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