The Complete Sartana (1968 – 1970)
As much as your’s cruelly is all about the horror biz, I also dig on plenty other types of Grindhouse and Drive-In cinema (as I hope this column regularly proves)…and one of the most entertaining pound for pound is the rootin’ tootin’ Spaghetti Western genre! Speaking of which (XIII is the segue king I tells ya!), today’s column focuses on five flicks I’ve never laid my putrid peepers on before; the Sartana films (all available in a handy dandy blu-ray collection from our dear fiends at Arrow Video)! So wipe the trail dust off your ass and kick up your spurs and lets dive into this mother, you dig?!
First up comes:
If You Meet Sartana…Pray For Your Death (1968):
As our story begins, Sartana (John Garko), a well dressed master gunslinger adorned in a cape that would make Dracula green with envy, absolutely destroys a gang of bandits who recently robbed a stagecoach, but fails to kill their leader Morgan (the greatest lunatic the world has ever produced…Klaus Kinski). Later our mysterious hero stumbles upon the aftermath of yet another blood drenched stagecoach robbery, this one perpetrated by a group of banditos who in turn are murdered by Lasky (William Berger), a Gatling gun shooting, straight up lunatic who ends up blowing his gang away to find the loot from the coach contains only gold plated rocks. As fate, and the script, would have it; it doesn’t take long for our “hero” (in truth a mercenary, albeit one with honor, who wants half of the gold Lasky steals) to go head to head with Morgan and Lasky all in the name of financial gain.
Full of action, heroes with questionable motives, and double dealings, Sartana is one hell of a dust covered blood bath of motion picture! The greatest element of the film is it’s antagonist, a “hero” that is only the lesser of the evils assembled…he’s out for money, and cares little that is the result of robbery and insurance fraud…but unlike his peers, he won’t stab a man in the back to get it and actually manages to have friends in this world. Another wonderful touch is the picture’s flair for the Gothic; the aforementioned cape, a great action set-piece in an undertakers work space, and plenty of graveyards and coffins…it’s an odd aesthetic, but really makes the film stand out from the crowd. Also enjoyable are the character’s signature weapons including Sartana’s mini playing card motif inspired pistol and Lasky’s Gatling gun (shades of Corbucci’s Django…a film that would make a fine companion to this one on a double bill)…it adds a touch of comic book cool to the proceedings that again sets it above the mostly grim tone present in most Spaghetti Westerns of the period.
As for extras on Disc One, first up we get an audio commentary by Mike Siegel, a German film maker and author who shares non-stop information on the entire Sartana series in an upbeat conversation. Following that we get a brand new interview with Writer/Director Gianfranco Parolini, a visual guide to genre regulars who appear in If You Meet Sartana…Pray For Your Death by Jonathan Bygraves, and a gallery of promotional material for the film.
Next we have:
I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (1969): Our cloaked hero rides into town and promptly robs a bank in spectacularly violent fashion…except it wasn’t Sartana that committed the crime, but an impostor! Now Sartana must face off with every bounty huntin’ ass hair and gambler this side of the Pecos, not to mention the law as well! Will Sartana survive long enough to clear his name? (Spoiler: There are three more films in this collection, so you figure it out)
Fully loaded with a high body count, ultra-kinetic camera work, comic book style framing, and amazing set pieces realized on a small (by Hollywood standards) budget, I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death is a sequel that not only matches the entertainment value of the original film, but far surpasses it! While Parolini was without question a fantastic Director, this installment is helmed by Giuliano Carnimeo who brings a life and energy to every shot that makes the whole affair a study in visual excitement! Also helping the forward momentum is a much simpler story this time out. Gone are the multiple double crossings and complicated “Who’s got the gold?” shenanigans of the first film which are replaced by a framed Sartana squaring off against a cadre of bounty hunters to clear his name…and that’s about all she wrote in regards to story (basically) which helps keep the momentum rolling like a runaway stagecoach! Finally I have to mention the names of characters bandied about; Buddy Ben, Slim Shotgun, Hot Dead, Dynamite Butch…this is straight up John Carpenter (or Speed Racer) levels of super cool ridiculousness and adds a real off-kilter element to an already pretty off-the-wall motion picture!
As with Disc One, Disc Two has plenty of great features as well. First up is a fantastic, anecdote and info packed audio commentary with screen writers and Sartana super-fans C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke; the conversation is upbeat and engaging and the duo’s enthusiasm for the film is contagious. Up next are brand new interviews with stuntman Sal Borgese and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, and a gallery of promotional material for the film.
On to Disc Three!
