Deep inside Horror

It’s funny, but I haven’t talked much about the horror genre here. Obviously not enough posting while drinking, cuz you get a few in me…

So I’m trying to figure out what my problem is, man. Like last night, I was sort of rambling to poor Catherine at Stich ‘n Bitch about my weird vendetta gainst the standardized contemporary vampires of film and fiction (you know, the eurotrashy ones that dress like they walked past an exploding latex factory?)… I also recall Yojo grumbling something about finding a strong female character leading a contemporary hollywood vampire story, which set off a part of my brain…

And this morning I had a coherency meltdown or something while twittering (ugh) about the dichotemy between “Sexy” and “Scary”.

Not the way on Halloween so many nubile young thangs (and some not so nubile or young ones, for that matter) tend to just afix “Sexy” to their costume. Now, if someone is going for an Elvira/Morticia Addams type look- more power to them. And sure, we’ll always have the Sexy Nurse, Sexy Vampress etc. outfits- fine, it’s par for the course. It gets silly, IMHO, when we drift towards the Sexy Toaster Oven etc… I mean, it seems that any basic costume has a Sexy prefix attached to it- but like I said, fuck, I’m losing the point…

WHERE did it go?

Ah. Yes. Sexy vs. Scary.

To me, being Scared can be a little bit sexy. After a good fright, we all enjoy a cuddle, and sometimes with the right people those cuddles lead to something pretty sexy. Fine and Good, it is one of the many wonderful side-effects of being Scared.

But the “Sexy as Scary”… see, I can barely count some movies as horror movies, because to me they are less about being Scary and more about being Sexy. I get it- what the filmmakers are going for- we equate Sex with Death, or at least Fear of the Unknown… the Virginal Lead is “menaced” by the Sexy Monster who embodies forbidden lusts and pleasures (be they oral vampires, the savage fuck of a werewolf, the haunting “forever” romance of the specter or ghost)… at the end of the movie the Virginal Lead has had their brush with death (i.e. they’ve lost their cherry, or at least come close) and the “abnormal” lusts, the kink, has been excised with the monster being killed. The lead is older, wiser, and a bit more comfortable with their own sexuality as a result…

Okay, this is all Horror 101 stuff, we know how it works. Dracula has to die, or at least be banished, because even though he made Mina feel all hot and bothered, she is a good little Victorian woman…

But I hope I’m not some retro-puritan throwback manbeast. I mean, that is why I don’t really enjoy the traditional (or non) tellings of Dracula. No, Dracula, for me, doesn’t have to die because otherwise Jonathan Harker will be deprived of his quiet, gracious little wife- but because he is the Monster.

Now we can certainly have some fun where the Monster isn’t all bad, or the Fearless Monster Killers that assemble to defeat said beastie are more wretched in soul than their intended scapegoat (Clive Barker certainly plays with that one in the underrated, overripe Nightbreed)…

But my pet peeve (of the day) comes from the contemporary “defanging” (if you will) of horror’s monsters. The “Twilight”ing of once violent, scary monsters has taken away all of the nocturnal horror and left us with sweet baby bunnies that just want to cuddle, and be our immortal badass super-pretty protectors…

The reason the TV series Beauty & The Beast worked is because Vincent was a tragic/romantic hero- so don’t think I’m immune to a little bodice-heaving and longing sighs for a doomed love… but the modern pre-teen/YA transformation of both Werewolf and Vampire to misunderstood Tiger Beat pop idols infuriates me…

I’d rather, I guess, that they go back to representing savage forms of sodomy- willing or not- than chaste “our love is 4evah!” starry-eyed gasping.

It’s hard to be scared- really frightened- by zombies beyond the “aw fuck, they outnumber us by like a lot” aspect. Make ’em faster (and call them “infected”), blood-spitting, wire-work knowing death-dealers, and it’s still “survival horror”. It isn’t the zombies themselves that are frightening, it’s their inevitability. No matter how safe our stronghold, now matter how many bullets and MREs, we’ve all seen the movies, read the comics… we know they are gonna get in sooner or later…

And on the Z note, how completely unsexy are zombies? I mean, really?

