Death Rides a Horse (1967)

Da Uomo a Uomo

Plot: 15 years ago, a young boy watches his family meet the grim reaper at the gun-toting hands of four raping, masked thieves. During the massacre, he sees three clues on three of the men and catches a glimpse of the face of the other that will provide him with the evidence of who these men are as the story progresses.

In the present, a stranger comes to town and a link is provided to these murders from his childhood, he soon discovers they both have a vendetta against the same people. Will they team up with one another or will the backstabbing begin?

The Wisdom of the Western Guru:

“Can you polish a turd or rather smudge a diamond?”

….Now back from that quote that they should totally put on the poster (hint, hint; nudge, nudge) to the actual review:

1967’s Death Rides a Horse is a film that has titties. As it embraces you with so much style that you can’t help but grow a big, rubbery hard one (or two hard nipples if you are female), as the film is gorgeous to look at from the oppressive, rain-soaked opener to the triumphant, sun-lit ending.

However, much like gazing at the breasts of Britney Spears, when you look up one will notice it does not have much smarts. As while Italian Cinema is often accurately criticized for being style of substance, this film is without much tension and is told in a by-the-numbers way that makes it ordinary.

It starts like a cold cock right to the throat (I mean a fisticuff, you pervert) stunning the viewer with abrupt, senseless violence and even an unsettling few moments of a rape. The nameless camp-cannon fodder in the form of the guards of the gold are picked off like slasher film victims and when the family itself is attacked, one gets the impression that Alice ain’t in Kansas anymore, baby.

Then you have the sound that the guns make throughout the film that is akin to the laser blaster sounds in the Star Wars films. It’s groovy n’ cool; much like the entire score of Ennio Morricone who throws in every type of instrument and probably even the kitchen sink: from sounds of gongs to the simple, Psycho-esque string plucks… even something that sounds like a fiddle and, of course, electric guitars, a Morricone staple.

It’s actually such a memorable score that one does not even have to watch the film, only hear it in the background (and, yes, I am literally doing this while I am writing this review) and they can still get something out of it. No wonder the modern pastiche filmmaker Quentin Tarantino used it for his Kill Bill films, as well!

All components that make up this opening scene and various bits-and-pieces of the film strewn throughout are exceptional. It’s too bad that the most important part of films is what gives it its literate quality. That would be a story. As this ineffective western’s other best quality is that aforementioned visual-clue angle that propels its plot and it becomes apparent that the main hero has mostly suppressed his anger all this time for it to come down to sudden violence as soon as the killers are revealed to him. And, yes, Tarantino also lifted this idea for the Kill Bill films.

While this angle is a grand idea and it really could have buoyed Death Rides a Horse to be a masterwork, it’s not really well developed, and the film is often repetitive and clunky. I would even say it is extremely clichéd. As one that watches any kind of action film (yes, westerns are westerns, but they can still easily fit into that genre): then one knows the routine: After the hero’s first meet they argue, stab each other in the back, then partner up when one of them needs the other one at the last minute. It has the story dynamics of a buddy-cop action picture right down to the one-liners.*

It’s really too bad that when I watch this film, I can’t help but think of the usual simplexes in those films and feel that Death Rides a Horse is in this same breed of films that play at the theatres and often cater to filmgoers with non-complex tastes and simple, non-divergent expectations.

While one often knows that Spaghetti’s are a sub-genre that often uses its style over literary smarts almost to an advantage, Italian Cinema is at its best when the viewer is held captive from suspense in their seat, unsure of each action scenes’ outcome.

This is the main reason why Death Rides a Horse does not work. There is very little suspense and this films tale of revenge is already clichéd when compared to other movies, so it becomes very tedious when it repeats itself each time one of these four main villains needs to be dispatched to advance the plot along.

Moreover, it’s really a bad thing that this western is rated so highly. I have always assumed many western lists are nothing more than a popularity contest and while watching this film one should know there are much better Spaghettis out there.

However, being a hetero male, I couldn‘t help but think when watching Death Rides a Horse….

Look at its titties bounce and swing. Bring out the Trampoline!

…… Or don’t. As Death Rides a Horse is a grand picture, but only just in the technical departments.  If you look at it in anyway else, one feels like their lover got lobotomized.

And that’s not true love… but rather just a one-night stand.

5.5 / 10 (In 0.5 Increments)

* See what I am talking about here with buddy-cop movies. Most of these aren‘t that good, even if there are always exceptions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_cop_film

(for another take on this film, check out Scherpschutter's review, here)

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