Director: Camillo Bazzoni
Code Red Releasing

HERCULES himself, Steve Reeves, lives for your death in A LONG RIDE FROM HELL, an Italian/Spanish Spaghetti Western that proved to be the peplum star’s only effort as a producer, his only Spaghetti Western and also his final film.

Ranch owner Mike Sturgess (Reeves) and his brother Roy (Franco Fantasia, MURDER MANSION) are in the wrong place at the wrong time when they give chase to some cattle rustlers. It turns out, Mike’s old buddy Maynard (Wayde Preston, of TV’s COLT .45) and his partners have just robbed a nearby train and are looking to stash the loot until the coast clears. They beat Mike and Roy and leave them for dead, but the two wind up wrongfully imprisoned at Fort Yuma where his weaker brother dies at the hands of the sadistic warden Shorty (Nello Pazzafini, DAYS OF VIOLENCE); an impressive shot reveals Roy crucified in the foreground with the prisoners busting rocks in the background. Mike collaborates with the other prisoners on a massive prison break and escapes to find his ranch in ruin and that his mother has died. With nothing left, Mike dons a black hat and duster and vows to hunt down Martin and his buddies (whose numbers include Bruno Corrazari of Fulci’s THE PSYCHIC and THE BLACK CAT) using the still-hidden gold to turn them against each other, with corrupt Sheriff Freeman (Mimmo Palmara, HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN) on his tail. Silvana Venturini (THE LICKERISH QUARTET) and Rosalba Neri (THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT), seemingly dubbing herself, co-star.

Based on the novel “Judas Gun” by Gordon Shirreffs (no, it’s not an Italian pseudonym; Shirreffs was born in Chicago in 1914 and wrote over 70 novels and more than a 100 short stories), the property was optioned by Reeves, who served as the uncredited producer of the Italian/Spanish co-production, and he co-wrote it with Roberto Natale (KILL, BABY, KILL!). The story also plays out more like a conventional American western (especially with the protagonist’s ultimate decision of how to deal with the last of his betrayers). Director Camillo Bazzoni (a former cinematographer who later helmed the giallo SHADOWS UNSEEN) and NIGHTMARE CASTLE cinematographer Enzo Barboni (who went on to direct a number of Spaghetti Westerns with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer) manage some attractive images, but this is not one of the more visually adventurous Spaghetti Westerns. On the other hand, while many second-tier Spaghetti Western directors were doing their best to out-Leone Sergio Leone, the more conventional A LONG RIDE FROM HELL provides its audience with an immediately relatable and sufficiently motivated protagonist (minus interspersed flashbacks). LISA AND THE DEVIL composer Carlo Savina’s score features a Don Powell main title theme with chorus and a whistler (the score was recently released on CD by Digitmovies in Italy) over a sub-Leone opening titles montage.

It is regrettable that Reeves retired from acting after this film (a shoulder injury prevented him from doing stunts), because he is quite good here as the stoic-yet-sympathetic wronged man and has just as much a presence here as in his Hercules films (he’s quite active during the fistfights and shoot-outs and – crossing over from the peplum genre – also provides a lot of beefcake shots). TV actor Preston also does a good turn as the duplicitous Maynard, who will sacrifice anyone to make sure he’s the last man standing (he made a couple other Spaghetti Westerns including the Argento-scripted TODAY IT’S ME, TOMORROW YOU with Brett Halsey as well as the American western A MAN CALLED SLEDGE with James Garner). Palmara also crossed over from the peplum genre, having made six other films with Reeves. He does an impressive stunt during the climax (in the disc interview, Palmara says he came up with the idea for the stunt). The cast is also stuffed with Spaghetti Western genre stalwarts including Aldo Sambrell (A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL), Guido Lollobrigida (Antonio Margheriti’s VENGEANCE) and Enzo Fiermonte (THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO).

Previously released by Wild East in a PAL-converted, non-anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer, A LONG RIDE FROM HELL has been reissued by Code Red Releasing in an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer mastered in high definition. In seemingly the reverse of what we have come to expect from HD transfers of cult films, the colors here are bolder (with the skintones looking suitably bronzed for the sun-scorched settings of the bulk of the film; the film takes a nice detour into mossy, misty woods when Mike hunts down another of Maynard’s partners). The contrasts are also superior with the interiors looking believably lit compared to the brighter, somewhat washed-out PAL master. The framing works for the most part (and was likely the choice of the American rights holder Cinerama Releasing; the film would have been projected at 1.85:1 theatrically in the U.S.). The English mono audio is fine throughout. An Italian DVD was released last year by 01 Distribution as part of a large Spaghetti Western line, but reports on several of the other titles in the series suggest that they are non-anamorphic and the scope titles have been reformatted to 1.85:1. LISA AND THE DEVIL composer Carlo Savina’s score was recently released on CD by Digitmovies.

With the exception of a nice stills gallery, most of the extras have been ported over from the Wild East set (reportedly with their consent) including a 58-minute subtitled interview with actor Mimmo Palmara that is more career-wide than specific to the film, although he does talk about his friendship with Reeves and advising Leone on A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. “At Home with Steve Reeves” (13:43) is a videotape home movie segment shot by some visiting Italian fans (some of the Italian dialogue is subtitled in English). The film’s American Cinerama Releasing trailer (1:00) is present in rough shape, and Code Red trailers for SLITHIS, HORROR HIGH, STIGMA, RIVALS, THE BLACK KLANSMAN, THE CARRIER, TOMCATS, and THE BLACK GESTAPO round out the extras. (Eric Cotenas)