Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966) is one of the all-time great spaghetti westerns. A film grimmer in tone than Sergio Leone’s classic Man With No Name trilogy, Corbucci’s film distinguished itself by being set in the muddiest, coldest, most forbidding town to be seen in a western for many a year; by set pieces that were as outlandish and atmospheric as they were brilliant; and of course by having the extremely charismatic Franco Nero as its star. Django and its ilk (including the Leone movies) were about as accurate a depiction of the history of the American West as Hammer films were an advert for the Transylvanian tourist board. It is therefore unsurprising that many horror fans revere them in much the same way – as fantasy tales set in their own special universes. At the beginning of Corbucci’s Django we see the title character dressed in black, making his way through the bleak and forbidding countryside, and dragging a coffin behind him in a scene reminiscent of Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. By the end, the hero’s hands have been crushed, and he has to face the villains in a showdown at the local graveyard, with only twisted, mangled stumps to try and fire his gun with. It’s literally a fantastic climax, and Django was deservedly a huge worldwide hit (except in the UK where it was refused a certificate until 1993). Given the state of Italian cinema at the time, it’s therefore unsurprising that over the next few years near forty ‘sequels’ were produced, ‘Django’ being a more catchy word to put in your title than ‘Man With No Name’.
Django Prepare a Coffin is just one of those many sequels, and like pretty much all of them it bears no relation to the film that spawned it. It stars Terence Hill (Mario Girotti) who does a reasonable job of being a Franco Nero lookalike. Betrayed by his employer (Horst Frank of Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails, Jess Franco’s Justine and Umberto Lenzi’s So Sweet… So Perverse amongst many others) who has Django’s family and friends killed, Django gets a job as a hangman whose job it is to unknowingly execute innocent locals who have been framed. Fortunately Django already knows this and is actually ‘pretend hanging’ them with the aid of a handy leather harness he gets them to put on before the execution. He then recruits them into a gang to get revenge, with predictable results.
As spaghetti westerns go, Django Prepare a Coffin isn’t bad. Hill is a good Django, and one of the lead bad guys is played by the tall and scary Mr Anthropophagous himself, George Eastman. Eastman’s real name is Luigi Montefiore, and as well as appearing in some of Joe D’Amato’s most notorious horror films, he wrote the screenplay for Michele Soavi’s Stagefright and, most notably from the point of this review, the original story for Enzo G Castellari’s marvellous Keoma – the splendid last gasp of the spaghetti western that featured superb direction and a stellar turn from none other than the real Django himself, Franco Nero. The opening titles are very Fistful of Dollars and the climax will have every fan of the original Django nodding with approval if they’re not out of their seats cheering. The film could have seriously ramped up the horror aspect in scenes where the ‘dead’ men come back to scare the men who framed them, but it probably didn’t enter the mind of less well-remembered Italian director Ferdinando Baldi.
Arrow Video’s release of Django Prepare a Coffin is a first for this film in the UK, and the print is reasonably clean. IMDb states that the original aspect ratio was 2.35:1. The print reviewed was 1.85:1 but there is no obvious cropping. DVD extras are a trailer, a reversible sleeve, and a booklet. While it’s not going to be an essential purchase for horror fans, anyone mildly interested in the weird and wonderful world of the spaghetti western and Italian exploitation cinema of the 1960s in general will find this definitely worth a look.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
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