Massacre Time aka The Brute and the Beast (1966)

(Le colt cantarono la morte e fu... tempo di massacre)

 

Hilton and Nero

Hilton and Nero

This film was an international hit directed by a Euro-horror icon and featured two of the Spaghetti Western genre's most well known non-American stars. Known by most under its international English title, Massacre Time, the film has made the rounds on public domain DVD releases in the States. Recently, Wild East productions has released a special edition of this film on DVD, under its' US release title, The Brute and the Beast. AIP apparently saw fit to both re-title and re-dub the film when they released it in America.

THE PLOT

Franco Nero plays Burt, a gold prospector who was inexplicably banished from his family some years ago. He finds out from a family friend that trouble is brewing back home. Upon returning to the town he once called home, he finds out that things have changed, and not for the better. His father has died, the family ranch has been taken over by the Scott's, a powerful and corrupt bourgeois family, and his once respectable brother Jeff is reduced to being the town drunk, and wants nothing to do with him. Burt visits the Scott's ranch to confront the family, only to get whipped and beaten by the sadistic and mentally disturbed Jason, the Scott family patriarch's son. Despite his out-worldly gun-fighting skills, Jeff is reluctant to help Burt get back what is rightfully theirs and avenge his father's death. It is only when the family maid, Mercedes is murdered, that the fires of revenge are stoked in Jeff. Together, Burt and Jeff travel to the Scott ranch to do battle in a lengthy climatic gunfight.

Screenwriting credits goes to Fernando Di Leo, best known as a director of Euro-crime films. As with most Spaghetti Westerns, the plot is relatively simple and efficient, towards the end of the film a big secret regarding Burt's past and heritage is revealed to him, which explains why Jeff was acting so peculiar towards him. One wonders why Jeff waited until almost the end of the film to tell Burt the big secret.

THE PLAYERS

Sergio Corbucci's seminal classic DJANGO was released in the spring of 1966, making an overnight star out of young, blue eyed Franco Nero. Eager to strike while the iron was hot, Italian filmmakers rushed to cast Nero in other Spaghetti Westerns. Hot off the heels of the success of Django, Massacre Time was the first out of the blocks, released in August of the same year. Nero does his best playing a different character from the more taciturn Django, but he has little material to really work with. Burt is about as bland as a Spaghetti Western hero gets. We do get to see Nero's not often seen gun twirling ability though. Nero is upstaged by co-star George Hilton, making his Spaghetti Western debut. The Uruguay born Hilton does an excellent job of playing the drunken, wildcard brother whose gun-fighting skills exceed even that of Nero's character. He is the Doc Holliday to Nero's Wyatt Earp. This was Hilton's first lead role in a Spaghetti Western, and he manages to play the role with the usual tongue and cheek panache that he eventually became known for, but manages to strike a balance here. He admirably avoids being too over the top and comical and with his performance.

The two stars are joined by the talented Nino Castelnuovo, who plays the sadistic main villain with serious Freudian 'daddy' issues and an apparent chronic neck problem (He is always seen with his head tilted to one side). Best known for starring in the Oscar nominated French film the Umbrella's of Cherbourge (1964), Castelnuovo's portrayal has grown on me over repeated viewings. I'm of the opinion that when villains are just as compelling as the heroes, it makes for a better film. Does Castenuovo accomplish that? He comes close, but his character needed more fleshing out. In the very first scene of the film, we see him and a hunting party jovially chasing down an unidentified man like a fox. We see from the beginning that he is bad, but we don't see enough of what makes him tick.

We also get a Confucius quoting, blow dart shooting Chinese mortician/saloon pianist, played by Tchang Yu, who adds some offbeat silliness to the proceedings. The character is perhaps a little out of place in what is supposed to be a serious film, but this is the Spaghetti West, where the rules are a bit different.

Castelnuovo enjoys whipping Nero

Castelnuovo enjoys whipping Nero

THE MOVIE

Massacre time was fortunate enough to have two future icons of Italian exploitation cinema involved in its genesis. 'Poliziotteschi' film director Fernando Di Leo penned the script, and directorial credit went to none other than horror master Lucio Fulci. We don't get to see any flesh eating zombies, or entrails being ripped out of anyone, as this film was made a few years before Fulci began his cycle competing with the likes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento for the title of Italy's 'King of Horror'. What we do get however is some artful and stylish directing and well choreographed fistfights and gunplay. The pistols never seem to run out of bullets, which is a common misnomer in the genre. The locales are a bit bland though.

Interestingly enough, while Fulci fanatics may be disappointed at the lack of trademark gore in this film, they may be equally disappointed with the lack of female eye candy. There aren't any important female characters in this film other from the matronly Mercedes. We don't get to see any of the usual female cardboard, cliched archetypes such as the wholesome ranch daughters, evil conniving whores, head-strong feminist liberators, white man loving squaws and saloon girls with a heart of gold, and if you ask me, that's a good thing. I'm all for female characters, as long as they are integral to the plot. The score by Lallo Gori is adequate but nothing special, with the usual nonsensical English lyrics accompanying the main theme song.

 

My favorite shot from the film

 

THE VERDICT

Massacre time is an enjoyable and well made Spaghetti Western, belonging in "above average" territory, but falling short of true greatness. Fans of Fulci's better known Gialli and horror films might get a good kick out seeing the director put out a western. And this is arguably the best western out of the three that Fulci directed, although the much darker Four of the Apocalypse (1975) has amassed a sizable cult following. This film is considered to be a breakout role for Hilton, and he went on to enjoy a lucrative career in the Spaghetti Western genre, playing characters like "Hallelujah" and "Sartana" and later becoming an even bigger star in Giallo films. The film remains the only collaboration between Nero and Hilton. With crisp directing, considerable star power, and ample amounts of good action, I would recommend it to both Fulci and Spaghetti Western fans alike.

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