It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
It's hard to explain the fun to be found in seeing the right kind of bad movie. Pauline Kael had a go at it a few months ago in Harper's in an article titled "Trash, Art and the Movies," but I think she set her sights too high. The bad movies she enjoyed ("The Scalphunters," "Wild in the Streets") weren't within a hundred miles of the badness of "Death Rides a Horse," which is a bad movie indeed.
And yet ... there's something about surrendering yourself to the dark, womb-like security of a large Loop theater on a Saturday afternoon, and hunkering down in your seat, and simply abandoning yourself to a movie like this. From time to time you will laugh, or be thrilled, or distract yourself by noticing that some of the outdoor scenes are shot in a studio with backdrops (at one point, the hero casts a shadow across an entire mountain range).
Or you can try to unravel the puzzles of mistaken or double identity upon which the plots of spaghetti Westerns always seem to depend. The heroes of these films would save a lot of time if they'd accept one simple rule of thumb: Generally speaking, everyone they meet is either (a) the man who killed their families 15 years ago, (b) a stranger who is after the same villains for mysterious reasons of his own, or (c) their father, brother or son.
Alas, it generally takes two hours for these connections to be established. But in the meantime, sitting there in the dark, watching this bad Western on a Saturday afternoon, you get an autobiographical feedback. You reestablish contact with yourself at the age of 10, when you sat through dozens of exactly such bad Westerns (only not so violent, although they seemed violent enough). And contemplation of this sort, the mystics assure us, is necessary for psychic well-being.
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One of the most audacious American films from the 1960s is now available via the Criterion Collection.