When a violent gang robs a bank, they also commit arson because the diversion eases their getaway. While the local prison is burning, four of its inmates profit from the general turmoil too. Among the four escapees is Ciakmull, a young man suffering with amnesia, who only remembers about his previous life that he has been home in the town Oxaca. For lack of a better idea all the fugitives go there. It shows that Ciakmull is not forgotten in Oxaca. Lion Udo, the father of one of the bankrobbers, recognises Ciakmull. He, whose clan has a feud with Ciakmull's family, takes advantage of his condition by turning him against his own kin. Before this plan works out, however, Ciakmull is warned on time by one of his fellow fugitives. Soundtrack by Riz Ortolani (Il Sorpasso, Don't Torture a Duckling).
It's always a bit interesting to see a filmmaker take a stab at a particular genre they don't quite have a full working understanding of its mechanics. They may have seen a few films of the genre, know some of the tropes, but doesn't quite know how to make the gears mesh. That is perhaps to best explain Italian director E.B. Clucher (A.K.A. Enzo Barboni) and his approach to the Spaghetti Western. 1970's 'The Unholy Four' takes pieces and stylings from the best of the genre, but when it tries to be gritty and dark it becomes jaunty and funny and when it tries to be funny it becomes a ballet of over-the-top violence.
After breaking out of a prison during a fiery riot, an Amnesiac Man (Leonard Mann) is joined by his fellow prison buddies Woody (the always awesome Woody Strode), Silver (Peter Martell), and the gruff Hondo (George Eastman) to figure out who he really is. All he has is the name Chuck Mool - but without any memories - he's got nothing to go on. After drifting into what is supposedly his hometown of Oxaca, Mool and his formerly incarcerated compatriots find themselves stuck in the middle of a brewing battle between two powerful ranchers. One of these men may or may not be Mool's father.
Flow and narrative structure more or less go right out the window when it comes to understanding the story logic of 'The Unholy Four.' That isn't to say that the story doesn't connect or that there are gigantic plot holes, but the film likes to jump around a lot. If you're going to fully enjoy the amount of fun this film has to offer one must give themselves over fully to the hijinks and just go with the flow. The story may be pretty simple and barebones, it's the ride you're there to enjoy. And brother, 'The Unholy Four' is a heck of a wild and entertaining ride.
Like I mentioned at the outset, the film has a strange and endearing struggle with tone. While it wants to play things serious, straight as a bone with Mool's relationship to his supposed father played by Helmuth Schneider and his half-brother played by Alain Naya, the film can't help itself with the wild and comedic treatment of violence. While on their journey to Oxaca, the titular Four get into a bar brawl after one of them is accused of cheating. guns are drawn, fists fly, and bodies are tossed about the room like paper airplanes. Add in composer Riz Ortolani's jangly score and you find yourself in the confusing position of wanting to have a good laugh. It's confusing because the prison fire that freed our heroes and the adjoining scene where Mool meets dear ol' Dad are played straight to the bone. The action may be exciting and the drama of finding out one's true identity is engrossing, but then things become funny all over again when one of the Four punches a guy and said individual flies ten feet up into the air like he was shot out of an air cannon.
As a western, 'The Unholy Four' pulls a lot of the same strings; dusty towns, gunfights, mysterious individuals who can sling a pistol real good. It also plays a number of typical Spaghetti Western tropes pretty well and creates a film that is fun, if not completely memorable. It's jaunty, it's got a dark sense of humor and there is bloody violence aplenty. If there is a criticism to levy against 'The Unholy Four' it's that I felt like I had seen this movie many times before in any number of other films. That doesn't necessarily make the final results of this film a bad thing, but the sense of familiarity can be odd when it makes you remember a different movie altogether. 'The Unholy Four' is a fun flick. It may not be the best of the bunch, but it's a worthwhile watch.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Unholy Four' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case and loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. This disc also comes with reversible cover art.
Considering the age of the film and the country of origin, I honestly wasn't expecting the 1.85:1 1080p transfer for 'The Unholy Four' to look as great as it does. Clearly, this is a recent scan. Fine film grain is present without appearing too noisy. Detail levels are fantastic and allow the viewer to soak in fine facial features, costuming details, as well as the impressive production design and set design work done for this film. Colors are on the traditionally warmer side of things giving most scenes a yellowish tone without skewing flesh tones or primaries too badly. The print sourced for this transfer was in decent shape, only some mild speckling and a couple jumpy frames keep this from being a reference quality transfer for a back catalog release.
In a rare case for a Spaghetti Western, this release of 'The Unholy Four' arrives with an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track as well an Italian DTS-HD MA track with English subtitles. Whichever mix you choose, you're going to get relatively the same result. Dialogue is front and center for both tracks, but like so many Italian films maintains that canned dubbed sound. The Italian track has a more natural sound to it, but the English track is more in-line with what most folks expect from a Spaghetti Western. Sound effects have that over the top quality to them while the Ortolani score helps round out the mix. Imaging is pretty restricted, but there is a nice sense of presence and punch when the audio needs it most. All around, you can't miss with either track, but I favor the English just for the sake of fun and entertainment value.
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If you're in the mood for a Spaghetti Western that just knows how to have fun, 'The Unholy Four' is a wild time. It may not always nail its tone, but the flick is never boring and manages to always entertain. Kino Lorber brings 'The Unholy Four' to Blu-ray in terrific order with a knockout A/V presentation. Sadly there aren't any bonus features to speak of. All around, Spaghetti Western fans should have a blast with 'The Unholy Four.' Recommended.