Color, 1968, 95 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Gianfranco Parolini
Starring Gianni Garko, William Berger, Sydney Chaplin, Gianni Rizzo, Fernando Sancho, Klaus Kinski

Color, 1969, 103 mins. 19 secs.
Directed by Giuliano Carnimeo
Starring Gianni Garko, Frank Wolff, Ettore Manni, Sal Borgese, Renato Baldini, José Torres, Gordon Mitchell

Color, 1970, 93 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Giuliano Carnimeo
Starring Gianni Garko, Antonio Vilar, Daniela Giordano, Ivano Staccioli, Helga Liné, Luis Induni

Color, 1970, 99 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by Giuliano Carnimeo
Starring Gianni Garko, Susan Scott, Massimo Serato, Piero Lulli, Bruno Corazzari

Color, 1970, 92 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Giuliano Carnimeo
Starring George Hilton, Charles Southwood, Erika Blanc, Piero Lulli, Linda Sini
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (2.35:1, 1.85:1) (16:9)

The IF YOU MEET SARTANA... PRAY FOR YOUR DEATHwhirlwind of IF YOU MEET SARTANA... PRAY FOR YOUR DEATHspaghetti westerns that poured out of Europe in the wake of A Fistful of Dollars introduced numerous gunslinging heroes (or often antiheroes) wandering through dusty towns and running into trouble, with the two Ringo films coming out of the gate first. One of the most popular of these characters, Sartana, appeared in no less than five adventures churned out in a flurry between 1968 and 1970, played in all but one film by Gianni Garko (or "John Garko" who, weirdly, had played another western character named Sartana in 1966's Blood at Sundown and would go on to star in Lucio Fulci's The Psychic and Lamberto Bava's Monster Shark. A trickster figure clad in a black cape, Sartana is among the more elegant and crafty of his kind with a reliance on gadgets (shades of TV's Wild, Wild West) and features motivations that remain somewhat slippery throughout the series. Even after the official entries had finished, the name Sartana remained a staple in Italian films as different incarnations were mixed and matched with other favorites like Django and Trinity in a slew of unofficial cash-ins throughout the early '70s.

The inaugural film lays out the main characteristics of the series right down to its baroque title, If You Meet Sartana... Pray for Your Death. Directed by Gianfranco Parolini as "Frank Kramer" (his only entry in the series, after which he jumped ship to helm the three Sabata films), the story kicks in with Sartana (Garko) intervening when two innocent coach passengers IF YOU MEET SARTANA... PRAY FOR YOUR DEATHbeing shadowed by a Wells Fargo insurance guard are ambushed by a gang led by Morgan (Kinski), who survives and hightails into the mountains. Upon arriving in the IF YOU MEET SARTANA... PRAY FOR YOUR DEATHnearest town he becomes embroiled in a web of crime and treachery involving Morgan's boss, the ruthless Lasky (Five Dolls for an August Moon's Berger, sporting some mean porkchops), corrupt banker Jeff Stewal (Chaplin), and Alman (Rizzo) committing insurance fraud and searching for a cache of gold. Tricky card games and much violence ensue as Sartana tries to devise a way to play the different parties against each other. Entertaining and delightfully eccentric at times (not to mention violent with a lot of gruesome head shots), it's a strong start to the series with a great, Hammond Organ-flavored score by Piero Piccioni adding to the fun. The second film, I Am Sartana... Your Angel of Death, features Sartana being framed for a bank robbery by someone dressed in his trademark garb, with Kinski returning in a different, funnier role (the amusingly named Hot Dead) and the always welcome Frank Wolff (The Great Silence, The Lickerish Quartet) getting a typically juicy role as Buddy Ben, another bounty hunter who helps our hero find the real thieves and clear Sartana's name. This time the directorial reins are handed over (for the rest of the series) to Giuliano Carnimeo, a competent journeyman (usually credited as "Anthony Ascott") who occasionally struck pay dirt with gems like The Case of the Bloody Iris, Secrets of a Call Girl, The Exterminators of the Year 3000, and the truly insane Rat Man.

