Everyone loves crucifixion movies, and with this being Easter weekend, I thought it might be a good time to mention one that I recently picked up at Yankee Dollar, paired in a double feature with God's Gun starring Lee Van Cleef and Sybil Danning. A Town Called Hell (aka A Town Called Bastard) is a mind numbing morcel of early 70s Euro-schlock, with an impressive cast that might lead the naive to believe that something remotely representing entertainment might be included. I'm proud to count myself among that group.
Film buffs all have their favorite crucifixion moments. For the whimsical, there's Life of Brian, for the devout The Passion of the Christ, and for the even more disturbed, there's Cannibal Holocaust, assuming you're willing to stretch the definition of "crucifixion" to include shoving a pointed stake up somebody's rectum until the sharp end slides out of his or her mouth. In the spirit of inclusiveness, I do so for the purpose of this discussion, since there really is no purpose to this discussion, other than to say that my new preferred crucifixion scene occurs in A Town Called Hell. It grabs my prix d'or not because it is particularly graphic, but because it has none other than Telly Savalas receiving the Calvary mallet job, and Telly Savalas is probably as close to a deity as I'll ever get, Gabe Kaplan notwithstanding.
Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot more going on here. Or if there is, it's completely obscured by Robert Shaw mumbling most of his lines, and by the quality of the transfer, which bumps the bar down a couple of notches from the ignoble standards already established by the esteemed folks at eastwestdvd.com. As always, the image is blurry to the point that one wonders whether they used a $75 digital camera to capture it from a projection on a crusty motel sheet. And as expected, the aspect ratio crops out about a third of the "action," to the extent that the word applies. Fill in those two check boxes with confidence. But what puts this one over the top is that the soundtrack is rendered unlistenable by a repetitive mechanical sound, which I can only guess must be the noise produced by a film projector. I've always considered myself an aficionado of shitty dollar store movies, but I must admit, I've never run across this particular transfer technique before. Kudos to all concerned.
Highlights include a guy picking his nose, a string of saliva between Robert Shaw's incisors, a Stella Stevens flashback which may have served as inspiration for several dozen Stevie Nicks videos, and the aforementioned crucifixion. There's also a lightly surreal saloon scene which anachronistically tosses in Johnny Horton's 1950s country/pop single "The Battle of New Orleans," while a band with completely different instrumentation makes no effort whatsoever to synchronize with it.
To summarize the story, Martin Landau and Robert Shaw lead a horde of sadistic bastards into a church where they terrorize everyone and kill a priest. Ten years later, Stella Stevens is pretending to be dead in the back of a wagon, and Telly Savalas is a sadistic shirtless bastard running some sort of desert hellhole. Robert Shaw is now a priest, but other than that, there is nothing to link any of this with what happened ten years ago, the principle characters having been swapped, and everyone speaking in non sequiturs. My wife and I take turns falling asleep, and both of us wake up to the harsh glare of the DVD menu, and the attendant emptiness of knowing our lives are slowly trickling away while wiser men read The New Yorker or pay for genital piercings.
Since neither of us have any idea if anything just happened, I resort to searching the reviews at imdb.com, where the consensus seems to be that this movie makes no fucking sense whatsoever. This is reassuring, since I was hoping to last at least another ten years before senile dementia sets in.