Run Man Run (1968), Mannaja (1977), Django (1966), Django, Kill! (1967)
Blue Underground has triumphantly returned after a slew of incredible genre releases and at the same time has added another fine forgotten genre to their ever-growing library of eclectic titles. They've hit us hard so far with the horror of The Toolbox Murders and then slapped us silly with a crime drama Revolver and an entertaining heist flick in Grand Slam. They quickly returned with erotic mayhem that would make even Al Goldstein blush in films like Eugenie and Quiet Days in Clichy. They now present a literal wet dream come true for fans of the Spaghetti Western genre as Blue Underground unleashes their outstanding compilation The Spaghetti Western Collection in early January 2003. I'm pleased to say that the verdict on this set is nothing more than "Please sir, may I have another?" The set, which brings together 4 very entertaining and altogether different titles, is a definite treat for fans of the genre. Included in the set are Run Man Run, Mannaja (A Man Called Blade), Django and Django Kill. All titles are available as part of the set or individually, except for Django which can only be had with the purchase of the Box Set. Each disc features some interesting extras along with well written (and worth the read) liner notes. The revamped version of Django is destined to be a fan favorite, as well as a first choice over the previous Anchor Bay release, but more on that goodness later. It's time to get down and dirty and dig in Spaghetti Western style.
Run Man Run - From Sergio Sollima, the man that brought us Revolver and Violent City, comes an oddball film of sorts that touches on just about every base from strong political subtext to bizarre comic relief right down to sheer human terror. Thomas Milan (Four of the Apocalypse) reprises his role of Cuchillo (The Big Gundown) as a man down on his luck that everyone seems to want a piece of. After he's unjustly imprisoned, a revolutionary poet named Ramirez (played by Jose Torres) strikes a monetary bargain with Cuchillo to help him escape. When Ramirez is unexpectedly gunned down he entrusts and hands off info to Cuchillo concerning some hidden gold; Ahhh the riches, but not without a price. Now everyone REALLY wants a slice of Cuchillo's ass and they'll stop at nothing to get it. Along the way Cuchillo will be beaten, tortured, shot at, helped, tied to a windmill, nearly blown to bits and enjoy a brief stint as a missionary. While not overtly violent like the other films in the set Run Man Run does a pretty good job of getting its point across. While the onscreen violence may be a bit subdued, the real violence comes across in the anguished and tortured expressions on the faces of those involved. Despite the obvious seriousness of the situation, all the while there's an unnerving layer of comic relief that creeps up from time to time. Take for example when Cuchillo inadvertently steps right into a firing line, or his constant insistence that "I didn't do anything" or "I wasn't there", as he's constantly captured and recapturedÉ simply for being there.
Run Man Run certainly makes for an enjoyable viewing experience despite some brief instances of slow down. Thomas Milian is wonderful as always with exceptional screen presence and Sergio Sollima once again shows us his skills as a filmmaker with some beautifully composed shots and well executed set pieces. If Run Man Run has one thing going for it, it's that it never seems excessive or over the top, simply for the sake of being so all the while remaining a fun and entertaining ride.
Extras for Run Man Run include a 16-minute featurette entitled Run Man Run 35 Years Running that includes interviews with both Sollima and Milian. As with most of Blue Underground's original featurettes it a nice informative piece. Next up is a vintage 60's documentary entitled Westerns Italian Style that runs about 38 minutes. This retro documentary features some incredible footage and appearances from celebrities (Klaus Kinski, Thomas Milian and John Saxon) and directors (Enzo Castellari, Sergio Sollima, Sergio Corbucci) alike. Also included are a trailer, solid poster and still gallery (with some great ad art) and talent bios for both Sollima and Milian.
Mannaja A Man Called Blade - Directed by Sergio Martino (probably best known for Torso and the gut-munching epic Mountain of the Cannibal God) Mannaja is also at times a Western of different sorts. Appearing quite late in the genre Mannaja stars Maurizio Merli as Blade, a loner and a bounty hunter who's better with a hatchet than he is with a gun (which is evident within the first few frames of the film). Blade wanders upon a mining town that is run by the corrupt and wheelchair bound McGowan and his equally corrupt and slickly dressed sidekick Voller. With multiple scores to settle, McGowan is forced to hire Blade to track down his missing daughter.
