Four of the Apocalypse (1975)

A very strange Spaghetti Western from Lucio Fulci with a good cast and plot, but poorly directed and scored. Anchor Bay R0 USA disc.

The Film

1975 and a genre is dying. Damaged by endlessly repeating characters and storylines, and now associated more with comedy than serious drama, the Spaghetti Westerns were forced to up their gore and nudity quotas to compete with the popular giallo films of the day. With such an unrestrained opportunity, Lucio Fulci – soon to be known as the Godfather of Gore – would present one of the most violent and twisted Westerns of the era.

Cardsharp 'Stubby' Preston (Fabio Testi), pregnant prostitute 'Bunny' O'Neill (Lynne Frederick), town drunk Clem (Michael J. Pollard) and insane Bud (Harry Baird) are locked up the in town gaol of Salt Flats Utah on the night that the residents decide to 'clean up' their town. A gang of white hooded gunmen attack and kill a myriad of drunks and pimps in a brutal massacre. Bribing the town sheriff, Stubby is able to secure his release, and the four end up on a wagon heading anywhere that isn't Salt Flats. It is not a few days before they encounter Chaco (Tomas Milian), a long haired, bandanna sporting sharpshooter. An experienced hunter, he offers them daily supplies of food if they allow him to join their four. But the good-hearted innocence of the group is destroyed as they find him torturing a sheriff; and after plying the four with drugs and alcohol, he rapes Bunny and shoots Clem in the leg before taking their horses and wagons and leaving them to die. It is up to the group to rally together to survive.

Director Lucio Fulci often boasted that his Westerns brought a surreal dream-like aspect to the genre, although whether his films were deliberately surreal, or just badly written, is open to debate. It is worth noting that Fulci did not write this film, it was scripted by Ennio Concini, based on some short stories by Bret Harte. The characterisation of the four is decent enough for a Spaghetti Western and we do get some romantic interest between Stubby and Bunny although this is rather unsubtly written. The character of Chaco is deliberately enigmatic, and remains thus; his character an interesting reversal of the stereotypical Western hero who appears from nowhere, boasts pinpoint shooting and is known by a single name. A notable tendency of the script is to jump to new scenes overly rapidly: in the opening, Stubby bribes the town sheriff and immediately the group of four are out of town on their wagon; while later we do not see how the four untie themselves after Chaco leaves them to die.

Although it can give the impression that Four of the Apocalypse was filmed more as a series of set-pieces than a rolling narrative, it does give the film a dreamlike feel (dreams tend to have bizarre jumps in space and time) and is a common feature of many of Fulci's films. It can also give the mistaken impression that scenes are cut or missing from the film. The dreamlike atmosphere is also aided by the strange locations that the characters visit – a rainy ghost-town, and a curious snowbound village with all-male inhabitants. It has often been said that Lucio Fulci didn't treat his female characters well, and this film hardly counters that feeling: Bunny is the only female character and as well as being raped by Chaco, she has to make lengthy walks despite being heavily pregnant and ultimately endure a painful labour. However, all of the characters suffer throughout the film, death and pain being a key component of Fulci's Wild West, and the fate of Bunny is no worse than that reserved for some of the male characters.

While many of the Spaghetti Westerns from the late 1960s and early 1970s had strong political messages, this film has the strong spiritual analogy of redemption and fall, focusing on the character of Stubby Preston. His fall comes prior to the film, his life as a cardsharp being one of sin. Chaco plays a devilish role – attacking a trail of unarmed religious travellers, killing every animal he sees and in a twisted sequence played like a communion, he distributes hallucinogenic berries and alcohol to the four, which Stubby consciously rejects by spitting out. It is Chaco who shocks Stubby with his rape of the unconscious girl, representative of the abuse she faced as a prostitute, and this prompts him to act and care for her. It is later, notably with the help of a priest, that he is able to take her to the snowbound Altaville (the white ground giving the town a heaven-like appearance) and she finally finds peace in death after a painful childbirth. Although offered the chance to stay, and look after the child, he instead chooses to return to the vicious life of the old west to seek revenge on Chaco, consciously he is aware that he does not belong in such a place.

The film is shot in an unspectacular way. The 1.85:1 frame is uncommon in the Spaghetti Western – the wider scope frame being used more often to emphasise the big scenery. Fulci uses the frame to the full and the film does not suffer, but nor does it gain. The gunfights are bloodsoaked, but look quite unrealistic, the blood throughout the film having a very light, almost pink tone to it; it would be a few years yet before the Italian gore industry perfected their hideous art. The biggest problem with the film is the soundtrack, like many of the Spaghetti Westerns in the later days, the main musical theme was a narrative soft-rock ballad – an attempt to tell the story of the characters via song; this sounds cheesy and it is. Music is very important in films, to build tension and emphasise mood – but when the same jovial song is being used throughout, these moods are missing and the film suffers as a consequence.

