Written by: Michael Den Boer on October 19th, 2017
BluRay released: November 7th, 2017
Approximate running times: 115 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD Mono English, DTS-HD Mono Italian
BluRay Release: Kino Lorber
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $29.95
Giulio Petroni only directed a handful of films over his twenty-year career as a director. And after the success of Sergio Leone’s, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, the western genre would soon take over the Italian film industry over the next few years. Of course, this would lead to countless imitators and by the end of the 1960’s there was an over-saturation that would contribute to the demise of the Italian western. During the peak of the Spaghetti western genre in Italy Giulio Petroni would direct three Spaghetti westerns, Tepepa, A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof and Death Rides a Horse.
One of the reasons why Death Rides a Horse works so well is its brilliant screenplay. Which was written by Luciano Vincenzoni, a screenwriter who was no stranger to the Italian western. He wrote or co-wrote For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Mercenary and Duck You Sucker.
From the film’s opening sequences, it is obvious that Death Rides a Horse is not your typical Spaghetti western. With its depiction of raping and killing woman and children. And though this film has underlying tone of violence that drives the story. There is also a distinct line that is drawn between the good and the bad guy, which is something that makes Death Ride a Horse stand out from its contemporaries that often dealt in the gray areas and never established the hero form the villain.
Lee Van Cleef (The Big Gundown, The Grand Duel) is one of the Spaghetti westerns most iconic actors. And his career was resurrected after his appearance in Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More. In Death Rides a Horse, he is self-assured and always looks cool, even when things aren’t going his way. The character Ryan has many similarities to the Frank Talby character that Van Cleef portrayed in Day of Anger. Most notable, both of these characters are mentors to younger gunfighters who seek revenge.
In the lead role of Bill Meceita is John Phillip Law, who is most remembered for his roles in the films Danger: Diabolik and Barbarella. At times John Phillip Law looks to wooden and when he tries to look angry, his eyes betray the rest of his body language. Despite his shortcomings John Phillip Law, still manages a few really great moments, like when he is buried in the ground with nothing more than his head above ground and when the Ryan character arrives in time to rescue him. The look on his face is priceless, when Ryan takes his sweet time to dig him back out of the ground.
All of the best Italian westerns are blessed with strong supporting cast that offset the leads. And Death Rides a Horse, is a virtual who’s who of supporting players like Luigi Pistilli (Bay of Blood, Your Vice is a Closed Room and Only I Have a Key), Mario Brega (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), Anthony Dawson (Dial M for Murder) and José Torres (Run, Man, Run).
Visually Death Rides a Horse takes full advantage of the widescreen frame. And nowhere is this more evident, then when it comes to its use of blood red during flashbacks. Another key ingredient in the film is composer Ennio Morricone, who would write all the Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti westerns scores. His score for Death Rides a Horse sees him continuing to experiment as a composer. And some of the music in Death Rides a Horse would be used thirty-five years later in the film Kill Bill Volume 1.
Death Rides a Horse comes on a 50 GB dual layer (27.8 GB) BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. When it comes to this film’s North American home video releases, they have always left a lot to be desired. And with this release from Kino Lorber this film finally makes its way to HD in North America. The source used for this transfer is in very good shape. With any print related imprecations being very minimal. And when compared to previous North American home video releases, this transfer is superior in every way. With its greatest areas of improvement being colors saturation and image clarity. With that being said, image clarity during the darker scenes is not as strong as it is for the majority of this transfer. Outside of North America this film has been released on Blu-ray and it is most likely this release comes from the same source used for those transfers. It should be noted though this releases back cover incorrectly lists this film’s aspect ratio as 1.85:1. This release does present this film is in its correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
This release comes with two audio options, a DTS-HD mono mix in English and a DTS-HD mono mix in Italian. Both audio mixes sound clear and balanced throughout. Range wise the more ambient sounds are well represented and the film’s score sounds appropriately robust. And of these two audio mixes, the English audio mix is the more preferable since the majority of this film’s leads all provide their own voice for this track. Included for this release are removable English subtitles and it should be noted that these subtitles are a direct translation of the English language track.
Rounding out the extras is an audio commentary with filmmaker Alex Cox who discusses, Death Rides a Horse and where it fits in within the Spaghetti western genre, screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, director Giulio Petroni, locations, the cast and his thoughts about the film. His knowledge and enthusiasm for the Spaghetti western genre make this a very enjoyable track.
Overall Death Rides a Horse gets a first rate release from Kino Lorber.