Hoss Opera: Four of the Apocalypse (1975)

What do a cardsharp, a drunk, a prostitute and a nutter have in common? Other than sounding like the lead in to a horrible joke, they are the main characters in Lucio Fulci’s nihilistic and gory hoss opera FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE.   Fabio Testi plays the lead and the remainder of the principal characters are played by Michael J. Pollard, Lynne Frederick and Tomas Milian.

The four find themselves locked up in the Sheriff’s Office of Salt Flats as the townsfolk take their town back from those they perceive as ne’er do wells in an ultra violent fashion and in doing so become monsters much like the people they gun down and hang. They are only saved by bribery when the sheriff is open to accept a donation from the card sharp Stubby Preston (Fabio Testi)… I know, I know I’ll wait until the chuckling subsides…

If Johnny Depp channeled Keith Richards to play Captain Jack Sparrow then Keith Richards must have channeled Tomas Milian playing Chaco.  The oddly menacing mannerisms that were delivered in a comical manner by Depp are very similar to those of Milian as Chaco.  Except he is humorless and terrifying…

Shortly after joining the group and killing a pursuing posse Chaco gives mescaline or something similar to Stubby, Bunny, Clem and Bud in a surreal communion. He even has crosses drawn under his eyes. As they hallucinate he ties them up, tortures them, and rapes a very stoned Bunny.  Milian plays the part to the hilt seething malevolence and indifference to those he had briefly befriended.  

The story plays out more like a giallo than a western.  The blood flows freely, in addition to a multitude of shooting deaths there are tortures, rapes, implied necrophilia and even cannibalism.  It seems to be a series of set pieces with minimal filler between each.  After witnessing the second massacre in 20 minutes of run time Fulci drops in an inexplicably light hearted scene as the gang drive their wagon through the desert smiling and shooting every small animal be it bird or rodent that crosses their path.

Fulci’s story meanders while still maintaining interest through shocking set pieces until the third act.  Even more out of place than the cuddly critter killing joyride is the point where Stubby and Bunny take a break from the vengeance trail to have a child.  Talk about killing any momentum.  Several new characters are introduced and the emphasis shifts from action to character.  Testi acquits himself as an actor capable of playing highly complex characters but this is a western.  Get a gun and shoot something damn it.  Oh…Stubby has yet to get a gun by the way. 

He’s been armed merely with his wits and his charm for almost the entire runtime of the film.  He does get one ten minutes before the final credit though.  This illustrates a problem that will plague Fulci in the future.  Pacing.  Ten minutes before the finale the anti-hero gets his gun.  Welp time to wrap it up…

Fulci’s nihilism shines through in Testi’s portrayal of Stubby (it is so hard not to chuckle every time his name is spoken) in his frequent negative responses to Bunny’s youthful optimism.  At one point he quips to Bunny, “You can forget about heaven.”  Stubby may not be an optimist but he definitely has no illusions when it comes to the character of he and his comrades.  

FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE is not a perfect film.  It has a lot of flaws but it also has a lot of great things in it.  The set piece shoot outs are fantastic and the performances lift it far above what it could have been with lesser talent.  It is an iconic spaghetti western though it is not of the same calibre as The Man With No Name Trilogy, DJANGO, TEXAS,ADIOS , or THE GREAT SILENCE.  For me it ranks above the Sartana films but only just.  

The Blue Underground DVD is the way to go.  The picture is cleaned up the best it can be as the best elements were used. The more gory and rapey scenes have been restored from un-dubbed sources and are subtitled in English. The features are decent a 17 minute featurette on Fulci is included and Testi and Milian are very interesting in it.  

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