The lure of the impulse buy is a hard one for the film geek to resist. We’ve all fallen prey to those cheap box sets filled with forgotten Spaghetti Westerns, Kung Fu Films, Horror or whatever 35mm print someone found in their garage and was able to license for 3.97. Most of the time these films sit unviewed on the shelf, still in their shrink wrap. Cheap License Theater is a weekly trip dedicated to exploring these cinematic backwaters of the not-quite-public-domain.
Worth Watching? If Four Of The Apocalypse is not the most unpleasant movie ever made it is certainly in contention. The work of Lucio Fulci, a director best known for his ultra, actually make that uber violent horror films and giallo, Four Of The Apocalypse finds the master of the disreputable making a western, and my oh my the things he gets into…
Four Of The Apocalypse tips its hand almost immediately. Stubby, a crooked gambler arrives in a small western town and is immediately spotted and thrown in jail. That night, in a scene as strong and disquieting as anything Fulci ever directed, the town is purged of “undesirable elements” by a rampaging gang of white hooded regulators who massacre half the town’s population in a sequence that presages Fulci’s brand of gothic horror Stubby is spared but exiled, along with three other outcasts, a pregnant prostitute, a schizophrenic black man and Michael J. Pollard (nuff said). The four are sent to make a treacherous 200 mile journey across a harsh desert to the nearest town.
Unfortunately the unlucky refugee’s stars are in retrograde and their trials not at an end. The four end up in the clutches of Chaco, a merciless bandit who looks for all the world like a malevolent Jack Sparrow cosplayer, and after a spirited round of peyote, torture and rape, vengeance is sworn. Somewhere along the line Michael J. Pollard brings new meaning to the phrase, “Getting your ass served.”
Unlike the goofy late period Spaghetti Westerns it was competing against, Four Of The Apocalypse amps up the violence, psychedelia and sadism. In this it perhaps goes too far making Django look like a Roy Rogers matinee, the sense that you’re watching three movies stuffed into one. But it’s all covered in a thick layer of Fulci’s New York Ripper levels of skeeziness that was quickly becoming his trademark. Four Of The Apocalypse doesn’t just trade in normal exploitation sleaze that you can laugh off as the credits roll. No, Fulci wants to make you deeply uncomfortable. If he didn’t then that prospect in turn makes me more deeply uncomfortable. Four Of The Apocalypse isn’t a bad film, but you really ought to know what you’re getting in for.
The Vigilante Western Collection’s muddy, ugly transfer demonstrates one of the perils of Cheap License Theater, unfortunately. Often with the films featured on Cheap License Theater, the cheap way is the only way, but given Fulci’s notoriety Four Of The Apocalypse has been released by Anchor Bay, which gave the film a much cleaner transfer, and Blue Underground, which, almost certainly did as well given their reputation. With both versions in ready and reasonably priced circulation, there’s no reason to settle for the lesser transfer. Assuming you want to see Michael J. Pollard’s cannibalized glutes in the cleanest possible clarity.