Junesploitation: A Town Called Hell (1971)

June 4: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is western.

I always say that Italian westerns bring the world together. Take this one, which is an Italian western by form, but really a co-production of the United Kingdom and Spain.

Directed by Robert Parrish — one of the many hidden hands that made Casino Royale — this is an example of one of my favorite subgenres of the cowboy movie and that would be the horror western.

Ten years ago, a group of Mexican revolutionaries led by the revolutionary leader Aguila murdered a priest and his followers. Now, a widow — Stella Sevens — has come back looking for revenge.

Talk about a cast! The town is now ruled by a priest (Robert Shaw!) who may be Aguila. Stevens hires a sadistic Mexican outlaw (Telly Savalas!!) named Don Carlos who promises to help her in exchange for gold. And soon, an army colonel (Martin Landau!!!) arrives in an attempt to find Aguila himself.

The same team made Pancho Villa, another British and Spanish western that Telly Savalas was involved with. They also made Horror Express and hired Savalas, who no doubt used the paycheck to cover his partying and gambling lifestyle. I say that not as an insult. If I could have been one person other than myself, Savalas seems like a great choice.

I’d like someone to explain to me why Stevens sleeps in a coffin — is she a ghost? — and exactly how the filmmakers arrived at setting the dance hall scene to Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans.” It’s not the best western, Italian influenced or not, I’ve seen, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting, in theory if not in actual filmed practice.

This is also a tremendous spolier, but Savalas’ death scene took me by major surprise and I love how he’s as shocked as I was. He keeps trying to figure out what to do when he’s emasculated by losing his trigger finger and never gets it together. As always, a wonderful performer.

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