Italian westerns are an amazing genre because somehow, they take the west out of the west, transporting it to Cinecittà studios and various dusty settings around southern Italy and Spain. They were made by directors who often had never been to the actual west themselves, but were able to see either the archetypes within their stories or the dollar signs at the box office.
These are grimy, rough, dirty and bloody films that begin the decline of heroism and moral certainty in Italian genre cinema. Starting in the peplum, we have heroes like Maciste and Hercules who may have foibles, yet are men of courage and conviction. The next Italian exploitation trend is the Eurospy fim, knockoffs of the higher budget Bond films, in which everyone has a license to kiss kiss bang bang. The Italian western comes next, following the lead of Leone, Ringo and Django. Then there’s the giallo, in which hero, villain, gender and motive are as fluid as the gels that pour neon hues into the color palettes of these affairs. By the time we arrive at the poliziotteschi — a time in whch the heroes are as uncompromisingly sinister as the villains they are hunting — not to mention the cannibal, zombie and Filmirage time of Italian low budget gutchurning horror — morality is pretty much dead.
Where John Wayne, Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Lash LaRue and so many other Hollywood cowboys made the west into a land of legend, Italian westerns tend to make once upon a time in the west — pardon the pun — into anything but myth.
Between 1964 and 1978, hundreds of these movies were made. In the Italian film industry, the easiest way to being successful is not doing something new. It’s often found in recreating a film or formula that has already been successful. You’d think that this thinking would lead to rote and boring films. And sure, there are some of those. Yet by and large, all of the Italian genres I mentioned above have led to incredible movies made on middling at best budgets.
Italian westerns are packed with betrayal, revenge, ritualistic disfiguring of the hero — often choosing his hands, the very tools he needs to be deadly in the gun-heavy world he lives in — and even ties to the films of the East, as Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars is the same story as Yojimbo, transported to the other side of the Earth.
So how do you pick four movies to sum up Italian westerns? if you’re Arrow Video, you pick four movies that all have revenge in common:
Antonio Margheriti’s And God Said to Cain stars Klaus Kinski as a man whose ten years of prison time comes to a close, only to be succeeded by a stormy and near-supernatural night of violent retaliation against anyone and everyone who ever done him wrong.
Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time stars Franco Nero and George Hilton as the Corbett brothers, estranged at the start of the story but who must join forces to stop the powerful businessman and his sadistic son who’ve ruined their hometown.
Maurizio Lucidi’s My Name is Pecos is an anomaly in the genre, as a Mexican gunfighter comes back to Houston to kill the racist man who slaughtered his family.
Massimo Dallamano’s Bandidos is about a sharpshooter whose hands are ruined by a student; years later he finds another man wronged by the same criminal and joins him on the path of revenge.
This four-disk limited edition set features 2K restorations of all four films from the original 35mm camera negatives, along with an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by author and critic Howard Hughes and double-sided poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx. Each of the movies features the extras that you’ve come to demand from Arrow, such as commentary tracks, interviews with the cast and crew, trailers, alternate endings and dubbed and original cuts of each movie.
You can order Vengeance Trails from MVD. It has our highest recommendation whether you’re new to the Italian side of the western film or want to own better quality copies of movies you’ve loved multiple times.
All four movies are also available on the ARROW player. Head over to ARROW to start your 30 day free trial (subscriptions are available for $4.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly). ARROW is available in the US, Canada and the UK on the following Apps/devices: Roku (all Roku sticks, boxes, devices, etc), Apple TV & iOS devices, Android TV and mobile devices, Fire TV (all Amazon Fire TV Sticks, boxes, etc), and on all web browsers at https://www.arrow-player.com.