Have a Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay (1970): A now mustachioed Sartana (Garko) witnesses the flame drenched massacre of his friend, the old prospector Benson, and decides to solve the mystery of why the killing occurred. His investigation leads him to the town of Indian Creek, where everyone from the town’s corrupt banker to the owner of a Chinese saloon try to convince Benson’s sole heir, his niece Abigail (Daniela Giordano), to sell her uncle’s supposedly worthless land…land which of course contains enough evidence of gold to suggest that Benson had discovered a motherload! Now it’s up to Sartana to avenge his friend and make sure the land remains with it’s rightful owner…which of course he will do with a rather large amount of death (the resulting funerals of which are actually paid for by Sartana as the title suggests!)…if that is indeed his game!
Once again, action packed set pieces are the order of the day (a shootout involving coffins is a thing of wonder)…but this time the death imagery and near fright flick style imagery (especially the way Sartana stalks his quarry like the specter of death itself at times) take center stage replacing most of the over-the-top comic book styling (skillful use of vibrantly colored gel lighting notwithstanding) of I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death…but our hero still displays his magician like showmanship throughout the picture…with plenty of double dealings and plot twists accompanying him along the way! The only negative I had with this installment was that damn mustache Garko sports…I have no idea why, but it just distracted me…a pretty minor (okay, very minor) quibble, but dammit it bothered me enough to mention it…
Once again the bonus material kicks off with an audio commentary, this one once again from the enthusiastic and knowledgeable duo of Joyner and Parke. Following that we get a new interview with screenwriter, actor, and stuntman Robert Dell’Acqua (who relates amazing anecdotes of working on Robert Altman’s Popeye as well as briefly talking of his time working with Lucio Fulci, most notably on Zombi) and, as before, a gallery of promotional material.
Disc Four brings us:
Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming (1970): Sartana (and his goddamned mustache) finds himself incarcerated in a small, walled town (on purpose ‘natch) in order to learn the location of a massive fortune from one of his fellow inmates. Well, no cage can hold Sartana and soon he is free and on his way in search of the loot. After a series of double dealings and encounters with colorful characters, our hero discovers where the fortune is hidden, but collecting it with his life intact will be another matter.
As we are four films into the series I think it’s safe to assume that you can guess what you are going to get with Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming; namely outrageous set pieces (some stand outs in this installment include a graveyard encounter, and a skirmish in a steam room), over-the-top characters (the crazed General Monk played by José Jaspe is a freakin’ riot), and cool gadgets (this time around we get a mechanical toy that can be modified into a walking arsenal and a god damned pipe organ that becomes a full on assault weapon as it’s pipes swing down and become guns that are operated by the organ’s keys…absolutely awesome in every way)!
As for extra features this disc features interviews with stuntman Sal Borgese (again), screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (ditto)…and yes they present different material than in their conversations on Disc Two, an archival featurette featuring interviews with Garko and Carnimeo, and, you guessed it, a promotional stills gallery.
Finally we have:
I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns for a Coffin (1970): Sartana (this time played by George Hilton for returning Director Giuliano Carnimeo) is spending the day picnicking and bounty hunting, but a group of bad ass banditos arrive on the scene and kill his bounty before attempting to blow the coach he rode in sky high with a bundle o’ dynamite (which Sartana diffuses in the most ridiculous manner possible). When our hero investigates the coach he finds only bags of sand where a fortune in gold was supposed to be. Sartana being Sartana decides to investigate just what the banditos game is which results in the usual high body count before he discovers that the owner of the local mine, Spencer (Piero Lulli) has worked out a deal with the banditos to fake robberies so he can keep the gold for himself! Will Sartana manage to get the gold while keeping danger at bay?
Less kinetic visually and with nearly none of the comic book style trappings (with the main exception being Charles Southwood’s character Sabbath…a deadly dandy who arrives at the end of Act Two), I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns for a Coffin nevertheless is a fine, and action packed (and more comedic), follow up to Carnimeo’s previous efforts…and Hilton makes a more than suitable replacement for Garko in the title role (with a slightly modified costume and unquenchable hankering for eggs and bread related deaths to boot). Speaking of changes to the character of Sartana, this picture turns him more into a sharp shooter rather than a deadly magician…which results in a more straight forward western aesthetic. Overall this is a fun and fast moving picture, but wouldn’t be my first choice to show to someone to showcase how fantastic the Sartana character is.
Once again, this disc comes complete with it’s own host of bonus materials including: new interviews with Hilton, Actress Erika Blanc, and Actor Tony Askin, as well as the now familiar gallery of promotional material.
Filled with amazing action, a mysterious hero, and a unique Gothic horror sensibility and reliance on gadgets and magic; Sartana is one of the most unique and entertaining spaghetti Western series you will ever come across! This is an absolute can not miss collection, not only for lovers of the genre, but for fans of comic book style aesthetics and high adventure yarns as well!