Monday, January 24, 2022

#2,698. Four of the Apocalypse (1975) - Spotlight on Italy


Director Lucio Fulci had his share of trouble with the censors. Several of his movies, including The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery, and Zombie, were targeted for their violence, and ended up on the UK’s Video Nasties list, while 1982’s The New York Ripper so enraged the BBFC (The British Board of Film Classification) that they not only banned it outright, but ordered all prints to be immediately flown out of the country!

The blood and carnage in Fulci’s spaghetti western Four of the Apocalypse also raised a few eyebrows, and during its initial run in 1975 the movie never once screened in the United States. While the violence is, indeed, graphic, Four of the Apocalypse is a fascinating entry in the subgenre, and it deserved a much better fate than that.

Salt Flats, Utah, 1873. Four strangers: professional gambler Stubby Preston (Fabio Testi); pregnant prostitute Bunny O’Neill (Lynne Frederick); town drunk Clem (Michael J. Pollard); and cemetery worker Bud (Harry Baird) - who claims he can communicate with the dead – spend an evening spending time in the same jail cell. Fortunately for them, the same night they are locked up, a group of vigilantes rides into Salt Flats, shooting everyone in their path.

His town destroyed, the Sheriff of the now-deserted Salt Flats (played by Donal O’Brien) releases the quartet the next morning, and together the four ride into the untamed west, happy to have escaped with their lives. But a chance encounter with a vicious outlaw named Chaco (Tomas Milian) reminds them just how dangerous the frontier can be, and sets them on a course that will forever change the nature of their friendship.

Four of the Apocalypse features a handful of shocking scenes, most of which center on Tomas Milian’s Chaco. At one point, the bandit guns down two men and tortures a third - a sheriff - by skinning his abdomen (he eventually finishes the poor guy off with his own badge, plunging it straight into his heart). In addition, there’s a scene in which Chaco rapes Bunny, forcing Stubby, who has fallen in love with her, to watch the entire assault (though not graphic, this sequence is still very disturbing).

Yet thanks to the fine performances delivered by its cast, coupled with moments as engaging as they are unique, Four of the Apocalypse is a lot more than just another violent Italian western. Testi and Frederick have great chemistry together (aided, rumor has it, by a real-life romance between the two that started while this movie was in production), and both Pollard and Baird bring a genuine likability to their characters, despite their faults (Clem is a drunk and Bud is more than a little flaky). In fact, part of what makes Chaco’s reign of terror so upsetting is that it comes crashing down on characters we have grown to admire.

Along with the performances, Fulci and screenwriter Ennio De Concini concoct a number of very memorable scenes, chief among them a late sequence set in an all-male mining community, which bands together and does what it can to help Bunny when she goes into labor.

A well-acted (Tomas Milian is also superb as the villainous Chaco), smartly structured motion picture, Four of the Apocalypse is not only one of Lucio Fulci’s best films, but ranks right up there with Django, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West as one of my favorite spaghetti westerns of all-time.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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