wicked. (From MVD’s official synopsis)
It’s difficult to mark the definitive end of Italy’s spaghetti western cycle, because there were a number of stragglers. Some would consider the satirical Terence Hill & Bud Spencer comedy westerns the beginning of the end or even a completely different subset of films. Some would say that Sergio Leone and Tonino Valerii capped off the series with their satire of the satires, My Name is Nobody (Italian: Il mio nome è Nessuno, 1973), but this discounts the impact of Enzo G. Castellari’s Keoma (1976) and Sergio Martino’s Mannaja (aka: A Man Called Blade, 1977). Me, I’d designate Ferdinando Baldi’s Comin’ At Ya! as the most logical end-point for the movement. Besides its late date release (1981), there’s little beyond Baldi’s nationality that marks it as a particularly Italian western. Comin’ At Ya! was an international hit at a time when westerns were not making a lot of money stateside – especially not westerns made in other countries. So why was it popular? Because it was shot using a slightly new 3D stereoscopic process (from what I understand, the projection process made the difference). For better or worse, its popularity was tied to its gimmick and Comin’ At Ya! became the harbinger for a brief resurgence of 3D movies, including Joe Alves’ Jaws 3-D (1983), Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Richard Fleischer’s Amityville 3-D (aka: Amityville III: The Demon, 1983), and Baldi’s own Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983).
Comin’ At Ya! is so tied to the 3D gimmick that its actual quality rarely comes up. Well, its heritage is certainly interesting. Star/writer Tony Anthony entered the spaghetti western business with a series of movies where he played a Man with No Name rip-off named The Stranger. Though the first film, Luigi Vanzi’s A Stranger in Town (Italian: Un Dollaro tra I Denti; aka: A Dollar Between the Teeth, 1967), was an unassuming Django cash-in, but the series steadily went off the rails, starting with Vanzi’s spoofish The Stranger Returns (Italian: Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola: aka: A Man, a Horse, a Gun, & Shoot First, Laugh Last, 1967). In the third film, A Stranger in Japan (aka: The Silent Stranger, 1968), the Stranger travels to Edo era Japan, marking the first of many times a spaghetti western was aligned so literally with its samurai/chanbara roots (recall that Fistful of Dollars was an adaptation of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo). Anthony and Vanzi then stopped collaborating after A Stranger in Japan and the star/co-writer of the franchise turned to spaghetti western veteran Ferdinando Baldi, director of Texas, Adios (Italian: Texas Addio, 1966) and Django, Prepare a Coffin (Italian: Preparati la Bara!, 1968), to make a fourth semi-Stranger movie, Get Mean (aka: Beat a Dead Horse and Time Breaker, 1975). Get Mean did away with the decorum of genre normalcy and pitted the Stranger against Vikings, Moors, and barbarians in Spain.
Comin At Ya! isn’t technically a Stranger movie, as Anthony plays a guy named H.H. Hart, but it’s certainly a spiritual follow-up to Get Mean. Baldi recycles set pieces and cinegraphic techniques, building his way to a more extreme version of Get Mean’s ‘everything explodes’ climax. On top of this, he grabs hold of the 3D gimmick with both hands and shakes it for everything it’s worth – shoving every object imaginable into the lens in a futile attempt to stab the audiences’ eyes out (the opening credits are a ridiculous cavalcade if there ever was one). Not content to end there, he also experiments with color formats by desaturating the footage to black & white – at first, for dramatic and graphic impact, as a single hue will burst out of the greyness – like what Robert Rodriguez did with the Sin City movies, but without the benefit of digital technology. The results are actually quite impressive and, given the excessive slow motion and utter lack of dialogue for long, long stretches of time, Comin’ At Ya! sometimes evokes the serious finesse of an art film. Normally, I’d dismiss a nearly five minute long scene of women being attacked by rubbery bats (you can see the fishing lines holding them up) as exploitation film, but in the capable hands of Baldi and cinematographer Fernando Arribas, this extended gimmick turns it into a B-grade Alejandro Jodorowsky movie. Even without the benefit of viewing the film in 3D (more on that in the Video section), I find myself fascinated by the prospect that a film this surreal inspired a string of major studio franchise cash-ins.
