Monday, September 01, 2008

This Was Never In The History Books

When I was growing up, my dad pretty much was in charge of what we watched on television. After all, he did bring home the paycheck. He did pay for the TV. It was his house. So, for many, many years, we were treated to whatever Western happened to be on. We sat through John Wayne, James Arness, Chuck Conners, Henry Fonda, Kirk Douglas and pretty much anyone else who slapped on a cowboy hat and pulled a gun, whether it was a TV series or a movie.

I hated Westerns. Everything was dusty. Everyone looked sweaty. Someone was always gunning down the poor, simple folks. I was a poor, simple folk, and I didn't like to be sweaty, and I didn't like dusty hot climates. Plus, it seemed like there was ALWAYS a Western on. We only had three channels, for the love of God! How in hell could there be that many Westerns?!?! Of course, it didn't help that one local channel seemed to show The War Wagon every other week, and Dad just HAD to watch it.

Dad passed away a number of years ago. I still didn't like Westerns, but the fact he seemed to love those damned things stuck with me all of these years. About ten years ago, I made up my mind to sit down and watch The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. This one movie was THE movie my dad raved about. Every time they showed it on TV, it took nearly four hours. Why in hell would I want to watch cowboys for four hours when I could be reading my monster magazines? Anyway, I sat down to watch this thing, fully expecting to give up less than halfway through. I loved every minute of it. It was dark, full of seedy characters and sudden violence, and not one glimpse of a moral compass to be found. I fell in love with the "Spaghetti Western".

Of course, you CAN find the Clint Eastwood Italian Westerns at reasonable prices. Heck, go to your local Wal-Mart and you can score the "Man With No Name" trilogy at five bucks per movie. But this is the Bargain Basement, and we want volume at low overhead. Once again, Mill Creek Entertainment comes to the rescue. Well, rescue may not be the best word. They deliver the goods. As I'm always quick to point out, it isn't Mill Creek's fault that a lot of the movies they can afford to put on these compilations are, well, iffy; they are just out to give you lots of movies for a minimal price. And deliver, they do, with the 20-movie pack Spaghetti Westerns. No Clint, sorry. But you do get Lee Van Cleef in few from his "I'm waiting around to play a ninja with one of the Van Patten kids" era.

On the downside, you get the reason we are gathered here today: Apache Blood. Now, there are those who would tell you that this is THE worst Western ever made. These misguided folks have apparently never seen HAWMPS!, which is probably best for everyone involved. Apache Blood is, at best, a good-intentioned attempt at a stream-lined tribute to the Italian ideal of the Western. At worst, it is poster child for retroactive film abortions.
The storyline, such as it is, has Yellow Shirt (played by Ray Danton, the only star in the film), apparently an Apache warrior, hell-bent on wiping out the white folks for having slaughtered the village he was a part of. Okay, mainly soldiers, but I don't think he'd pass up a group of tourists. As soon as the cast is made aware of his presence in their area, you know that you are looking at a cast of victims. This could have gone the route of the slasher flick, and that actually would have been an interesting premise. Nope. The soldiers are dusted off within the first 20 minutes or so. We end up with a mountain man who had helped the soldiers but was left for dead after the single most guffaw-laced bear attack on film being chased across the countryside by Yellow Shirt and his buddies. No, it isn't as exciting as it sounds. Ants trying to get a leaf into their nest is more action-packed. Dead ants under that leaf are more exciting.

What is it exactly that makes this film, well...uh...lame? It is an action film at its heart. What action there is, it just sort lays there. You should be wondering how the mountain man is gonna get out of the next mess, but you find yourself thinking about the leftover meatloaf in the fridge. You should be hoping the poor Native American rights the wrongs heaped on his people, but you start thinking you might need to mow the yard one more time before autumn hits. You just want someone to die so you can move on to something better, like Spice World or, for the love of God, Can't Stop The Music.
Apache Blood attempts to redeem itself in two ways. The first is the feeling of trying to say something about race relations and personal motivations and how we all are basically the same on the inside and that what makes one person a savage makes another person a righter of wrongs and...what the hell am I getting at? That pretty much sums up the intellectual underpinnings of this film. The other way they try to win you over is through blood. Notice I say that they try. I'm sure there exists a pristine copy of this film somewhere that has ample blood to even out the utter waste of time the rest of this film happens to be, but the version we are offered here seems to be heavily edited. When they recap the highlights of the film at the end (I recommend jumping ahead to this and bypassing the rest of this shit storm), you get to see more blood than you saw in the entire running time.
Is it worth your time? Really, would I waste this much time stomping it under my feet if it had any qualities that would make it worthwhile? Yeah, I would. Watch it at least once, but just beware of what you are walking into. It is one of those landmark pieces of crap that make you say, "If I see anything worse than this, I'm not going to finish it. I swear." But your loved ones will have already vacated the area, and will have removed you from their wills.