The third film, Have a Good Funeral My Friend... Sartana Will Pay, drops Sartana into a sort of crime investigation format when a prospector and his men are killed on his property during a nocturnal ambush, with the I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATHassailants mowed IF YOU MEET SARTANA... PRAY FOR YOUR DEATHdown in turn by Sartana. Traces of gold on the scene indicate his land might not be the dusty slice of nothing it appears to be, and when the presumed rightful heir, Abigail (Four Times That Night's Giordano), shows up, the claims about the land's worthlessness seem even more unlikely. Sartana senses she might be in peril from the real villains behind the massacre, which sets off the expected chain of showdowns, trickery, and abductions. Featuring a cracking good score by Bruno Nicolai (perhaps the series' best) and a fast pace right from the slam-bang opening seconds, it's a strong entry filled with striking, spooky atmosphere and remains a favorite among many fans. In film four, Light the Fuse... Sartana Is Coming (also known under the more evocative translation of its Italian title, Cloud of Dust... Cry of Death... Sartana Is Coming), things get really wacky with Sartana intentionally sending himself behind bars at a brutal, filthy desert prison to make contact with old buddy Grand Full (Kill, Baby... Kill!'s Lulli), who's in possession of the whereabouts of a huge stash of gold and counterfeit bills-- which of course triggers the expected betrayals and reversals all over the place. Giallo fans will also be happy to see a prominent role for Nieves Navarro, a.k.a. Susan Scott. Stylized and often intentionally ridiculous (with one of Bruno Nicolai's loudest, most aggressive scores), this one will either delight or annoy those who have come this far as it veers in a wild variety of directions and sends Garko off on an undeniably memorable note.

The final official film (though I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATHreleased earlier than some entries depending on the country), I Am Sartana... Trade Your Guns for a Coffin, features George Hilton (about to become perhaps the most notable giallo leading man of the decade) taking over for Garko and once again becoming embroiled in a deadly skirmish involving a cache of gold. This time his bounty I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATHhunting puts him in the path of a Mexican bandit attack involving a stagecoach and several fake bags of riches, which puts him on a trail that leads to a sexy, duplicitous saloon manager named Trixie (Blanc). Sartana ends up being hired by Samuel Spencer (Lulli again), a mine owner whose own motivations are initially unclear, but complications arise with the arrival of Sabbath (Roy Colt & Winchester Jack's Southwood, who virtually steals the film), another bounty hunter who's a force to be reckoned with.

Despite the popularity and pedigree of these films, they've been scattered around from different video labels around the world with a complete, comprehensive set seeming like a pipe dream until the 2018 limited Blu-ray set (2,500 units) from Arrow Video in the U.S and U.K. All of the films except for Pray for Your Death have been given fresh new 2K scans from the original camera negatives, with the one odd man out culled from "original film materials" instead (presumably a print, but one in good shape albeit rougher and with more damage than the rest, accurately framed at 1.85:1). The other four films look excellent (apart from some necessary quality dipping during the optically printed main titles), with the detail so good you can clearly make out the eyeliner Hilton's wearing in his close-ups. Each film features I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATHboth the Italian and English soundtracks with optional English (translated) or English SDH subtitles; the English tracks will probably be the favored ones since they generally I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATHmatch the lip movements better (Garko seems to alternate between the two languages) and evoke the period with a number of familiar voice artists popping up. The Italian tracks are worthwhile as well though as they're often more poetic and coherent at times with some narrative detail that tended to get lost in the occasionally simplified dub scripts; all are DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono (though early announced specs said it would be PCM).

