Night of the Serpent (1970)

Ringo Kill / Nest of Vipers / Ringo uccidi / Ringo uccidi e... le notte dei serpenti / Nest of Vipers - Ringo Kill

poster fo Night of the Serpent

Director Giulio Petroni is best known in the genre for his film Death Rides a Horse, a film starring the legendary Lee Van Cleef, that is in many fans' top 20 list, mine included. He's also directed several other decent spaghettis, such as Tepepa and And For a Roof, A Sky Full of Stars. 1970's Night of the Serpent is probably his least-known western, and has only recently become available through a DVD release from South Africa's Global Video company.

It stars American actor Luke Askew (best known as the hippie hitchhiker in the classic film Easy Rider) as a guy named Luke (even though several releases call this Ringo Kill, there is no one named Ringo in the film). As the film starts off, we see two people in a room struggling with someone, although we can't hear what they're talking about. The person they're struggling with is accdentally killed. When the head of the village, Colonel Hernandez (Luigi Pistilli) finds out, he also finds out that the two people, as well as two others, are the heirs to a $10,000 fortune. He blackmails them into helping him, and to get this he needs to have a child named Manuel killed, who is also an heir. The four people are a rather motley bunch: a town elder, a prostitute (played by the smokin' hot Chelo Alonso), a strange and rather sex-hungry preacher, and an innkeeper.

Luigi Pistilli

Luigi Pistilli as Col. Hernandez

To do this, he approaches the head of a local bandito gang, Pancaldo (Guglielmo Spoletini), who owes him a favor. Pancaldo gives him one of his men, a drunkard gringo, Luke. Luke seems to get picked on a lot, and seems rather disturbed; something is out of whack with the guy. Pancaldo gives him his orders, without telling him it's a child. When Luke finally realizes this, we see in a series of flashbacks that he used to be an excellent shot, until one day, half-drunk in a saloon, he tries to shoot a glass off of the top of a kid's head, and accidentally shoots the kid dead in the forehead. Since then, racked with guilt, he's not much of a shot and drinks to numb the pain. He doesn't kill Manuel, and with the help of Manuel's sister, he manages to get off of the bottle. He rescues the kid from a drowning by the inkeeper, and eventually has his showdown with Hernandez.

Luke Askew

Luke needs to come to terms with things.

After I watched this, I wasn't sure if I liked it; I'm still not sure. It's definitely unique in both the casting and storyline. Luke Askew is hardly your typical spaghetti antihero (he even wears rageddy sandals the whole time!), and there's not much of the macho bravado we've come to expect. And that's fine. Because what he does do rather well is play a rather fragile character who is carrying around a lot of guilt, to the point where it's almost crippled him. A theme in this film is the concept of redemption, as we see Luke's flashbacks, his struggle with alcohol, and finally the clarity when it comes to protecting Manuel. My criticism of it would be that it's not fleshed out very deeply, and at times, it seems a bit superficial.

It took a while for me to figure out the plot, and I'm still not quite clear about how the whole inheritance thing would have worked out...where would these people go to get the inheritance, especially after Manuel is murdered... and then they share it with the colonel? It was constructed somewhat murkily.

That said, there was a lot to like in the film; Petroni is one of the better directors of the genre, and he's certainly no hack. The acting was decent, for the most part. Pistilli gave a rather commanding performance in this one, the women are drop-dead gorgeous, and the child was not irritating, as most children in spaghettis seem to be. And Askew was an interesting casting choice, I believe he created a rather quirky character that was a bit hard to figure out. It could have been fleshed out deeper, but I found him catching my attention with his unusual manner. The only miscast was Benito Stefanelli, whom I usually enjoy. He played a bandito-type who looks like he's wearing a Beatle wig - I was glad that he was killed, as he was also a bit annoying, too.

Benito Stefanelli

Not one of Stefanelli's better performances... and there's that wig, too.

The soundtrack from Riz Ortolani was typical, nothing noteworthy, but not bad. The cinematography by Mario Vulpiani and Silvio Fraschetti was excellent; it was what I like in a good spaghetti: masterful use of the landscape, and excellent and unusual perspectives and framing. It's not an excellent film, but it's unique enough in some aspects as well as well-crafted in camera and direction to make it worth a watch.

English trailer:

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