MASSACRE TIME was made immediately after it's star, Franco Nero, had finished the hit DJANGO with Sergio Corbucci. DJANGO was such an intense experience for me that I actually avoided this one; how could something be very good in the stark shadow of a legendary film like that?
I needn't have worried. Here, director Lucio Fulci avoids the surreal apocalytic energy of DJANGO completely...this is a totally different beast. MASSACRE TIME, more than any other Spaghetti that I've seen, is a stunning catalogue of western archetypes. Read differently, one could say that it's full of stereotypes, but in this case I don't believe that to be true. Each character, each plot stroke, is pure western...distilled into a strong whiskey that goes down smooth.
Nero plays Tom Corbett, a man far away from home. He's given a message that he needs to return to his family...something is not right. When he arrives, he finds that the ancestral land has been taken by a ruthless land baron, his mother is poor, and his brother, Jeffrey Corbett(played excellently by George Hilton), has become a lazy, worthless drunk(in spite of the fact that he still kicks serious ass), doing side work for the town blacksmith. The town is brutalised by the sociopathic son of the land baron, who hunts humans for sport, and kills unarmed men in the street; his depravity is further displayed in a near-blatant display of father/son incestuous lust...
...something has to be done, and the Corbett brothers are going to have to do it.
Ha! We've seen this movie, right? Well, in a certain way, yes, but in many other ways, no. The real-time experience is far beyond the familiar sum of it's parts. Each of these characters seem like a potent concentrate of every other character like them in every western ever made, but pounded into a hard, raspy, grit that keeps you staring at it. It's that larger-than-life energy that pours across the screen. Where DJANGO took the essence of the western and burned it alive, screaming, begging for eternity, MASSACRE TIME is like an ancient slab of rock, with the history of the cowboy picture chiseled into it like jagged Hittite cuneiform.
My favourite character, other than Franco Nero's, is the Chinese blacksmith, played by the highly amusing Tchang Yu. Typical for his character, he's the town blacksmith, the barber, the undertaker, and in a fun barfight scene, the saloon piano player(a mighty fine Ragtime player he is too, apparently...long before ragtime was invented!). He totes out the sayings of Confucius at key moments, but then contradicts them, using the realities of the town as the counter, "Confucius say, if you want to live a long life, try to be ignorant, and know nothing...but in this town, you have to know a lot of things to live a long life". Very amusing. Add to that a hilariously crass love of money, and you have one of my top secondary characters in Spaghetti Westerns.
Honestly, many people give Clint Eastwood the title "king of the Spaghetti Western", but I think it really belongs to Franco Nero. What Clint does to a role is amazing, a burned-hard gunfighter that commands every scene he's in. There's something of the outsider to him as well. He has too much of the DNA of the American western woven into his genome to be a full denizen of this unique, almost surreal universe. Nero is the Spaghetti Western universe incarnate; harsh, intense, and brutal, without those delicate subtleties that make him like us. He isn't like us. He's the glaring orange of the sun-tortured mesa, the deafening crack of a rifle shot, and the static coldness of a man left to die in the mud. I'm always possessed by his cold gravitas, and the things that he lacks as a finely-drawn human make everything he does more of a simple, hard statement. That's what the Spaghetti Western is to me; a series of simple, barbaric, almost mythological statements.
MASSACRE TIME is an excellent Western movie experience.