Written by: George Pacheco on February 7th, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, July 5th, 1968
Director: Ferdinando Baldi
Writers: Franco Rossetti, Ferdinando Baldi
Cast: Terrence Hill, Horst Frank, George Eastman
DVD released: January 14th, 2013
Approximate running time: 88 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Italian
DVD Release: Arrowdrome (Arrow Video)
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £12.99
Django, Prepare a Coffin explodes off the screen in grand fashion right from the get-go with what has to be one of the finest Spaghetti Western title themes ever recorded in Gianfranco Plenizio’s “You’d Better Smile,” sung with relentlessly infectious enthusiasm by singer Nicola di Bari.
This driving, electric-sounding theme gained particular notoriety a number of years ago, when the guitar and string sections were sampled by Gnarls Barkley for their pop mega-hit “Crazy,” yet the song—here presented in its full, essential glory—still holds up on its own merit so many years later, assisted greatly by the frenetic and colorful animated intro titles.
Luckily, the film itself doesn’t disappoint, either, securing Ferdinando Baldi’s reputation as one of the Spaghetti West’s most reliable directors when it comes to pacing and quirky, quality action. Baldi’s film—which was originally titled Preparati La Bara during its 1968 release, later receiving the Viva Django and Django, Prepare a Coffin monikers in order to cash in on the success of Sergio Corbucci’s iconic epic—is notable immediately for the use of its lead star Terence Hill, who hadn’t yet become typecast for the smiling, slapstick comedies a la Enzo Barboni’s Trinity films or the actor’s Superfuzz success in the States.
Instead, the genial visage of Hill is portrayed primarily for its passing resemblance to Django star Franco Nero, all stern scowling in place of the actor’s equally iconic, cheeky grin. This fact really works in the film’s favor, as efforts featuring a violent, vengeful Hill are all too few and far between when it comes to spaghetti westerns of this period. Hill’s character of Django is on a mission here in Bara to avenge the murder of his wife by a former friend, played with stylish and villainous flair by the ever-dependable Horst Frank.
Taking up the Django mantle of dark jacket and black hat, Hill employs his services as a hangman, secretly rescuing his victims and enlisting their services as a posse to assist in tracking down Frank’s ambitious politician character, David Barry. Eurocult favorite George Eastman co-stars as Frank’s new right hand man, playing up to the hilt his reputation as one of Cinema Italia’s most recognizable heavies.
In one of the film’s finest, most harrowing scenes, Eastman and his crew are held up in a burning building, while the calculating Hill—in a performance far removed from the smiling, nice guy persona which would eventually characterize the actor—casually picks them off, one by one, with extreme prejudice. The Django character’s legendary, ultra-cool coffin and gatling gun also make appearance for fans who are keeping score, making Baldi’s film not only one of the finest and most faithful takes on the “Django” mythos ever released, but one of the most enjoyable Spaghetti Westerns to mix the crazy and the cool into one fantastically successful package.
Arrowdrome’s release of Django, Prepare a Coffin serves as the film’s definitive release up to this point, easily bypassing the watchable, yet comparatively substandard English dub found VideoAsia’s Cowboys, Crooks and Charmers Named Trinity collection from a few years ago. Colors are deep, rich and saturated nicely, while the Italian audio track (!!) sounds fantastic, with well translated English subtitles. Viewing Preparati La Bara in its native language makes all the difference, really, lifting up Baldi’s film from its already-great status into something truly classic. Extras include reversible cover art, as well as a nice set of liner notes by “spaghetti western expert” Howard Hughes, certifying Arrowdrome’s DVD of Django, Prepare a Coffin as a dark horse release of superior quality.