Monday, October 6, 2014

Blu-ray review by Lee Broughton

'Death Rides a Horse' Directed by Giulio Petroni. 115 minutes. 1967. Widescreen (2.35:1 anamorphic). Explosive Media, Germany. Format: All regions Blu-ray and two PAL Region 2 DVDs.
Four vicious bandits callously abuse and massacre a family while executing a $200,000 robbery. A small boy survives the attack and grows into a young man, Bill (John Phillip Law), who is intent on seeking revenge. He finally gets the lead he’s been waiting for when a recently released convict, Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), passes through the locality. It soon becomes clear that the two sharp-shooting gunmen are hunting the same villains but complications arise when Ryan tells Bill that he doesn’t need his help.
Established Spaghetti Western fans already know that 'Death Rides a Horse' is one of the genre’s best loved films. Reworking elements of his own 'For a Few Dollars More' script (the flashback-fuelled vengeance narrative and the uneasy alliance that is eventually forged between two normally solitary gunmen) and seemingly taking inspiration from 'Day of Anger' too (the hard-hearted older gunman teaching the cocky young gunslinger a series of lessons in survival) resulted in scriptwriter Luciano Vincenzoni cooking up a really engaging, exciting and well-paced storyline for this show. 'Death Rides a Horse' is also a well-acted film. There’s a great chemistry present between Van Cleef and Law here and it’s a real shame that they weren’t paired together in any subsequent genre entries. The duo make a formidable team but the bad guys that they’re facing here are no slouches either. Sergio Leone regulars Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega - along with genre stalwarts like Jose Torres and Bruno Corazzari - provide expertly executed turns that ensure that the film is populated with a good range of particularly vindictive bad guys who are more than capable of giving our anti-heroes a run for their money.
At a technical level this show is right up there with the Leone films. The film’s costumes and set designs look fantastic and all of its well-staged action is captured via some superbly executed and supremely stylish cinematography. Director Giulio Petroni and cinematographer Carlo Carlini put a really good-looking movie together here. The icing on the cake is Ennio Morricone’s superlative soundtrack score: it’s one of his most idiosyncratic scores but it’s surely also one of his best. The good news here is that Explosive Media’s new 'Death Rides a Horse’ Blu-ray is the best home video presentation of this film yet. For years American DVDs of this title made use of old and extremely scrappy panned and scanned masters. A widescreen version of the film was issued by MGM in the UK but the picture quality of the MGM disc was a little soft at times and parts of the presentation seemed to suffer from low bit-rate issues. Then Wild East issued a widescreen version of the film in America which boasted pretty much excellent picture quality as well as improved sound quality.  But the HD master that Explosive Media have used for their new release takes the film to an all new level in terms of picture and audio quality.    
Explosive Media’s all regions Blu-ray of 'Death Rides a Horse’ comes with two PAL region 2 DVDs.  One repeats the film while the other contains a raft of extra features.  The most impressive of these is ‘Vengeance Rides a Horse’, a 35 minute documentary that features interviews with Giulio Petroni, John Phillip Law (audio only) and assistant director Enrique Bergier.  This informative documentary is supported by English subtitles.  Also included here is a trailer reel that features trailers for just about all of Lee Van Cleef’s Euro Westerns.  
‘Vengeance Rides a Horse’ documentary, an image gallery, ‘Death Rides a Horse’ trailers, Lee Van Cleef Euro Westerns trailer reel, trailers for other Explosive Media Western releases and an illustrated booklet (German text only).  As well as featuring the English dub of the film, this release also sports Italian and German language tracks that are supported by English subtitles.
© 2014 Copyright Lee Broughton.

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