Arrow Video: Keoma (1976) - Reviewed

Franco Nero of Django fame found himself in another, lesser-known solo outing towards the end of the spaghetti western's life cycle with Keoma, a singular outing with no sequels, spinoffs, or follow-ups- appropriately sending its mysterious half-Indian, half-white titular character into his own denouement without any necessary indications as to his fate. It's a lovely little endnote for the dying subgenre of westerns that Arrow Video has graciously restored from its full 100 minute uncut version, rife with plentiful gunfights and sublime psychological undertones that make this a really unique entry for a spaghetti western.

Director Enzo G. Castellari employs a fascinating narrative style, giving the audience plentiful insight into Keoma's past via in-person memories- Keoma wanders around his homestead in one scene, reliving his childhood and seeing his abusive half-brothers chase him around and beat him up for his mere existence, but no specific fade or flashback indication is shown. Rather, everything is seen fluidly and in the same space as the present-day story- a full-grown Keoma fantasizes his past, watching his younger self running away through the fields in his home farm away from his brothers, as they continuously torment and mock him.

Keoma himself, haunted by an apparition of his past, finds himself trying to save local townsfolk from a plague that grips the countryside, as a cruel tyrant named Caldwell seizes control of the town and sends the plague's victims to a mining camp far away. At first, it seems strange that Keoma would spend so much time and effort getting the sick and injured away from quarantine, but as the story progresses, a much more sinister and villainous ploy unfolds. There's a lot more character behind Keoma's adversaries that sometimes strays into stereotypical spaghetti western story territory, but it all results in a series of tense and satisfying gunfights that are exactly what I would have expected from this kind of film.

Perhaps it's not as memorable or epic as the historic Django, but Keoma is certainly a worthwhile effort, and considerably one of the better entries of the twilight years of the spaghetti western. There's a ton of heart and fascinating story, and its psychological aspects make it stand out from other entries in this genre, making for a fascinating western experience. Arrow's restoration is pristine as ever, making this a must-see for any avid fan of the genre. It's an underappreciated gem that deserves its rightful place with the others in its class.

-Wes Ball