In the same year he made the cult classics Django and Texas, Adios, Franco Nero also appeared in this lesser known spaghetti western notable for being helmed by Italy’s godfather of gore, Lucio Fulci. Nero plays Tom Corbett, mysteriously summoned back to his hometown of Laramie, Texas where he discovers the family farm has been seized by the tyrannical Scott family and his brother Jeff (George Hilton) is now an alcoholic. On the surface, patriarch Jason Scott Snr. (Giuseppe Addobbati) controls the town but the real power rests with his deranged, whip-wielding son Junior (Nino Castelnuovo). Perplexed as to why Scott’s men won’t harm him, Tom investigates and suffers horrific torture at Junior’s hands and the loss of a loved one before finally setting out for revenge.
Notorious for the whipping scene that sees Fulci revert to type, Massacre Time (or: Le Colt Cantarono la Morte e Fu: Tempo di Massacro, if you’re a stickler for the original Italian) was scripted by Fernando di Leo, later a writer-director specialising in crime thrillers. Di Leo’s revenge-based scenario unfolds in nebulous fashion but packs a pretty potent, game-changing twist. Though slow in spots, the film remains compelling and erupts in fits of memorably frenzied action in the third act while Fulci proves he could tell a coherent story when the mood took him and does well by the affecting family drama. In later interviews he would describe his first spaghetti western as “a western beyond space and time” and draw thematic parallels with his most celebrated horror film, The Beyond (1981).
Such self-aggrandising statements aside, you can sort of see what he means what with Tom trapped in a town controlled by mysterious, malevolent forces with no explanation why they alternately safeguard or brutalise him. However, only die-hard Fulci fanatics will be able to discern the plot’s exact connection to surrealist philosopher Antonin Artaud. Things start off pretty grim, with a man hunted down and torn apart by ravenous dogs, and continue in a typically wince-inducing violent vein, but di Leo lightens the mood with eccentric touches like the Confucius quoting Chinaman (Tchang Yu) who charges Tom a dollar every time he lends a hand.
Fulci pulls off a handful of subtly disorientating scenes, including the moment Tom wanders into a genteel Southern garden party amidst the surrounding poverty and brutality. This prefigures the whip-wielding duel that in spite of its sadism proves a well executed, gruelling set-piece. Whereas town boss Scott Snr. is outwardly proper and polite, he is only playing good cop to his astonishingly callous son who racks up a genocidal body count of innocent bystanders. With dead eyes and his head permanently slouched to one side, Nino Castelnuovo plays well against type, near unrecognisable as the star of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and Camille 2000 (1969).
Franco Nero is saddled with a silly, Foghorn Leghorn voice in the English dub but is charismatic as always and yet, George Hilton unexpectedly steals the show. Usually cast as the bland, handsome love interest in giallo thrillers, Massacre Time features his finest performance proving he could do more besides brood manfully and fondle Edwige Fenech on cue. Hilton is a live wire as the booze-addled, self-loathing reprobate, ably demonstrating he can lick a bar full of thugs and gun down dozens even when inebriated. He even gets his own catchphrase (“Hey, gentlemen”) before he shoots them in the back. Fulci stages a cracking final shootout at Scott’s ranch with an acrobatic energy worthy of John Woo. Theme song, "A Man Alone" sung in English by Sergio Endrigo is pretty good too. You don't get that with Zombie Flesh Eaters.
Italian director whose long career could best be described as patchy, but who was also capable of turning in striking work in the variety of genres he worked in, most notably horror. After working for several years as a screenwriter, he made his debut in 1959 with the comedy The Thieves. Various westerns, musicals and comedies followed, before Fulci courted controversy in his homeland with Beatrice Cenci, a searing attack on the Catholic church.