A & I were subbmitted a comic book for a potential adaptation (we passed) and the premise had some promise, but one of the characters had us laughing (in a bad way) at the writing… she kept posing and throwing out these buffy-esq one-liners, except R-rated, stuff like when a Z is crawling at her leg after being vivesected by her explosive arrows or whatever: “Aw, whatsamatter, can’t get it up?” punctuated by a vicious shotgun blast to the head… “C’mon you bastards, do what my last boyfriend couldn’t and eat me!” and I’m just shaking my head… with Vampires, which have stood in for sex/death since that half-drunk Irish theater manager banged out his novel over seven long years well over a century ago, you can get away with the come-on badass talk… but Zombies? The hell!

At the same time, The Creature (ye olde reanimate) can be a bit sexualized. Let’s not forget, Frankenstein’s Monster wanted a bride, and when denied one he told Victor “I’ll be there on your wedding night,” which is a pretty in-your-face subdued threat of rape, especially in an era when it is on the wedding night that all good little girls and boys will first experience carnality.

But anyhow, I just can’t find the romantically sexualized monster to be scary. It isn’t them, it’s me (I’m sure it happens all the time, to lots of guys). The Lost Boys, is awesome because of the 2nd disk of the SE, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has fucking INCREDIBLE production values (and two of the worst performances of all time, but that is another rant), and…

See, howsabout Candyman? When Helen first encounters Tony Todd, he’s seductive, sure. He’s also Fucking Creepy as All Hell. And the ending of that particular film doesn’t leave you going, “aw, I sure wish Candyman would come whisk me away like that…” it leaves you going “brrr”. Because it is not comforting.

In Ginger Snaps Ginger is changed by the bite she receives that fateful night. And it seems exciting and new to her, she’s pretty, the boys notice her, she’s confident. She is sexually awakened as she changes (the blood of her first menstrual cycle attracting the werewolf is a grand touch to the mythos), and she likes it.

But the scary part of the story is that her sister Bridgette, unchanged, is unnerved by her sister and her new… appetites. It’s with Bridgette that with sympathize and fret. And Ginger doesn’t want things to go back to “normal”, she doesn’t want to return to the pre-awakened state. She’s seen the hot breath of the bestial instinct and it excites her…

Ginger Snaps reaches classic status because it balances what is very obviously a “traditional” take on the sexualized monster (“Beware!”) with a darkly humerous look at the discomfort and awkwardness we all went through at puberty. But is it then a throwback? That the sexualized girl is “punished” for accepting her change, while her chaste/pure (pre-menstrual) sister… well, she’s punished to, which would take us into the increasingly dark second film in the cycle…

There is also the reversal, the subversion of the standard tropes. Like in The Convent, when a character’s virginal status acts against her…

With vampires in particular, I have this grievence: They used to be a metaphor for sex, some more overt than others. Well they’ve ceased to be a metaphor. Todays audiences (primarily, apparently, women and girls) want their bloodsuckers to be impossibly buff (but they don’t excercise) incredibly well dressed (be it in crushed velvet or designer slacks), breathtakingly handsome (they fucking sparkle?) and oh so in search of a soulmate to love… for evah Oh, and despite being a persecuted minority group that one imagines should be staying under wraps- they always seem to go out of their way to make the presence known to the Mary-Sue heroine who will end up boning them.

The Good Vampire always has some Bad Vampire friends (who want to eat/fuck the heroine as well) and they act more like the Standardized Contemporary Vampires (SCVs!) mentioned in the first paragraph or so, the ones that seem to live in every shitty techno goth club since David Goyer dropped his balls…

And on that subject/side note though it may be, how come ALL vampires (especially evil ones) hang out in goth/fetish/bdsm clubs? Don’t you think thats a bit, uh, to easy? I thought they were trying to stay underground? Where are the boring middle-class vampires, the shitkicking duck-hunting vampires (oh, Billy-Bobpire in the cold opening of the so-bad-I-can’t-avert-my-eyes True Blood, why couldn’t you have been a reoccuring character?), the vampires who just don’t buy into the hollywood mandated/hissing vampire/fetish-ware SCV mold?

I guess I just need to accept it. I like the grimm and gorey puberty analogy horror movies. I don’t think I’m a puritan, but I like the warning that sex isn’t always safe, it isn’t always romantic, sometimes it’s dangerous and with the wrong person- deadly. This probably means I shouldn’t be the one giving Sam “The talk”.

But what it comes down to, for me, is I’d rather see a monster used as a Frightening Image, than as a Sexy one. I’d rather go away with a lingering “Bleah, I sure hope I never run into that” than “Man, wouldn’t mind running into that in a dark alley, if ya know what I mean?”

