The Film: 3/5
Django (Terence Hill) works as a bodyguard for local political boss David Barry (Horst Frank) but also oversees gold shipments through hostile territories. During one shipment a gang of thieves led by the deadly thug Lucas (George Eastman) attacks Django and his party and steals the gold, killing Django's wife and leaving him for dead in the process. Five years pass and Django is working as a hangman in a small town. But he is secretly helping several of the condemned men to fake their deaths and escape because he has figured out that Lucas is responsible for the theft of many gold shipments and the death of his wife and he wants to bring the scoundrel to justice. The men he chose to help him, including Garcia (Jose Torres), were all framed for their crimes and sentence to death on the word of witnesses paid off by Lucas because he wanted to take their land after their "executions". Garcia and the others want nothing more than to get some much-deserved payback on those who sent them to their deaths, but the prospect of returning to their old lives with virtually nothing but a renewed sense of pride doesn't sit well with them. They plan to go against Django's plan of exposing Lucas' crimes and steal the next gold shipment for themselves. The resulting chaos throws a monkey wrench into Django's carefully-orchestrated plot and sets him for a fall at the hands of Lucas, an army of hired killers, and a mysterious individual from his past.
In the wake of the success of Django, the classic 1966 spaghetti western directed by Sergio Corbucci that made Franco Nero an international movie star, nearly thirty unofficial sequels and spin-offs were quickly cranked out in succession to cash in fast, as the Italians are wont to do. And just as the original Django inspired countless imitators, it comes as no surprise then that Quentin Tarantino's critically and commercially adored slavery revenge epic/spaghetti western tribute Django Unchained would open the flood gates for most of those cheap and shameless knock-offs to come bullying their way back into stores and online retailers in upgraded formats. Many of them have only ever been available on VHS, while some didn't even make it that far, instead being condemned to playing in the middle of the night or on a slow weekend afternoon on some local UHF station. Ferdinando Baldi's Django, Prepare a Coffin was one of the first to hitch a ride on Corbucci and Nero's coattails, and by spaghetti western standards it manages to be a fun little flick with a few nods to the classic original but with enough of its own identity to stand on its own two feet, but just barely. Though its plot can get needlessly complex at times, Prepare a Coffin moves fast, packs in its fair share of fist fights and shootouts with plenty of betrayals and revenge thrown into the mix. Granted that's how most spaghetti western tend to play out, but rarely are they done this well.
Baldi, one of those vaunted veteran hacks of Italian exploitation who would become best known for directing the early-80's 3D schlock extravaganzas Comin' at Ya and Treasure of the Four Crowns, has a directorial style that isn't really much of a style. He stages each scene very matter-of-fact and directs the multiple action set pieces, all shot by Enzo Barboni (the cinematographer on the original Django ironically enough), flatly with none of the baroque visual flourishes that legendary filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Lucio Fulci and efficient helmsmen like Corbucci and the underappreciated Enzo G. Castellari brought to their respective entries in the Italian western genre. While this doesn't detract from the overall quality of the movie it hardly makes it anything but a fast-paced though unexceptional time-waster. The violence is plentiful but the blood content is kept to a bare minimum. When people get shot they put their hands to their faces or chests and fall over dead. There are none of the operatic motifs and badass characters that the best spaghetti westerns had in spades. In fact, there isn't much to distinguish Prepare a Coffin from a typical low-budget American B-western. Despite having a plot brimming with the potential for many classic moments of western cinema it's mostly abandoned as the storyline keeps bringing in new characters who serve no purpose to the narrative and are disposed of just as fast, which just makes things more confusing as the story progresses. What's even more surprising is that Baldi's writing partner Franco Rossetti also co-wrote the original Django.
Terence Hill was once one of Italy's biggest movie stars thanks to his starring roles in the Trinity films and My Name is Nobody with Henry Fonda (not to mention a series of hit comedies that paired him with Bud Spencer) and he does possess a fair amount of talent and unmistakable charisma, but he lacks the intense screen presence and acting chops that Franco Nero had when he first played Django. Hill's emotionless visage and cold blue eyes help make him a more intimidating character than the movie allows him to be, but he still looks like a rank amateur when you consider that Nero played Django like he had the Devil running through his veins. Nero could also stare holes through a steel bank vault door with his burning eyes. There is a reason why there will always be only one Django, the Django who was called upon to make a memorable cameo in Tarantino's controversial blockbuster western, and that is Franco Nero. Hill does a fine job in the role though I doubt it was originally written to be a Django movie. In fact for its German release Prepare a Coffin was re-dubbed and reedited into a comedy movie to cash in on the success of on the Hill and Spencer films.
The score by Gianfranco Reverberi is pretty good and has a catchy theme song. At several points in the movie Ennio Morricone's theme to the 1964 Italian western Bullets Don't Argue makes an appearance. Though I have never seen that movie I do have a large collection of Morricone's western music and that particular theme is one of my personal favorite compositions by Il Maestro.
Arrow's 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is sturdy but hardly anything to get excited about. They did the best job they could with the available materials in restoring the film and for the most part their work pays off grandly. The image is soft but very viewable. Colors are strong throughout. Print damage is apparent in some spots, with noticeable scratches popping up mostly in the beginning, but from there on the image quality is fine. Italian and English 2.0 audio dub tracks have been provided. Both tracks work for what they are but the Italian audio is the way to go since the volume level on the dialogue is slightly higher than on the English dub. Music and sound effects are nicely balanced throughout the mix, but occasional audio defects are loud enough to not be noticed. English subtitles are also included for the Italian audio track.
The only extra is a scratchy, faded theatrical trailer that spoils the ending twist early on. Avoid before watching the feature if you decide to view this meager extra at all. Included with this disc is a booklet containing information about the production of Django, Prepare a Coffin written by Howard Hughes.
Django, Prepare a Coffin is a better-than-average way to kill ninety minutes of your life, but in the great pantheon of classic Italian spaghetti westerns it ends up a pretty minor footnote. Die hard fans of the genre won't need much prodding to give this decent DVD release a chance.