The people who produced the half-baked horse opera “Six Bullets to Hell” (* OUT OF ****) craved the Spaghetti Westerns that stampeded across Techniscope screens in cinemas during the 1960s and the 1970s. This routine shoot’em up about revenge musters a few memorable moments as a grief-stricken husband rides out to slaughter the dastards who raped and murdered his pregnant wife. Actually, this twelve of December, straight-to-video release imitates the first part of Giulio Petroni’s “Death Rides a Horse” (1967), co-starring Lee Van Cleef and John Phillip Law, and the last half of Sergio Leone’s “For A Few Dollars More” with a town shootout. Not only have the producers acquired cues from composer Ennio Morricone’s “The Big Gundown” (1966) soundtrack, but they have also staged their frontier fracas on the hallowed earth of Almeria, Spain, where Sergio Leone made his landmark Clint Eastwood “Dollars” trilogy. Clearly, “Six Bullets to Hell” constituted a labor of love for co-scripters and co-directors Tanner Beard and Russell Quinn Cummings. As a long-time Spaghetti western enthusiast, I applaud their lofty ambitions. Indeed, they had their hearts in the right place, but their heads were stuck somewhere else. This scrappy simulation of a Spaghetti Western on a skeletal budget is more often embarrassing for its kitschy quality. Characterization in “Six Bullets to Hell” is confined to the appearance and wardrobe of each person. The most memorable is the chief villain who totes a Winchester repeating rifle in a leather saddle scabbard strapped across his back. The dialogue is undistinguished, too. None of the cast look like they belong in a period piece. Happily, the corny dubbing smooths out some performances. One of the major shortcomings for avid Spaghetti western fans is the lackluster sound effects used for gunshots. Tanner & Cummings should have replicated the cacophonous Spaghetti western gunshots instead of the bland sounds on hand. Practically all sound in Spaghetti westerns was done during post-production, particularly the thudding hoofbeats of the horses and the mechanical sounds of revolvers as their hammers were either cocked or the cylinders twirled like roulette wheels. Lenser Olivier Merckx loves to shoot into the sun for an artistic flare effect, but these starbursts soon become tedious. He foregoes filters for exterior shots filmed within a room, so the outside light amounts to an impenetrable glare.
A gang of unsavory desperadoes shows up at a ramshackle ranch in the middle of nowhere. A pregnant lady, Grace Rogers (Magda Rodriguez of “The Riddle”), has been left her alone without so much as a shotgun, while her husband has ridden off to town for supplies. Bobby Durango (Tanner Beard) and his pistoleros rape and kill Grace for fun. Later, Durango strings up one of his own men, Nino (Nacho Diáz), who refused to participate in the rape. Imagine the shock that Grace’s husband Billy Rogers (Crispian Belfrage of “Doc West”) experiences when he returns to the ranch and finds Nino swinging at the end of a noose. Afterward, Billy discovers his murdered wife strewn lifelessly in bed. No, the filmmakers shrink from showing the savagery that Grace must have endured at their hands. Before they left the ranch, Durango blasted her in the belly without a qualm, and left her sprawled in a pool of blood. Naturally, grief overwhelms Billy when he stares at his dead spouse. He hauls Nino’s corpse back to town. Sheriff Morris (Russell Quinn Cummings) takes Nino off his hands, and Billy finds himself the recipient of bounty on Nino. Earlier in the action, the filmmakers indulged in a bit of foreshadowing. Briefly, Sheriff Morris and his sidekick deputy had discussed Billy’s lethal marksmanship skills with a gun.
Our hero digs a holstered Colt’s revolver out a hope chest where he had relegated it after he quit his job as a lawman and decided to settle down. This moment evokes memories of the Spanish-lensed western sequel “Return of the Seven” (1966) when Chico pulled his trusty six-gun out of a chest. Decked out in black, Billy hits the vengeance trail, while Durango’s unruly gang disintegrates. They object to the way that he splits their ill-gotten gains. Bobby appropriates half of everything, and they get to divide the rest. The best scene occurs when our grim hero confronts one of his wife’s rapists in a saloon and guns him down in cold blood. Shortly before the rapist dies at Billy’s hand, he protests that he is not armed. Neither was my wife replies our steely-eyed hero and then repeatedly fills him full of lead. This is as about as close as Tanner & Cummings come to depicting the amoral violence of the Spaghetti Western. Another beef that dyed-in-the-wood Spaghetti fans will have with this movie is the lazy way the gunshot-riddled extras expire. They don’t hurl their hands high up and pirouette before crashing into a tangled heap. Instead, they fall down without any flair.
“Six Bullets to Hell” also pays tribute to the original “Magnificent Seven.” The first time we see Durango and his dastards, they loot a church and find next to nothing in the poor box. The priest informs them that the congregation has stashed the bulk of their savings in a nearby bank. Nevertheless, the bad guys take the few pennies in the poor box, just as Calvera’s bandits bragged about in the opening scene of “The Magnificent Seven.” Sadly, the primary actors don’t look rugged enough to convince us that they are capable of their heinous acts that they perpetrate. Crispan Belfrage looks like a sad sack version of a hero. In fact, nobody in this western can act worth a plug nickel. Some of the cast don’t know how to handle firearms. A bare-bones valentine to the genre, “Six Bullets to Hell” makes some of the worst Spaghetti westerns look like masterpieces. Altogether, as gratifying an homage as it is to Spaghetti westerns, “Six Bullets to Hell” qualifies as lame from start to finish.