Fuck it. I’m old-fashioned then. I want my vampires to be nasty, my werewolves to be nastier still, and goddamnit, can’t our monsters just be monsters again?

Nanoo-Nanoo 2: electric yoo-hoo

Last year I decided to do it, take that plunge on November 1st and write my first novel. And shockingly, I did. I’m still working on it- editing it actually- but written it is, and on some days when the stars are right, I’m quite proud of it.

107,773 words. And that is with some judicious editing (still on-going). I began it November 1st and wrote “The End” at the end of December, while Shelby and Annika converged to meet me on the Dock for an impromptu dinner that became a celebratory one… except for that Sam wouldn’t sit still so one of us was always chasing him through Little Ethiopia while the other two ate hurriedly…

Since then, Annika and I have written like 3 screenplays, and I’m at 80,038 words on Novel 2… it’s taken me a lot longer, but the writing is a LOT better. It’s a heavier story, less of a fun & run beach read- so I’m pleased with the progress. Annika has also started a novel, and I’m pretty sure a short story or two- as well as her book proposal, so we’ve stayed creatively busy…

Of late, Novel 2 has been a real pain in my ass, breaking Part 5 has proved difficult and re-writing Part 4 has been a total bear…

So, Novel 1’s edit will continue when I can muster my brain to do edity thoughts, Novel 2 can languish in it’s own hell for all I care…

And on November 1st, something new gets started…. I haven’t written a word down on the new project, I’m playing it fair. Last year I didn’t even know I was doing NaNoWriMo until the morning of the 1st… this year I decided to do it on the 27th of October, so I’ve had a little time to start reading research materials and plotting characters in my head… but not on paper! Not on the screen. Not until Friday at midnight…

Will You Nanoo, too?

Thirty-One Days & Nights… of HORROR!

I was planning on porting over the terror-trailer calvacade from ye olde livejournal to this site, as I did the essays on Spaghetti Westerns, but I’m wondering if I should rework them to contain actual reviews or at least thoughts on the trailers themselves- if not the movies they often missrepresent.

What sayeth the congregation? Any interest, or am I pissing in the wind again?

The Way of the…er… pen? keyboard?

Key-Bored. Hur hur hur!

Hi, all. Nova was asking me to fly East with my magical powers and help her keep on task on her Saturday writing. A confession: Saturday writing has never been easy for me.

Really, I feel like I’ve only been a serious writer since Sam was born. Everything before then was either dilettante dabbling or half-assed training. My time as a script reader and development guy at Red Hour Films- That was my serious training for understanding structure, voice, character, and a bunch of other things that at quarter to 8 on a sunny Saturday morning, after a night of drinking wine with my friends and family, I can’t quite remember…

Anyhow, I’m not here to bitch about my lack of interest on getting writing done on Saturday (it’s partially just because Saturday is the only day The Wife can get writing done- since I’m around to wrangle the Boy), but rather to bitch about my postpartum depression.

This doesn’t seem to apply to screenplays, this sickness I am about to share with you, but only to prose. When I finished my first novel, a year ago come January, I was on a serious high for ’bout a week, maybe two. Then the CRASH came, and I was convinced I had wasted months of time and keyboard-life with this silly, trivial, over-written and under-characterized rubbish.

It took the loving care of my Wife and my good friend CP to slap the shit out of me and get me back on track. First Novel Blues, no doubt, some sort of self-doubt that had to be shrugged off, okay, okay; forget about that! Time to climb back on that horse, bucko!

So I did, though it took a lot of deliberating on what kind of horse it was going to be (which I think I went into in another entry here)… finally finding the horse and giving it free reign to put it’s nose into the wind and find it’s way to the fresh water…

Er. Excuse please. Metaphors + not enough coffee= Hur-hur-hur!

SO, in writing the new novel, I decided to partition it into sections, parts, or as The Wife suggested, Novellas- the last especially fitting since it’s a (meta) pulp adventure story wherein cliffhangers and sudden reveals are stock and trade.

Anyways, each time I finish a Novella- I hit a brick wall. After a day or two (the corresponding times are high-larious, I finished a lengthy sci-fi novel, I was up for a week, I finish the novella, I’m up for a day or two!) of euphoria, I crash and burn into this weird funk/depression… and not only am I capable of writing through it, or writing at all (or, tragically, of editing my other novel) but I am kinda grumpy and irritable and feeling blue and … WTF, God of the Word Processor?

