Better known for his gory zombie flicks, the obsessions of director Lucio Fulci with gore, tortuous suffering (eyeball trauma, cranial shattering), and cemeteries, resonates in varying degrees in what's best described as one of his most accomplished films. A strong narrative, good cast (here Tomas Milian and American Michael J. Pollard duel acting methods in a bizarre peyote sequence), and excellent location work add a lot of production value. The bursts of violence are surprisingly restrained, given Fulci's next series of films included the incredible 1979 gore-fest, "Zombie."
Anchor Bay's transfer, made from an uncut print, includes two scenes subtitled in English (as they were lifted from the longer Italian version), restoring a curiously deleted verbal insult at the film's finale; and a brief "skinning" scene that oddly recalls torture episodes in Ralph Nelson's similarly violent 1966 western, "Duel At Diablo."
Nelson's own forays into the western genre - the aforementioned revenge/siege classic, and the quasi-Vietnam protest parable "Soldier Blue" (1970) - were arguably more divisive among critics than Fulci's "Apocalypse" entry. What seriously dates Fulci's film is a pop song that lyrically evolves during key montage sequences. Reflecting character suffering and their personal fears, the scenes sometimes veer into bathos, although the film's overall film score adds some emotional subtext.
The included featurette assembles excellent interviews with real star Fabio Testi (himself having worked earlier with Fulci on "Contraband") and token star Tomas Milian. The latter discusses with delightful acidity how the film's producer exploited his star status in spite of the fact his total shooting days were a mere four. The best bits concern Milian's reputation as a Method actor (he steals every scene, particularly after a self-applied makeup tweak under the eyes), and both comment in detail on the conundrum of Fulci's frequent disregard for his own talent as a filmmaker. Loathing actors (here attributed to a truly peculiar event), the two stars address his penchant for filmed cruelties, and remark with genuine regret how Fulci's desire to rise beyond a self-proclaimed status of idiosyncratic artisan was destroyed by an unwavering sense of professional apathy.
Fulci fans will no doubt find the director's foray into a more structured narrative terrain a real treat, and while the director's personal sensibilities colour the traditional form of the genre somewhat, "Four of the Apocalypse" certainly demonstrates the natural evolution of the spaghetti western after its key practitioners sought greater diversity in other genres.
Originally released separately Dec. 18th, 2001, “Four of the Apocalypse” is also available as part of Anchor Bay's “Once Upon A Time In Italy” Collection (Cat. # DV12436).
The boxed set includes “A Bullet For The General,” “Companeros,” “Four Of The Apocalypse,” “Keoma” and “Texas, Adios”. This 5-disc set is housed in a sleeve, each film in a clear slim case, with chapter index and lobby card printed on the inner side, plus attractive tan covers reflecting the set's western theme.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan