By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY — Takashi Miike, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are all prestigious names in the cult cinematic universe. With avant-garde portrayals of violence and aesthetically stunning cinematography, it is no wonder how each of these men created a universe surrounding their own filmography. What many may fail to notice is the blatant connection to the Spaghetti Western subgenre, an innovative cinematic movement spawned in the 1960s trademarked by the exploitation of violence, bullets and bloodshed.
Calgary Cinematheque will be presenting a six-film spotlight from January until March on the aforementioned subgenre, kicking it off on January 14th with Death Rides A Horse (1967). The film was directed by Giulio Petroni and stars Lee Van Cleef and John Phillip Law in the leading roles. Beginning the story with the gruesome scene of a young boy witnessing his entire family murdered in cold blood, the cataclysmic atmosphere is set early on. Forwarding ahead 15 years we are introduced to Bill (Phillip Law), the sole survivor of his family’s slaughter, and Ryan (Van Cleef), a newly released ex-convict. It becomes established the duo seemingly has the same vendetta, though they have different proposals of how to carry on with it.
Though undoubtedly both driven by the desire for vengeance, Bill is fuelled largely by hatred, which Ryan warns to be self destructive. Difference in plotting creates a race to each target between the two leading males, engaging the viewer throughout the 114-minute runtime. Serving as a staple with many other films of this niche, both Bill and Ryan are extremely rugged and remain in control while engaging in seemingly reckless behaviour. Rage-induced flashbacks experienced by Bill – wherein a close-up of his eyes masked in red replays the horrific image of his kin being massacred – shaped a central element of Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003). Despite the riveting plot twists, what truly drives this film is the incredible use of dialogue. Both Van Cleef and Phillip Law portray their characters so successfully one forgets at times that this is a work of fiction.
On January 28th, the spotlight continues with Django (1966), directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero in the leading role. Django (Nero) is a gun-slinging, coffin-dragging lone wolf caught in a hellish war between a klan of Southern racists and a band of Mexican rebels. Saving a prostitute, Maria (Loredana Nusciak), from the wrath of both sides, he is unintentionally brought into the battle. Extremely graphic violence is displayed, including a disturbing scene in which a Southerner’s ear is cut off and then fed to him before his execution, once again displaying the influence directly in Tarantino’s own Reservoir Dogs (1992). The more violent aspects of Corbucci’s films have also been openly credited as an inspiration to Ruggero Deodato, director of one of the most infamous horror movies of all time, Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Another inspiring element of Django is what lies within the coffin he drags behind him – a heavy duty machine gun. Concealing weapons within a coffin was used in yet another Tarantino film, From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), and the concept was also replicated in the 2004 video game Red Dead Revolver. The personification of Django himself is perhaps the most inspiring element of all. Though he is but one man versus many, he is the epitome of toughness – undoubtedly influential upon later lone wolf action films such as First Blood (1982). Rugged in appearance, driven by vengeance, insubordinate by nature – he simply cannot be stopped.
With four more films in store, this is only the beginning.
See Death Rides a Horse on January 14th and Django on January 28th at the Plaza Theatre in Kensington in Calgary courtesy of Calgary Cinematheque. For more information, visit calgarycinema.orgAB, Alberta, Calgary Cinematheque, Death Rides a Horse, Django, Plaza Theatre