|The Plot: Tom Corbett (Franco Nero) has been working as a prospector for the past few years, away from his hometown where his mother and brother live, but upon news that things are really wrong back in town and although his mother made him promise to never come back to this deadend town – he sets back on the road. Once back in town he finds his old farmhouse has been taken over by a rich lunatic named Mr. Scott. Tom then sets out to find his brother Jeff (George Hilton) to find out what has happened – and simply finds a drunken shell of the brother he once knew. Everything has fallen apart in his old hometown, and Tom is looking to set things right… if he can.|
The Review: If Lucio Fulci is to direct a western, isn’t Massacre Time just about the most perfect a title he could find? Four of the Apocalypse has a cool title and all, but it’s sure not “Massacre Time”. If you have seen the more popular Four of the Apocalypse, you know that this likely isn’t going to be a gory travelogue of the old west with spiders ripping out the tongues of cowboys or some ol’ saloon shopkeeper opening one of the seven doors to hell. No, with Massacre Time we have an even less gory western from Fulci than even The Four of the Apocalypse but with a very neatly crafted story of vengeance and the bonds of family. For those who stray outside of Fulci’s most popular genre will find several films worth checking out and Massacre Time is yet another one. Fulci tried his best to operate in many genres of the Italian film scene but was just so darn good at delivering what audiences wanted in the horror genre that he was often pigeonholed there. That isn’t to say films like this or Contraband are simply leaps and bounds better than his horror work – not at all; but he was a more capable director than he is often given credit for. Although he worked very little in the Italian western, his work was still a lot more accomplished than some other filmmakers who didn’t build their careers in them, and although it’s a drastically different film than his Giallo and Zombie films of the seventies – there’s still a very distinct Fulci look and feel to the movie despite not having any gore. With the exception of Contraband, I think it may now be my favorite non-horror Fulci film – and truthfully it has been too long since last viewing Contraband, it could be a pretty tough decision.
There are a lot of things going on in Massacre Time, from the parallels between the values of Tom Corbett and his brother Jeff – to the nihilism of Jeff and the utter sadism of Junior, Mr. Scott’s violent son, Massacre Time (or The Brute and the Beast if you prefer) thanks to the rich script from Italian crime auteur Fernando Di Leo the film is always making improvements upon itself and makes for a very fine blueprint for Fulci to deliver a very tightly scripted and unique western. Sometimes old Fulci would get hungup on the visuals of his films or the FX work, or whatever it was that distracted him in City of the Living Dead/House By the Cemetery, but here he showed great talent in delivering a very precise and tightly scripted story with twists and turns along with a good deal of visual flair and subtext. The characters are all rich, despite being what some might consider genre pastiche, especially those played by genre greats Franco Nero and George Hilton. These two colliding together with such a finely tuned script couldn’t do anything other than produce a couple of fantastic performance. Nero is very subdued here, this is most definitely not Django or Keoma. His character is actually a very passive one, just an ordinary man. Not a master of the iron able to shoot a hair off the brow of a man from three miles away. If anything, he has a good right hook but that’s about all he has going for him and not too many people in this old west are looking for a boxing match. Hilton’s character starts the film as a drunken lowlife, and while watching it I simply figured he would simply remain as passive as his brother with an interest in the drink only. His character does remain an alcoholic – but when his talent as a gunslinger is revealed, it genuinely comes as a shock. I don’t care that it’s George Hilton, he seems such a fantastic drunk in the beginning of the film that it’s hard to imagine such a character showing anything resembling heroic features or talents. You have Sartana and Django starring in a film directed by Lucio Fulci and written by Fernando Di Leo – it’s like a who’s who of Italian cult cinema converging for our enjoyment!
The film is as visually expressive as the script is beautifully crafted, and although the DVD transfer on my copy is pretty terrible (The Region 2 disc is supposed to be much better) the visual look of the film is still surprisingly brilliant. You can see in the above gallery a couple of examples, particularly that shot of the sunrise while Franco Nero’s character passes by in silhouette. The wandering camera is always in the center of the action, and action there is. Especially in the final shootout sequence, Fulci ups the ante and goes all John Woo on the audience – some fifteen years before that director even stepped behind the lens for A Bullet in the Head. Don’t mistake me, people aren’t wearing long black trenchoats and firing from a pistol in each hand while diving through glass around a hospital, but there’s that same ingenuity and carefree attitude that allowed both directors to simply forget some of the nagging complaints of physics and go all out. Characters do flips, fire their weapons in mid-air and there’s even a few pigeons and some symbolism in there as well. Simply a great film. A very high four out of five for this Fulci classic, hopefully others out there will give it the chance it so rightly deserves.