An in-name-only sequel to Sergio Corbucci’s Django, the saga of a coffin-dragging hombre bent on revenge, Giulio Questi’s Django Kill…If You Live, Shoot! was to have been called just If You Live, Shoot! until its producers insisted on the last-minute tie-in. By any name, though, it would look as strange. Ultraviolent, especially by 1967 standards, and determinedly weird, Django Kill does to the spaghetti western what Questi’s next film, Death Laid an Egg (with its striking op-art design and frantic Cuisinart editing), would do to the burgeoning giallo genre. Questi and co-writer/editor Franco Arcalli turn audience expectations topsy turvy, orchestrating a demolition derby of generic types, and interlarding the script with mash-ups of archetypal bibilical and literary texts: Take a Christ-in-reverse narrative where the protagonist, known only as the Stranger (subgenre fixture Tomas Milian), resurrects from the dead early on and only later undergoes crucifixion; add a dash of Jane Eyre‘s “madwoman in the attic”; and fold in a liberal portion of Lady Macbeth. The resultant concoction would most resemble this savage and surreal smorgasbord for cult-film aficionados.
The landscape of the spaghetti western may be harsh and unforgiving terrain, empty and dust-choked as its protagonists’ souls, but it has also been notoriously permeable when it comes to permitting the transit of metaphorically-laden freight. There’s even an entire sub-subgenre known as the Zapata western, typically set along the Mexico-U.S. border against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution, that openly trucks with explicitly revolutionary politics. (Apposite here would be Sergio Leone’s odd Duck, You Sucker and its opening crib from Mao’s Little Red Book.) Django Kill elects to score its agitprop points more allusively: The Stranger is explicitly betrayed by compatriot Oaks (Piero Lulli) because of his miscegenated, “half breed” origins. As though in an act of old-school, Old Testament vengeance, avaricious townsfolk will later gruesomely mine Oaks’s gold bullet-riddled body for the precious ore. Cattle baron Mr. Sorrow’s (Roberto Camardiel) black-clad henchman are made to resemble Mussolini’s fascist paramilitary corps. An especially grasping city slicker, Hagerman (called Alderman in the English dub, reinforcing his quasi-political authority, and played by Francisco Sanz), is subjected to further retributive justice when he’s slathered in molten-hot liquid gold.
Amplifying the notion of the Stranger’s mixed parentage, a scarlet strand runs throughout Django Kill concerning race relations, in particular the (mis)treatment of Native Americans: The majority of the film’s action takes place in a nameless, hopelessly corrupt town known only (and aptly) by its Native American name, “The Unhappy Place.” (The weird-factor ramps up as Oaks and his men ride into town; Questi continually cuts away to various bits of insidious strangeness.) When the Stranger rises from a mass grave, it’s at the behest of two spirit guides resembling Dead Man‘s Nobody, whose refrain (“Stupid fucking white men!”) wouldn’t be amiss here. Unsurprisingly, given the infinitely internecine predilections of these urbanites, one of the guides ends up with really red skin under the business end of a scalper’s blade, bringing to mind Cormac McCarthy’s bloody-minded Blood Meridian. Similarly “progressive” attitudes do not extend to the depiction of Sorrow and his cronies. Unabashed “bad homos,” Sorrow enjoys sado-masochistic torture and bitchy sparring sessions with his pet parrot in about equal measure, and his henchmen’s predation of young Evan Tembler (Roy Lovelock) is hinted at (a bit too coyly) in the bare-chested aftermath of a drunken fiesta, a defilement that prompts the tow-headed lad to snuff himself out of sheer mortification.
Franco Arcalli’s influence on modernist Italian cinema can’t be stressed enough. Collaborating with Bernardo Bertolucci and Michelangelo Antonioni time and again, Arcalli acted in his capacity as writer and/or editor on films like The Passenger and 1900. Arcalli would reteam with Giulio Questi the next year for Death Laid an Egg. With Django Kill, their disruptive redistribution of generic weight extends to the film’s final moments, in which the Stranger prototypically rides off into the hazy distance. Suddenly, Questi pans the camera off his retreating figure and over to two children playing a suitably bizarre game. Wrapping her head with string, the girl sticks her tongue out at the boy and chortles, “I’m uglier than you are!” Ugly would be the operative word for Django Kill‘s bleak, bleary-eyed vision of humanity in thrall to unchecked greed and prone to unrepentant carnage.
Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli is no doubt most recognized for his work on Sergio Leone's sprawling epics, contributing to the maestro's final four films, from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to Once Upon a Time in America. Indeed, Django Kill looks and feels like a Leone epic run through the meat grinder: bloody and raw. Much of this is due to Franco Arcalli's atypical editing, full of jump cuts, split-second montages, and the then-revolutionary technique of showing an act of violence simultaneously from several vantage points (a flourish that found a home in the later, equally deconstructive westerns of Sam Peckinpah). Blue Underground's 1080p/AVC transfer looks solid enough, and it's certainly preferable on most counts to the standard-def DVD, though it's prone to some of the same machine-noise issues that apply to many of their late-'60s/early-'70s catalogue on Blu-ray. (Admittedly, it's a mostly minor quibble.) On the audio front, you have a choice between monaural English and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio: The Italian track is subtitled, and the English dub features optional hearing-impaired subtitles.
What's here has been ported over from Blue Underground's 2004 DVD. Easily the best of the bunch is "Django, Tell!," a 20-minute interview that features stars Tomas Milian and Ray Lovelock and director Giulio Questi reminiscing about the film. The disc also includes a photo and poster gallery as well as the theatrical trailer.
Giulio Questi's surrealistic anti-western gets a fine Blu-ray upgrade from Blue Underground, bolstered by the same spate of extras that were included on the previous edition.