Extremely sadistic and violent Mannaja once again stands as a fine example of the genre. Filled with great performances and fog drenched scenes (to mask imperfections in the sets of all things) it's a really entertaining run. Not for the squeamish there are some scenes that could make even the hardened gore fan run for cover including a scene that rivals the torturous eyes taped open over needles in Argento's Opera. Also worth mentioning is the odd yet effective 70's folk-rock soundtrack, very catchy.
Extras include another original featurette entitled A Man Callled Sergio (12-minutes), which features another fine interview with director Sergio Martino. Also included are a brief stills gallery, trailer, and Sergio Martino bio.
Django - Often considered to be one of the greatest Westerns ever made, the original Django is without a doubt a true masterpiece in nearly every sense of the word. Franco Nero stars as Django a wanderer who travels the countryside dragging a coffin behind him. He happens upon a young woman being beaten by some mask wearing mercenaries and it's at this point that we first learn why Django's wallet bears the insignia of bad motherfucker. Django saves the girl and the two travel to a local town that is ruled by a prejudice general and his cronies who likes to spend their spare time killing Mexicans for sport. Soon the town learns of the secret that Django carries in that coffin of his (this needs to be seen to be believed) and join forces with Django in a quest for some gold. If you think things go exactly the way they were planned then you'd be sorely mistaken, this wouldn't be an A Class western without a grand finale (grand in its efffective simplicity), and that's just what the viewer is given.
Easily one of the most heart wrenching and violent westerns I can think of, Django is a first class affair all the way. Nero is simply fantastic as the title character and the ruthless yet effective set pieces will stay with you long after you hit eject on your DVD player. The story may not be new, but the immaculate execution is worth the price of admission on its own. There is very little that is funny to be found in Django except for a few moments of the darkest of black comedy. As a whole you'd be hard pressed to find anything wrong with this flick or with its presentation on this DVD. Django was previously available from Anchor Bay in an OK transfer with only a dubbed soundtrack audio option. This release from Blue Underground marks a true first as not only is it sourced from original negatives (colors are extremely vibrant), but we have the option of hearing Nero's real voice with English subs. Easily outclassing Anchor Bay's disc by a long shot, this is obviously the way to go and you can only get Django as part of the Box Set, its not available on its on.
Extras for Django include a 13-minute featurette entitled Django: The One and Only which includes interviews with Nero and asst. director Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust). Also included are a trailer, still gallery and talent bios for Sergio Corbucci and Franco Nero.
Django Kill ...If You Live, Shoot! - The liner notes describe this film as an "art house" or "gothic western" and upon reading those words I couldn't agree more. Truly an odd film from the start, the opening scene is literally our hero Django rising from what was supposed to have been his grave. Django aims to catch up with the men who almost killed him and exact his revenge but the truly bizarre town they all wind up in will exact its own type of revenge for him. This is a town unlike any other and it's up to Django to protect the innocent from the perverse corruption that populates this evil place.
Full of bizarre imagery and even more bizarre editing techniques this Django is truly like no other. The film is full of dreamlike sequences and oddly edited set pieces. Bizarre horror, humiliation and torture abound with more than one's share of religious metaphors thrown in for good measure. Lot's of violence to be found within these walls as well including a grotesque moment in which a group of people dig into a mans chest cavity in search of golden bullets. What else would one expect from director Guilio Questi who unleashed upon the world the bizarre horror classic Death Laid an Egg.
Extras include a 21-minute featurette entitled Django, Tell! This feature includes interviews with Milian, Questi and actor Ray Lovelack. Also included is a poster and still gallery.
Quality wise, it's nothing but high marks all around. Each of these films looks simply outstanding with only trace amounts of minor print damage here and there. These films look exceptional with absolutely no sign of digital artifacts and nice, bright solid colors all around. As usual Blue Underground does and exceptional job on their transfers, fans will be ultimately overjoyed.
Audio is equally impressive with each film featuring mono English and Italian tracks with a choice of optional English Subs. Both mono tracks on all four films sound equally fine with nice clear dialogue and absolutely no distortion to speak of. It's worth noting that fans will truly dig the revamped Django disc with the optional English subs as we get to hear Nero's real voice, which makes all the difference in the world and was missing from Anchor Bay's version due to only a dubbed track being available.
Four exceptional films, four exceptional presentations, Blue Underground has done it again, and are to be truly commended. As a set or individually, these discs are worth their weight in gold and should make fans of the Spaghetti Western sub genre very happy. Keep in mind that the only way to snatch the new disc of Django is with a purchase of the complete set, which comes highly recommended from this cult movie fan.