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Vengeance Trails BluRay box review

From The Spaghetti Western Database

Arrow Video is today one of the major BluRay labels for cineastes and the Spaghetti Western genre is no exception here. Several movies from our beloved genre have received high-quality releases from the UK company, including Django and the Sartana films. The former was even released as a 4K UltraHD edition and the latter was released in a marvelous box set some years back, see our review, and the recently published Vengeance Trails box set follows that practice with four new spaghetti westerns receiving this collectors box treatment. We apologize for the delay in this review, which is being published after the box set is already being replaced by a second pressing standard edition (minus the booklet and poster, Arrow does that with most of its box sets, including the Years of Lead). Needless to say, we consider this box a must own, even if you may already own one or more than one of these titles in an HD version. We want to do this release justice by taking a closer look at it.

Venceance Trails

And God Said to Cain (1970)

Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski) gets pardoned and released from the chain gang. After he buys a rifle and a mule with what little possessions he has, he returns to the town where Acombar (Peter Carsten) rules with fear. On his way there he meets his son Dick (Antonio Cantafora) on the stage coach who does not yet know anything about the common past this stranger shares with his father, who is warned of who’s coming for revenge. As a terrible hurricane builds up and the town shelters in place, he sends his goons out to welcome the stranger…..

I have been waiting to rewatch this one for a long time. The movie counts among my personal favorites, because I love the sinister, grim type spaghetti westerns, and this one is a hallmark example of that type of film. Wind howling through the streets, church bells ringing, gunshots like whips echoing through the streets, and bodies piling up as a climax of revenge nears. It must have been 17 years since I last watched it (see review, German). And behold, it still doesn’t disappoint. If you like your spaghetti westerns gloomy, brutal, operatic and straightforward, this is as good as they come. It’s basically one long Rambo-style takedown stretched over 60 minutes without getting boring. It’s dark and there’s a storm coming, the bad guy knows who’s coming, and why he’s coming… and he keeps coming…. It’s such a brilliantly effective spaghetti western! When the church bells ring you know your time has come, and the church bells of course are also part of the almost biblical reckoning of this movie’s ending. What I noticed this time around is that, considering that the showdown pretty much starts 20 minutes into the movie, it is actually rather long at over 100 minutes. That doesn’t make And God Said to Cain one bit boring, but it’s all the more amazing how Margheriti manages to stretch this out and go into all kinds of details and takedowns and back and forths and still build up the tension. The script’s main layer of complexity is how Acombar attempts to deal with the deadly vendetta that is overtaking him whilst keeping the truth from his son who is unaware of the dark past which has led to Hamilton's unflinching desire for revenge. There is plenty of drama to make the (often termed „gothic“) horror of the movie all the more impactful and emotional. There’ also something ghost like, mythical almost, but the movie isn't playing that card too much, just subtly, with the baddies being dead scared of what is coming. Eventually it all goes up in flame. In this it is very similar to another spaghetti I like a lot: Forgotten Pistolero, just not laid on that thick.

And god said to cain

The Bluray offers an alright audio track, but it doesn’t amaze, which is a bit of a shame since sound is a factor in the movie. At times it sounds a bit too hollow, and all in all it is a bit flatter than I hoped. It does sound decent though, so no worries. The English track offers more depth and low tones, which makes it overall more pleasant to listen to. Some crackling is audible every now and then (the same goes for the Italian track however), but it sounds otherwise very cleaned up. I have to say, the English track is just a tad better, puts you more at the center of the action. As is apparent from one of the interviews on the disc, the movie was also released on 70mm with Sensurround, so I wonder if there shouldn’t have been an audio source for this movie that sounded a bit more cinematic. It really is a shame how bad the movies of this era were treated and preserved. I can only imagine how amazing this movie must be blown up to such audio-visual proportions. There are good English subtitles. As with the rest of the box, if you select English or Italian version rather than just switch audio tracks, you will get the respective opening and closing credits, properly restored. The transfer often looks rather faded and bright,with the blacks often suffering from too much grain, turning it into gray, but generally the transfer sports great colors, rich contrasts and relatively solid picture presentation. Once the movie goes full on dark, the transfer really shows its strengths, with strong blacks, great contrasts and nice texture. Despite some flaws it is a great presentation, although especially in brighter parts the wear of the print shows. But overall they got a lot out of the material.

The extras include an audio commentary by Howard Hughes (author of, among other things Once Upon a Time in the Italian West), which is as expected very informative. „Between Gothic and Western“ is an interesting and informative documentary featuring interviews with historian Fabio Melelli and a new audio interview with Marcella Michelangeli (19 Minutes). „Of Night and Wind“ is a video interview with Antonio Cantafora (12 Minutes), who plays the son in the movie. Among other things he reveals that they used to call Margheriti „The General“ because of how he carried himself. And then there’s a German promo gallery from the Ostermeier archive. There is no trailer of the film on this disc, unfortunately.

