Fabio Testi, the last time we saw him he came out of the grab bag with a gripping performance in What Have You Done To Solonge? With a beard and cardigan he was the very manner of the ’70’s scamp. Tonight’s film finds him in a very different seventies, but still a scoundrel in his own right. The clean shaven Stubby Preston fancies himself as a dandy and a card sharp, but soon he will be one of the…
Four of the Apocalypse (1975) starring Fabio Testi, Thomas Milian, Lynn Frederick, Michael J. Pollard, and Harry Baird. Directed by Lucio Fulci.
It’s Utah, 1873, and the town of Salt Flats is as wild as they come. Card sharp Stubby Preston hits town with a suitcase of tricks only get accosted by the local sheriff and thrown into a cell. Turns out to be a lucky turn for the gambler when the town erupts in vigilante justice. Masked gunmen stalk the streets cutting down anyone involved in unsavory activities. The sheriff cast a blind eye while he sneaks his prisoners out the back. And so Stubby Preston sets out across the flats with his three companions.
Stubby is joined by town drunk Clem (Pollard), the crazy or clairvoyant Bud (Baird), and pregnant prostitute Bunny (Frederick). They begin to form an unlikely band as they avoid gunmen, encounter the faithful, and scrape to survive. While having a meager dinner, they are joined by Chaco (Miliard), a strange gunman with dead eye aim, who wants to join the group in their travels. The gunman offers his services as a hunter, but soon proves to be protection as they are ambushed. Stubby and the group soon discover all is not as it seems when the assailants turn out to be the law, and Chacoexacts a bloody execution. Soon the group falls under his sway, all except Mr. Preston. When Chaco convinces his companions to sample peyote, they willingly oblige, but Stubby spits his out. However, the bandit still has the upper hand as he ties the group up, rapes Bunny, and makes off with their belongings.
The travelers manage an escape and set out on foot; this time carrying a wounded Clem on a stretcher. As they search for help, Bunny and Stubby begin to become close, but soon tragedy strikes each one of them. Soon Stubby is left alone and seeking revenge, so he makes a final gamble to get satisfaction and end his sting of bad luck.
–Lynne Frederick was married to English comedian Peter Sellers.
–On the first day on the set, Fulci placed Fabio Testi on a horse in the snow and kept him there for hours. The star was confined to bed for the next three days with a cold.
–The film is based on stories by western writer, Bret Harte. Apparently Harte was such a great fellow that none other than Mark Twain felt the need to take him to task. Twain wrote in his autobiography of Harte’s professional shortcomings as well as including facts about the man’s defaulted loans and abandonment of his family.
–The character of Chaco was created for the film by screenwriter Ennio De Concini.
The Bug Speaks
Fulci had been to the well of the spaghetti western once before with the forgettable Massacre Time (1966). After a few years mucking about in sex comedies, the occasional giallo, and a pair of White Fang movies, he came back to direct 1975’s Four of the Apocalypse. This film came in just as the craze was dying down, and it has less of the classic Italian feel. Instead we get a film that plays out like an off-kilter version of Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid or a neutered El Topo. The west takes on a dreamlike quality that is only enhanced by the vision of Fulci and the camerawork of Sergio Salvati who would go on to work with him on Zombi 2 and many other films.
Fabio Testi gives a nicely nuanced performance as his dandy gambler turns into a scruffy survivor. However it is Thomas Milian and Michael Pollard who command the screen. Milian gave an inspired turn as the Manson inspired madman, although his costuming brought to mind an extra in Jesus Christ: Superstar. The rape scene he performs is thankfully brief, but utterly believable. When I watched some documentary footage featuring an interview with Milian, and when the method actor claimed to have no idea who Lynne Frederick was, I had no doubt it was true. The man seemed utterly inside the diabolical mind of his character. The drawback of this performance is his limited and sparsely placed screen time. (Also it’s damn hard to have a bad guy named Chaco. I had to restrain myself from making Chaco-taco jokes constantly) Then there’s Clem. Michael Pollard turns a stock role as the comic relief drunk into a portrayal filled with tenderness. Pollard is the kind of ubiquitous actor who shows up in many things, but never got a real chance to shine. Here his potential is fully realised and his performance carries a good deal of weight in this film.
The story itself is convoluted, and anyone waiting on guns to blaze will be waiting a lot. To me that’s not such a bad thing. This movie has much akin to the Jarmusch film Dead Man. The film is a collection of picaresque encounters that form a woven character study of the individuals as well as the group. Fans of Fulci’s more gruesome work will find shades of the macabre in his use of cannibalism, ants crawling on open wounds, and a few fine looking shotgun blasts. Also noticeable are themes that would show up in his later work of isolation and fear.
This flick also boasts a rather interesting soundtrack. While the score is handled by frequent Fulci cohort Fabio Frizzi, the sound of the picture is dominated by the laid back county rock of The Benjamin Franklin group. Their songs, with titles like “Stubby (When You’re Down and Out)” and “Let us Pray”, gave the impression of a bargain bin version of Bob Dylan’s Pat Garrett Soundtrack. While the tunes are mostly unfortunate messes, it does the give film a tone all to it’s own.
It is an interesting experiment of a film, but it neither succeeds in being transcendent or life altering. Instead it should go into the ranks of Acid Westerns like Zachariah (1971) or The Shooting (1966). In the end it is a film that will probably only please Fulci fans or those who like their western with a healthy dose of weird.