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Schlock & Awe: DJANGO KILL… IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!

During the 1960s and 70s, literally thousands of westerns were made in Italy. Using Sergio Leone’s seminal film A Fistful of Dollars as a jumping-off point, these pop-art, amoral, revisionist westerns were churned out by the truckload for the European and American markets to devour. While a good many of these are by-the-numbers action movies, certain films and filmmakers sought to use the format to make art. Violence was always a big part of these Spaghetti Westerns, but one of the most violent, darkest, and altogether strangest ones I’ve ever seen is Giulio Questi’s 1967 film Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! It’s a mix of gothic horror and western with some truly brutal violence, surreal cinematography, and pretty blatant homosexual overtones. And what an odd title! It’s a movie that’s probably been seen by few in America, but it’s one that certainly deserves to be, simply for its bat-shit insanity.

Talk about a movie that no one knew how to market. The above trailer for the English language release literally shows absolutely nothing except oblique, rotoscoped images from the film, clearly designed to evoke the public’s love of A Fistful of Dollars. You get no idea about what the movie could be about aside from it being a western and having the name Django involved. The below trailer is the German language one and it’s a little better, actually showing regular clips from the movie; however, it only pulls from the first 10 or so minutes of the feature, and again, completely ignores any of the weird stuff that makes it interesting.

The film stars Cuban actor Tomas Milian, who was one of a handful of huge Spaghetti Western stars, though he’s probably best known today for his role in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic.  Milian plays the half-Mexican bandit known only as “The Stranger,” who at the beginning of the film literally rises from the grave. He was part of a gold heist, and, afterwards, his partner, Oaks (Piero Lulli), and the other white gang members double-cross the Mexican gang members, steal their share of the gold, and shoot them all mercilessly, burying them in the desert. It’s never fully explained whether the Stranger is indeed back from the dead or merely a man who survived being shot and buried, but there’s no shortage of Christ-like imagery to support the supernatural claim. The Stranger is nursed back to health by two mysterious Native Americans who give him a slew of gold bullets with which to exact revenge. He eventually tracks Oaks and the gang to a weird little town in the middle of nowhere that might as well be called Hell. The two most powerful citizens in town are the saloon owner, Mr. Templer, and a priest named Hagerman, who decide to turn in the gang and keep the gold for themselves.  Unfortunately, someone else knows about the gold: the wealthy landowner Mr. Sorrow and his gang of black-clad cowboys, whom he calls his “Muchachos.”

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Eventually, the Stranger comes to town and succeeds in shooting Oaks, but Mr. Sorrow forbids him from being killed, as he believes Oaks is the only one who knows the location of the gold. While getting fixed up by the town’s doctor, the townsfolk see that Oaks has been shot with gold bullets and they tear at the wounded outlaw to get at the gold, which naturally leads to his death. This scene features one of the examples of the explicit gore in the film. Though quite fake-looking by today’s standards, we get plenty of shots of the doctor cutting into Oaks and his pink, day-glo blood gushing out. This scene was originally omitted from most prints and only exists on the DVD in its original Italian with subtitles. Another such scene much later features the townsfolk scalping one of the Stranger’s two Indian guides with similar gore effects. Later still, the Stranger kills the entirety of the Muchachos by tying sticks of dynamite onto a horse and sending it out to meet them, leading to flashes of bloody, disembodied limbs littering the landscape.

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We eventually meet Templer’s son, Evan, who is in love with his father’s girlfriend, the saloon singer Flory, and when he sees the two fooling around, Evan is sufficiently angered and proceeds to fetishistically stab and rip Flory’s clothing with a knife. Before she can get too upset, the Muchachos kidnap Evan in an attempt to get Templer to give Sorrow the gold. Hagerman refuses to give up his share of the gold, citing that he has no ties to the kid. The Stranger, whom Sorrow wants in his gang, acts as the messenger between the parties and wants to save Evan’s life. During the night, the Muchachos drink too much and take quite a shine to the very young and angelic looking Evan.  In the morning, while everyone is passed out, Evan steals a gun and commits suicide.  While never explicitly stated, it is heavily hinted that the Muchachos sexually assault Evan and this leads to his suicide. When Sorrow, who quite clearly loves the Muchachos beyond simply being his gang (“You don’t know what they mean to me in their smart black uniforms”) sees the boy’s body, he simply states that Evan was “too afraid to grow up and be a man.”

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The film also contains elements usually present in Gothic Horror literature, including Hagerman’s wife Elizabeth, who is ghostly white and insane and is kept locked in a room on the top floor. The film ends with a massive fire in Hagerman’s house, in which the hidden gold melts and drips onto the corrupt preacher’s face, gilding him, while his insane wife walks around unaware, burning up in the process. It’s very unsettling, I have to say. There’s also some very definite Christian imagery, furthering the allegory that the Stranger is Jesus. When the Stranger turns down Sorrow’s offer to become one of his Muchachos, the gunman is stripped to what appears to be a loin cloth and effectively crucified while vampire bats and lizards have their way with him. There is also a scene where the Muchachos desecrate every grave in a cemetery in the belief that Templer has hidden the gold in Evan’s grave.

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Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! is a thoroughly odd and disturbing film. Though its title was used to tie it to director Sergio Corbucci’s very popular Spaghetti Western, Django, this film has nothing to do with it in any actual way. It kind of has nothing to do with westerns in general and probably only is one because it was the popular genre of the time. The music by Ivan Vandor, which somewhat apes the guitar-heavy style of Ennio Morricone’s iconic scores, is definitely much more suited to horror. Giulio Questi only directed three theatrical features, this being the first, and the other two are horror movies, giving us a good indication of the kind of film he wanted to make. The whole thing feels like an hallucinatory nightmare. Django Kill is a bit too long and poorly paced to truly be considered great, but for fans of the genre, or just whacked-out movies in general, it’s definitely worth the watch.

For a little bit more footage from the actual movie, here’s a British DVD release trailer. Still doesn’t tell you what the movie’s about, but you’ll see more of the gore and whatnot.

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