Massacre Time (1966)

The movie is about Tom Corbett (Franco Nero) returning home to his family only to see his hometown under the control of a brutal gangster, Mr Scott, whose son (Nino Castelnuovo) terrorizes it with his posse. He has a penchant for violent sadism. Tom locates his brother Jeff (George Hilton) who has long given up, looking for hope at the end of a bottle, and convinces him to join him in taking up arms against the Scott clan....

The first western by Lucio Fulci offers a great soundtrack, it is super gritty and violent and is a fan favorite for all the right reasons. I am not going to dwell too much on it, having recently reviewed the German disc, which boasts the same transfer and differs only in presentation, language options and extras (See Massacre Time BluRay review). It is a gritty, early spaghetti western with a brutal story, some decent acting (including the late Nino Castelnuevo) and some of the beloved locations of Almeria.

Massacre Time

The BluRay differs from the recent German disc only in language choices and extras (the transfer is the same I believe). Selecting the English Version gives you the English title credits and a rather fine sounding audio track, selecting Italian the Italian credits sequences. Both in their original forms. I prefer the sound of the Italian track here slightly over the English dub. The subtitles are good. There is an audio commentary here with C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke, which is enthusiastic and informative as can be expected. Also included (under special features, not under setup for some reason) is the alternate US dub (also included on the German disc) that you can also play with optional SDH subtitles. „Two Men Alone“ is a documentary featuring interviews with Franco Nero, and archival ones with George Hilton (49 Minutes). „The Era of Violence“ is a video interview with historian Fabio Melelli (19 Minutes) which is informative as always. Then there is the Italian trailer in pretty decent quality and another German Promotional Gallery from Christian Ostermeier’s archive.

My Name is Pecos (1966)

Pecos is about the titular character (Robert Woods) returning home to avenge his family. Clain (Norman Clarke) and his goons basically run the town, but he is frantically searching for a shipment of gold from a recent robbery that has gone missing. Pecos' revenge and the stolen loot will eventually bring Clain and Pecos together, as the snitching town undertaker rats out Pecos' identity and how he teamed up with the locals....

The movie came out late in 1966 but can probably still be chalked up to the early generation of spaghetti westerns in style and substance. In comparison to some other genre competitors it is very minimalist and low budget, shot in sand pits and creeks around Rome rather than the choice locations around Almeria. Credited with production design is none other than everyone’s favorite Demofilo Fidani. They did a lot with what they had to work with however. Also credited as a camera operator by the way is Joe D’Amato who would turn out to be a regular collaborator with George Eastman, who appears here in a very early role with barely a word of dialogue. I am not sure what the eyelashes are supposed to be on Robert’s face, but it seems the Indio look they wanted to give him required it. Robert also didn’t like it, according to the commentary, understandably. All in all it is said to be kind of a remake of Ringo but with a more ethnic touch. It is definitely also a gritty movie, borrowing lots of elements from the Dollars movies. Director Maurizio Lucidi (The Greatest Kidnapping in the West) delivers a super short, efficient, no-nonsense film that will delight fans of the early genre outings but may disappoint in depth and excitement. It is great to see some familiar faces in there, for example Peter Carsten, Peter Martell and Sal Borgese to name a few. There is also a so-so sequel which is not part of this box, so maybe if Arrow does a follow up, the Pecos cleans up could be on there.

My name is Pecos

Included is the English Version and the Italian Version of My Name is Pecos. Each of which has it's own distinct credit sequence. Both versions run for 85 minutes. The English credits one actually look so pristine (digital restorations of films usually manage to apply filtering etc. to either the image or to foreground text so movie opening credits often look nice with the image in the background appearing mostly in its unrestored form) I suspected it may have been manually reconstructed. Switch back and forth you’ll see what I mean. However, as with the rest of the box, Arrow seems to have painstakingly restored not just the fonts but also the picture in the background, something hardly any company does. And whereas the Italian option doesn’t even give you a „fine“ at the end, the English selection gets you a nicely timed „The End“. Both audio tracks sound really good, and the subtitles are very accurate as far as I can judge with my minor Italian skills. The English dub is also quite well made I think, including Robert’s accent. The transfer looks fantastic. The rather grainy image preserves a lot of the film’s original look but one can see how the digital noise reduction is struggling with some shots and even though Arrow practiced laudable restraint in touching the image up digitally (there’s just very subtle edge enhancement) at times it shows how much heavy lifting there’s going on in the background to make the image pop as it does – and it does – without sacrificing too much detail. The colors are great and the transfer offers plenty of beautiful texture; rich browns, saturated blacks, good contrast and lots of detail.

