• A Town Called Hell

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: August 18th, 2015.
    Director: Robert Parrish
    Cast: Robert Shaw, Stella Stevens, Telly Savalas, Martin Landau, Fernando Rey
    Year: 1971
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    The Movie:

    Although it’s often understandably lumped in with the Italian Spaghetti Western craze, Robert Parrish’s 1971 film A Town Called Hell (also known as A Town Called Bastard, which is what it’s called on the title card seen on this disc) isn’t an Italian production at all – though it was shot in Spain and it does feature many of the same elements that made the Spaghetti Western boom so interesting.

    Set during the Mexican Revolution, when the film opens a gang of rebels lay siege to a town and slaughter not only a horde of soldiers but a bunch of innocent civilian types as well. Years later a mysterious woman named Alivra (Stella Stevens) arrives in town, along with her deaf-mute assistant (Dudley Sutton), offering a substantial reward to anyone who can tell her who killed her husband, one of the victims of the massacre. In the years since the massacre took place, the town has more or less come under control of a military man named Don Carlos (Telly Savalas).

    A man with a taste for wealth, Don Carlos offers to help the beautiful widow for a shot at the reward, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. Additionally, two of the men who were behind it have ‘evolved’ into positions of influence. One man serves as the town priest (Robert Shaw) while another now serves as a Colonel in the army (Martin Landau) – both of them have skeletons in their closet that they’d rather stay there.

    While Parrish and company were obviously aiming for a high concept Leone style revenge western, they never really quite hit their mark. There are times where the movie is a blast – some solid action scenes easily hold our attention and there are also some really memorable images too, most of which revolve around Stevens. Her character arrives in town in a coffin and at one point appears decked out in silver body/face paint cloaked in funeral attire (images like this are hard to forget). The film also has a really solid score that, if not on par with Morricone or Ortolani’s classics, is still pretty involving.

    The plot, however, jumps around and leans towards erratic. Character motivations are iffy at best and often times poorly defined while logic gaps and a strangely placed flashback can leave us scratching our heads when we should be cheering on the good guys (if there actually are any good guys in this movie – everyone operates in a very grey area in this town).

    Really though, this is one you watch for the cast. Savalas is a blast to watch here, though he’s underused despite his top billing. He plays the arrogant, crooked Don Carlos with lecherous glee and he’s awesome in the part. Landau just goes for it here, his eyes frequently looking like they’re going to pop out of his head and paint his khaki uniform red. His toothy grin is at its most insane looking here and he too is a lot of fun to watch. Stella Stevens does the ‘mysterious and beautiful’ thing very well here too. She’s basically a whacked out goth chick in a western setting, her character channeling some darkness into the story in interesting ways. The real star of the show, however, is Shaw. You can almost smell the whiskey sweating out of him in certain scenes here and he’s got the right balance of restraint and over the top enthusiasm to make it all work.


    A Town Called Hell arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 that is, at best, a quirky one. Detail in close up shots looks really good but in the latter half of the movie, during a flashback, detail starts to get pretty washy looking. On top of that there’s some obvious video noise in some shots, but then it’s not nearly as pronounced in others. Print damage is fairly frequent here and a couple of outdoor night time scenes show some compression artifacts. When the image is clean and the action takes place outside in daylight, things can and do look impressive – but then the indoor scenes, not so much. Sometimes the colors look flat out gorgeous, other times they’re a bit off. It’s tough to say how much of this is the encode versus the elements (it’s clear that some shots are just not focused very well and there are quite a few times where the camera pans and the lens distorts the picture – those are not transfer flaws) but the picture quality here is inconsistent. At the same time, it also appears to be the best version currently available on home video.

    Audio is handled by an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. There are no alternate language options or subtitles. It’s hard not to notice the hiss here. It’s not overpowering but it is present throughout most of the movie. Balance isn’t so hot either. There are times where the dialogue is nice and clear and other times where it sounds muffled. The score sounds pretty decent though. You’ll reach for the remote a lot as this movie plays out – to turn it up during scenes where the dialogue is delivered in hushed tones, and then turning it down when the action starts up again.

    Aside from static menus and chapter selection we get bonus trailers for two films – Navajo Joe and A Reason To Live, A Reason To Die.

    The Final Word:

    A Town Called Hell is disjointed and sometimes a mess in terms of how it’s been put together, but it’s hard to completely walk away from a movie with a cast like this, particularly when it’s got some really great camera work, an awesome score and some bizarrely memorable imagery. This is not a great movie but it is a really interesting one. Kino’s Blu-ray is an uneven and almost barebones affair, but as of this writing there’s no better option out there.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Scyther's Avatar
      Scyther -
      By FAR the best version on home video. This was a film notoriously ruined by bad pan and scan transfers and editing, making the schizo plot even MORE incomprehensible. Love this release, though, as this is one of my favorite whacked out westerns. You're spot on about its flaws, though, Ian. I just dig it in spite of them...or maybe because of them? Plus, Stella Stevens. Hubba Hubba.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Oh, I dig it too, it's almost surreal in spots and it's definitely unique, but yeah, far from perfect. Fascinating in its own crazy way.