Massacre Time Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: July 27, 2021 (with the Vengeance Trails set)
Audio: Italian, International English, and US English LPCM 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 92:12
Director: Lucio Fulci
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Arrow’s Vengeance Trails four-movie set, which also includes My Name is Pecos (Italian: Due once di piombo, 1966), Bandidos (Italian: Crepa tu... che vivo, 1967), and And God Said to Cain (Italian: E Dio disse a Caino…, 1970).
Estranged brothers Tom (Franco Nero) and Jeff Corbett (George Hilton) are forced to band together against a powerful businessman, Jason "Junior" Scott (Nino Castelnuovo), and his sadistic son, who’ve seized control of their hometown. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Among the dozens, maybe hundreds of European westerns to carry the name “Django” in their title in some capacity, there were at least 30 that claimed to be a sequel to Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film and only one, Ted Archer’s Django Strikes Again (Italian: Django 2 – Il grande ritorno, 1987), counts in any official capacity. Faux-Django sequels starring Franco Nero were especially rare, because the star skipped out on Italy for a brief stint in Hollywood (John Huston’s The Bible: In the Beginning…, 1966, and Joshua Logan’s Camelot, 1967) the second he had a hit on his hands. Before that, he had made three westerns: Ferdinando Baldi’s Texas, Adios (Italian: Texas, addio, 1966), Luigi Bazzoni’s Man, Pride and Vengeance (Italian: L'uomo, l'orgoglio, la vendetta, 1967), and Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time (Italian: Le colt cantarono la morte e fu... tempo di massacro; aka: The Brute and the Beast, 1966). Man, Pride and Vengeance is the odd film out, because it is an adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen (pub: 1845), but Texas, Adios and Massacre Time have a lot in common. Both star Nero, both were released directly after Django, both were retitled/re-released in hopes of fooling audiences into thinking they were Django sequels, and both revolve around a set of troubled cowboy brothers. They even have very similar twist endings.
Massacre Time has three things working in its favor that Texas, Adios does not – director Lucio Fulci, co-writer Fernando Di Leo, and co-star George Hilton (real name: Jorge Hill Acosta y Lara) cast against type in one of his best spaghetti western roles. Fulci’s participation is the most important element, considering that he blossomed into one of Italy’s most important cult filmmakers in the two decades following its release. Fulci directed three genuine westerns over his long career – Massacre Time, Four of the Apocalypse (Italian: I quattro dell'apocalisse, 1975), and They Died with Their Boots On (Italian: Sella d'argento; aka: Silver Saddle, 1978) – and two western-like (if Australia can have westerns, so can Canada, right?) White Fang movies (White Fang [Italian: Zanna Bianca, 1973] and Challenge of White Fang [Italian: Il ritorno di Zanna Bianca, 1974]).
Notably, Massacre Time was made/released at the beginning of the spaghetti fad, while every other one of Fulci’s westerns was released after the fad had begun to fade, to be replaced in part by the gialli thrillers that Fulci himself had ushered into popularity. Not surprisingly, this means that Massacre Time feels the least Fulci-esque of the three (or five, whichever you prefer). At the time, he had almost exclusively directed and written comedies and musicals, and, like everyone who was shooting westerns in Italy post-1964, he was hired to make the next A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964). He was doing his best to fill a new role, not exploring the type of esoteric horror and existential dread he’d be remembered for. Still, the roots of Fulci’s unhinged, shock gore id begins right here. The remnants of Fulci’s comedies are present in irony and Hilton’s toothy, faux-drunken performance, but action is the key element, to the point that the last act is more or less an extended, multi-location shoot-out. The action is well-staged, especially by early spaghetti western standards, with the horse stunts and Fulci’s gliding camera work standing out as particularly impressive. Though he did make other action films, including additional westerns with bigger budgets, a poliziottescho called Contraband (Italian: Luca il contrabbandiere, 1980) and a sci-fi adventure called The New Gladiators (Italian: I guerrieri dell'anno 2072; aka: Warriors of the Year 2072, 1984), Massacre Time is probably the closest he came to making a pure action movie and it’s all the more impressive, since it was his first real attempt.
