Matalo! Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: July 25, 2023 (as part of the Blood Money collection)
Audio: Italian and English LPCM 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 94:15
Director: Cesare Canevari
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Arrow’s Blood Money: Four Western Classics Vol. 2 four-movie collection, which also includes Romolo Guerrieri's $10,000 Blood Money (1967), Giovanni Fago's Vengeance is Mine (1967; a.k.a. $100,000 for a Killing), and Giuliano Carnimeo's Find a Place to Die (1968).
A band of outlaws hole up in an isolated ghost town. Bored, they set out to terrorize innocent travelers Ray (Lou Castel) and Bridget (Ana María Mendoza), only to get more than they bargained for when Ray fights back, armed only with his weapon of choice: a bag full of boomerangs. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
When we talk about any specific cinematic genre or fad, we tend to frame the discussion using filmmakers that specialize in said genre or fad. For example, it’s difficult to examine European westerns without exploring the work of genre innovators, such as Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci or lesser filmmakers that nevertheless produced an impressive number of films, like Giuliano Carnimeo or Ferdinando Baldi. What we tend to overlook are writers and directors that were known for different genre work, who made only one or two westerns at a time when all of the Italian film industry expected them to. One of those men was Cesare Canevari, who directed the largely forgotten early spaghetti western Die for a Dollar in Tucson (Italian: Per un dollaro a Tucson si muore, 1964), then tried his hand one more time with 1970’s Matalo, stylized as ¡Mátalo! and sometimes as Matalo! (Kill Him).
Canevari’s career was sparse and he was mostly known for sexploitation films, like A Man for Emmanuelle (Italian: Io, Emmanuelle, 1969) – the first adaptation of Emmanuelle Arsan’s book, predating Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle (1974) – and The Nude Princess (Italian: La principessa nuda, 1976), but he’ll always be remembered for his notoriously sleazy Nazisploitation epic The Gestapo’s Last Orgy (Italian: L'ultima orgia del III Reich; aka: Last Orgy of the Third Reich and Caligula Reincarnated as Hitler, 1977), a film so offensive and unpleasant that it remains banned in its uncut form across Europe to this day. Matalo isn’t a sexploitation western, though, being merely sultry, rather than explicit. If you squint really hard, you can find hints of raunch and vulgarity, but Canevari aims instead to put a bit of a psychedelic twist on familiar tropes, indulging the youth culture’s fashion and aesthetic interests, instead of their free love and recreational nudity. The Gestapo’s Last Orgy is similarly quixotic (an element that I assume keeps it on banned lists more than its actual on-screen violence), but not in a way that challenges the genre, like Matalo.
The term ‘acid western’ is vague, but can usually be defined as a counterculture subgenre that developed alongside spaghetti westerns. The term was coined by Pauline Kael in reference to Alejandro Jodorowsky El Topo (1970), due to its highly hallucinatory nature, but has come to represent more than simply western styled movies that you’d literally drop acid to. Most of the films referred to as acid westerns have a postmodern or metatextual slant, which actually puts them in line with the spaghettis, but it would be irresponsible to completely conflate the two subgenres. For the sake of example, some Italian films (and co-productions) that I’d personally consider acid westerns include Tony Anthony & Ferdinando Baldi collaborations, especially Blindman (1971), because counterculture icon Ringo Starr starred as the villain*, Lucio Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse (Italian: I quattro dell'Apocalisse, 1975), Robert Hossein’s Cemetery without Crosses (Italian: Une corde, un colt…, 1969), and Enzo G. Castellari’s Keoma (1976).