Special features include a commentary with the esteemed Robert Woods and the honorable C. Coutney Joyner. Super entertaining and very interesting and of course such a privilege to get Robert’s insights into making this movie so many decades ago. „A Giant in the West“ is a new video interview with Luigi Montefiori (aka George Eastman), who has only a very minor role in this movie (21 Minutes). „Indecent Proposal“ is a new video interview with Lucia Modugno (18 Minutes) who plays Mary Burton in the movie and who was also in Navajo Joe as a dancer. „Pecos Kills“ is a new little documentary with new interviews with historian Fabio Melelli including archival interview footage with cinematographer Franco Villa (19 Minutes). There’s also the Italian Trailer (with English subtitles added) and a German promotional pictures gallery from an archive by Christian Ostermeier.

Bandidos (1976)

Bandits led by the ruthless Billy Kane (Venantino Venantini) rob a train and kill almost everyone. He leaves Richard Martin (Enrico Maria Salerno), an old rival and expert marksman, alive but shoots him in both hands. Martin continues working as a lowly travelling showman and picks up Ricky Shot (Terry Jenkins), a young fella on the run from the law, and tutors him to eventually have a successor that can take on Kane. As it turns out, Martin won't have to put up much effort to convince Ricky of this idea...

This one is a very decent, rather beloved and slightly above-average spaghetti western. It is brutal and dramatic, it is quite an ambitious production actually, and yet - at slightly over 90 minutes - it feels tight and entertaining. Bandidos has some great camerawork, comes across as a bit understated, and yet offers quite a multi layered story. It is overall well made, and yet is just not super exciting I think. The film is less influenced by Leone’s movies (for which Dallamano worked as director of photography) but bears closer semblance to American examples of the classic western, not just regarding the film’s themes and plot elements but also stylistic devices.

Bandidos

To address the censorship issue: the UK disc blacks out at least two shots of a horse fall. These aren’t cuts per se but the screen just goes black for a quick second. The BluRay offers the film in English and Italian Versions, differing in the credits sequences (both look really nice) and of course the audio track. Also, as a text at the beginning of the film notes, there is no Italian audio for the final scene so it will switch to the English dub for a line of dialogue there. The subtitles are once again excellent. Both tracks sound really nice, but don’t expect too much richness and depth. I prefer how the Italian one sounds. The transfer looks fabulous, with film grain intact, popping colors and plenty of detail. It lacks a tad of crispness and often features lots of gray and grain where you’d want saturated blacks (I am sure they pulled all they can out of old faded prints like this) but is an overall great picture.

There is an audio commentary with the always excellent Kat Ellinger, who does a great job at properly crediting and analyzing the work of Massimo Dallamano here. „A Man in the Saloon“ is a very recent interview with assistant director Luigi Perelli (18 Minutes), who Also assisted on Hate for Hate and Hate is my God and went on to direct They Call him Veritas but then went into the TV industry, directing for example the renowned and fairly recent mafia series La Piovra. „They call him Simon“ is also a recent interview with Gino Barbacane (11 Minutes), who played one of the baddies. „Western Bandits“ is a recent interview with historian Fabio Melelli (11 Minutes), which is as always a well-informed and excellent contextualization of the movie. Then there’s an alternate end title sequence (1:18), which is English text white on black. Lastly there’s a German promotional gallery (as is the case for the other films in this box by the way) from Christian Ostermeier’s archive.

Vengeance Trails

The Box / Verdict

The box has one visual flaw, that is the little pictures on the spines of the individual BluRay cases, but otherwise it is yet again a very pretty and solid presentation. Also included is an extensive booklet with plenty of facts about the movie and the restorations and 22 pages of essays about the movies by Howard Hughes along with a fold-out poster showing Bandidos on one side and Massacre Time on the other. The individual BluRays have reversible covers.

This box is available in the US, Canada and the UK and can still be ordered widely, especially because it is already in its second pressing, like Arrow did with the Sartana box, without the booklet and posters. It is yet unclear if these films will ever be released individually eventually. At any rate, we highly recommend this box, there are many reasons to buy it and no good reasons not to. For fans this should certainly constitute a must-own. This includes those who may own one or two of the movies in this box already, as there are numerous extras that are well worth it. Arrow needs to be applauded for putting this kind of effort into these releases, it is a true blessing.

Rumor has it they're working on an other box for 2022....


Written by Seb, published April 27, 2022.

Further related reading: The Complete Sartana Bluray Collection review, Arrow Video DVD and BluRay catalog. Screenshots for this article were poached at BluRay.com with eternal gratitude

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