The cast is strong, and all of them perform well: 
Tomas Milian, a Spaghetti Western veteran; from Django Kill (1967) to Companeros (1970), and lead player in Fulci's impressive giallo Don't Torture a Ducking (1972); is cast against type in the lead role as the heinous Chaco. A method actor, he based his character loosely on murderer Charles Manson, down to painting cruciforms under his eyes – a homage to Manson's forehead carved Swastika.
Fabio Testi was not unfamiliar with the Euro-Western, appearing in One Damned Day at Dawn... Django Meets Sartana! (1970) and Red Coat (1974) but finding more fame in the giallo entry What have they done to Solange? (1972) and alongside Oliver Reed in crime action film Revolver (1973). Cast as Stubby Preston he brings both sleaze and sympathy to the role in equal measures, although he is not helped by some rather clunky romantic small talk (at least in the English dub).
Beautiful 21 year-old Lynne Frederick, probably best known to cult movie fans as Dora Meuller in Hammer's Vampire Circus (1972), and who also appeared in Euro-Western Red Coat (1974) and British director Pete Walker's Schizo (1976) is cast as the pregnant prostitute Emanuelle 'Bunny' O'Neill. She plays the role well, her painful labour appears quite convincing, her distress at the death of a friend contrasts well with her complete drugged-up ignorance during the rape scene.
Michael J. Pollard makes his only euro-western appearance here, cult movie fans may recognise him from the absurd Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989) or his brief role in House of 1000 Corpses (2003). He plays Clem, the town drunk, to perfection; avoiding the normal drunk clichés he conveys a man who will, and does, do anything for a drink.
Harry Baird is recognisable to cult film fans only for small appearances in Vincent Price/Christopher Lee vehicle The Oblong Box (1969) and classic British film The Italian Job (1969). Here in his final film role he plays Bud, unstable at the beginning of the film and claiming to see dead people, he eventually goes completely insane. Baird plays the role well, and like Pollard, manages to convince in the part – avoiding overacting, or playing for laughs.

Lucio Fulci was still in his Italian comedy period when he made Four of the Apocalypse, it was to be a few years yet before Zombi 2 would establish him as a major player in the Euro-horror stable. He was also working with cinematographer Sergio Salvati (who was to lens all of Fulci's major horror projects) for the first time. However, it is possible to see some of the Fulci trademarks starting to emerge – the over the top blood and gore, the quick cutting between scenes and the extreme suffering of the lead characters.

Four of the Apocalypse is a film filled with interesting ideas, and an impressive cast. However, Fulci's direction is unexciting, and his musical choices are poor. With another man in the director's chair, this could have been a genre classic – as it is, the film is interesting and worth watching, but is unlikely to become a favourite.

In brief:

It it a sequel? No, this film is stand alone.
Anyone famous in it? Thomas Milian - Spaghetti Western veteran; from Django Kill (1967) to Companeros (1970).
Fabio Testi - star of giallo What have they done to Solange? (1972) and crime action film Revolver (1973)
Directed by anyone interesting? Lucio Fulci - infamous Italian director responsible for blood soaked Zombi 2 (1979), The Beyond (1981) and City of the Living Dead (1980) as well as early Spaghetti Western Massacre Time (1966).
Any violence? A few gunfights, loads of blood. Some very violent fights as well as a rape scene.
Any sex? A rape scene and implied sex scene, a few topless shots and some male full frontal nudity.
Good soundtrack?An unimpressive ballad soundtrack that does not fit with the on screen action.
Who is it for?
Fans of Fulci and Spaghetti Westerns might want to check this one out, certainly not for genre newcomers.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 1.85:1 anamorphic wide-screen. Colour.
The image is okay - a little grain and a lot scratches tramlines and speckles - always watchable though.
Audio Italian and English language - Dolby digital mono. Sound fine, English is slightly stronger.
(Note: Some short scenes are in Italian only)
Subtitles English for sequences without English audio.
NOTE: Italian audio track is not subtitled.
RuntimeMain feature runtime:  1hr 44m 07s
Extras The disc includes:
  • Fulci of the Apocalypse - interesting interviews with Testi and Milian (part subtitled). 17m 04s
  • Original Trailer, slightly lower quality than film - Italian text/title, English audio.  3m 45s
  • Talent Bios, onscreen detailed biographies of: Fulci, Testi and Milian.
Packing Available in a Standard Amaray case or in the Once Upon a Time in Italy boxset.
Region Region 0 (worldwide) - NTSC
Other regions? Region 2 France and Japan. Neither is superior.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. Titles and credits are in English.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 15th Jan. 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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