A dark stormy night, a small family ranch is attacked by raiders who rape and murder the family and leave no-one alive... except one young boy. 15 years later Bill Meceita (John Phillip Law) has trained himself to become an expert marksman but still has no idea who was responsible for the murders. Meanwhile Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), a former member of the gang, is being released from a state prision where he has served 15 years after being betrayed by the gang. Both men want revenge on the gang members, but Ryan is more interested in money while Bill plans death for all those involved...
The storyline is your basic 'man out to get revenge on those who killed my father/brother/family' story that you get in almost every Western, Spaghetti or otherwise - fortunately, there are plenty of original aspects to the story to make it interesting. Ryan is a very curious character and his motives in regards to Bill are rather vague and although Bill has trained to be a perfect shot he is not experienced in the real world and Ryan frequently gets the upper hand on him, while Ryan himself is not beyond making mistakes - he is a long way from the "always one step ahead" character of Sabata who Van Cleef would play the next year, making the film both more realistic and more tense.
After the death of the first gang member you expect the film to follow a typical pattern, with Bill/Ryan tracking down the members individually - but after Walcott gets the better of them, the pattern changes as they head to Mexico where the whole of Walcott's gang is waiting. The film's pacing is very slow, much more in the style of an American Western - it takes 45 minutes before the first proper duel and the film keeps gratuitous gunfights to a minimum, but it never seems to drag and we get a lot more detail of Bill's investigations that in most similar films. The opening sets a grim tone and the film as a whole is pretty serious, although not without a couple of lighter moments (fortunately not the grating comic relief of many other films).
Little known director Giulio Petroni, working with cinematographer Carl Carlini (The Big Gundown (1966)), does a very good job here and the film boasts strong camerawork throughout. Bill's poker-table duel with Cavanaugh is a stand-out sequence and one of the best duels in the Spaghetti Western era. The film is bolstered by an impressive orchestral and choral soundtrack from Ennio Morricone that ranges from traditional Western to dischordant jazz and even contains some hints of his menacing soundtrack to The Thing (1982).
Lee Van Cleef was a Euro-Western veteran by this point, appearing in two Leone films and Sollima's The Big Gundown (1966), he fits his role perfectly, providing a complete contrast to his better known performance as the wily anti-hero in Sabata (1969). John Phillip Law makes his only Spaghetti Western appearance here and looks wooden and poor - Law is best known for his ultra-suave Diabolik (1968) character, a role for which he had to do mostly physical work and little actual acting, and although his gunwork is very impressive, he is sadly required to 'emote' here as well and completely fails. He does suit the 'novice gunfighter' character in a way that genre favourites like Tomas Milian or Franco Nero would not have been able to, but actors like Peter Lee Lawrence were more sucessful and would have looked a lot better here. The rest of the cast is a standard mix of Euro-cult and western actors, including Anthony Dawson (the evil Spanish count in Curse of the Werewolf (1961)), Luigi Pistilli (The Great Silence (1969)) and Josť Torres (Ramirez the poet in Run, Man, Run (1968)).
Although not the most original film in the genre, Death Rides a Horse is well written and impressively directed with a powerful Ennio Morricone score, only John Phillip Law's wooden acting damages the film, but he is countered out by a nice smooth performance from Van Cleef. One of the genre's best, it comes recommended to fans of the slower, more detailed Italo-Westerns and a good place for American Western fans to sample the quality of the Spaghetti Westerns.
|Anyone famous in it?||
Lee Van Cleef - Western star, made famous in Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More (1965)
John Phillip Law - An American actor, best known to Euro-cult fans for his lead role in Diabolik (1968).
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Giulio Petroni - a little known European director who also helmed a few Spaghetti Westerns including A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof (1968) and the revolutionary Tepepa (1968).|
|Any gore or violence ?||A little blood, average Western-style violence. The opening includes a quite vivid rape sequence.|
|Any sex or nudity?||A quite strong rape sequence in the opening, no nudity.|
|Good soundtrack?||A powerful score from Ennio Morricone gives the film a real boost.|
|Who is it for?||Recommended to fans of the more detailed Italo-Westerns and a great starting place for newcomers.
|Visuals||Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour.
The picture quality is good with only a minimal layer of grain and occasion print damage.
|Audio||English, French, German, Spanish and Italian soundtracks - all sound good.|
|Subtitles||English HOH, German HOH, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Finnish|
|Region||Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL|
|Other regions?||Available in an identical DVD across Europe. In the US, only available in low quality public domain discs.|
|Cuts?||Believed to be fully uncut. Print used is English language.