Color, 1968, 100 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by William K. Hennigar
Starring Gary Allen, Steve Rivard, Jeff Kanew, Susannah Campbell
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
The race to capitalize on the increasingly violent spaghetti westerns pouring out of Europe resulted in a handful of odd American cash-ins, most famously with Hang 'Em High and The Hunting Party but also including mostly forgotten fare like A Knife for the Ladies. Particularly obscure is The Wicked Die Slow, a rough and nasty post-dubbed quickie most curious as the sole starring vehicle for Jeff Kanew, future director of Revenge of the Nerds, Gotcha!, and Eddie Macon's Run. This would also be the penultimate film (at least under his real name) for director William K. Hennigar, a roughie veteran behind such exploitation oddities as Mr. Mari's Girls and Run Swinger Run! Oh, and it was also one of the very earliest films produced and released by Cannon, way before it was taken over by Golan and Globus.
Weirdly structured and mostly shot in the woods behind someone's house in New Jersey, our dusty tale begins over some apparently unfinished ink drawings and a very disconnected, loooong half-hour prologue (involving everything from a sharp-shooting, snuff-sniffing preacher to a very anachronistic blonde in a yellow t-shirt, but more on that below) before plunging into the story of The Kid (Allen), an opportunistic, poncho-wearing anti-hero in the Clint Eastwood mode who's being sought by his ill-fated brother (the guy in the prologue) and now on the trail of four white guys in Indian gear who raped his girlfriend in a barn. He ends up crossing paths with Armadillo (Kanew), a bandito who nearly got lynched and has his own reasons for... uh, having a big fight with The Kid in a stream before they laugh it out and join forces. From there it's a string of confrontations involving a saloon shoot out, a striptease in the bushes, an endless poker game, a very unfortunate barmaid, and lots and lots of stage blood.
Buried for five decades outside of a heavily cropped PAL VHS release (and ensuing poor bootleg copies), this is another one of those sleazy little nuggets that seemingly turns up on video out of nowhere. Lord knows it isn't a coherent cinematic experience but there's plenty of amusement to be had here thanks to the very catchy library music soundtrack, Kanew's ridiculous fake mustache, wildly gratuitous mistreatment of the female cast, and a ridiculous dime-store recreation of a certain iconic Sergio Leone scene during the climax. Obviously not for all tastes, but if you like your westerns on the trashy regional side, dive in.
To put it simply, Scorpion Releasing's Blu-ray of this rarity looks so good it's stupid. The original scope framing is restored here for the first time ever on home video, and it looks like this has been taken from an untouched pristine element that's been sitting in the MGM vaults for God knows how long. The DTS-HD MA English mono track also sounds great given the whole thing is atrociously dubbed. The sole significant extra is a new video interview with Kanew (15m57s), who chats about how he got this gig as both the screenwriter and co-star while working as a trailer maker (including the one for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, not surprisingly). Apparently the decision to shoot without live sound was a nod to Leone and company as well, and the entire opening segment added after the fact by Cannon without the involvement of the original creators at all. That's showbiz. Also included are bonus trailers for California Dreaming, Act of Vengeance, 3:15, The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes, and Record City.
Reviewed on September 4, 2019.