Joseph Cotten aims to reignite the Civil War in Sergio Corbucci's stellar spaghetti western The Hellbenders. True to the genre it's fast with the gunfights and wild action, but it's also an interesting meditation about family as one man and his sons plan to transport stolen union cash to reinvigorate the defeated confederacy. Kino Lorber Studio Classics delivers a first-rate Blu-ray with a crisp and clear newly restored transfer with that telltale spaghetti western audio style. Highly Recommended.
"You've got to respect the dead!"
"I don't even respect the living."
Ex-Confederate Colonel Jonas (Joseph Cotten) and his Hellbenders sons have a scheme to relight the fires of rebellion and reestablished the Confederacy - steal millions of dollars in Union cash and transport it to the family stronghold in a coffin masquerading as a funeral procession. For the scheme to work, they'll need a widow to sell the act. Hiring Claire (Norma Bengell) they have the perfect ruse to slip past Union soldiers and a pose of lawmen. What Claire doesn't know is the bloodthirsty lengths Jonas will go to guarantee his vision of the new Confederacy . As the family turns on one another with Union soldiers closing in, only Jonas' youngest son Ben (Julian Mateos) stands between Claire and an early grave.
When you see enough spaghetti westerns you start to expect a certain level of playful exploitation on screen. After something like Kill Them All And Come Back Alone or even Sergio Corbucci's own Navajo Joe - you see a title like The Hellbenders and read the plot and you go in expecting the same sort of rip-roaring material. As much as I dearly love those kinds of westerns, it's refreshing and exciting to come across a movie that plays to those sensibilities but does it with some measure of maturity. Joseph Cotten is no stranger to playing a villain but he's almost a tragic figure incapable of accepting the truth - and willing to sacrifice his family to prove otherwise.
Corbucci delivers a well-paced film that never overstays its welcome but also doesn't undercook it. At 92-minutes it's a brisk watch but it offers plenty of suspense and character meditations. Is Jonas as altruistic as he pontificates about the greater good of the confederacy? Or is he a delusional old man blindly clinging to glory risking the lives of his sons and an innocent woman in the process? Also known as The Cruel Ones, The Hellbenders proved to be an impressive action-packed show that is a hell of a lot smarter than its title suggests.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Kino Lorber Studio Classics delivers The Hellbenders to Blu-ray in a single-disc set. Pressed on a Region-A locked BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
The Hellbenders has been blessed with a full 4K restoration for this often gorgeous 1.85:1 1080p transfer. Similar to their recent release of Kill Them All And Come Back Alone, KLSC delivers a spectacularly clean and film-like image. Details are vivid and clear throughout with a natural film grain presence. Colors are also bold giving primaries plenty of pop and presence. Those blue union uniforms, the yellow sunbaked landscape, and the rich crimson blood look fantastic. Black levels are also deep and inky giving the film plenty of depth and shadow definition. There is a night-time grave robbery sequence that is very impressive in that regard. All around this is a fantastic looking film.
The Hellbenders enjoys a rich DTS-HD MA 2.0 English audio mix. Like all of its spaghetti westerns is showcases the telltale marks of a spaghetti western - dubbed dialog, canned sound effects, and an incredible Ennio Morricone score. The audio mix has that flat monotone presentation quality but at the same time, there are enough subtleties and characteristics to create a rich dimensional soundscape. Even with the limited mono capacity, the mix was engineered that there was at least a sense of position to sound effects - the shootout sequences sound pretty fantastic and there is a pretty wild bar brawl sequence. Free of hiss, pops or age-related issues, it's a solid audio track.
The Hellbenders isn't blessed with a massive collection of bonus features but the Alex Cox commentary is once again worth a listen simply for the anecdotal facts about the film and its standing in various careers.
Audio Commentary featuring filmmaker Alex Cox
This has been a fun month for spaghetti western fans as Kino Lorber Studio Classics has delivered some great material. The Hellbenders is another terrific release. Sergio Corbucci unleashes one of his best films with a cold-blooded Joseph Cotton in the lead. It's not a rip-roaring adventure. It's not played to be simple easy entertainment. Instead, we get a film that's far more meditative about the bonds of family and the danger of blindly following leadership - even if they're your parents. With a gorgeous video transfer and a terrific audio mix, The Hellbenders is an easy one to call Highly Recommended.