Thursday, 25 August 2011

Massacre Time (1966)

Country: ITALY

Tempo di massacro
Colt Concert
The Brute and the Beast

The superbly titled Massacre Time was Italian writer/director Lucio Fulci’s first of five adventures in the brutal and cynical landscape of the spaghetti western. Up to this point Fulci was chiefly known (if he was known at all) for writing and directing comedies. A career in stomach churning horror fantasies couldn’t have been further from his mind in the early 1960’s. Unfortunately many of Fulci’s early efforts were commercially unsuccessful and became instant obscurities. For those fans of Fulci wishing to go a little further than his horror and giallo productions Massacre Time often represents his first film of major interest. It is really the first of his films to explore the Sadean themes for which he would become notorious in his later career, but the credit for this must go to Fernando Di Leo for his brutal and unforgiving screenplay. Di Leo was on more familiar ground than Fulci. He had provided uncredited writing for A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965) as well as contributing screenplays to the Guiliano Gemma vehicle The Return of Ringo (1965) and collaborating on Seven Guns for the MacGregors (1966). The atmosphere of pessimistic desperation that permeates Massacre Time is a foreshadowing of Di Leo’s numerous contributions to the poliziotteschi cycle in the 1970’s, and is confirmation (should it be required) that Di Leo’s thematic obsessions are those that most inform Massacre Time.

Fulci was badly in need of commercial success, and thanks in part to the casting of Franco Nero Massacre Time would become a sizeable hit. Nero was fresh off the success of Sergio Corbucci’s hugely influential Django (1966) and approaches the role of Tom Corbett with the same degree of taciturn coolness. This is despite a character arc that at times leaves Corbett in positions of passivity. But before we get to see Corbett leave the quiet of a career prospecting for gold and return to his hometown of Laramie in New Mexico we are witness to a rather striking prologue. In this moment we are introduced to the aberrant sadism of Jason “Junior” Scott (Nino Castelnuovo), a sick psychotic bedecked in virginal white who oversees a monstrous manhunt that concludes with a man being torn apart by a pack of hounds. This is the films most controversial moment and rapidly establishes a sense of discordance within a moral vacuum. The town of Laramie finds itself within the ruthless grip of the Scott’s, and the ineffectual and rather mild mannered patriarch Mr Scott (Giuseppe Addobbati) struggles to control Junior’s base desire to cause misery and heartache.

On returning to town Corbett is greeted with desolation and despair. Laramie is a town ruled by fear. Corbett is naturally put out at the fact that the Scott’s have appropriated his family ranch from the clutches of his drunken half brother Jeffrey (George Hilton) and everywhere he looks he is mocked by the Scott insignia, or watches on as Scott’s thugs (one of whom is Romano Puppi) bully and terrorise the townspeople. On the journey to the inevitable final shootout Massacre Time develops some intriguing and unsettling layers. The relationship between the half brothers Tom and Jeffrey is spiky at the best of times, but what makes it interesting is their opposing values and morals. This is symbolically reinforced by Jeffrey’s thirst for tequila and his slouchy uncouth manner. In contrast Corbett is a coiled spring, who barely touches a drop of alcohol, and is always seen standing erect. Ironically though when it actually comes down to backing up the talk with gunfire it is Jeffrey who emerges as far more capable. The bumbling drunk is a suitable disguise for a ruthless cold hearted killer who is equally efficient in a fist fight, as an early sequence in a saloon testifies.

A particularly disturbing Freudian subtext is developed between Junior and his father. There are hints of incest and of the fathers own masochism has he joins his boy in an organ recital. He is submissive to his son’s will, and though he finds his behaviour disgusting he is powerless to prevent it. This is illustrated in another keynote sequence in which Junior brutally bullwhips Tom in front of watching dignitaries at an afternoon soiree. Fulci’s camera gleefully closes in on the cruel brutality in a chilling echo of his later career. It is only when Tom is on the brink of expiring does Scott call the torture to an end. For those of you who have seen this film and watched Nero’s western of the following year Texas, Adios (1967) you will be all too aware of the major plot twist. Unlike other half assed reviews, I wont give it away here. But suffice it to say it gives an added dimension to the honourable intentions of Jeffrey as he joins Tom in a final shootout to rid the world of Junior. The hard edged nature of Massacre Time, and the lack of female characters makes it an emotionally hollow experience, one which at times meanders a little too slowly. But it makes up for this with an exceptional final sequence that is shot entirely without dialogue and makes excellent use of a variety of strange camera angles. I find Massacre Time to be the most accomplished of Fulci’s westerns, though White Fang (1973), The Return of White Fang (1974), Four of the Apocalypse (1975) and Silver Saddle (1978) have much to recommend in them.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. Great stuff, Shaun! This one is a nice precursor to Fulci's later blood spattered career. I got the Italian DVD which has an English dub and a 20 or 30 minute interview with Hilton which is sadly not English friendly!

  2. Cheers Brian! Yes I really enjoyed MASSACRE TIME. Highlights include the bull whipping of Nero, the prologue based on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, and basically any scene with George Hilton and Nino Castelnuovo. Nero is distinctly underwhelming here. Unfortunately I don't own a DVD of this, I was able to watch online as part of my rental subscription.


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