Spaghetti Western Archive – FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE

FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (a.k.a. Four Gunmen of the Apocalypse) – 1975 director: Lucio Fulci; starring Fabio Testi, Michael J. Pollard, Tomas Milian, Lynne Frederick, Harry Baird

Those that know the work of director Lucio Fulci know him best for his audacious horror films like Zombie, Gates of Hell and The Beyond. But the fact of the matter is that Fulci, like most exploitation film directors in Italy, worked in a variety of genres. And while Fulci is best remembered for his gut-churning films that were often as visually stylish as they were incomprehensible, one of his all-time best films was this classic spaghetti western.

Fabio Testi (I swear—that’s his name) stars as Stubby Preston (I swear—that’s his name—a professional gambler who comes to the town of Salt Flats looking for some action. He’s immediately greeted by the town sheriff, who quickly throws him in jail, where he shares a cell with Bunny (Frederick), a pregnant hooker, an insane black grave-digger (Baird), and Clem, the town drunk (Pollard). That night an army of masked vigilantes rides into town with the goal of ridding it of “undesirables” once and for all. Everyone is slaughtered, except the four cellmates; and the next day the sheriff sets them free. Our four heroes begin the long trek to the next nearest town—over 200 miles away.

Along the way our weary travelers helped by a group of ill-fated Christian missionaries. But later, they experience the true nature of “evil”, in the form of Chaco (an unrecognizable Tomas Milian), a sadistic bandit, who tortures Stubby and his companions, steals all they have, and leaves them for dead. Chaco later goes on to massacre the missionaries, and coupled with what he has done to our heroes, it would seem as if evil has triumphed over good. But quicker than you can say, “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord”, my main Stubby sets out to exact a little retribution.

I don’t even know where to start with Four of the Apocalypse, especially since my little synopsis doesn’t do justice to this bad boy. Having seen more than my fair share of spaghetti westerns, I can say with supreme confidence that this ranks right up there with the best. It is top-shelf filmmaking on all levels, with great performances by the cast, and a solid script that never loses focus or emotional density. But not only that, this is hands down the best film I’ve ever seen from Fulci (not to mention the most coherent). Along with talents of director of photography Sergio Salvati, who shot most of Fulci’s best know films, as well as “classics” like 1991: The Bronx Warriors, Fulci also manages to turn this into one of his most visually dynamic movies.

As far as spaghetti westerns go, Four of the Apocalypse is a deeply emotional film that explores the nature of good and evil with broad strokes, yet has crafted characters with fine detail. The bond that forms among the four protagonists, as they fight for survival, is what fuels this film. These are perhaps the most human of all characters in any Euro-western, and yet they exist on an even higher metaphoric level. This is truly a story of good vs. evil, with Tomas Milian as the quintessence of evil—he’s like a nightmare come to life. And on the other end of the spectrum, Fabio Testi goes beyond the typical avenging angel in his quest for vengeance that is typical of the genre. With the exception of Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence, Four of the Apocalypse has the distinction of taking hold of you in emotional and intellectual ways that were all too uncommon for this genre.

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