Each film is given its own Blu-ray with a hefty slate of extras; the first feature sports an audio commentary by German documentarian Mike Siegel, who knows his stuff when it comes to westerns and ties this in to other Italian cinema as well including tons of information about Garko. "If You Meet Frank Kramer..." (22m25s) features Parolini talking at length about the process of writing and directing the inaugural entry after dabbling in other genres like sword and sandal fare. Jonathan Bygraves tackles the actors who pop up throughout the series in the fun video essay "Light the Fuse: Sartana's Casting" (16m43s), which is actually a good primer if you're preparing to marathon the set as it sets you up to keep an eye out for some key players beyond the obvious Garko with bios provided along the way. A gallery of 29 stills, lobby cards and posters from Siegel's archive is also included. (An interview with writer Fabbio Piccioni listed in the announced specs does not appear to have materialized.) I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (which is where the series switches to scope and I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATHthe image quality jumps HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND... SARTANA WILL PAYup considerably) features western expert, novelist and screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner and screenwriter/True West editor Henry Parke chatting about all things Sartana, including much joy over the stylish magic trick opening credits and notes on everything from Sartana's Dracula-style cape to the tweaking of western narrative conventions throughout. In "From the Life of a Stuntman" ( ), actor and stunt man Sal Borgese (24m18s) covers his colorful career in westerns, mafia and sword and sandal films, including his early stint on Django, the more dangerous conditions for stunt performers at the time, and the last-minute nature of some small roles that he doesn't even remember doing now. Very prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi turns up for another of his detailed, enjoyable interviews with "Violent Tales for Kids" (19m10s) about his tenure in the world of spaghetti westerns from Arizona Colt onward including both this film and Light the Fuse. Another Siegel archive gallery is included with 31 images.

For Have a Good Funeral My Friend, Joyner and Parke team up again for an enthusiastic overview of their favorite film in the series with particular praise for cinematographer Stelvio Massi, who had just shot the western masterpiece The Price of Power and does stellar widescreen work here. Stuntman, actor and screenwriter Robert Dell'Acqua (a familiar HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND... SARTANA WILL PAYface to Italian genre fans) contributes the sole interview on this disc with "The Man Who Came from the Circus" (22m41s), HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND... SARTANA WILL PAYwhich covers his life from childhood (guess where it started) through a career that still continues with titles staggered along the way like Keoma and Borsalino & Company. A gallery of 22 images is also included, with the poster art making the most of Garko's altered appearance with a great mustache. Light the Fuse, Sartana Is Coming kicks off extras-wise with another Borghese interview, "The Mute Strikes Again" (22m1s), with more tales about his acting career with a batch of colorful stories about movie stars, horses, gladiator films, and the picaresque nature of life in the stunt world. Gastaldi returns next for "Giuliano, Luciano and Me" (20m29s) with more anecdotes about the directors he worked with during the early '70s (especially Carnimeo, obviously) and touching on some of his other films like Giants of Rome and The Violent Professionals. The archival "Sartana Lives" (24m14s) combines interviews with Carmineo and Garko, with the former covering his transition from law school to filmmaking as a rabid movie buff and the latter explaining how he loved to play around with his image from one film to the next while maintaining his own unique persona, with these films in particular offering a showcase for how he could use evolving mannerisms and characteristics to separate each entry. Also included is a 21-image gallery.

Finally, the disc for Sartana's Here, Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin features "Sartana Shoots First," a new interview with Hilton (20m12s) who talks about his own ambivalent relationship to westerns growing up in HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND... SARTANA WILL PAYUruguay, his early experience with the genre in Fulci's Massacre Time (that got him noticed by Michelangelo Antonioni), the bizarre method of naming leading characters depending on which one was more in demand, his continuing friendship with Garko, their different ways of interpreting the LIGHT THE FUSE, SARTANA IS COMINGcharacter, and plenty more. Next is a new interview with Blanc, "Lady Colt" (29m21s), with the much-loved icon of horror and erotic cinema (who's shot with some rather unflattering lighting here) noting her first time doing a western with Anthony Steffen (and learning how to ride a horse), the distracting nature of her cleavage in this film since she was pregnant at the time, the lax treatment westerns received from censors (no kidding!), and the treatment of male vs. female stars at the time. Finally, "A Very God Job" (15m16s) features actor and agent Tony Askin chatting about his career back and forth in front of and behind the camera as well as his working relationship with Carnimeo. A 23-image gallery is also included. The deluxe box packaging offers reversible sleeve options including new artwork by Matthew Griffin, plus an insert booklet with essays by Roberto Curti and a spaghetti western timeline by Howard Hughes.


Reviewed on June 28, 2018