Four of the Apocalypse (I Quattro dell'apocalisse) [DVD]
Screenplay : Ennio de Concini (based on the stories of Francis Brett Harte)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1975
Stars : Fabio Testi (Stubby Preston), Tomas Milian (Chaco), Lynne Frederick (Emanuela "Bunny" O'Neill), Michael J. Pollard (Clem), Harry Baird (Bud), Donald O'Brien (Sheriff), Bruno Corazzari (Lemmy), Adolfo Lastretti (Reverend Sullivan)
Lucio Fulci's Four of the Apocalypse (I Quattro dell'apocalisse) is one of the best of the late Spaghetti Westerns.
Granted, that's not saying much, considering how bad some of the last entries to the Spaghetti Western genre were in the mid- to late-1970s. But, even outside of that comparative framework, Four of the Apocalypse holds up well because it is visually evocative and it resists easy answers, instead becoming an enigmatic character study set against physical desolation, emotional sadism, and the dwindling potential for hope in human decency (it also includes sensationalistic elements such as a man being skinned alive, cannibalism, and the shotgun massacre of an entire town). If that sounds dreary, it is, yet there is a compelling emotional strand throughout the film that keeps it going, even when it seems that all is lost.
The main characters form an odd quartet. By sheer chance, they are thrown together in a prison cell in the crime-infested town of Salt Flat, Utah: Stubby Preston (Fabio Testi), a smooth-operating professional card shark who prizes his shaving kit above a gun; Bunny (Lynne Frederick), a 19-year-old pregnant prostitute; Clem (Michael J. Pollard), a local drunkard; and Bud (Harry Baird), a gentle, but nonetheless insane, escaped slave who believes he can see ghosts. The apocalypse of the title refers to the Salt Flat sheriff's (Donald O'Brien) solution to the local crime problem: bringing in a white-masked vigilante gang who proceeds to shoot, hang, and otherwise slaughter just about everyone in town. Through bribing the sheriff, Stubby manages to save himself and his other cellmates, and they set off through the desert on a wagon in search of Sand City, where they believe they will find happiness.
Happiness is not to be theirs, however, as the quartet runs into repeated problems, starting with the addition of a fifth member to their group, a wild-looking hunter named Chaco (Tomas Milian). Chaco's motivations are suspect from the start, but no one could guess just how deranged he is, as he ends up humiliating, drugging, and beating all of them, shooting Clem in the leg and raping Bunny while she is in a drugged trance before stealing their wagon and all their belongings. Thus left for dead, the foursome struggles for survival, and the ways in which they band together despite their differences forms the film's emotional core. You gradually come to admire this disparate group and their tenacity, and when romance blooms between Stubby and Bunny, it is a genuinely touching development.
Director Lucio Fulci worked in a number of genres from the '60s through the '80s, but he is best known for his work in the graphically violent horror genre of the late '70s and early '80s, particularly the shameless Romero knock-off zombie gut-cruncher Zombie (aka Zombi 2) (1979) and the genuinely horrifying The Beyond (1980). Fulci has never been known for his subtlety--he is much better at orchestrating a close-up of an eyeball being skewered than he is at generating warmth between two human characters. Yet, somehow in Four of the Apocalypse, he manages to do both, shocking us with a graphic close-up of Chaco gleefully slicing the skin off a captive man's ribcage, but also warming us with the torn emotions Stubby feels for Bunny, especially once she goes into labor in a snowy town that is populated only with men (thus, there are no midwives). He is also greatly aided by the gorgeous cinematography by Sergio Salvati (who shot nine of Fulci's other films, including his most infamous early-'80s horror flicks), who captures both the wild beauty of the desolate countryside and its menace.
Four of the Apocalypse does have its share of problems, most notably a horrendous set of sub-Simon and Garfunkle songs by the Cook and Benjamin Franklin Group. These songs pop up repeatedly, constantly threatening to turn some of the more engaging moments into near camp with their warbling melodies that comment on the action (several of the songs, including "Bunny (Let's Stay Together)" and "Stubby (You're Down and Out)" address the characters directly).
As an international production, it also has the expected dubbing dilemma, as the main actors all hail from different parts of the world (Testi was a well-known Italian star, Frederick was British, Pollard was American, and Millian was Cuban-born). Most of the dubbing is serviceable, with the exception of poor Frederick, whose beautiful features and expressive eyes are undermined by a ridiculous-sounding dub-over that sounds like a deliberate parody of a Texas twang.
Still, Four of the Apocalypse works in its own way. It is unlike many Spaghetti Westerns in that its focuses on relationships, rather than isolation. As Fulci himself stated in an interview, "... I ... tried to establish a timeless relationship between the ... characters. In the end, they devour each other out of an excess of love ... the idea behind it being a sense of possessing what the other has inside." Convoluted as that sounds, it is an accurate description of the film's emotional core, and fans of the genre and Fulci's career can only smile at the effectiveness with which he makes the characters' "devouring" of each other both figurative and, at one point, frighteningly literal.
|Four of the Apocalypse DVD|
|The version of Four of the Apocalypse on this DVD is Lucio Fulci's original, uncut 104-minute version of the film, which has never been screened in the U.S.|
|Audio||Dolby 2.0 Monaural|
|Subtitles||English (selected scenes only)|
|Supplements|| "Fulci of the Apocalypse" 17-minute featurette|
U.S. theatrical trailer
Talent bios for Lucio Fulci, Fabio Testi, and Tomas Milian
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Entertainment|
|Release Date||December 18, 2001|
|Four of the Apocalypse is presented in a clean new anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer that for the first time preserves the original 104-minute cut as intended by Lucio Fulci. The film has a somewhat rough-hewn look that is captured well by this transfer, alternating as it does between washed-out desert scenes and shots of deeply saturated sunsets and clear blue skies. Complaints about the movie on video have often noted the extreme murkiness of the night scenes (particularly the massacre in Salt Flat), and it is here that this DVD becomes essential, as the dark scenes are significantly clearer.|
|Presented in two-channel monaural, the soundtrack is serviceable. The dialogue is available in both Italian- and English-language dubs, with the sound effects and music on the English track sounding somewhat clearer (the English track also includes a brief and awkward-sounding voice-over narration at the very beginning that is completely absent in any form on the Italian track). Both tracks are free of distracting ambient hiss or distortion. Because two short sequences have been restored that were never dubbed into English, those scenes are presented in Italian regardless of the soundtrack you select. These are also the only scenes that include English subtitles, so if you pick the Italian track for the entire film, you need to be able to understand the language.|
| The main supplement is a 17-minute interview featurette titled "Fulci of the Apocalypse." Featuring brand-new interviews with the film's two stars, Fabio Testi (who speaks in Italian with English subtitles) and Tomas Milan (who speaks very good English), the featurette at first focuses on their experiences working on the film, then shifts to an emphasis on working with director Lucio Fulci. Although this featurette doesn't feature any behind-the-scenes footage or much in the way of production photographs, Testi and Milan's reminiscences offer an intriguing window into what has almost become a long-forgotten Spaghetti Western. |
Also included on the disc are a scratchy U.S. theatrical trailer and a set of well-written biographies/filmographies of Fulci, Testi, and Milan. As always with Anchor Bay, everything on the disc is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick