Monthly Archives: February 2015

Massacre Time (1966) aka The Brute & The Beast

Lucio Fulci directs a pumping spaghetti Western which not only rides Leone’s dollars wave but throws in the director’s usual flamboyant blemish.

At its heart, MASSACRE TIME is a mixture of greek tragedy and almost childlike fantasy. Nero is called to his home town where it appears his family’s farm has been overtaken by the Scott family, whose emblem adorns every business in town. Once home, Nero finds his brother a lonely alcoholic cared for by their Indian nanny. Nero confronts Scott and his psychotic heir Junior (ever-clad in a immaculate white suit) but cannot understand why Scott’s men refuse to harm him. Nero then realises that he is also Scott’s ‘lost’ son…..

Unusually for a spaghetti western, Nero plays a very straight-laced hero indeed – there’s no hard-drinking, womanising or gambling for this lead cowboy. In fact, he is far removed from the typical anti-hero who leads in this genre. It’s left to his half-brothers to showcase the vices of which the West is so famous.

Fulci’s fame would come later in his career for his unwavering pursuit of gore-laden set pieces, but even here you can see the seeds of his cult horror movies. The opening frame contains a hunt – except it’s no fox these guys are chasing but a disheveled man who eventually gets ripped apart by dogs as he collapses in a river. As his blood pours into the gushing water, the title’s theme songs kicks in all its glory. About halfway through the picture, we also witness the slaying of an entire family – including children – at a dinner table. Something unlikely to be found in other Westerns of the era. Then, there’s brutal whipping of Nero’s character at the hands of his demented half-brother. Fulci plays this scene for a long time as he wages a war of attrition on the sensitivities of both the audience and the flinching Scott, father of both boys.

The closing 15 minutes are a dusty collage of smoking-guns, banging doors and falling bodies in what must be the ‘massacre’ of the title. This is all done with some quite crazy camera angles. My favourite scene in the film comes here: Nero creeps up a stone staircase with his spurs clanging on each step as the camera cuts between the quaking face of a token bad guy and Nero’s none-too-quiet boots.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy this movie so much comes down to the characters, particularly the ‘bad guys’. The Scott family is politically complicated with old man Scott and his Indian right-hand man visibly nervous of the savage Junior and his rampaging crew of ranch hands. There’s a great shot of the Indian’s tear-filled eyes as he peers into the farmhouse kitchen to see the bodies of the family slain by Junior’s men. Not surprisingly, there’s no happy ending for the old man and his valet as their tolerance for Junior’s murderous extravagance leads to unenviable ends for both of them. The Indian, in particular, ends up in an awfully bad way – he’s crucified on the porch by Junior. The scene where Junior comes for him is magnificent – initially we only see the view from the assassin’s holster and you wonder whether it’s Nero or Junior, but as the focus switches to the Indian’s unswerving gaze we see a glossy white suit flutter into the side of frame and the camera cuts to Junior’s manic grin and tilting head.

Another reason I like the movie is for its symbolism. In the opening scene, as the vagrant is mauled by Junior’s dogs and his blood flows into the river, Fulci’s camera follows the river downstream alongside the opening credits. Eventually the camera reaches Nero’s riverside camp of gold hunters and Nero pulls a nugget out of his river-pan. As he does so, he is told to return home urgently. It’s as if the blood from the hunt has sailed down river to be picked up by Nero and warn him of his half-brother’s chilling actions. This is partly why I say this movie has a kind of fantasy-feel to it.

A spaghetti Western wouldn’t be complete without a good score and this one’s a real peach. But unfortunately, the dialogue in the english dubbed version is villainously stilted, so you’ll have to ignore that because I am not too sure as to the ease of obtaining the original Italian audio. It’ll come as no shock that the script in the dubbed version leaves a lot to be desired.

Overall, this is Fulci’s best Western and although it can’t attain the dizzy heights of Leone’s films it isn’t that far off. The movie dares to go an extra mile in its depiction of the lawless blood-lust that characterised the frontier. If it ever needed demonstrating that Fulci was a gifted film maker, then this movie does it. A rough but charming diamond indeed.

Hotdog rating: 8/10

Thinking about THE PARADINE CASE (1947)

I decided to revisit this movie, having not seen it in 15 years or so. It’s not a film which is well thought of in Hitchcock’s filmography, often sitting next to the likes of JAMAICA INN (1939) or STAGE FRIGHT (1951) in critical assessments. But I do recall enjoying it all those years ago, so a further assessment was warranted.

The Paradine Case is half legal courtroom drama and half Hitchcockian ‘wrong man’ genre (except it’s a ‘wrong’ woman here). The cast is very impressive and producer David O Selznick must take the credit for that.

Hitchcock tells the story, for the most part, from the point of view of Peck’s lawyer. Peck’s obsession with Mrs Paradine has clear parallels with Scottie’s desire for Madelaine in Hitchcock’s most critically-acclaimed work, VERTIGO (1958). In fact, there’s a great scene in which Peck surveys the imprisoned woman’s bedroom – complete with a headboard bearing her face – which could have easily been woven into that film. It may not approach the artistic or technical heights of VERTIGO, but you can clearly see the building blocks for Hitchcock’s personal vision here.

We get a glimpse of perhaps what Hitchcock was really trying to show at times. This is most noticeable in relation to Charles Laughton’s lascivious judge, who has had barley any screen time before a leering POV shot puts our eyes with his and straight on Anne Todd’s bare-fleshed shoulder. The whole picture is ostentatiously about lust and the danger it leads to. Peck’s quest is not really driven by a yearning to find out who killed Colonel Paradine, rather it is to confirm to his carnal self that Mrs Paradine and Latour were engaging in sexual activity.

There is a lot going on here and it’s more deserving of the praise associated with Hitchcock’s other movies. It may not be NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), but it’s still an excellent motion picture.