COMIN’ AT YA (1981) -BLU RAY- MVD VISUALS- $24.99
People rave over Quentin Tarantino’s self-indulgent crap while forgetting that Q.T. rips off films like this and claims they are merely homages. Well, yours truly prefers to see the original films. They aren’t classics, and many are not original, but also they are not self-important. They are ENTERTAINMENT.
One of those films that was made to entertain was the 3-D packed COMIN’ AT YA (1981).
A huge hit when it came out (supposedly it was briefly withdrawn during its initial run due to running out of 3-D glasses!), this was the third western from star Tony Anthony and director Ferninando Baldi (their previous collaborations were BLINDMAN (1971) costarring Ringo Starr and GET MEAN (1975). COMIN’ AT YA was their biggest hit together, which was followed up by another 3-D film, TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983), an Indiana Jones clone.
Tony Antony had been born Roger Pettito in the U.S., but his frustration in minor American films (FORCE OF IMPULSE (61), which he wrote and starred in using the Tony Anthony moniker and which co-starred Robert Alda and John Carroll Naish) seemed to have led him like many American actors to a career in Italy (La ragazza in prestito/Engagement Italiano (1964) had him working with Rossano Brazzi).
In 1967, he was cast for the first time as “The Stranger” in ‘Un dollar tar i denti’/ A DOLLAR BETWEEN THE TEETH (1967). The Spaghetti Western had taken off fully after Clint Eastwood did A FISTFUL OF DOLLAR /’Per un pugno di dollar’ (1964). There had been Italian made westerns as early as the 1950s, but after Eastwood’s film did rake in fistfuls of dollars worldwide, the floodgates truly opened. Westerns were popular still in the U.S., but the John Wayne style western were not making the box office splash of those made in Italy and Spain. There was an energy, edginess, more explosive violence and cinematic language that these films had that brought audiences in.
(Maybe this poster for GET MEAN inspired Anthony to try 3-D? (Blue Underground released the 2 disc special edition blue ray/dvd combo set ) .
However, by the mid-1970s, Westerns had begun to lose their appeal, so that fewer and fewer were being made either here or abroad.
3-D had also had waves of popularity from the 1950s, with sputters during the 1960s and 1970s (FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN,1973 perhaps the most popular). It was a gimmick that mostly seemed confined to soft core porn films.
Suddenly, 3-D came back into vogue, thanks to COMIN’ AT YA. This was not the first 3-D western (there were several in 1953, including John Wayne’s HONDO) but this may be the first Spaghetti western in the process. A co-production by U.S. film and television production company Filmways (who acquired American International Pictures in 1979) and Lupo-Anthony Productions with monies coming from various countries, it was filmed in a single strip 3-D system. Two Techniscope frames, one for left eye and one right eye, were stacked one above each other in the same area as one ordinary Techniscope -format frame. The problem with this system is that it had to be projected through a polarizing filter, and then being viewed through glasses meant there was a huge loss of light, resulting in a dimmer image on screen when projected. Thus a lot of these films looked somewhat dark to the average movie goer. It didn’t hurt the box office for the film, as it was such a hit they had to withdraw temporarily as they ran out of 3d glasses! Anthony seems to have pretty much retired after making TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS in 1983, so I am sure he did pretty well for himself with these movies.
The restoration of the current BLU RAY release by MVD does much to correct the problem of dark images from screenings past. The restoration was supervised under the direction of Tony Anthony, and it seems that a lot of original elements as possible were used. It is a shame they didn’t include a commentary track with Anthony, because I am sure he would have been full of fascinating stories. The only real extra is a trailer and a 3-d promo reel. Oddly, they do not include the original trailer used for the U.S., as that had no footage from the film but instead explained the 3-D process.
Still the real prize is getting this film in such fine condition 35 years on. To view it in 3-D, you must have a Blu-Ray Player and Television 3-D system to see the full effects. Watching it in 2-D, I was able to enjoy the film fine and saw a lot of effects where the images were thrust toward the audience.
(1950s matinee with kids enjoy 3-d leaping right out at you!)
The first ten minutes are dialogue free, and are mostly a black and white flashback of Anthony’s character H.H. Hart (who at times, looks like a thinner Burt Young) is about to be married to Abilene (Spanish actress Victoria Abril, who was Queen Isabella in the 1976 film ROBIN & MARIAN, and later an Almodovar regular). Through the door burst two gunslingers, brothers Pike (co-screenwriter Gene Quintano) and Polk (Ricardo Palacios). They shoot and kill the unfortunate priest and wound Hart (a neat effect has the blood in bright red shooting out). The two baddies then grab the bride and storm out. Pike by the way has the word “Love “written on his fingers, which makes me think they were harkening back to the classic NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955).
Hart survives and spends the rest of the film trying to get her back, killing the members of their gang as he inches closer and closer to them. He meets a crazy Scotsman (Lewis Gordon, who would work with Anthony on his next film) who seems to know a lot for some odd reason and lets H.H. know why his wife was kidnapped (we have no idea how much time has passed, but it seems it is only a short time, meaning that H.H. heals very quickly!) The outlaws, it seems kidnap women and sell them to brothels down in Mexico.
A big scene has a group of frightened and abused female captives in an old tower attacked by a swarm of bats (inspired perhaps by KISS OF THE VAMPIRE,1963, with faker looking bats if you can believe it. Many is the time that you can see the string as they bob up and down and flying toward the lens *). Later, when H.H. kills Polk, Pike kills all the women except Abilene, hoping to have his revenge on our hero.
That pretty much is the plot of the film. Then again, most spaghetti westerns pretty much were revenge films, often with a nasty streak to them so it pretty much follows the formula. The multi-dimensional effects are what made this film stand. Like so many 3-D films, the quality of the effects go from “Wow, cool” to “oh I see the wires “.
A major problem that man people have with the film is its dependence on a LOT of slow motion. I mean, a LOT! Since Peckinpah created the bloody ballet of violence in THE WILD BUNCH (1969) a lot of filmmakers tried to emulate it with varying degrees of success. This was not one of the more successful uses of it, but it does pad the film’s meager plot line to barely feature length (87 minutes, not the 91 listed, and that includes the long title sequence at the end). Also , a lot of scenes switch to black & white for no reason.
Still, it is a well-made film that does what it promises, it has things coming’ at ya. Snakes, yo-yos (shades of HOUSE OF WAX,1953!), grain, guns, flaming arrows, spears, orange peels, a baby’s bottom, and more.
The score by Carlo Savina has an epic full orchestral feel, mixed with harmonica, a la Ennio Morricone. Savina is best known for his score for Mario Bava’s Lisa e il diavolo / LISA & THE DEVIL (1973).
Spanish cinematographer (the film it seems was lensed in Spain) Fernando Arribas had shot films like THE BLOOD SPLATTERED BRIDE (1972) to the arthouse “La casa de Bernarda Alba”/THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA (1987). Thanks to MVD’s restoration, the color and brightness is restored so we can truly appreciate his cinematography. The film does have some speckling, including certain spots that appear to be from the lens and transferred over to the negative image.
The film is far from a classic but you must appreciate that this movie reignited, for better or worse, the 3-D craze of the 1980s.
*-The screams heard in the bat sequence supposedly were lifted from the English dub track of Dario Argento’s INFERNO (1980)
“WARNING: The Management Is Not Responsible For Where The Screen Ends And You Begin!”. (tagline on one of the film’s posters)
-Kevin G Shinnick