DEATH RIDES A HORSE: A Giallo-esque Spaghetti Western [Kino Lorber Blu-review]

The classic Western gets a fine treatment from Kino Lorber

When people talk of classic Westerns, the usual titles pop up: A Fistful of Dollars, The Magnificent Seven, The Good the Bad and the Ugly. Sergio Leone is ever-present in the mind, but another name should spring up more often, Giulio Petron. Despite only directing three films in the genre, they’re all classics. Readers should seek out Tepepa, A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof, and thanks to Kino Lorber’s newest release, you have a perfect way to see his third film, Death Rides a Horse.


Fifteen years after four bandits massacred his family while executing a $200,000 robbery, a young man (John Phillip Law, Danger: Diabolik) seeks revenge. The men responsible for the murders all hold positions of power in the new west, but now a bandit (Lee Van Cleef, Sabata, Return of Sabata) they had framed for the murders is due to be released from prison… he’s ready to exact bloody reprisals and decides to form an unholy alliance with the vengeance-seeking young man. This stylish revenge tales directed by Giilio Petroni (Tepepa) and written by Luciano Vincenzoni (The Mercenary) featured a strong supporting cast that includes Mario Brega (A Fistful of Dollars), Luigi Pistilli (For a Few Dollars More) and Anthony Dawson (Dial M for Murder) with a haunting and rousing score by legendary maestro Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly).

Death Rides a Horse is impactful from the start, with an opening that blows you away with harsh sequences of violence. It does much to polarize the film in terms of good vs. evil, avoiding that murkier grey line often tread by other entries to the genre. A feeling of viciousness gives weight to the tale of vengeance that unfolds; the evil deeds laid out by these men are returned upon them. Through the Italian influences of Petroni, it veers into a Giallo at times with its more horrifying elements and even liberal splashes of red. It’s a fresh take on the genre, but one that feels familiar through its subsequent influence on cinema, perhaps most recognizably in the films of Quentin Tarantino, who has paid homage to several scenes, and even directly lifted musical cues from the film, a stunning arrangement courtesy of maestro Ennio Morricone.

Written by Luciano Vincenzoni, who also worked on For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, it’s a very well conceived and constructed screenplay. The aggressiveness and morality of it all make for a more serious tale than you’d expect. A central duo, thrown together in their mutually aligned quest for revenge, are portrayed by iconically by Lee Van Cleef, while Bill Meceita is a little stiff but makes an impact in a few key moments. Together it’s a great pairing of two generations, working together and learning from each other. The film draws from a strong supporting cast too, featuring familiar faces such as Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, and José Torres. Coupled to some fine cinematography, it’s a superb example of the spaghetti Western while being distinct enough to set itself apart from the rest of the genre.

The Package

Image quality is good, and color is natural, as is grain; detail is impressive and minimal damage is evident. Blacks are lacking a little depth though. Special features are:

  • Audio Commentary by Filmmaker Alex Cox: Cox discusses the film as part of the wider Western genre, its contributions, script, cast, and production. He’s very knowledgeable about all things Western, and it’s a great commentary to give great perspective on the film.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer: Backed up by a number of trailers for other Westerns.

The Bottom Line

Death Rides a Horse is film that, outside of Western aficionados, doesn’t seem to get the same kind of recognition as its brethren. It should. It’s an impacting piece of storytelling and character work, blending elements of Italian and traditional Western filmmaking. Very worthy of a Kino Lorber release.

Death Rides a Horse is available via Kino Lorber from Nov. 7th

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