Anyone even remotely familiar with the knowledge that Italian exploitation producers treat copyright and trademark laws like something they’ve just scraped of the sole of their boot, shouldn’t be that stunned there were some sequels in the wake of Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 gothic western, Django. However, even I was taken aback by exactly how many there were with the figure hovering comfortably around the mid-thirties with only one of that number actually being a true, official follow up and the rest sometimes even lacking a character that’s actually named Django.
However, that’s not to say all of them were crass, soulless, ripoffs – take Giulio Questi’s 1967 Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! which maintains the morbid tone of the original in order to be a crass, awesome, ripoff that more than makes up with doom-laden gun slinging than what it lacks in legitimacy.
After crawling out of a shallow mass grave, a half-Mexican man known only as the Stranger is nursed back to health by a pair of Native American medicine men and immediately plots vengeance. A handy dandy flashback reveals that the Stranger was part of a large group of outlaws who staged a bloody ambush of US Army troops in order to steal bags of powdered gold from their Wells Fargo covered wagon, however, sadistic gang leader Oaks suddenly decides against sharing the gold with anyone in the gang with Mexican heritage and guns down the Stranger and his colleagues but not before one of their number hamstrings a bunch of their horses while scaring the other ones off.
After burying their victims, the surviving members of the gang, on the search for transport, stumble across a town known as either “The Field Of Anguish” or “The Unhappy Place” depending which dub of the movie you watch (but neither name is particularly inviting if we’re being honest), while the Stranger sets off after them with his new friends in tow who have smelting his share of the loot down in order to make golden bullets to aid in his revenge. However, upon arriving into town, the Stranger is just in time to see his old gang getting lynched by the pathologically hypocritical members of the town led by saloon owner Bill Templar and Pastor Alderman, but still manages to cut down Oaks with his glistening ammunition to gain his revenge.
However, from here, things progressively get weird, with the Stranger gradually discovering that “The Unhappy Place has the same kind of twisted secrets lurking under the surface a Twin frickin’ Peaks, and the wobbly truce that’s been built up between Templar, Alderman and Sorrow, an eccentric rancher who commands a small army of similarly homosexual guns for hire, begins to crumble as each one desperately wants to lay their hands on the gold.
There’s a lot to unpack while watching Django Kill… as even by 1960’s standards it packs something of an antisocial wallop, but while there’s numerous instances of distressing storytelling here and there, it’s also what makes this Western stand out to such a stylish degree. Riffing on the kind of horror-themed imagery usually found in Italy’s Giallo genre, the Stranger’s dreamlike wander through a town seemingly fueled by bitterness and cruelty deals out many memorable moments that tear through your psyche like a golden bullet. Severely wounded by the Stranger’s bling-tinged fullicade, Oaks violent succumbs to his wounds when those in attendance discover exactly he’s shot full of and start greedily tearing at his bullet wounds to get the riches within. Meanwhile, watching this act of gruesome greed and getting oddly aroused is Flory, Templar’s conniving bit on the side who is tired of being his mistress a urges her lover to make a desperate attempt to secure the hold for himself at the expense of his innocent son, Evan. Elsewhere, the sanctimonious Alderman also plots and schemes while his wife is imprisoned in an upstairs room, driven half-mad by a lifetime of gas lighting and peering out at this shithole town through the iron bars on her window – but even these shockingly poor examples of humanity are dwarfed by the malevolent excesses of the aptly named Mr. Sorrow. Essentially what you’d get if Sergio Leone cast a psychotic Nathan Lane to play a Bond villain, Sorrow is simultaneously as genuinely fascinating as he is potentially offensive, hiding the flamboyant cruelty of the actions of him and his men (all amusingly dressed in matching outfits) behind the rationale that their harrowing misdeeds are the actions of truly masculine men, this also includes the implied sexual assault of the character of Evan who is captured to lure the location of the gold out of his father, but who takes his own life in the wake of the attack.
It’s fairly grim stuff and will no doubt probably offend more unseasoned viewers with its unrepentant representations of animal abuse, homosexuality, mental illness, racism and male rape; but the counterpoint is staggering simple – it’s a Django film, it’s supposed to be brutal and upsetting. In fact its pre-Lynchian trappings often edge over from the common Western, takes a memorable trip through the realm of the horror genre and nearly comes out the other side as a full blown art house flick as it heaps on the haunting imagery from the very first image: that of the Stranger’s hand rising out of his own shallow grave. It gets trippier from there, from Oaks’ absurdly karmic death where people are literally pulling gold from his wounds, to the sight of a Native American getting graphically scalped to the poetic death of a character who fights his way through a fire to save the gold only to find that it’s melted in the heat as it pours all over him. Of course, it’s not just the brutal violence that sticks in the memory, no. Take Mr. Sorrow’s truly out-there method to torture information out of the Stranger that sees him crucified in a loin cloth and random savaged by iguanas and bats (obviously fruit bats, but who’s counting). Quite why Questi chose to suddenly slam a full biblical reference in this particular scene is something I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer (I’m not a therapist), but it sure is memorable.
Through it all, Tomas Milian’s doe-eyed lead sleepwalks through the deranged mayhem with an air of glassy detachment, which succeeds in further completing the feeling we’re on a hallucinogenic roller coaster ride to nowhere and therefore awarding it to title of one of the best of the Django “sequels” that were made in the crazed gold rush to capitalize on the original.
Wilfully trading in coherence and logic for a dreamy tone that rolls around in it’s cruelty like a pig in slop, Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! is a worthy addition to the harrowing westerns the original movie spawned in its wake – even if reading the title feels like it could give you a stroke.