Baldi’s direction is superb throughout and is sometimes even aided by the fact that Anthony half-assed his side of the deal, both in terms of performances (the Stranger was never super-expressive, but Hart is lacking even his simple charms) and writing. There’s so little actual narrative content that the viewer’s mind is driven to create its own thematic significance and the quality of the film droops anytime it breaks from the pattern. The dialogue is made up exclusively of hackneyed platitudes and Anthony doesn’t have the screen presence to deliver them like Clint Eastwood or Franco Nero. I suppose that Anthony was the force behind getting these movies made (rumor even has it that he helped develop the lenses for projection, but who knows if that isn’t movie-selling hullaballoo) and perhaps didn’t have time to knock out an original story. Instead, he more or less recycled his script for his first Baldi collaboration, Blindman (1971). Blindman was based on the true story of Luis Alcante and was the second of two spaghettis that were inspired by the long-running blind samurai-themed Zatoichi series, following Corbucci’s Minnesota Clay (1964). Hart isn’t blind and has a more relatable personal reason to be involved in the rescue of the enslaved prostitutes (the baddies kidnap his wife at the altar in a scene very reminiscent of Tarantino’s Kill Bill), but the basic plot beats are awfully similar. To his credit, there is a melancholy streak throughout Comin’ At Ya!’s more exploitative white slavery elements that sometimes feel like reparations for Blindman’s particularly distasteful misogynistic streak. Anthony still clearly revels in torturing women in his movies, but, this time, it is the villains doing it.
Comin’ At Ya! was released on VHS and DVD in anaglyph (red/blue) 3D, but this Blu-ray debut is a different story. It was first restored (by Anthony himself and Tom Stern) for its 30th Anniversary in 2011; at which time it was scanned from the original polarized ‘over-and-under’ print and converted to modern RealD technology. It was reportedly the first of its kind and was followed by more eminent films, like the ones mentioned above. That transfer is presented here alongside a 2D, 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer. I’m generally not a fan of modern 3D and have zero interest in watching older movies post-converted into the format, but I do regret not investing in a 3D television set when I’m confronted with the possibility of seeing an original 3D movie, like Dial M for Murder, House of Wax, or Creature from the Black Lagoon, revamped for modern digital 3D. I especially regret it this time, because I find myself reviewing a Blu-ray that exists almost entirely for the sake of the home 3D experience. So, unfortunately, this review only pertains to the 2D version.
The key issue here is clarity and is hard to judge clarity when watching a two-dimensional version of a movie that was designed for analogue 3D viewing. Essentially, I am reviewing one-half of the image (based on the placement of objects, I’m guessing that we’re looking at what is meant to appear in the left eye). The image can appear quite blurry at times and wide-angle backgrounds are almost always soft. There’s no doubting the effort put into the remaster – elements tend to be well separated, foreground textures/lines are tight, and the complex compositions are busy without edge enhancements – but the results might not match viewer expectations. Even what appears to be DNR effects are likely the result of blurring in the format. Colors are consistent and moderately vibrant, despite the fact that the transfer is a little too dark (aside from the scenes where Baldi messes with exposures and color, such as a scene where a building burns down around Hart or the aforementioned single-color highlight shots). There are issues with noise and blocking and I’m not sure how much of this is due to condition and how much is a compression problem. Print damage artifacts are present throughout, but not distracting.
There are two audio options on this disc – the original stereo and a 5.1 remix of that stereo. Both tracks are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio sound. The sound designers take advantage of the fact that the footage was shot without audio to play up the minimal dialogue and match the stereoscopic imagery with stereophonic noise. Stuff is constantly streaming through the channels and even basic aural elements, like dialogue and incidental effects, create echo and reverb. The remix remains pretty true to the source sound, so choosing between the tracks will mostly depend on the viewer’s taste for minor discrepancies. I suppose that the stereo track has a slight edge, because it has a more consistent volume. The score was written by Carlo Savina, an Italian composer often remembered as the musical director of The Godfather (1972), but who otherwise had a significant spaghetti western resume, including Sergio Corbucci’s Johnny Oro (aka: Ringo and His Golden Pistol, 1966), Marino Girolami’s Between God, the Devil, and a Winchester (Italian: Anche nel west c'era una volta Dio, 1968), and Antonio Margheriti’s sublime And God Said to Cain (Italian: E Dio disse a Caino, 1970). Despite the film’s only vaguely spaghetti-fied imagery, Savina delves full-bore into Ennio Morricone-esque harmonica, pulsing strings, and a mournful female chorus. The music is rich and smooth on both tracks.
A promotional montage of the film’s wilder 3D moments, much of them altered with additional color-correction techniques.
The images on this page are taken from the BD (and the MGM BD for the sliders) and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.