Matalo’s closest kin is the ultimate Italian-made acid western, Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot! (Italian: Se sei vivo spara, 1967), which was the only western from director Giulio Questi (edit: apparently Matalo is actually a pseudo remake – see the Extras section). The two films share themes, hallucinatory atmospheres, drawn-out, dialogue-free sequences, gold as a metaphor for corruption, and even the idea that its main rundown village location represents some kind of hell or limbo, though, in Matalo’s case, the alternate idea might be that the village is haunted. Either way, there are purposefully ill-defined supernatural forces at play. Matalo isn’t as enigmatic as Django Kill and Canevari’s avant garde touches are more disorganized, sometimes even manic, leaning into darkly comedic territory, whereas Questi’s film is irrepressibly nihilistic. Matalo can’t quite reach the heights of Django Kill, Keoma, Four of the Apocalypse, or Cemetery without Crosses, but it’s full of surprises and is admirable in its pursuit of something different, making it Canevari’s best film (at least of the ones available with English language options).
* Tony Richardson’s British-Australian co-produced acid western Ned Kelly beat Anthony & Baldi to the punch by casting Mick Jagger as the title character in mid-1970.
Spaghetti Westerns – The Good, the Bad and the Violent: A Comprehensive, Illustrated Filmography of 558 Eurowesterns and Their Personnel, 1961-1977 by Thomas Weisser (McFarland, 2005)
10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western by Alex Cox (Kamera Books, 2009)
I can’t find evidence of Matalo getting a US VHS release, but it seems to have made the rounds on the budget streaming services. There was a (mostly) official R1/NTSC-friendly DVD from spaghetti superfans Wild East Productions, but, otherwise, all anamorphic choices were European PAL discs. Like the other three films in the set, this 1.85:1, 1080p HD debut is taken from a 2K restoration of the 35mm camera negative. Julio Ortas’ cinematography has a lot of grit and dust (some scenes feature white-out sandstorm conditions), but it’s also bright and colorful, so patterns and shapes aren’t lost in the busyness. Grain is inconsistently colored, but mostly accurate throughout. Some transitions appear a little bit dirty and I suppose the colors look maybe a hair too red/orange, but, overall, despite the original materials being in kind of rough shape, I think this might be the best looking disc in Arrow’s Blood Money collection. Note that Arrow could not locate the Italian closing titles, so both versions of the film feature the English titles.
Matalo is presented with English and Italian dub options, both in uncompressed LPCM mono. As per usual, it was shot without on-set sound and all official language tracks are dubbed. Also, as in the case of the other films in the Blood Money set, I wasn’t able to jump between tracks for direct comparison, because the two language versions are separate ‘movies,’ meaning you can only change audio options by going back to the main menu. Overall, the tracks are comparable, featuring all the same effects and music at basically the same volumes, and performance quality is nearly identical, thanks in large part to the relative lack of dialogue. Mario Migliardi’s prog and acid rock inspired score ties Matalo to the counterculture and magnifies the film's purposeful anachronism in a similar, but different manner than Ennio Morricone during the outset of the genre. I wish the music, including the dreamier and horror-themed bits, had been louder on the track, because Matalo is at its best when bucking tradition.
Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson – Mondo Digital’s Thompson and Howarth, the author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films (Midnight Marquee Press, 2015) dig into the counterculture context, the state of Eurowesterns and Hollywood westerns in 1970, Matalo’s weird style, similar films, Canevari’s career and the careers of the cast & crew, and Migliardi’s music.
The Movie That Lived Twice (16:09, HD) – A new introduction from Professor of History of Italian Cinema at the University for Foreigners of Perugia (Italy), journalist, and film critic, Fabio Melelli, discusses Matalo’s connections to Tanio Boccia’s Kill the Wicked (Italian: Dio non paga il sabato, 1967), which it essentially remakes with a modernized twist, and the careers of certain cast & crew members (apparently, Ana María Mendoza was very proud of her work here).
A Milanese Story (44:42, HD) – Davide Pulici, the critic and director of multiple interview featurettes with Italian cult personalities, looks back on his friend Cesare Canevari’s life and body of work in this in-depth minidocumentary.
Untold Icon (39:28, HD) – A new retrospective of composer/arranger Mario Migliardi and his surprisingly broad catalog of music by musician and cult music archivist Lovely Jon, who contextualizes his career and explores Migliardi’s artistic diversity.
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.