Monday, March 15, 2010

Left For Dead-Inferno...A Weird Western Tale

Left For Dead (Inferno)
2007 / 2010 Curnan Pictures
Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring Victoria Maurette, Andres Bagg

"Vengeance is enough to keep you going through anything..."

I'm a big fan of Spaghetti Westerns, and the cover graphic of LEFT FOR DEAD would suggest that this is going to be an action packed and sexy western film from Albert Pyun.  On first viewing a few years ago I was pleasantly surprised to find a quirky tale of vengeance and anger that mixed horror motifs with a literal ghost town full of bad characters being pitted against both an angry gunslinging spirit and themselves and their past sins.  I also had a hell of a time following what exactly was happening. The newly released INFERNO edit is included with the 5 disc release of BULLETFACE (reviewed here) and cleans that up very neatly and delivers the story with a lot more gut punching power.  The plot is simple, the set up is exactly what you would expect...but the movie has a lot of strengths in the little details of it's characters, it's digitally enhanced world and even delivers some freaked out gore that surprised me not just with rubbery or digitized blood, but by the actual chill the pay off effects deliver.

And LEFT FOR DEAD is weird...really weird.  Hardcore Spaghetti Western fans, think of the Boomerangs Vs. Bullets tripfest by Cesare Canevari, Matalo! and you'll know what I mean.  Just weird and more than a little fucked up...

Clementine Templeton is a woman on a mission, and she has some baggage that needs delivering.  That baggage may not be Django's caliber, but it is something shocking and she is beyond focused on getting where she needs to be.  After a failed robbery sees Clem beat the unholy hell out of her assailants, she joins up with a roving group of women-each a little odd in their own right.  A young pregnant woman seems to be the glue that holds all of the women, including Clem, together as they seek out the sleepy cottages of Amnesty Town. However, Clem learns that the town was the subject of a horrible massacre some years before-and that the spirit of the vicious Mobius Lockhardt remains there to keep the town as ghostly as possible.  We see just how that works as some thugs fall victim to Mobius and his ghastly six shooters that shoot mystic bullets of mutilation and suffering.  Amongst the group, the vengeful specter in black spares Sentenza-a man accused of raping a young woman. It becomes clear that his "victim" may not be so much a victim at all... and that she is on her way with Clem and the weird sewing circle of vicious western "ladies." 
It doesn't take long before the bullets are flying and Sentenza finds himself in more than a little trouble. You see, he is also Clem's man!

With that simple premise the movie really takes off... the influence of Mobius Lockhardt and the malefic town begin to strip away secrets quickly.  Sentenza must admit his weaknesses in both his current sins and his past transgressions against Clem, as she presents him with the body of his child.  After that vicious bit of emotional warfare, things get worse as the women and their ties to the creation of the evil town become clear.  Mobius Lockhardt goes from evil influence to righteous spirit of vengeance, and none shall be spared. Everyone in the town has buried themselves alive, and without finding the salvation of confronting their wrongs, they will never have the chance to make anything right again.
And Mobius wants pounds of flesh that equal his ultimate motivation... this town holds no Amnesty.

"If anyone can put the bastard down...I can."

LEFT FOR DEAD-INFERNO is a genuine success for Albert Pyun in many ways, though it certainly does not stand as a great western film as the original packaging led many viewers to believe. It doesn't play within the walls of any one genre at all, but is a success at the ones it attacks full on.  Frankly, if this were shot in Japan and featured either Yakuza, Ninja or Samurai as lead characters using the same script I think it would have found an audience in the United States hungry for a film this experimental and off kilter. Dumped on a DTV shelf next to a host of Hollywood hits, it was doomed from the start. This film is what starting this blog was all about for me.

