Review: FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (1975, Dir. Lucio Fulci)
A weird, ambitious western opus from Lucio Fulci, a veteran of the horror genre best known to western fans as the director of Franco Nero's MASSACRE TIME. (His signature horror pic is probably 1979's ZOMBIE.) Fulci here delivers an episodic, dreamy, somewhat languorous picture, marked by bursts of emotion and drama.
We find gambler Stubby (Fabio Testi) tossed in a jail cell with a hopeless drunk; a loopy, hallucination-prone black man; and a winsome prostitute. During a raid on the town, the four prisoners are set free to escape, and wander the desert to ponder their next move.
(Spoilers follow:) In a series of vignettes, the group discovers the prostitute's pregnancy, meets up with a pack of religious settlers, is set upon by cruel bandit Tomas Milian, holes up in an abandoned town during a rainstorm, aid in the delivery of the baby, and eventually have a showdown with Milian. This might seem like a pretty straightforward checklist of events, but the presentation and mood of the picture make it all feel like a fevered, surreal dream.
The cast features some familiar faces in fine performances: Testi (A/K/A Stet Carson) is handsome and charismatic. We expect Stubby to be a cocky wisecracker, he turns out to be pensive and brooding: Testi's wide-eyed good looks are perfect for the character. Michael Pollard (of BONNIE AND CLYDE) is appropriately pathetic as the town drunk; Harry Baird, who I know from TRINITY AND SARTANA, THOSE SONS OF... does a great job of being earnest and bright-eyed at the start and escalating into full-on freak-out. As the mysterious and evil bandit Chaco, Tomas Milian is mesmerizing as always, and brings a rock-star swagger to the part of a merciless thug.
The direction by Fulci is such that scenes shift from one setting to the next rather jarringly; we may go from a dusty, sun-drenched vista to a fog-heavy valley just like that. It helps to paint the story as a weird, disorienting dream. You can almost imagine that the four leads are being depicted making their way through the afterlife, or purgatory, or judgment of some kind. Not a straightforward narrative, but really engrossing.
There is not much action or western-style stunt-work in the picture; however, several scenes of violence are conveyed with the aid of very gory, bloody makeup effects, which are shocking but effective. The unusual song score also aids in the film's impact. Several soft-rock-style narrative songs, whose lyrics mimic the action onscreen, are initially unexpected and off-putting but seem to fit well the more you hear them. The songs are done in English by what sounds like a typical mid-70s acoustic rock ensemble, led by composers Vince Tempera and Massimo DeLuca.
I would suggest this to Fulci fans first and foremost. But definitely not for newcomers to the Spaghetti West, you folks should see MASSACRE TIME by Fulci instead. Also, if you are a fan of dream-like, trippy western epics like KEOMA or of David Lynch-style weirdness, you might want to take a look.
B-/C+, 6.5 out of 10 stars.