In his book, 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western (Kamera Books, 2009/2020), author/filmmaker Alex Cox claims that Massacre Time was originally set to be a (relatively) big budget movie, but that Spanish co-producers objected to the violence in Fulci and di Leo’s script. Fulci was so adamant that the violence was necessary to make the film work, invoking the name of surrealist Antonin Artaud’s Theater of the Cruel (Théâtre de la Cruauté) for, as far as we know, the first time in his film career (Artaud’s name was later conjured by Fulci to describe his plotless gothic horrors, like The Beyond [Italian: ...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà; aka: Seven Doors of Death, 1981]). Supposedly, this caused the Spaniards to drop out of the project and Massacre Time was shot on the cheap in order to maintain Fulci’s gruesome vision.
Massacre Time may have been better known for its violence, had it been released before Django, which changed the trajectory of spaghetti westerns with a single sequence, in which a man is force-fed his own ear. Fulci doesn’t go gonzo, but he does begin exploring torture, specifically flogging and crucifixion, in a preview of more graphic scenes shot for The Beyond and Don’t Torture a Duckling (Italian: Non si Sevizia un Paperino; aka: The Long Night of Exorcism, 1972). Fulci considered himself a radical leftist and even belonged to the Italian Communist Party when he was younger, but, like most of his movies, Massacre Time doesn’t have an aggressive political identity, at least nothing on the level of the Zapata westerns that spawned the same year (1966). The anti-aristocratic messaging fits the classic American western model, which tended to espouse the virtue of personal freedom (at the expense of the indigenous population, of course), minus any specific political ideology. However, Fulci did sometimes claim that the violence in his films represented his anti-fascist and anti-Catholic beliefs, so it’s not hard to imagine that Massacre Time’s bloodier than average gunshot wounds, brutal bullwhipping, and crucifixion held deeper meaning, hence the director refusing to compromise with the Spanish co-producers.
As a writer, Fernando di Leo was one of the Italian westerns’ most important figures. He worked on Sergio Leone’s first two westerns, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More (Italy: Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965), Duccio Tessari’s The Return of Ringo (Italian: Il ritorno di Ringo, 1965), Corbucci’s Navajo Joe (1966), and Florestano Vancini’s Long Days of Vengeance (Italian: I lunghi giorni della vendetta, 1967), among others, before breaking out as a writer/director of poliziotteschi movies, such as Caliber 9 (Italian: Milano calibro 9, 1972) and Shoot First, Die Later (Italian: Il poliziotto è marcio, 1974). Massacre Time is pretty light on new ideas – di Leo is practically Mad-Libbing his way through his Fistful of Dollars and Return of Ringo scripts, recycling ideas that he’d recycle again after this – but the story and characters are polished enough to stand out from the imitators that were already reusing his old material, only a couple of years into the fad. Di Leo’s work wasn’t as graphic as Fulci's, but it certainly was known for being violent, macho, and (as Alex Cox amusingly notes) it rarely features women in lead or supporting roles. As such, they also tend to be misogynistic at their worst, vaguely homoerotic at their best (it is heavily implied that the villains had previously engaged in an incestuous relationship). During an interview found in Troy Howarth’s book, Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films (Midnight Marquee Press, Inc., 2015), di Leo claims that the violence wasn’t all Fulci’s doing and that his original screenplay was plenty bloody all on its own. While flogging and crucifixion became future Fulci trademarks, they are part of the spaghetti western genre’s popular tradition of turning their antiheroes into Christ figures through torture – something that began with A Fistful of Dollars and was solidified with Django. Still, the grueling length of the whipping scene and the fact that it ends on a sarcastic joke (the funniest in the entire movie) feels like pure, uncut Fulci. Following Massacre Time, Fulci made another handful of comedies and worked on the script for Riccardo Freda’s pre-Argento giallo, Double Face (Italian: A doppia faccia; German: Das Gesicht im Dunkeln, 1969), before making his first thriller as director, 1969’s Perversion Story (Italian: Una Sull'altra; aka: One on Top of the Other, 1969). That same year, Fulci directed the bleak and bloody historical drama Beatrice Cenci (aka: The Conspiracy of Torture) and solidified his auteurist ethos.
