A Perfect Primer To Spaghetti Westerns: ‘Vengeance Trails’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

If you’ve never seen a European Western before, Arrow’s new box set, Vengeance Trails, is the perfect place to start. All four films are included in English and Italian and there’s also an essay booklet by author, Howard Hughes, and a double-sided poster of the two best films in the set – Massacre Time and Bandidos.

Massacre Time (1966)

Massacre Time begins with an English fox hunt straight out of The Most Dangerous Game, and if that doesn’t steal your heart Lucio Fulci‘s first western isn’t for you, but Arrow Films sure knew how to kick their box set off with a bang.

After receiving a letter to go home, Tom (Franco Nero) decides to do just that, only to find out home isn’t home anymore. His brother, Jeffrey (George Hilton), lost the farm to Mr. Scott (Giuseppe Addobbati), and all you need to know about him is that he’s one of those guys who has to put his logo on everything, so almost every business in town has been rebranded.

Tom, of course, isn’t too pleased about this, or the fact that his brother’s become a drunk in his absence, but here’s the thing about Tom. He may ride in like the guy who’s going to save the day, but he never does. Author, C. Courtney Joyner, and True West Magazine‘s Henry Parke talk about this in their commentary, but as much as the film keeps setting Tom up to be the hero, he never intervenes. Instead, Hilton gets to be the hero, who’s also a high-functioning alcoholic.

That’s not the only surprise Massacre Time has in store. Apparently Fulci never heard an actor’s face is his moneymaker, because Nero takes quite a beating in this movie, and while Scott might be the face of his empire, it’s his son, Junior (Nino Castelnuovo, unrecognizable from Umbrellas of Cherbourg and doing his best Marlon Brando impression), who’s the real threat and this box set’s best villain.

Arrow’s release comes with a new interview with Nero, who talks about meeting with Joshua Logan about Camelot during an off day of shooting. This is intercut with an archival interview with Hilton (who passed away in 2019). Both actors have very different takes on Fulci and talk about performing their own stunts, while in another featurette, historian, Fabio Melelli (who’s the one constant on this box set), discusses some of the filming locations in Italy. If you’re on Fulci’s wavelength and love movies about siblings, Massacre Time is a giddy delight with a rousing theme song that’s doomed to get stuck in your head.

My Name is Pecos (1967)

Compared to Massacre Time, Maurizio Lucidi’s My Name is Pecos is a much more nuts and bolts kind of Western about a guy named Pecos (Robert Woods), who comes into town at the same time Kline (Pier Paolo Capponi) and his gang have been double-crossed. Pecos’ reasons for wanting revenge don’t come out until later, but while Massacre Time didn’t have any prominent female characters, that might have been better to all of the female characters in My Name is Pecos getting assaulted at some point. Also making it hard to get lost in the story is the fact that it feels like a film that was meant to be set in America. Pecos is supposed to be Mexican, yet the film addresses this is by taping Woods’ eyes back, and everyone’s speaking Italian, yet there’s a man in a Confederate hat.

If the film is a little tired, Arrow makes the special features the real draw by having Woods join Joyner for the commentary track. In it he talks about why he refused to do the sequel for Seven Guns for the MacGregors, getting miscredited as Wood, and the unique challenges of working with a multi-language cast.

There’s also a no holds back interview with Lucia Modungo that’s essential; an interview with George Eastman, where he’s joined by his dog; and an interview with cinematographer, Franco Villa, where he talks about an incident that sounds exactly like one Woods describes in his commentary.

Bandidos (1967)

Bandidos is the first film in the box set to be about revenge from the beginning (there’s even an attempt to get the main character to give up his revenge) and, just like Massacre Time, two protagonists are better than one. Unable to shoot since Billy Kane (Venantino Venantini) shot both his hands, Martin (Enrico Maria Salerno) starts to train a protégé (Terry Jenkins) with the secret hope that he’ll take up his revenge for him. Martin’s history with Kane is very Frankenstein and his monster, and if a few plot points don’t add up at right away, that’s all resolved once the twist comes in.

Film historian, Kat Ellinger, provides the commentary, where she spends a lot of time championing the director, Massimo Dallamano. She also conjectures whether Jenkins was the same Terry Jenkins who was Charles Laughton’s companion until his death. Additional interviews include assistant director, Luigi Perelli (who talks about attending the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia), and Gino Barbacane, who appeared in Massacre Time and My Name is Pecos, too, before tumbling down the stairs in Bandidos.

And God Said to Cain (1970)

Weather is never passive in And God Said to Cain and, if atmosphere were enough to carry a movie, Antonio Margheriti’s Gothic Western wouldn’t be such a slog. As it is, Klaus Kinski stars as George, a newly pardoned convict who’s come home to seek revenge on Acombar (Peter Carsten), a man who’s done him wrong. Eventually the details of those wrongs come out, but they’re so rushed it doesn’t matter, plus it’s really weird to hear Kinski’s voice dubbed, where half the time his mouth isn’t moving.

Carsten and Kinski are a poor match and there’s never any doubt that George will succeed. There are also way too many henchmen who exist as cannon fodder (with one death-by-church-bell scene that’s especially gruesome).

Hughes provides the commentary and, while his essay booklet is excellent, his commentary has a number of deliberate pauses. There are also interviews with Antonio Cantafora, who played Acombar’s son, and Marcella Michelangeli, whose interview is the only one encumbered by Covid-19.

Vengeance Trails is available on Blu-Ray now from Arrow Films.