Straight to Hell: The Director's Cut [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (31st August 2018).
The Film

What if Samuel Beckett had loved Spaghetti Westerns and then wrote a screenplay to a Twilight Zone episode? The results would probably be something close to Alex Cox’s third film, "Straight to Hell"; a parody of the Westerns that Cox loved, but that the great majority of film goers just didn’t get. So here we are now, twenty three years later, with a slightly revised "Director’s Cut" of the film and it looks much better than it did when I first saw it on VHS back in the day.

From a script written by both Cox and co-written by "Repo Man" (1984) scribe Dick Rude in just three days and filmed in a mere five weeks shooting time with an odd cast of Cox regulars and more musicians than you can count. Cox was a man ahead of his time as he unleashed this homage to bloody Spaghetti Westerns on an unsuspecting public. Where else do you find a black and white hit man duo dressed in black suits and white shirts and skinny ties? This film is a love letter to previous cinematic outings such as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966), "Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot!" (1967), "Point Blank" (1967), and "Cool Hand Luke" (1967) among others.

We begin with a trio of down and out bank robbers as they oversleep and miss their assigned target in a posh hotel. They scramble out of the hotel waving firearms and jump into a waiting vehicle driven by a pregnant Velma (Courtney Love doing her best Carroll Baker impression); the trio of bad men: Willie (Dick Rude), Simms (Joe Strummer) and Norwood (Sy Richardson) then rob a nearby bank in a nearby town and make off with a suitcase of loot. Simms is busy filling the getaway car with petrol, but unknowingly does so with diesel instead of unleaded which leads to the foursome being stranded in the dessert. The scene where one of the suitcases drops and opens spilling cash everywhere mirrors the ending in Stanley Kubrick’s noir classic "The Killing" (1956). The desperadoes hike up a mountainside where they bury the money in a hole and then make their way into a small town in Southern Spain. Director Cox states in the accompanying commentary that the town is originally from a 1972 Charles Bronson film, "Savage Cowboys" directed by John Sturges. As we will see the film is a adaption of the 1967 Italian film, "Django Kill…If You Live Shoot!" directed by Giulio Questi.

After a night in a bar, the men have an encounter with the local coffee addicted members of the McMahon family (portrayed by various members of The Pogues) and eventually they are welcomed to the town by Frank (Biff Yeager), leader of the McMahon tribe. The costumes that the various members wear is a combination of pseudo Mexican outlaw gear and an aft "Mad Max" (1979) style wardrobe; no one changes their clothes, people bathe with their clothes on, and generally act like they were invited to an excellent costume party.

Elderly Grandpa McMahon (Jem Finer) is brutally murdered by one of his own grandchildren and a mob mentality strikes the group and they immediately decide to execute whatever person is not assembled in the town square: Whitey (Graham Fletcher-Cook), unknowingly enters the town looking for the three bank robbers and the pregnant Velma and he is summarily sentenced to death on the gallows. A funeral parade is led down the street in honor of Grandfather McMahon and what Spaghetti Western is complete without a funeral parade? While saying the last rites over the grave of Grandfather McMahon, Preacher McMahon (Xander Berkeley) is suddenly assaulted by a hand clawing its way above ground, and several members shoot at the undead man finishing him off for good. The entire film is like a runaway semi highballing its way down the highway, zipping past the many historic ghost towns of films past.

The next stranger to appear is I.G. Farben (Dennis Hopper); in reality, Farben is named after a German chemical and pharmaceutical industry conglomerate responsible for creating the toxic gas that the Nazis used in the holocaust. Oh, that Alex Cox is a funny guy! Accompanying him is his wife Sonya (Grace Jones) and the two of them stick out like a sore thumb. Farben is telling folks that he is a mini mart magnet and that he is simply “helping people to help themselves to have a home.” Before departing from the scene, he leaves a guitar case full of weapons and ammunition with the robbers, telling them that the thought of the day is “that a town cannot have two bosses.” This is setting up the final scene of the film which is a dramatic bloody shootout between the outlaws and the McMahons. After Willy is shot multiple times with a sub machine gun by his romantic interest Louise (Michele Winstanley) he is later seen still alive and scrambling with Simms in search of the buried loot. Simms shoots Willy planning to keep the dough to himself, but then is assassinated by Velma who escapes with Frank McMahon with the money only to plunge over a cliffside in a fiery blaze. At last counts only Norwood is still alive and he rides off in a truck driven by three remaining female McMahons. The last scene is the town in ruins as we see Farben’s company coming in to start drilling for oil, thus completing the circle that was started when Simms was seen pumping diesel from a Farben pump.

The acting is all over the place, with Strummer and Richardson rigidly staying in character and playing their part straight. The plot is virtually non-existent with the majority of the cast wondering where the money is hidden. At times this reminded me of adults play acting a childhood saga of cowboys and villains, with guns being randomly fired simply because they could do so. There is a lot of in-joke material with the cast breaking into song at a moment’s notice; Fox Harris is sporting a ridiculous wig and lounge lizard moustache and he attempts to sing Tom Jones’ "Delilah" and at another time the entire cast sings "Danny Boy". The days are counted off by a header card that simply states what day of the week it is and Cox adds that it would have been nice to have supplied a scorecard of the number of killings accrued by The McMahon’s vs. The Hoods.

The soundtrack is thickly layered with music from The Pogues and Pray for Rain. The sweeping sound of the wind blowing over the desert is clearly mixed with the dialogue and the cinematography by Tom Richmond has been reprocessed so the image looks much better than it originally did.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 mastered in HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, the improved color scheme makes this Blu-ray shine and the final product looks very good in my opinion.

Audio

A single English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround is included, the sound of explosions and assorted guns firing fills the soundtrack with the sounds of a western turned on its head. Dialogue is clear and I only wished that Kino Lorber would have added subtitles, but that is a minor complaint.

Extras

there is an audio commentary track featuring Director Alex Cox and co-writer Dick Rude where they both reflect on the film making process and Cox points out the myriad of in film references that he pays homage to.

"Back to Hell" documentary (23:23) is a sort of "where are they now?" look at some of the cast members including Cox, Richardson, Strummer, and others.

"Black Hills" (2:21), a short student film by Cox featuring many of the familiar landscapes of several mythical Spaghetti Westerns.

A bonus trailer is included for "Straight to Hell Returns" ( 0:58).

Packaging

Comes in a Blu-ray keep case with excellent artwork.

Overall

"Straight to Hell" is decidedly an acquired taste, this will be a must purchase for fans of Cox’s previous work and fans of offbeat cult films.

The Film: B- Video: A Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: B

 


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