The Complete Sartana
directed by Anthony Ascott, Frank Kramer
starring John Garko, Klaus Kinski
Although not as epic or famous as the masterworks of Sergio Leone (Fistful of Dollars, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West) the character and films of Sartana rank among the most iconic of Italian western cinema and an obvious inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
The anti-hero Sartana with his red cape and four-barreled pistol relies often relies on magic, detective skills, trickery, and technology rather than just toughness and a quick gun hand. So many Euro-westerns are all about stoic, tough guys, but Sartana is more like wild west James Bond. Curiously there is also an implied supernatural element to Sartana’s character, he is truly an angel of death. The films at their best mix western, detective, and horror elements.
Arrow Video has released a box sex with the five official Sartana films, although there have been another dozen or so unofficial films cashing in on the Sartana name. This set features not only beautiful restorations of all five films, but a full slate of quality extras, many of which were made for this release, including audio commentaries, interviews, and short documentary featurettes. All the films feature Italian and English versions. As a rule I am a strong proponent of watching movies in their natural language, but since these films, like most Italian genre, are a melting pot of actors from not only Italy but all over Europe and the U.S. As a result they are all overdubbed, including the Italian version, so you might as well enjoy in English.
If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968)
This film is the official introduction to the character and world of Sartana, released in 1968 it is a quintessential “spaghetti western” complete with multiple double crosses, bizarre imagery, and a scenery chewing, psychotic Klaus Kinski. The plot involves some double crossing gold thieves who are pitted against each other by the mysterious Sartana. The plot merely exists as a framework to stick action scenes together and this film has plenty and racks up an impressive body count. It also features a climax set in an undertaker’s coffin making workshop that is as much Hammer horror as cowboy movie.
While the film certainly looks better than the cheap jack multipack releases it has had before, the film still shows signs of neglect and abuse. Mike Siegel provides an audio commentary track that discusses the overall history of the Sartana series, rather than a scene for scene commentary for If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death.
Â I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (1969)
As much a mystery as a western, I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death involves Sartana trying to clear his name after being framed for a bank robbery. The film is more freewheeling and stylistic than the first film with directorial flourishes like dutch angles, p.o.v. shots, and great use of color to compensate for budget constraints, which are sadly all too evident making this one of the least of the Sartana films. The restoration and transfer look great showing less signs of abuse than If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death.
I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death features a fun and insightful audio commentary by C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke along with interview featurettes from stuntman Sal Borgese and another from legendary Italian genre screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi.
Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin aka Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Guns for a Coffin aka A Fistful of Lead (1970)
Eurotrash veteran George Hilton picks up the four-barreled derringer and red-lined cape and takes over for John Garko as the MacGyver of the west. This time is far more traditional western fare with Mexican bandits, bounty hunters a corrupt mine owner, and a beautiful saloon owner all vying for a fortune in stolen gold with Sartana playing them all off against each other.
George Hilton is usually good in his giallo and crime films, but he doesn’t seem to fit either the character of Sartana or westerns in general as he just feels too modern. Erika Blanc is always a welcome sight in any Eurotrash and her turn as Trixie, the saloon owner determined to keep her eye on the prize.
The film is somewhat hampered by being caught up in the self-parody elements that would simultaneously renew interest in the spaghetti western before quick being the genre’s undoing.
I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns for a Coffin offers no audio commentary but does feature interviews with Erika Blanc, George Hilton, and actor Tony Askin.
Have a Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay (1970)
John Garko is back! After a one film absence John Garko returns with a slightly different look, trading his three day beard for a horseshoe mustache, and a superior film than the previous two outings. An obvious boost in budget is clearly evident on the screen. The leaning toward the comic has also been pulled way back.
This time out Sartana witnesses the massacre of an innocent family and arrives in the town of Indian Creek and faces off with Fu Manchu-esque Chinese crime boss Lee Tse Tung played with Confucius spouting gusto by George Wang.
There are two great and memorable scenes that set this one apart. One is a chase and shootout sequence involving assassins hidden inside of coffins on a funeral wagon culminating with Sartana taking out multiple gunmen with a rifle. The other has Sartana at his most ghostly, quoting bible verses as he taunts and stalks a man through the night and off the bell tower of a church to his death that plays as much gothic horror as western.
Have a Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay is on par with the original If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death as best of the Sartana films and essential spaghetti western viewing.
Have a Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay features another outstanding transfer along with another rollicking commentary C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke along with interviews.
Light the Fuse…Sartana is Coming aka Run, Man, Run… Sartana’s in Town, aka Cloud of Dust… Cry of Death… Sartana Is Coming (1970)
Light the Fuse…Sartana is Coming the fifth and final official Sartana movie is easily the most poverty stricken but far from unentertaining. Sartana has evolved into more of a detective and less of a spectral gunman. The change also gives Sartana far more gadgetry really bringing home the idea of the character as a wild west 007, it also slips over the line into self parody including a killer clockwork robot.
The plot involves half a million dollars in gold and the various, nefarious, nerr do wells attempting to get a hold of the gold, with Sartana playing both sides against the middle while trying to get to the bottom of the web of lies and double crosses. The film is never boring nor is it terribly impactful or memorable, save for the climax in which our hero takes out a small army with an artillery launching, machine gun firing pipe organ.
Arrow Video has really given fans their money’s worth with The Complete Sartana. From the beautiful restorations to the copious extras really make this set worth the physical purchase when so many bare bones releases are best served by streaming,