Weird Westerns: And God Said to Cain (1970)


A tale of Western revenge in which vengeance itself becomes a supernatural force, bringing with it storms and causing spontaneous acts of murder.

by Max Sparber

Italian director Antonio Margheriti only made a handful of Westerns. Instead, he's best-known for a string of Italian cult genre films with titles like "Wild, Wild Planet" and "Mr. Superinvisible." He also paericipated in a variety of American cult films, including serving as second unit director (and possibly directing quite a few scenes for) Andy Warhol's "Flesh For Frankenstein" and "Blood for Dracula."

It is, therefor, no surprise that his 1970 Western "And God Said to Cain," which superficially is a simple Western revenge film, has a garish, pulpy quality to it, and more than a whiff of the supernatural.

The plot couldn't be simpler: A cowboy with the unglamorous name Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski) was made the patsy for a crime, spending years doing hard labor. Unexpectedly freed by order of the president, he gets a rifle, returns to his old town, and sets himself to killing everyone associated with the man who set him up, now a local boss.

He has a unique advantage, in that there are a series of tunnels under the town (they look like mine shafts and are referred to as an Indian grave), which Gary Hamilton spent his childhood exploring. This allows him to move throughout the town unobserved, giving him the jump on the small army of gunslingers in the employ of the boss.

But despite the fact that Gary Hamilton — the film always insists on referring to him by his full name — is alive, the movie behaves like a horror movie. It helps that Gary Hamilton is played by Kinski, who always looked to me like someone made a fright mask out of Marlon Brando's face, barely covering wild, murderous eyes.

Gary Hamilton is dressed in a bright red undershirt and a massive hat, one that looks more like something a Quaker might wear than a 10-gallon hat. He's an unusual-looking cowboy movie star, but there is a lot about this film that is unusual looking.

The boss, as an example, lives in a massive hacienda that, once you enter it, doesn't look like a Western set as much as it looks like a Gothic Giallo film; you wouldn't be surprised to discover an adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe story taking place here.

The boss, Acombar (played by German actor Peter Carsten) lives a cloistered life with his mistress, played by Marcella Michelangeli, and his newly returned soldier son, Dick (Antonio Cantafora). They spend most of the film dining around a long table, hinting that they know terrible secrets, and listening as terrible things happen outside.

Specifically, they hear screams and gunshots, and they hear a storm. Because when Gary Hamilton returns to town, he brings a tornado with him.

A surprising amount of the film's violence takes place in one location, the town church, which Gary Hamilton uses as a sniper's nest, as well as dropping the church bell on a gunman (it is strongly suggested the bell cleaves his legs off). There is also an extraordinary scene in which Acombar decides to murder to town priest, who plays horror-movie organ even as bullets plunge into him, at one point rising from the floor to play a few spooky notes before dying.

The film treats revenge itself as a supernatural force. By the end of the movie, Gary Hamilton merely needs to show up and characters start killing each other over petty squabbles, as though revenge had infected the entire town. Inside the hacienda, Acombar and his family start killing each other as well.

The film has a delirious, almost feverish quality to it. Scenes plays out in a frenzy, sometimes hidden in dust by the approaching tornado. Horses, freed from a stable, run circles, trampling any human they see. Gary Hamilton starts the film tolling the church bell to attract people to him, and then it just starts tolling itself, perhaps pushed by the wind, perhaps infected with its own murderousness — beside the man it falls on, it also hangs another man from its rope.

By the end of the film, it seems likely everyone has died, but for Acombar and Gary Hamilton, who confront each other in a room filled with shattered mirrors, which soon bursts into flame. If Margheriti had committed to his premise more, both should have died in the fire, and, at the end of the movie, a tornado should have blown the town off the map.

This is a movie in which, one you make plans for revenge, there are no plans afterward, which Gary Hamilton is explicit about. Instead, we see him ride away, throwing his gun away, perhaps because the filmmakers hoped Gary Hamilton would become a recurring character in Spaghetti Westerns, the way the characters Django and Sartana had after debuting in previous films.

The ending does give Gary Hamilton the opportunity to ride off to the film's theme song, one of my favorites. Written by Carlo Savina with lyrics by (and sung by)  Don Powell, who I don't believe was the drummer from English glam band Slade but coincidentally a fellow of the same name.

The theme, called "Rocks, Blood and Sand," is as delirious as the film, a soulful melody over chanted, almost cult-like voices, wailing up to hysteria with surprising frequency and hinting and apocalypse.  It's both wildly inappropriate for the film and perfect for it, which is a real trick.


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