IF YOU MEET SARTANA, PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH 1968 director: Gianfranco Parolini; starring: Gianni Garko, Klaus Kinski, William Berger

For me, watching spaghetti westerns is a lot like watching kung-fu flicks—it’s great when the story makes sense, but sometimes that’s just asking too much. Sometimes all you can hope for are some great action sequences, a hero that kicks ass, and not too many boring moments of confusing, incomprehensible plot to slow things down when there’s no action. My long-held film criticism philosophy of “all movies are good, except for the bad parts” seldom rings more true than with spaghetti westerns, a genre define by great movies frequently handicapped by bad parts.

Released in 1968, as the spaghetti western craze was already in full force, If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (a.k.a. Sartana, a.k.a. Gunfighters Die Hard) is one of the greatest examples of everything that is both right and wrong with Eurowesterns. Gianni Garko (a.k.a. John Garko, a.k.a. Gary Hudson), stars as the legendary “Angel of Death” known as Sartana. “I am your pallbearer,” Sartana announces as the film opens and the hot lead flies. What follows is more than ninety minutes of a confusing mess that has something to do with a stolen shipment of gold, and the various scumbags trying to get their hands on it. Among the nefarious villains looking to get their hands on the gold are double-crossing killers Lasky (William Berger), Morgan (Klaus Kinsky) and Mendoza (Fernando Sancho)—and that’s just the people who are killers. Complicating everyone’s grand scheme is Sartana, the mysterious gunslinger dressed in black, who kills pretty much anyone that hasn’t been killed by Lasky, Morgan, or Mendoza.

Now, with a plot that simple, you would think it would be easy to follow, but thankfully this is a spaghetti western, and Italian B-movie filmmakers have mastered the fine art of making a film so complicated it doesn’t make any sense. I swear to god, sometimes I think these macaroni westerns were made with the intention of confusing the shit out of anyone stupid enough to watch them. Which I guess would be me. and to be sure, things go from confusing to making no sense whatsoever, as the bodies pile up, and the only thing that salvages the movie are the action sequences and Garko’s badass charisma.

If You Meet Sartana Pray For Your Death was the first in the series of movies featuring one of the most popular spaghetti western characters—Django was the most popular, spawning more “sequels” than Sartana. Garko first appeared as a character named Sartana in director Alberto Cardone’s Blood at Sundown (not to be confused with the other two spaghetti westerns of the same name, released at nearly the same time). Both the character name and Garko proved to be so popular that director Gianfranco Parolini (a.k.a Frank Kramer and about a dozen other pseudonyms) and a team of writers decided to cash in.

While sharing some similarities with the popular Django character created by actor Franco Nero, Garko’s Sartana was decidedly different than most of the other spaghetti gunslingers, all of whom were copies of Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone’s films. A stylish gambler dressed in dust-covered fancy clothes and armed with a tricked-out arsenal, Sartana had a more refined style than the other anti-heroes of the era. And unlike the other gunslingers that appeared in Eurowesterns, Sartana had the distinction of not killing for money or revenge, but because his victims deserved it. Honestly, I’ve never quite understood what that means, but apparently it somehow makes Sartana different.

Garko returned a year later to star in I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (a.k.a. Sartana the Gravedigger). Just as Sergio Corbucci’s Django had spawned more than twenty “sequels,” so did If You Meet Sartanta Pray for Your Death, resulting in something like 18 movies with the name Sartana in the title. In fact, while I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death was the first official sequel to the first film, it was the fifth with the character’s name in the title to come along after the original.

This one opens with a beautifully violent robbery of the Great Northwestern Bank, lead by none other than our main man Sartana. Of course, we quickly learn it ain’t Sartana, but rather a cheap imposter, sullying Sartana’s good name. It’s kind of ironic, that a spaghetti western, a genre known for ripping itself off and cannibalizing its own characters and ideas, should spawn a film about that very topic. Very poetic when you think about it. Anyway, a small army of bounty hunters is now on the trail of our hero, looking to collect the price on his head. Meanwhile, the real Sartana sets out to find out who done him wrong, and in the process a lot of hot lead flies. When the smoke clears, there are thirteen more sequels to sit through.

I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death is hands down a much better film than the original Sartana. Gianni Garko has a better grasp on the character, which doesn’t seem to be too hard to do, since he’s pretty one-dimensional. Be that as it may, Garko has enough of the trademark macaroni machismo to carry this film. And thankfully the story is easy to follow, and manages to entertain on an across-the-board level. There are a few great shootouts, including the hot lead heavy bank robbery and a well executed show down in the middle of a town, all handled with slightly more assured style by director Giuliano Carnimeo (a.k.a. Anthony Ascott).

Carnimeo would go on to direct two more official Sartana movies, Have a Good Funeral My Friend, Sartana Will Pay and Light the Fuse, Sartana is Coming, both starring Garko in the role. Carnimeo aslo directed Sartana’s Here, Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin, considered to be an official sequal, but starring George Hilton in the lead role. Garko returned to play the character in Sartana Kills Them All, but this was actually one of those typical films that used the character’s name in the title, but had nothing to do with the original.

There were over a dozen unofficial Sartana movies, including two that featured him paired up with a character named Django, and one where he teamed up with Trinity (another popular spaghetti western character, made famous by Terrence Hill). None of these other films were as good as those starring Garko , which were not exactly greats films in and of themselves, Original director Gianfranco Parolini would go on to direct Sabata, starring Lee Van Cleef, which spawned it’s own series of films, each ripping each other off, and all rip-offs of the Sartana films.

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