Django Kill! (1967)
by Troy Howarth
D: Giulio Questi
S: Franco Arcalli and Giulio Questi
MP: Tomas Milian, Marilu Tolo, Patrizia Valturri, Milo Quesada, Ray Lovelock, Pierro Lulli, Roberto Camardiel
A Mexican bandit (Tomas Milian) runs afoul of a gang of homosexual psychopaths when he stumbles into a bizarre border town…
In the lexicon of popular film criticism, no term is perhaps so overused – and frequently misapplied – as “pretentious.” In general, films cited as being pretentious have committed no error other than being misunderstood by the critic who has elected to label it as such. On occasion, however, there are instances of filmmakers attempting to “elevate” popular genres in such a way that can truly be called pretentious – and in the humble estimation of this particular reviewer, Django Kill! Is one such example.
In an interview present on the Blue Underground release, lead actor Tomas Milian (Face to Face, Don’t Torture a Duckling) confesses that he nearly didn’t do this film because co-writer/director Giulio Questi had a reputation for being an intellectual filmmaker – and when it comes to westerns, intellect comes in a distant second behind being able to direct action. While one might argue with Milian on this point, it seems that his misgivings were correct – Questi clearly has his eye set on something other than action, and despite all the mayhem and gunfights on display, he seems uncomfortable dealing with such mundane trivialities as chase scenes and shoot outs. Whether Questi was successful in doing something interesting with western conventions is, of course, a subjective call – and certainly many view Django Kill! As one of the best, most interesting Spaghetti Westerns ever made, which indicates that for many, he was indeed successful in his aim. Alas, I found the entire enterprise to be sluggishly paced, indifferently staged and frequently tedious. Questi amps up the blood and gore, tosses in plenty of bizarre elements (the homosexual gang, for example), and uses Milian as something of a not-so-subtle Christ stand-in, but it really does beg the question: does overloading a film with outre and bizarre elements really make it accomplished?
Milian, a charismatic and likable performer, does what he can with his lead role – which, despite the slavish title (which, in fairness, was saddled on the film without Questi’s consent – he preferred the title If You Live, Shoot!, which is still utilized on screen as a subtitle), has no ties to Franco Nero’s iconic characterization in Sergio Corbucci’s more conventional but infinitely more satisfying Django (1966). Milian is capable in the role, but there’s very little for him to sink his teeth into. The actor fared better when allowed to improvise and fit out his characters with endearing quirks, as evidenced in his collaborations with Corbucci on such titles as The Mercenary (1968) and Companeros (1970), for example. This particular assignment finds him in a subdued mood, frequently reacting rather than being allowed to drive the action forward himself. The supporting cast includes an early appearance by Euro Cult favorite Ray Lovelock, here cast as an unfortunate pretty boy type who runs afoul of the black clad gang of psychos. Marilu Tolo (Argento’s The Five Days, 1973), Milo Quesada (Franco’s The Bloody Judge, 1969) and Piero Lulli (Bava’s Kill, Baby… Kill!, 1966) are also on hand to lend an air of cozy familiarity, but everybody is hamstrung by Questi’s insistence on striving for weirdness for weirdness sake. The characters are seldom richly detailed in Spaghetti Westerns, it’s true, but here they feel like mere props in the director’s surrealistic vision.
Production values are credible enough, with Ivan Vandor contributing an effective score and the various gore effects still holding up fairly well, but much of the impact is undercut by Questi’s bizarre directorial choices. For example, the scene which introduces Tolo, belting out a song more appropriate for a night club scene in a smoky noir, is embarrassing. The dubbing of the song is ridiculously out of synch, and the acoustics are all wrong – sure, it may be seen as a kitsch touch, or a dab of self-knowing surrealism, but it merely serves to undercut the entrance of a major character… and the scene drags on interminably, to boot. Similarly, the various shoot outs are staged in a most uninspired manner, though editor Franco Arcalli (who cowrote the script with Questi) does his best to punch things up with some then-radical editing techniques.
Ultimately, Django Kill! Remains a divisive title in the Spaghetti Western canon for good reason. It’s much too quirky and strange to appeal to a mass audience, and even SW enthusiasts are likely to have a problem with its refusal to hew to convention. It has attracted a strong cult following, but for this reviewer it remains little more than a curio; among the more violent and sadistic films of its ilk, however, I would personally take Cut Throats Nine (1970) any day of the week.
Blue Underground’s upgrade of Django Kill! To blue ray may well be explained by the upcoming release of Quentin Tarantino’s heavily touted ‘souther’ Django Unchained. In any event, they have done a credible job with the film, improving on their previous DVD incarnation. The 2.35/16×9/1080p transfer looks about as good as the source materials will allow. DNR appears to have been utilized, but not to the excessive degree evident on the high def releases of some Italian genre titles. Some grain is evident, and if the image isn’t as sharp as one would like, one must bear in mind the limitations of the Techniscope format. Colors appear to be accurately rendered, and the print is in very good shape overall. The film is fully uncut.
Audio options include the Italian and English dubs, both in DTS-HD mono. The Italian track is far less hokey than the English, but both tracks suffer from limitations in the original recording. Vandor’s score comes across pretty well, however, and those canned gun shots have a nice ring to them. Removable English subtitles are included for the Italian track, and English SHD subtitles are also included.
Extras are the same as on the old DVD edition – a featurette, a trailer, and a poster/still gallery. The featurette is the most substantial extra, of course, and it features some interesting insights from Questi, Milian and Lovelock.
Django Kill! Remains one of the weirdest Spaghetti Westerns ever produced, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Film: ** out of *****
Video: ***½ out of *****
Audio: *** out of *****
Extras: ***½ out of *****