Five Bloody Graves (1969)
Dir: Al Adamson - Cast: Robert Dix, John 'Bud' Cardos, John Carradine, Scott Brady, Jim Davis, Paula Raymond, Vickey Volante, Darlene Lucht, Victor Adamson, Ken Osborne - Narrated by Gene Raymond
One of the many low-low-budget productions by Al Adamson, best known for his B-grade horror movies with funny titles such as Psycho A Go-Go and Blood of Ghastly Horror. He also made a couple of westerns. Upon its release Five bloody Graves was rejected by most critics for its violent and sexual content, but today some think it's one of Adamson's better efforts; according to Phil Hardy "the film is cheaply, but imaginatively, made" (1).
The story is told by a narrator (quite a funny guy) who tells us he is Mr. Death himself. We're introduced to Ben Thompson (Robert Dix, who also wrote the screenplay) a man looking for the Yaqui Indian, Satago, who murdered his wife. Thompson is known as 'The Messenger of Death" because he sends all living to the other side. The actor playing Satago, John Cardos, also plays his own half brother, Joe Lightfoot, who's trying to keep his woman, Little Fawn, away from the madman. We soon find out that this Satago really is a nasty person: when he manages to capture Little Fawn, he ties her to poles in the desert, leaving her body for the ants and the burning sun. She is found, by the way, by two gun runners who supply the Yaqui with weapons.
In the meantime the Yaqui have attacked a wagon train and are now besieging the passengers, who have taken refuge in the hills. Both Thompson, Joe Lightfoot (still on the run) and the two gun runners join the group, and things lead to a climax when Joe Lightfoot finds out that the gun runners have abused and killed his wife. Subsequently things are settled between Thompson and Satago in a knife-fight.
Dix' screenplay is meandering and populated with stereotyped characters (among the passengers are a saloon lady, two of her prostitutes, a fashionable gambler and a servile priest) but it's also quite lively and John Carradine is deliciously mean as the priest who spies on women and shoots men from behind his Bible. It is shot on magnificent locations in Utah (even though the action is set in Arizona) and Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography is superb (as always); unfortunately it's virtually impossible to get hold of a good widescreen copy. Most versions (apparently meant for TV-screening) show the film in a 4:3 pan & scan, lopping off large amounts of visual info left and right, occasionally only showing people's noses when they speak to each other; some VHS-sourced prints are slightly wider, but have inferior image quality (2).
The film is often thought to be of the most violent and perverted of its time (just look at the poster!), but can't live up this questionable reputation. Sure, there are a few bullet wounds and arrows entering the body, but the effects are reduced by the poor execution and the sexual content is rather tame. Apparently a few explicit scenes were removed to avoid an X-rating and lost forever. A few years later, when censors had become more lenient, Dix and an unknown actress were called back to the studio by Adamson to shoot a couple of new sex scenes that were added to the movie. Today copies vary in length and available nudity: more, less or none at all.
* (1) Phil Hardy, The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: The Western, London 1983
* (2) The On-line Film site Fandor seems to offer a widescreen print (running 77 minutes), but it's not available where I live: http://www.fandor.com/films/five_bloody_graves (But maybe only parts of it are in widescreen, I found a few screenshots on the Net, labeled as 'Fandor', that were fullscreen.