Arrow Video: Requiescant (1967) - Reviewed

Most moviegoers instantly think of Sergio Leone as the grandfather of the Italian Spaghetti Western, having directed the Dollars Trilogy with Clint Eastwood as well as Once Upon a Time in the West.  Then of course there’s Sergio Corbucci’s Django film series as well as Tonino Valerii’s critically revered Day of Anger.  One which tends to get overlooked by most genre aficionados of the Italian western film however is the late Italian film critic, screenwriter and director Carlo Lizzani’s 1967 hard-boiled actioner Requiescant which is now getting a second life thanks to the efforts of Arrow Video. 

Alternately titled Kill and Pray in the United States with the original title translating in Latin to ‘rest in peace’, Requiescant concerns a young Mexican (Lou Castel of Fists in the Pocket) who grows up to be a pacifist following in the footsteps of a traveling preacher after his family was massacred by Confederates during his childhood.  But upon his step-sister Princy (Barbara Frey) runs away from home and winds up forced into prostitution in a nearby village, the drifter seeks to rescue her from her captivity and discovers on the way an innate talent for sharp-shooting.  Diving into the hornet’s nest, his quickdraw gifts are put to the test when he stands off with a ruthless aristo named George Bellow Ferguson (Mark Damon of Black Sabbath) and his posse of equally sadistic toadies. 

Castel as the film’s stoic and morally mercurial hero isn’t going to win over fans of the Spaghetti Western looking for Clint Eastwood swagger, but he plays the role effectively and his often intentionally meek presence makes a great counterpoint to his near-mythic abilities with a gun at his side.  Almost stealing the show is Mark Damon’s sadistic Confederate and racist leader, delivering a wealth of fierce monologues with a penetrating gaze as he flaunts his evil power mongering with impish, even gleeful abandon. 

Rounding out the film’s eclectic cast of characters are a band of traveling revolutionary Mexican priests led an aptly named Don Juan, played by none other than the great Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini (in a rare acting role) with frequent collaborator Nino Davoli in his circle.  Pasolini has always been a flamboyantly public figure, finding room for cameos in his own films, but seeing him play a fully-fledged role in another filmmaker’s picture is among the film’s many delights. 

Aiding the film’s rough and ragged tone, almost upstaging Ennio Morricone’s own contributions to Leone’s spaghetti westerns, is Cannibal Holocaust and Mondo Cane composer Riz Ortolani’s rousing original score, offering orchestral instrumental excitement, dread and exaltation in equal measure.  Between Pasolini and Ortolani, that makes two Italian icons you’d never imagine being affiliated with a Spaghetti Western.

Predating the thematic mixture of religion and vigilantism employed in Troy Duffy’s The Boondock Saints by decades and standing up to Leone and Corbucci’s Italian Western offerings on it’s own, Requiescant for years was considered lost and forgotten.  Availability on home video was next to none and it remains tragically overlooked on cinephile lists of Spaghetti Western favorites.  Over the years the film’s cult reputation couldn’t help but grow thanks to the endorsement of filmmakers like Alex Cox (Repo Man; Sid and Nancy) and the dedicated efforts of Arrow Video to resurrect the forgotten B-movie. 

Often tense with extreme close-ups of faces hardened by the ragged west, intentionally prolonged pacing and some of the wildest shootouts this side of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Requiescant is a solid old-fashioned Spaghetti Western with strong performances and a protagonist with a fascinating moral quandary driving his fast and precise hand.  Far shorter in length and smaller in scope than Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, Requiescant on it’s own terms still manages to pack one Hell of a punch as a tough and wild entry into one of Italy’s most celebrated action thriller subgenres.

- Andrew Kotwicki