Again, for the sci-fi novel I was down for probably damn near three weeks. Maybe a month. With the novellas, a week+, if we’re unlucky.

Fortunately, I can switch mediums and work on our screenplays during these funks, but currently we’re at a crossroads where it’s up to The Wife to do her part on the current screen-project, so I’m literally just twiddling my thumbs on the loading dock…

Which is a horrible, horrible thing to be doing. Especially when the only rationale for why this low-paying menial labor gig is worth our constant poverty and at least one bill going unpaid every month (not to even mention the dreaded overdraft spectre hanging over our heads at all fucking times) is because, in theory, I am Writing- an Important and Grand thing. So to have these lulls wherein I am not writing, makes me feel like an especially useless set of tits on a bull.

It’s a frightening feeling, to feel like one is failing wife & child in order to chase dreams. Particularly whilst down-in-the-mouth about said dreams due to postpartum depression.

I think this particular fugue is almost lifted, I’ve been reading a lot about themes and tropes and thinking about subverting the latter and tweaking the former- a good sign that I’m going to come out of the cave and into the sunlight soon. Still, this is quite a setback, and an irritating one, since I KNOW it is there, but that knowledge doesn’t seem to help me avoid it.

What the-

Hey all. This is mostly for them high-tech folk what have this blog in their readers- uploading the Spaghetti Western Essays to the Low Odysseys for posterities sake- partially because Livejournal sucks donkey cock, partially because I am too fucking tired and strung out to get any real writing done. Either way, it’s about time I start using this blog proper, I reckon.

Spag Western Essay #6: Only the Dead Know

One Western film historian I’ve come across resents the Spag Westerns, he views them as the coffin-nail in traditional Hollywood westerns. I disagree, though I understand where he is coming from. The traditional western couldn’t last forever, no film genre does, unchanged. If it wasn’t hyper-violent, heightened reality genre-bending, it would have been something else…

It is generally accepted that the last Spaghetti Western was made during the late 70s, though Franco Nero became Django one last time as late as 1987 in the bizzare bannana-boat western, Django Strikes Again.

But the style, that lives on.

And the influence as well. I noted in an earlier essay how Clint Eastwood- arguably the first star of the Spag Western movement- was visibly influenced, style-wise, in his own directorial westerns during the 70’s and 80’s. Walter Hill, while an avowed Pecknipah disciple, certainly took some visual cues from the European directors as well as his mentor Bloody Sam, for his break-out western The Long Riders.

In 1987, Spaghetti Western fan (and historian) Alex Cox, who also directed & wrote Sid & Nancy and Repo Man made a sly tribute to the Spag Western with his generally reviled film Straight To Hell. Starring Joe Strummer, The Pogues, Dick Rude, Sy Richardson, Courtney Love, and with truly weird cameos by Dennis Hopper, Elvis Costello, Jim Jarmusch and Grace Jones… the movie was never well received outside of a small group of drooling fanatics, myself included. Sadly, a trailer doesn’t seem to exist on the interwebs for this bizarro spag western (shot in some of the same locations in Almeria as the Leone and Corbucci westerns, Cox is a particularly outspoken Corbucci fan)… but I did find this video for the Pogues cover of the theme song from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, using footage from the movie and behind the scenes as well…

Comedies have taken cues from the way Leone in particular cut between eyes and mouths and hands during his gunfights, the widening eye, the nervously licked lip, the beads of sweat- we’ve all seen this utilized in sit-coms and the like.

The music, of course, has lived on even more than the films themselves, the scores of Ennio Morricone and Luis Bacalov, among others, are still used today at sporting events, in commercials, and even at the Oscars.

But best of all, a number of foreign filmmakers have fallen in love all over again, and made the idea of the “noodle” western there own… A number of post-Soviet Russian films have been made, usually set along the Mongolian border or in Siberia, that are known as “Easterns”, but are shot in the Spag Western style.

A lot of crap comes out that is influenced by the Spag Western, which is appropriate because a huge amount of Spag Westerns were crap. Milco Mancevski’s Dust gets an A for effort, but fails pretty hard in the execution. Watch the weird Polish trailer.

