The overwhelming success in Europe of Sergio Corbucci's classic "spaghetti western", 1966's Django, which, like Sergio Leone's films helped flip the western genre into new and outrageous creative styles, inspired many filmmakers to produce their own "Django" films. Most of these were obvious knock-offs and blatant copies (right down to casting and even costumes), but one fledging writer/director, Giulio Questi, despite having no interest in westerns, spaghetti or otherwise, wound up making his directorial debut as controversial and groundbreaking as Corbucci's own effort had been. The resulting work, 1967's Django Kill! (If You Live, Shoot!), which the library carries, is that rarity: a spaghetti western horror thriller.
Django Kill! is really more a horror film than a western. The plot revolves around the film's protagonist, a nameless Mexican (nobody is named "Django" in this film, despite the title) referred to as "The Stranger" and played by Tomas Milian, who, after getting betrayed by his fellow gold robbers and left for dead, is rescued by two Native Americans and follows his ex-partners-in-crime to a town known as "the unhappy place".
And what an unhappy place it is. Upon finding out that the gang has the stolen gold on them, (not to mention being wanted by the law), the townspeople lynch (in grisly, graphic ways) the Stranger's former pals. The Stranger himself, accompanied by the two Indians, who have given him golden bullets to use, manages to wound the gang's leader, only to see the latter brutally ravaged when the townfolk discover "he's full of gold!" In time, the Stranger finds himself a pawn between the town's leading citizens, including town alderman Haggerman (Paco Sanz), who keeps his insane wife locked up; bartender Tembler (Milo Quesada) and his son Evan (Raymond Lovelock), who has a crazed hatred of his father's mistress Florey (Marilu Tolo); and rancher Sorro (Roberto Camardiel), who likes to hang out with his black-clad henchmen, all over who gets the gold.
There's various acts of betrayal,and (very bloody) violence, plus a whiff of homophobia (Sorro's relationship with his men is depicted as abnormal, to say the least; plus there's also his parrot), and a tone of creepy, impending doom in the film that many critics compare to director Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe movies of the early 60s. Mrs. Ackerman's situation is right out of Jane Eyre, and there's even a Christ analogy late in the film when the Stranger is tortured by Sorro and his gang to reveal where the gold is hidden. And if you're expecting the Stranger played by Milian (who's otherwise terrific) to be as incisive as Clint Eastwood's character was in Leone's films and come out smiling and victorious in the end, well, Questi knocks that hope right out of the ballpark! (And wait'll you see the alderman's final, Goldfinger-influenced, fate!)
Grim from start to finish, Django Kill! (If You Live, Shoot!) is strong stuff to take in one viewing. But the bizarre characters and unreal, yet exciting, situations Milian's Stranger finds himself involved with, will hold your attention from start to finish. Add in some now dated "psychedelic" film effects, a haunting music score by composer Ivan Vandor, and the film's downbeat tone, and Django Kill! manages to achieve it's goal as a pure horror thriller with the trappings of a spaghetti western.
Be sure and check out the extras on the DVD, which include interviews with Milian (in English), Questi and Lovelock (the latter two in Italian with English subtitles), stills and an "Easter Egg" bonus about the time Milian and Lovelock tried to start their own rock group.