Massacre Time, like many Italian westerns, has an iffy copyright history and is sorta a public domain film. This means that it is somewhat easy to find on US DVD, but, in almost every case, the transfer is non-anamorphic and fuzzy. The one exception comes from indie label Wild East Productions, who put together a respectable, anamorphic special edition as part of their Spaghetti Western Collection. The first Blu-ray was finally released in Germany via Explosive Media last November (2020). I was about to import it when Arrow announced that they were including the film with their Vengeance Trails collection, so I don’t have the Explosive disc on hand to do a direct comparison. This review will only pertain to Arrow’s 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer.
The original 35mm camera negatives were scanned in 2K and restored by L'Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy, then additional grading was done at R3Store Studios, London. This follows the same m.o. of most of Arrow’s Italian genre release and the results are typical, making for a strong HD image that doesn’t whitewash (digital-wash?) the inherent imperfections of the source material. Grain levels appear accurate with only minor CRT sheen, details are tight, but remain natural, instead of over-sharpened, patterns are tidy, and black crush is minimal (though not entirely absent). The colors are a brighter and more consistent version of what was seen on those budget label DVDs, which is good, because the one prevalent issue with some of Arrow’s Italian transfers is over-yellowing (this goes for Blue Underground and Kino as well).
Massacre Time is presented with three audio options, all of which are remastered from the optical sound negatives. 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. This is a special case, however, because Massacre Time was dubbed in English twice, leaving us with an Italian dub, an international English dub, and a US specific English dub. Funnily enough, I have Italian and US DVDs and never thought to notice that they featured different English dubs. Anyway, the Italian dub is the best this time around, at least in terms of sound quality. It’s considerably louder, features considerably stronger bass, and slightly more dynamic range than the next best-sounding track, the international English dub, which is nevertheless still clean and impressive in its own right. The American dub is much flatter than the other two, is missing loads of sound effects (especially environmental/incidental noises), and has its share of fuzzy moments. Most of the lead cast appears to have been speaking English on set, but Nero was not in the habit of dubbing his own performances yet at this point in his career. Neither English track quite matches his face, but the situation isn’t as dire as what is heard in Texas, Adios (funnily enough, that film’s Nero performer is dubbing George Hilton on this film’s international English track). Composer Lallo Gori does a nice job navigating the differences between the hip rock ‘n roll sound of Ennio Morricone’s Fistful of Dollars music and a more traditional Hollywood western score. The title song, “Back Home, Someday (A Man Alone),” was written by Sergio Bardotti and Sergio Endrigo with lyrics by Fulci himself and had apparently been a pretty big hit in Japan.
Commentary with author/journalists/filmmaker C. Courtney Joyner (also the screenwriter of From a Whisper to a Scream , Prison , and Doctor Mordrid ) and True West Magazine contributor/screenwriter Henry Parke – Joyner and Parke return for another Arrow spaghetti western commentary track. The two chat about the rumors that the Spanish objected to the violence and production was moved to Italy, the director’s storied career and how Massacre Time fits with the later horror films, the careers of the cast & crew, connections to Raoul Walsh’s The Pursued (1947) and Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959), and history of journeyman directors in Italy.
Two Men Alone (49:44, HD) – A new interview with actor Franco Nero augmented by archival interview footage with George Hilton. Discussion includes the physically grueling nature of shooting the film, each actor’s experience with horse riding and shooting, meeting Sergio Leone, Fulci’s direction and reputation (Nero remembers him as pleasantly gruff, Hilton as difficult, but both agree that he was really smart), the soundtrack, and each actor’s later career (Nero goes on a long tangent about his gigs in America).
The Era of Violence (18:32, HD) – Film historian and author Fabio Melelli quickly breaks down Fulci’s pre-Massacre Time work, before analyzing the film’s story, characters, performances, music (specifically the opening title song), and the way it connections to other films, including Fulci’s own horror movies.
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.