This year alone we are going to be seeing both an Udon Western, Sukiyaki Western Django from none other than Takashi Miike, and the Dangmyeon Western The Good, The Bad, & The Weird which looks like the most mind-boggling awesome double-feature possible…

Spag Western Essay #5: The Third Hand of the Devil

Sergio Sollima. The elusive 3rd Sergio of the triumvirate of Great Sergios Who Directed Westerns in Italy Between 1966 and 1977…

Only made three westerns. WHAT you are crying out, but Corbucci made… but Leone made… Oh, wait, Leone only made five as a director, + one as a producer. Corbucci was easily the most prolific, churning out at least 9 between ’65 and ’72…

So why is Sollima often mentioned in the same breath as Corbucci and Leone? I don’t know.

His movies are the hardest to come by, unfortunately. Leone’s are, obviously, the first Spag Westerns that come to mind for many people, hell: I talked with a guy the other day who didn’t even know that the “Dollars” movies weren’t “Hollywood” Westerns, so maybe they are just the first westerns that come to mind for some people. Lord knows the theme songs are iconic enough. Leone’s films have always been widely available for home viewing, Corbucci was considered an exploitation director and a b-level talent during his time has achieved a cult reputation, and his films have been embraced by film historians.

But Sollima has always been more of an enigma for this viewer, simply because his movies are harder to come across. I’ve only seen one in full, which (ironically) is probably the first Spaghetti Western that my wife really noticed & enjoyed- and fell a little in crush with Spag star Tomas Milian during- Corri, Uomo, Corri, also known as “Run Man Run”. Milian plays Cuchillo, a shrewd peasant who really just wants to be left alone to chase after his 30 or so girlfriends he keeps stashed in various towns, but gets caught up in bounties and revolutions and all the usual stuff. Cuchillo was one of the rare spag western characters who actually showed up more than once (and played by the same actor, unlike Sabata or Sartana), since Sollima’s Corri, Uomo, Corri was actually the second Cuchillo story- the first was the vastly influential La Resa de Conti, released in the US as “The Big Gundown”…

The Cuchillo stories were actually pretty unique for the spag westerns, Cuchillo would be wanted for a crime he didn’t commit and chased by a bounty hunter (first the ubiquitous Lee Van Cleaf, second would be Donald O’Brian, who greatly resembles the Marvel Comics Sabretooth in western drag), ultimately they team up to take on the real bad guy. Not Shakespeare, to be sure, but who wants All Shakespeare All The Time? People who get the Shakespeare channel, not people who watch Spag Westerns.

The movie of Sollima’s that resonates the most with the serious aficionado of the genre is ’67s Faccia a Faccia, “Face to Face”, starring (even more ubiquitous to the genre than Lee Van Cleaf) Milian and the truly awesome Gian Maria Volonte- the villains in the first two “Dollars” movies.

“Faccia” has one of my absolute favorite plots for a Spag Western: a college professor (Volonte) travels west for his health and is captured by a group of outlaws, led by a barbaric killer (Milian). He displays his value to the gang, and ends up befriending the leader- as the two men journey together, the Outlaw begins to reevaluate his life due to the intellectual’s influence, and the Professor begins to embrace the savage life of a wanted man, becoming more ruthless than the Outlaw…

Sollima’s trio of films has been released on DVD, something I really need to pick up.

Spag Western Essay #4: The Bounty Killer’s Convention

The era of the Spag Western did eventually wind down. Some one say that the advent of the Trinity films, the tongue-in-cheek satires of the Spag Westerns made by directors of the Spag Westerns was the killing blow, Leone thought so.

But self-satire is common in any film genre, or at least self-awareness. And how much more self-aware a genre can there be than the Spag Westerns? To put it in laymans terms, watching a lot of Spaghetti Westerns is, for fans of westerns both traditional and revisionist, a lot like horror fans watching Scream, or 70’s “grindhouse” cinema fanatics (be it Samurai flicks, Shaw Brothers chopsocky, or blacksploitation shooters) watching Kill Bill. It’s a lot of fun, and you can point out all of the references and influences, but you are never not aware of what came before.

Italian and American audiences got bored with the films pretty quickly, though the German market kept gobbling them up for a few years. The one undisputed international star of the genre, Clint Eastwood, abandoned it after three movies and started making American westerns with a definite degree of influence from the Italian style- High Plains Drifter even had a tombstone in the graveyard that said “Sergio Leone”.

So even as the genre petered out, it’s influence lived on…

But it wasn’t done, not quite yet.

Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima more or less invented the Spag Western’s greatest (only) real sub-genre: the Zapata Western. Set during the early decades of the 20th Century, in revolutionary Mexico, these gave the Spag Western a shot of much needed energy to keep audiences involved. Generally more thoughtful than the revenge-seeking loaner, these also tended to have some fine comedic bits scattered throughout.

Corbucci gave us the fantastic Vamos a Matar, Companeros! as well as Il Mercenario.

My love for the climactic shoot out in the latter is in no way superior to my love of the formers insanely catchy, crazy theme song. Both movies feature Franco Nero as a gun-running mercenary, Jack Palance as a vicious killer representing American foreign policy, and Tomas Milian and Tony Muscante trade-off roles as the buffoonish bandito who, over the course of the movie, becomes a passionate revolutionary, enflamed with the Marxist ideals of “the people”… it’s this last mark that makes the Zapata Westerns so much fun, and in some ways, more mature than the Vengeance Westerns, or the Dollar Westerns…

Allow me to digress: some historians believe that Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy was a thinly veiled criticism of American consumer/capitalism culture… this might be a stretch, but he definitely treated $$$ as the ultimate goal of all his characters (except for the vengeance-seeking Colonel Mortimer in A Few Dollars More)… Corbucci, who touched on this combination of cash and vengeance in his own Django, seemed to grow to resent this almost naive view of bounty hunters as heroic and made his greatest (and most enduring) western the same year that he made Companeros

Il Grande Silencio, The Great Silence, goes down in spag western history for a number of reasons. On the one hand, the bounty killers (Corbucci drops the polite “hunters”) are portrayed as vile, fierce, greedy fuckers. Essentially scalphunters, they are led by the psychotic “Loco”, played by Klaus Kinski. It’s Kinski, he’s named Loco, I guess you could have figured that he was psychotic- my bad.

The film is shot in knee- sometimes waist- deep snow, a definite change of scenery from the usual deserts of Almeria.

Jean-Louis Trintignant plays “Silence”, he isn’t just taciturn, he’s mute. And he has some sort of vendetta against the bounty killers. Set in 1899 in the mountains of Utah, during the great blizzard of that season, Loco and the bounty killers are wiping out the poor Mormons, driven by the corrupt local officials and ignored by an uncaring central government down on the flats. Silence shows up, and begins goading the bounty killers into duels- thereby always killing in self defense: he always lets the other guy go for his gun before he whips out his distinctive Mauser pistol and blows them away. Loco retaliates by ignoring every silent insult and challenge, and actually not only stays one step ahead of the hero- the bad guy wins by following the letter of the law.

The Great Silence is regarded by a number of film historians and fans alike as one of the crowning achievements of the Spag Western movement. It’s stark, bleak, grim. For Corbucci, it was sort of the penultimate variation on his favorite personal themes: a crippled hero (in The Hellbenders Joseph Cotton has a bad arm, in both Django and this one, the hero’s hands are brutalized), a town torn apart by greed and violence, and an uncaring, ineffective government.

The Finnish Progressive Music Association recently ran a project which encouraged musicians and bands to interpret the The Great Silence, Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy) did several featurettes for the kickass dvd, and it’s heavily featured in most books on the Spaghetti Western.

Honestly, I prefer Companeros or Il Mercenario for a rewatch. Remember: just because a movie is Important and Well-Made, doesn’t mean it’s Awesome. I mean, it IS, but not as awesome to watch with a couple of beers and a friend as the other two.

Spag Western Essay #3: Coffin Dancing

So. I think we’ve established that Spaghetti Western is a genre limited partially to a time and place, much like Noir. Like Noir, it continues to influence, to inspire and to resonate. And like Noir, it sometimes resurfaces. There isn’t a neat and easy label for post-70s Spag Westerns like “Neo Noir”, but they pop up every so often just the same. Leone himself argued that Silverado was an American Western- done in the style of the Italian Westerns.

Huh. Maybe? An American filmmaking style and sensibility re-directing the Italian sensibility which came from an American genre? Ow my head!

But there are more obvious influences. Not counting Revisionist Westerns or Acid Westerns, or the rarely accurate Biopic Western- all of which bear the stamp of “Post-Spag Influence” -to think about the look of El Topo or the Monte Hellman westerns, Walter Hill’s The Long Riders or even the overly adored Tombstone is to see the influence of not just John Ford and Anthony Mann, but certainly Leone if not Corbucci and Sollima…

For the Western (whatever it’s sub-genre) is, above all else a director’s genre.

