Face to Face (1967)
This list will feature Gian Maria Volontè once again, portraying history professor Brad Fletcher, who is moving to the west after he retires. In the film, he is taken hostage by the infamous bandit Solomon Bennet (Tomás Milián). As his character gradually takes on a different shape during his short period of captivity, Fletcher even becomes the leader.
Sergio Leone’s films will be mentioned at least once in this list, so let’s get it out of the way now. Sergio Sollima directed Face to Face, a Zapata western (Spaghetti Western set in Mexico) often referred to together with Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci as ‘the Sergios’; the three greatest spaghetti western directors. The film is co-written by yet another Sergio; Sergio Donati, co-writer of a number of Leone’s films and Sollima’s more well-known western The Big Gundown. It’s a miracle that Face to Face isn’t more well known, given the talent, a stacked cast, and the incredible score by Ennio Morricone (like he did with plenty of other films in this list).
The Grand Duel (1972)
Lee Van Cleef was without a doubt one of the biggest stars of the spaghetti westerns. As an American actor, he’s among the best because he’s mentioned as often as Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. As a result of playing in Sergio Leone’s ‘For a Few Dollars More,’ Van Cleef rose to fame. While earlier he always played the villain, this marked a change in his career that led to many starring roles in spaghetti westerns. He is particularly memorable in The Big Gundown and Death Rides a Horse, both not on this list, but his performance in the Grand Duel and Day of Anger (both on this list) are equally memorable.
Clayton, played by Van Cleef, is an ex-sheriff who is on a mission to clear a man’s name. Philip Werner is framed for the murder of a figure known as ‘The Patriarch’ and is on the run from bounty hunters sent by The Patriarch’s three sons. Vermeer and Clayton track down Wermeer’s bounty hunters in order to prove his innocence to them and discredit the brothers.
Van Cleef’s time to shine in The Grand Duel isn’t the only talent behind the film. Despite being a debut director, Giancarlo Santi has already developed a reputation as a highly regarded filmmaker, having also worked on Leone’s films as a second unit director. But the most impressive part is the script, which was written by Ernest Gastaldi. He is one of the greatest screenwriters of his era, the extravagant era of Italian cinema.
Cut-Throats Nine (1972)
A cavalry troop is accompanying a wagon transporting convicts through the mountains to prison. A band of bandits attacks the caravan. Seven brutal, murderous prisoners and a sergeant survive. Despite the bandits’ pursuit and without a wagon or horses, the sergeant must escort the prisoners to prison while also protecting his daughter. As if that weren’t brutal enough, he is also trying to discover which of the prisoners killed his wife in a sadistic manner.
The tagline “Possibly the most violent Euro-western ever made.” couldn’t be more accurate. There are so many violent scenes in Cut-Throats Nine that it’s sometimes considered a horror film. Although it is a genre-blending movie, it may not frighten avid horror fans, but regular western fans will be pleasantly surprised. Despite the film’s extreme brutality, there is beauty in the endless shots of beautiful mountains. Joaquin Luis Romero Marchent has directed several spaghetti westerns, but this one stands out.
Four of the Apocalypse (1975)
The swindler Stubby, drunkard Clem, prostitute Bunny, and mentally disturbed ‘Bud’ escape prison and embark on an adventure in Utah in this crazy western. They are haunted by a psychopathic Mexican bandit named Chaco during their time as free people as well as in prison. In the badlands, the wanderers are just trying to survive, but the world has other plans for them.
While Fulci is probably best known for his Giallo films, he began with spaghetti westerns, like many Italian directors of the era. Before making any Giallos, he made a western called Massacre Time. In 2003, Fulci directed his most promising western, ‘Four of the Apocalypse’. In true Fulci fashion, it’s gritty, nasty, and quite brutal. Instead of the wide shots of landscapes that we’re used to from westerns, he follows four unlikely protagonists in a story that almost feels like a character study. This is a new perspective for the genre and yet another great achievement in Fulci’s filmography.
Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
This film is also described as the most brutally violent spaghetti western, like Cut-Throats Nine. Again, it’s hard to say which is the true winner, but we understand the sentiment. In addition to being described as violent, it also earned the title of Acid Western after that term was coined in a review of the later western El Topo. A western film with a journey towards death instead of the usual journey towards liberation. The film features weird editing and violent scenes that are almost surreal-like.
Since Django Kill is completely unrelated to the 1966 film Django, the protagonist is not named Django, but instead is known as “the stranger”. Django is included in the international title solely in order to capitalize on the Franco Nero film. In the first scene, it isn’t Django who crawls out of death, but a stranger (played by Tomás Milián who had already been on the list twice previously). An American gang leaves the stranger and his Mexican companions for dead after a gold heist. Having lost the gold, now the stranger seeks vengeance for the loss.