During the heyday of the spaghetti western era, Sergio Leone‘s immense talent and unforgettable movies overshadowed many other Italian productions, such as The Four Of The Apocalypse, a bizarre old-west adventure released in 1975.
This story follows the travails of four misfit characters, including Stubby, a gambler; Bunny, a prostitute; Clem, a drunkard; and Bud, a black man obsessed with cemeteries.
By coincidence, they end up together in a jail in the small town of Salt Flats, discovering the next day that being behind bars saved them since all the other residents were killed by bandits.
The local sheriff has no interest there and would only like to hang them, but fortunately, Stubby still has enough money left to bribe him and let them go in a rickety cart.
With no other choice, they embark on a journey across the desert to distant Sun City, where they dream of starting a new life from scratch.
Meeting in a hostile and desperate environment, the four try to build a functional group dynamic despite their differences and social and psychological issues.
None of them is familiar with surviving in the wilderness, not knowing how to hunt or navigate along the way, yet after a few miles, they join Chaco, a charming but dangerous gunslinger.
Initially hoping to have found a new friend, Chaco drugs them overnight and subjects them to a series of terrible psychological and physical abuses.
However, the group survives, and this experience becomes a turning point, transforming their journey from mere survival to a kind of moral ordeal and revenge to find the evil gunslinger.
A spaghetti meal with a different taste
In my homeland, in those days, we used to call filmmaker Lucio Fulci the genre terrorist because of his chameleon-like ability to switch in every genre of the great cinematic spectrum from horror to crime, erotic, and drama, as well as comedy and musical.
The Four Of The Apocalypse was his first Western movie, although, by 1975, it was already too late to join the endless wagons of the spaghetti train behind the locomotive led by the triumphant Sergio Leone.
Unfortunately, Fulci was a director who consistently worked with extremely poor budgets, and this movie is no exception; however, that is not necessarily a shortcoming.
Indeed, the story tightens like a rope around the four main characters without being able to rely on immense sets or a cast of hundreds of actors and thousands of appearances.
If John Ford‘s old movies described the glorious frontier and Leone, on the other hand, sang a sad song about the twilight of the genre, Fulci moves away from these two extremes by telling a much narrower and, at times, almost surreal and dreamlike epic.
Catapulted to the middle of nowhere in the desert, the journey of four former prisoners becomes an ordeal of suffering with the devil at their heels, played by another cult actor, Tomas Milian.
However, there is not only suffering but also friendship and love, and a new life is born right after death and loss.
Fulci sculpts what is certainly not his best movie, but it remains a brutal and uncompromising spaghetti western, very different from the many similar ones that crowded theaters in those years.
It is a peculiar blend where the director does not forget his horror roots, coloring each gunfight bright red with the blood of these gunslingers flowing in rivers on the dust.
Little-known but very admirable international cast
As mentioned, Fulci worked quickly with minimal funds, hardly relying on the most famous expensive stars in the cinematic landscape of those years.
However, each of the cast members has dignity and works with commitment to give soul to this story, starting with the hero Fabio Testi as Stubby Preston.
A sleek and ever-well-shaven card player, he has been robbed and thrown into a cell since his arrival in town and has to put up with and live with the crude ways and filth of his new friends.
However, it is not long before he, too, becomes dirty and lost, forgetting civilization but finding love in the beautiful prostitute Lynne Frederick.
The pretty actress has just the right mix of aggressiveness and sweetness, still coming across as a character around whom others rally to protect, also pregnant from the beginning of the long journey.
Michael J. Pollard, on the other hand, is the unstoppable drunk Clem, the only one who betrays the group at one point, although he redeems soon after at the cost of his life, thus showing courage if in weaknesses.
Finally, there is the mad/wise Harry Baird, namely the visionary Bud talking with the dead, seemingly stupid and helpless as the woman, were it not that we will also see a horror and cannibalistic side of him emerge at some point.
Finally, there is him, the magnificent Tomas Milian whom we love to hate as Chaco, a Mexican with no past or future but always with his eyes on the next victim he will make suffer in the present.
He is a cool but also terrible character, infallible and quick with the pistol and the rifle, though even for him, fate has a nasty surprise in store at the very moments when he will think himself safest.