For me, beyond the visual grandiosity, and the music (2nd to director’s influence is the composer: for many, it’s the most important aspect of the Spag Western), there is a strange duality that keeps bringing me back to the genre…

In the previously discussed Il Mercenario there is the climactic battle in the Arena between Tony Musante and Jack Palance while Franco Nero officiates… not only is it a frankly brilliant bit of pacing, framing, action and score- but go back and watch it again. No really, go ahead.

So it’s a pretty heightened, ridiculous concept. Two guys with rifles, one bullet each, turned back at forty paces or so, while a third man rings a bell three times to signal the commencement of shootin’- and sorry about the lack of subtitles or a dubbed version, the best cut of the scene I could find on youtube is that one.

One of the guys is in a clown’s costume, fer christsake. And when the bad guy gets it, it’s signified by the white carnation on his black suit turning red with his blood- that’s so over-the-top as to be positively stratospheric!!

But look at Palance during the build up to the firing- he’s scared, he’s nervous, he’s elated: he knows he can take this guy, this foolish Mexican peasant that he’s caught working as a clown. And the look on his face when he realizes he hasn’t.

It’s this duality, the hyper-stylized meets honest emotion, that keeps me captivated by the Spag Westerns of Sergio Corbucci.

But sometimes there isn’t much duality, it’s just flat-out fun and games and weird west- because long before Pinnacle Entertainment made the fantastic Deadlands rpg, the Italian filmmakers were populating a strange and twisted western landscape, somewhere between the atmospheric horror and the pseudo-steampunk gadgets, the Spag Western had it.

And why not? Italy was simultaneously creating masters of atmospheric horror, as well as gadgetry filled spy-thrillers.

Return of Sabata was sort of like an Italian Wild Wild West, a tonally weird balance of intentional camp and atmospheric gunfights (in a coffin factory, natch)… the opening sequence is truly bizarre, all green and red filters and sharp angles while Lee Van Cleef, armed with a 4 barreled Derringer (w/ a few tricks, somehow, hidden in it) is hunted by six men in said coffin factory…

Mannaja, a late entry into the genre (’77) opens up with a Giallo-esq horror sequence as a man with a hatchet stalks a trapper through a mist-filled swamp- and the guy with the axe is our hero! The rest of the movie, set in the traditional arid west, never quite steps up to the chaotic energy that makes the opening three minutes so memorably creepy, which is a shame. A swamp-bound vengeful western has potential, and director Sergio Martino had done a number of bloody horror pics…

In ’74, East met West in The Stranger and The Gunfighter. Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh take on a shitload of people, while piecing together a map drawn on the backsides of various concubines- tough job, looking at voluptuous 1970s hineys.

It ain’t Van Cleef, but they still call him Sabata: Adios, Sabata has Yul Brynner stepping into the name- the character is totally different, but the weird-ass sidekicks with gimmicks cross over.

Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer. You might not know these names, but you should. They Call Me Trinity and Trinity is Still My Name are often considered the death knell of the Spag Western- self parody. Which doesn’t mean that these two aren’t worth a look. The chemistry of Hill and Spencer works, and the tongue-in-cheek & fisticuffs good humor of these films is far more friendly and accessible than the bloody nihilism of some of the earlier Spag Westerns…

Spag Western Essay #2: The Immortal Gundown

Sergio Leone seemed to really think that he had created the “Spaghetti” Western, a genre as different from the traditional John Ford western as modern slasher films are from Universal’s Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man.

And Leone may be right. He was the first to not just try and regurgitate the “classic” westerns. He took a spin and made it something new, and those that came after him like what they saw.

The Spaghetti Western is, by basic definition, a post-modern movie. The Italians had no comparable time period to the American West. No country, except Mexico, and to a lesser extent Canada, do. The edges of society were pushed in Europe, but much earlier.

Another thing the Spag Western tends to do is exist in a heightened reality. Think about it: all that exists are these blueprints that are earlier filmmakers “takes” on the West. Starting with the singing ‘modern’ cowboys like Roy Rogers who talk to their horses, and sometimes leap from them into the backs of Jeeps while taking on evil rustlers with the help of a kid sidekick- all the way to the more cynical, worldly westerns like Fort Apache or The Searchers… those are your blueprint.

Leone famously took what he loved, and made it his own. But with a cynical Rome/60’s twist. And he created an archetype: the mysterious stranger.

