Lucio Fulci’s Western Massacre Time (Tempo di Massacro, The Brute and the Beast) opens with a scene that would be right at home in the horror films he would become famous for. Jason ‘Junior’ Scott (Nino Castelnuovo, Star Odyssey, Strip Nude for Your Killer) and his men stage what at first looks to be a fox hunt until we see the prey is human. Once they run the man down they let the dogs tear him apart as Jason watches with a look on his face that suggests he’s having an orgasm.
Tom Corbett (Franco Nero, Django, Die Hard 2: Die Harder) is called back to the hometown he left years ago. He finds it under the rule of Mr. Scott (Giuseppe Addobbati, Nightmare Castle, Kill Baby, Kill) and his son Jason. They’ve laid claim to the town and all the surrounding land, including the family farm that Tom’s brother Jeff (George Hilton, Atlantis Interceptors, All the Colours of the Dark) inherited.
Jeff is now a drunk living in a shack on the edge of town. He insists Tom leave immediately. After Carradine (John Bartha, Cannibal Ferox, Mission Stardust), the man who sent for him, and his family are killed, Tom is left with no choice but to fight back.
Up until this point in his career, Fulci was mostly known for directing comedies. Massacre Time, was written by Fernando Di Leo who would make a name for himself directing poliziotteschi such as The Italian Connection and Caliber 9 and Enzo Dell’Aquila (Bury Them Deep). Fulci added his own contributions and the result gave him a chance to show his darker side.
And, while obviously lacking Fulci’s trademark gore, Massacre Time is a dark and violent film. Apart from the opening, there’s a crucifixion, and a nasty duel with whips and, while we don’t see them killed, we do see the freshly killed bodies of Carradine’s wife and two young daughters. Once revealed, the rather complicated relationships between the main characters only add to that darkness.
Of course, that’s all on top of the usual assortment of barroom brawls and gunfights. There are plenty of the expected set pieces including an amusing barroom brawl with the permanently inebriated Jeff performing something that resembles a Western version of drunken kung fu. The final showdown includes a couple of scenes, such as Nero leaping through the air, landing behind his opponents and grabbing a dropped gun that probably influenced John Woo.
Hilton shows considerable talent in his first film although I found his character somewhat annoying. He could have saved a lot of trouble, as well as lives if he had just told Tom what he knew rather than try to drive him off.
Nero, who had just found fame as Django, plays a somewhat different character here. Tom frequently seems to have wandered in from a traditional Western, being a bit too much like an old-school cowboy hero to fit into the amoral world of the Spaghetti Western. Surprisingly, given the number of films both men did, Massacre Time was the only one they appeared in together.
Fulci, who was still five years away from Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and thirteen years away from Zombie shows a definite flair for the genre. He would go on to do two more Westerns, The Four of the Apocalypse… and The Silver Saddle as well as two films based on Jack London’s White Fang that while set on the frontier didn’t really fit into the genre.
Massacre Time is worth seeing both for fans of Italian Westerns and for those who want to see what Fulci was doing before he revolutionized European horror films. Massacre Time will debut on Arrow’s streaming service on July 12th. It will also be part of their box set Vengeance Trails which will be released on July 27th. You can check their website, their streaming service’s website or their Facebook page for details.