Franco Nero (Django himself, as well as The Fifth Cord, The Visitor and many others) is Keoma, a half-breed survivor of the Civil War who has returned home to find his home destroyed by a plague and the gang leader Caldwell (Richard O’Brien, Zombi), who has Keoma’s half-brothers on his side.
When our hero saves a pregnant yet plague-ridden woman (Olga Karlatos, Zombi) from Caldwell’s men, he must go to war with his brothers while trying to mend fences with his father (William Berger) and his actual father figure, the freed slave George (former pro wrestler Woody Strode, Spartacus).
This sounds like a great set-up for a Western, but this movie transcends the genre thanks to a script written by George Eastman and the directorial skills of Enzo G. Castellari (1990: The Bronx Warriors, Warriors of the Wasteland). Beyond the extreme violence in nearly every scene, this movie boasts dramatic illusions that push it past the spaghetti genre and into a work of extreme drama. There are parts that remind me of a Japanese film as well as the next level of Western as prophecized by El Topo, a fact confirmed by Eastman’s interview on this film’s extras.
Throughout the film, Keoma is constantly visited by an old woman pulling a cart filled with army boots. In the filmed version, she is simply a woman who saved him during the massacre of a Native American camp, while the script had her as the personification of death itself, always chasing Keoma even as he saved others from her.
While sold in some countries as a Django film, this stands on its own. Starting with the Eastman script, Castellari rewrote on a daily basis with the help of his cast and crew, drawing inspiration from the works of Shakespeare and Peckinpah.
Adding to the mystical feel of the film is the soundtrack, which was composed by Guido & Maurizio De Angelis, who you may know better as Oliver Onions. They’ve scored plenty of Italian favorites, such as Torso, the theamtically similar western Mannaja, 2019: After the Fall of New York and, of course, the stunning theme song for Yor Hunter from the Future.
Arrow’s new release of Keoma features a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative, the choice to enjoy the film in English or Italian (with newly translated English subtitles), audio commentary by spaghetti western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke and tons of documentaries.
There’s The Ballad of Keoma, a new interview with star Franco Nero; Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, a new interview with the director; Writing Keoma, a new interview with George Eastman (this is the entire reason I wanted this release to come out!); Parallel Actions, a new interview with editor Gianfranco Amicucci; The Flying Thug, a new interview with actor Massimo Vanni; Play as an Actor, a new interview with actor Volfango Soldati; Keoma and the Twilight of the Spaghetti Western, a newly filmed video appreciation by Austin Fisher; an archival piece called An Introduction to Keoma by Alex Cox; the original Italian and international theatrical trailers; a gallery of original promotional images from the Mike Siegel Archive and a reversible sleeve featuring the original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips (whose comic book Criminal is great).
The interview with Nero is worth the price of this disc, as his recollections are great. How does he look better at 78 than I do at 46? And when else are you going to find George Eastman discussing his writing or that Castellari has Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen in his mind for not only the soundtrack but the dialogue of his characters? Man — this is pretty much a dream release for me!
Of course, this being an Arrow release, everything is as perfect as it gets. The print is stunning, rich in both blackness and colors, while the presentation is, as always, the pinnacle of modern media releasing. This is a film that screams that it demands to be in your movie collection.
You can order this film directly from Arrow Video.
Supposedly, Castellari has a movie called The Fourth Horseman in pre-production, with Franco Nero (as Keoma), Sid Haig, Michael Berryman, Bill Mosely, Kane Hodder, Fabio Testi, George Hilton and Gianni Garko (as Sartana!) listed as the cast. If this movie happens, I might have to fly to Italy to see it in an actual theater. Or projected in a screen while people get drunk around me in the hills outside the city, old school Italian movie style.
DISCLAIMER: I was sent this blu ray by Arrow’s PR team, but trust me, I was buying this anyway. It has no impact on my review of this great film.
Always love a meaningful western, and this one has slipped my grasp until now. Definitely picking up a copy and finally adding it to my collection!