First there was Sergio Leone and his now-iconic ‘Dollars’ trilogy. Then came the flood, a new cinematic goldrush, and the Spaghetti Western genre was born. This new European take on cowboy mythos featured cynical, morally-dubious antiheroes unafraid to get their hands dirty, often engaged in single-minded crusades for vengeance, regardless of the mountain of bodies they would leave in their wake. With this new boxset, Vengeance Trails, the fine folks at Arrow have collected four prime examples of the genre, each focusing on themes of revenge (hence the ever so clever title).
Kicking things off we have Lucio Fulci (House By the Cemetary, Zombie Flesh Eaters) directing Massacre Time (1966). Tom (Franco Nero – Django, John Wick 2) and Jeff Corbet (George Hilton – Any Gun Can Play, Sartana’s Here…Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin) are brothers who must put aside their differences to recover their land and fortunes from the rich and ruthless businessman Mr Scott (Giuseppe Addobbati – The Night Porter, Enter the Devil) and his unhinged, sadistic, bullwhip-wielding son Junior (Nino Castelnuovo – Corpo 36, That Malicious Age), who oddly seems to have a problem standing up straight in almost every scene he’s in.
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Maurizio Lucidi (Probability Zero, The Sicilian Cross) directs our second film – My Name is Pecos (1966). This film tells the story of the eponymous Mexican gunslinger (Robert Woods – Psychotic, Massacre Mania) who returns home to settle a score with the gang of racist thugs who killed his entire family, weaving his tale of revenge alongside a story of robbery, betrayal and missing quantities of money that his nemesis, Joe Clane (Pier Paolo Capponi – The Boys Who Slaughter, Don Milani) is desperate to retrieve.
Bandidos (1967) is next, directed by Massimo Dallamano (Colt 38 Special Squad, What Have You Done to Solange?). Here Enrico Maria Salerno plays marksman Richard Martin, who is crippled by his former pupil Billy Kane (Venantino Venantini – Frank River, School’s Out) after a robbery on a train. He teams up with wannabe gunslinger Ricky Shot (Terry Jenkins – Paint Your Wagon, It Takes a Thief), training him up to exact the bloody revenge he is no longer able to take.
The fourth film is the odd one out in this little collection. While it is definitely a spaghetti western, the way it’s shot and presented feels more like some sort of noir or gothic horror movie. Antonio Margheriti’s And God Said to Cain (1970) stars Klaus Kinski (Nosferatu, Double Face) as an innocent man who has spent the last decade in a prison work camp for a crime he didn’t commit. He heads back to his former hometown to exact his bloody vengeance on the men who framed him, using the chaos of an incoming tornado as cover to allow him to pick off his enemies one by one until he comes face to face with his nemesis, Acombar (Peter Carsten – A Study in Terror, Thirteen Days to Die).
This Blu-ray set features the by-now expected high-def remasters of each film and they look great, every one. They’re not so clean they look sterile, plenty of film grain still to be found, but you can pick out every wrinkle and pore on the actor’s faces and count the fibres in their shirts. Not a single complaint here. In terms of special features, Arrow rarely disappoint and they certainly haven’t here. Each film has a plethora of new commentary tracks, interviews and documentaries along with the option to listen to either the original Italian or the English dubs of each. Bandidos also features an alternate end title sequence. This Limited Edition also comes with a newly commissioned artwork poster, reversible sleeves, and a collector’s booklet by author Howard Hughes (who also provides a commentary track for And God Said to Cain).
The four films themselves are an interesting selection. Massacre Time is probably the weakest of the quartet, though the drunken bother’s habit of politely getting the attention of the men he’s about to kill is always good for a chuckle. After that is Bandidos, then And God Said to Cain, with My Name is Pecos being the standout of the bunch. It’s a brilliant story, well told, with great gun fights and an interesting, enigmatic protagonist in the form of Pecos.
Vengeance Trails is another great set from Arrow. Like Years of Lead it’s a solid jumping off point for the genre, a sampler for those who might want to see what this side of the pond has to offer in the Western genre.
Vengeance Trails is out on Limited Edition Blu-ray on 26th July from Arrow Video.