Oh sure, the Duke’s “Ringo” in Ford’s classic Stagecoach was kind of a mystery, a lot of the early westerns had a taciturn man with a troubled past… but you got to know them during the coruse of the film.

When Clint Eastwood first rode his little mule beneath the creaking noose in Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars), he has perhaps two pages of dialogue in the entire film, maybe five. We don’t know where Joe is coming from, or where he’s going. We only know he’s fast enough to gun down four guys before one of them can get a shot off.

Incidentally, his name is Joe. Where the whole “Man With No Name” thing comes from is the fantastically heavy-handed advertisements.

“This short cigar belongs to the man with no name. This poncho belongs to the man with no name. This long gun belongs to the man with no name. In his own way, he is perhaps the most dangerous man alive. Its the first movie of its kind. It won’t be the last!”

It helps that by the time “Dollar” hit American shores, Per Qualche Dollaro in PiĆ¹ was already in the can overseas and ready to come fast on it’s heels.

For a Few Dollars More not only brought back Eastwood (again, known in the US as “the man with no name” in all the advertisements, though his character was somewhat different and now named Manco) but also introduced Lee Van Cleef to the Spag Western, as “Colonel Mortimer”.

The ads went: “The Man with No Name is back! The Man in Black is waiting…” Steve King loved him some Clint Eastwood spag westerns. Them who has read The Gunslinger series can already hear the first sentance of the first book in their heads right now…

1967 was the year that the Spag Western hit the ground running in the US. Not only did we get a double-barrelled blast of “The Man With No Name” but Sergio Corbucci gave us the coffin-dragging Django which was, if possible, even more influencial than the first two films of the so-called “Dollar” trilogy. A friend of mine who is an anime freak went nuts when he discovered that there was a single source of the “guy dragging coffin full of weaponry”, since apparently it’s shown up in countless manga, anime and J-rpg video games…

Django also has a pretty memorable scene where a villain cuts off a man’s ear as the camera moves away (hmm), as well as one of the most lamentably cheesy theme songs ever written…

And then we also had Sergio Sollima’s The Big Gundown, Lee Van Cleef’s first starring role- also the first spag western for the fantastic Tomas Milan. La resa dei conti , as it was known in italy, took it’s title from the title of the Ennio Morricone piece played during the final shootout in For a Few Dollars More, which Leone took as proof positive that the others were “following” his stylistic choices.

It’s funny that he was so offended by the Spag Westerns that built off the mythology he created, since he was doing the same thing…

Regardless of Leone’s irritation, he’d only begun his crafting. While entertaining- and admittedly, the final showdown between Lee Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonte (the Italian clone of Oliver Reed) is fucking amazing– Leone didn’t reach cinematic immortality until his next two.

Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo, or The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is the slam dunk. Leone’s themes of personal greed, personal honor, and out right savagery ramped up to full throttle. Eli Wallach steals the movie out from under Eastwood and Van Cleef. Leone takes what he loves from his own movie this time- the three way duel, and turns it up to eleven.

At the same time as the whip-crack and nasal singing of the GBU theme song is entrenching itself in a cultural conciousness (even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve heard the theme song, more and more Spag Westerns are being crafted. Some of them, like Corbucci’s Il Mercenario or Sollima’s Faccia a Faccia are just as good as Leone’s epic, and both directors continued to bring their a-games for several cycles.

A shitload of craptacular movies did show up- notably the “Sartana” series, which admittedly has some of my favorite titles… “Have a Good Funeral My Friend, Sartana will Pay!” and “If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death!”. Sergio Leone referred to them as “If you Meet Sartana, give the prick a smack in the mouth”.

So yeah, there are always lesser examples within a genre, look at the glut of slasher-type horror films that erupted after Carpenter’s Halloween- or rather don’t, most of them are pretty bad.

Sadly, the Spag Western doesn’t get a lot of respect for the quality in filmmaking, composing and story-telling that the best exhibited. For a lot of people, they are only to be enjoyed by fatuous hipsters who don’t comprehend the actual definition of Irony- and use the music for knee-jerk recognition…

Others just dismiss the sub-genre with a broad-shrug of “Oh, I don’t like Westerns,” which is kind of like dismissing all country music because you don’t like mainstream Nashville, or all horror films because you don’t like slasher movies.

But there is a lot to learn, and a lot to love, in the Spag Western and it’s descendents.