Western Film WTF: Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967)

Even in a genre known for excess, Giulio Questi's first Spaghetti Western is nonetheless considered notably excessive. From its weirdly drawn out title — "Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot!" — to its garish violence, to its frankly bizarre storyline, the film was considered a bit much.

I am unable to say whether the film is a product of a filmmaker pushing at the outer edges of a genre or one who was wildly out of control of his material, and, in the end, it doesn't matter much. Giulio Questi only made three feature-length movies, a few shorts, and some television work, but he seemed to possess a singular vision of narrative wildness.

As an example, he was responsible for a giallo, or Italian thriller, titled "Death Laid an Egg," which combined murder with poultry farming, causing filmmaker David Cairns to declare it "simply one of the craziest films ever made in any genre." Hew followed it with "Arcana," which Furious Cinema described as an "intense plunging into pure irrationalism and surrealism."

There's no evidence that Questi was inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky, but it is hard to believe he wasn't. "Django Kill" takes its name from the popular 1966  Sergio Corbucci film that also inspired Quentin Tarantino, but is not related to it; instead, it seems to be a deliberate and deliberately irrational fever dream. The film doesn't have the metaphoric portent that Jodorowsky brought to "El Topo," but, in a lot of ways, its a weirder film.

The story, such as it is, is of a half-Mexican gunfighter played by Tomas Milian, who, along with his Mexican compatriots, is executed by a group of bandits after successfully robbing a Wells Fargo wagon filled with gold. He is brought back to life by Indians who demand to know what the afterlife is like, and he hunts down the bandits who crossed him.

What follows is hard to describe, although the Wikipedia entry for the film took an admirable stab at it. The bandits find themselves in a town that seems somehow cursed and almost immediately get lynched by the townspeople for their gold. Another gang, this one full of gay mariachis (you read that right), comes to town to demand the gold. Oh, and part of the film seems to be a remake of Jane Eyre, with our gunfighter hero becoming the lover of a madwoman in an attic.

The film is notorious for its sadism, but I don't think sadism is the right word. The violence in the film is generally absurd, including the hero getting crucified and tortured by vampire bats. A lot of the film involves groups of people running through the streets shooting at each other, which, along with the mariachis, are the two images Alex Cox seems to have responded to most strongly when he remade the film in 1986 as "Straight to Hell."

And it is a memorable image, far more chaotic than you usually find in a Western. Instead of an inevitable, logical movement toward violence, this is a film that enjoys sudden, unexpected free-for-alls, with everybody both chasing each other and being chased by each other. Anything might kill you — this is a film where the hero uses a horse as a bomb. There is even a moment in the film where it seems perfectly credible that a villain has been shot by his parrot.

He hasn't, but that doesn't really detract from the weirdness of the scene, as the parrot has been squawking ominous phrases at the villain, who finally shoots the bird, who flutters slowly to the ground, saying "Too late! Too late!"

It's easy to see why Cox wanted to remake the film: It's got a very strong, very enjoyable cult vibe, although the film seems largely unknown outside the small world of diehard Spaghetti Western fans. Cox seemed to respond mostly to the film's chaotic sensibilities, which indeed feel very punk rock.

But cult films are found, not made, and few people have found their way to "Django Kill." Cox has long wondered why he didn't find an audience for "Straight to Hell," but nobody showed up for the original film. Why would they show up for the remake?

It's a shame, too. Both "Django Kill" and "Straight to Hell" are wild movies, and both are genuinely bizarre and entertaining. Maybe the audience is out there, looking for these films, and simply hasn't found it yet.

Maybe. It may be too far off the beaten path, though. Tarantino seems to have an unerring sense of just exactly how cult a film can be and still find an audience, and when he made his first Western, it was the original "Django" he looked to, and referenced.

That film found an audience, and still finds an audience, and inspired an enormous number of knock-offs and references, and still does. (The video game "Red Dead Revolver," as an example, has a character who drags around a coffin, which is the central image of "Django.")

"Django Kill," in the meanwhile, and "Straight to Hell" as well, are sort of off somewhere else, on their own, being as wild as they want to be, without anyone noticing.


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