The ‘Django’ series of spaghetti westerns are almost a sub-genre in themselves, with over thirty variations of the original and a number of unofficial sequels in circulation. ‘Coffin’ sits amongst the latter, with chiseled Italian actor Terence Hill (birth name – Mario Girotti) filling in for the original star to play the eponymous hero, Franco Nero (who crops up in a wink-wink cameo during ‘Unchained’).
This one appears to have been given a further push via Tarantino himself, who recently placed it within his list of top-20 Spaghetti Westerns. While its themes of revenge obviously struck a chord with the director, the film sorely lacks the craftsmanship of a Leone film, and isn’t quite as extreme enough at the other end of the quality spectrum to really make a lasting impression.
A lone gunfighter named Django is hired as a town executioner by a political figure (who resembles a weathered-looking member of a 60’s boy band) with a twisted agenda. Employed to hang local townsfolk who are getting in the way of the politician’s land scheme, Django instead cleverly fakes the death of the condemned men. Using these fellows to form his own gang with the intention of seeking retribution for the death of his wife, the gunslinger’s plans prove to be far from watertight, as he himself is double-crossed.
What the film should really have been called was Django Gets A-Whoopin’, as star Hill is really put through the ringer a number of times, to almost comical excess. The scene which sees the villains passing him around and using him as a human punch bag must surely have inspired Kurt Russell’s surreal comeuppance at the end of Death Proof, and the film is riddled with moments of unintentional hilarity that begin to distract after a while – particularly the horribly-dubbed dialogue which ranges from confusing to downright absurd (“Wake up Django, wake up. They sure turned you into a mashed potato!”)
Fans of this kind of exploitation cinema are patently aware of the inherent ridiculousness often on display, but for the most part, Django, Prepare A Coffin lacks the kind of trashy brio which usually goes a long way in masking the genre shortcomings. A fantastically fiery shoot-out mid-way through, and a deliciously-staged payback scene at very end, aren’t enough to make amends for the film’s unevenness. In the end, what’s left is a reminder of Tarantino’s abilities in extracting elements from this kind of schlock and elevating them into something special (and infinitely better).