So, to look at this in a few different ways...lets rate it as an action film.  LFDI is a gory film that uses lots of CGI to shoot blood around the vistas of Amnesty Town, and there are gunfights staged with lots of enthusiasm when they are called for. But honestly, there were marketing materials that showed LFD as much more a horror oriented outing than was used, and it actually feels more like you are in Silent Hill than Boot Hill.  So, if you want action, you can look elsewhere, but if you want a horror western with some splattery moments and one vicious hook in the back that had me thinking of A Man Called Horse in almost gentle we are talking.  I will say that the "I've got Nine Slugs" sequence is really effective action scene, and provides a nice rush of Adrenalin amongst the depressing sequences.  However, it would not have worked at all without the immense build up.
The horror aspects of Left For Dead work very well, but that is not the stories real focus, the spectral gunfighter simply provides the bullets to load the gun of self destruction the characters are holding at their own temples.  Mobius Lockhardt is a force of vengeance seeking to destroy those that have done him wrong, but it is their own sins that ultimately devour them.  The unlikely trio of Clem, Sentenza and his pregnant and mildly deranged gal pal are the only characters that retain any shot at redemption, and their stories and motivations intertwine like a human ladder, they climb out of the city, the Inferno as this version points out with it's ringed sequence cards.  Clem goes from damaged woman on a nearly feral path of rage to finding her own inner love...and looks to care for a life that has yet to fully blossom...even at the cost of her soul. 
The theme of motherhood and it's effects on different women is one of the main elements of the film. From the protective and more than a little insane murderous mother of the pregnant girl, to Clem and her mission to make her man know exactly what he destroyed by leaving her behind and right on back to Sentenza and his drive to keep another unborn life safe...I found it more than a little interesting. Of course, having two young children, I guess it would.

And this is where the film shines-LFDI is a triphop drama, a fever dream of bullets and hell pistols and vengeance and tears...lots of tears.  Mobius Lockhardt begins as a simple cardboard ghost and becomes one of Pyun's more interesting creations-he knows when his fight is done, but he fully enjoys every instant of finding his own way to be buried and left behind.  But can anything so hate filled truly die?  Andres Bagg manages to play his stock stalking sequences well, but really brings the character to undead life before the final frame.  Everyone else is solid enough, I especially liked the gold toothed desperado tearing teeth like she was pulled out of Django The Bastard.  But the star of the film, Victoria Maurette is so good at Clem that she steals every scene she is in.

I thought she was really good in BULLETFACE, but Maurette was even better in this earlier effort. Her face is perfect, beautiful but still rugged enough to look real.  Pyun makes her work through a lot of things with the character and he also does a good job at catching her doing her best.  I'm sure there weren't a lot of retakes, but I didn't spot any pieces that did not seem fully in character.  I hope the pair work together for a long time, because they make each other better with the proper characters.  Overall, a simple story told with less than straight ahead characters with lots of twisted choices to make.  And told well... just cast aside your expectations and go for the ride.

Technically, LFDI is really sharp-the digital presentation is gorgeous.  Tony Riparetti is a versatile composer to say the least-trying to follow the idiosyncratic eyes of Pyun is surely a tough task to convert to a sonic landscape, but LFD is one of his strongest scores.  It balances ethereal rhythms with Western themed guitars and some full bore rock numbers that lift up the action.  The complete score is included in the BULLETFACE Special Edition and is a perfectly good stand alone listen.  Some of the voices are distracting as nearly everyone has an accent, prompting subtitles to pop up in clever spots at times...I'm really grateful for them because it can be taxing at times. Maurette's English is perfectly crisp, which is both nice and...well...odd.  It jumps out at the viewer, but in a way it is fitting-the story is essentially hers to tell, and hers is the clearest voice we hear.
Regarding the new Inferno edit and the originally released version, the directors thoughts are here on his blog.

You want dusty dangling signs leading in to malefic manors in the town of a ghastly ghost?  You feel like watching characters ripped to shreds both figuratively and literally?  You just want some of the best atmospheric horror western grooves you will find in any movie?  You want a film that only Albert Pyun could make?  You want Left For Dead...and you need the Inferno version.

You can purchase BULLETFACE and LEFT FOR DEAD INFERNO at!  Use this link to save 40 percent while you still can!

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