Reviewed by Steve Fenton
Timeless tough talk: “You dirty cowards! You ain’t got the guts ta stand up to a real man!”
Tales of lone renegade braves going on relentless Indian vendettas against the encroaching palefaces were certainly nothing new to westerns of virtually any ethnic stamp, the Spaghetti / Paella kind included. For example, Jack Starrett’s analogously-titled CRY BLOOD, APACHE (USA, 1970) and Robert Aldrich’s APACHE (USA, 1954), starring Burt Lancaster; as well as Rodolfo de Anda’s ‘tortilla westerns’ INDIO (Mexico, 1971) and the highly similar CUCHILLO / “Blade” (Mexico, 1977), both of which – especially the latter – were greatly influenced by the westerns of Italian maestro Sergio Corbucci (who directed the Italian/Spanish NAVAJO JOE , another film which fits into the same subgenre as our present title. Hell, come to think of it, in 1986 even Bruno Mattei made not just one but two belated lowly variations of his own in the form of WHITE APACHE and SCALPS, the latter featuring a female aboriginal avenger, just for something different). Produced by David F. Friedman, William Allen Castleman’s gory exploitation actioner JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (USA, 1974) told an analogous tale, albeit contemporized to the 1970s rather than being set in the 19th century. “Larry Ludman”/Fabrizio de Angelis’ THUNDER / a.k.a. THUNDER WARRIOR (Italy, 1983) – which spawned two carbon-copy sequels – was yet another European variation of the same theme, again set in more modern times.
For the present low-budget entry, Tom Quillen’s APACHE BLOOD (a.k.a. PURSUIT, 1975) – a by-product of the more cynical post-SOLDIER BLUE era, originating from a similar off-Hollywood shadow realm as the ’60s sex ’n’ violence “roughies”, if minus the sex – a formerly peaceable, law-abiding Mescalero brave named Yellow Shirt (the top-billed Ray Danton) goes on a one-man warpath – albeit with a little assist here and there from his tribal brethren – against seemingly the entire paleface race after a tenuous peace treaty between reds and whites is callously violated by the latter (so what else is new!). Before you can say “White man speak with forked tongue!” Danton is off offing us untrustworthy bastards right, left and center.
A troop of Bluecoat white-eyes cavalrymen – potential buzzard bait all – find themselves cut-off out in the thick of hostile Apache territory. Following a near-fatal bear attack – shades of Richard Harris’ terrifying fate in Richard C. Sarafian’s Spanish-shot, American-set outdoorsy adventure MAN IN THE WILDERNESS (1971) – the troopers’ mountain man scout Sam Glass (DeWitt Lee, who also co-wrote the screenplay) ‘returns from the dead’ in his shallow grave. Clinging feebly to life, summoning all his willpower Glass claws his way back to the land of the living (and the dying), whereupon he bludgeons an Apache attacker’s skull in with a rock right in his own recently-vacated premature burial place just to drive home the bitter irony of his predicament. Hobbled and limping on a crude stick crutch, Glass thereafter desperately strives to elude Indians who dog his tracks relentlessly, while using whatever improvised defensive weapons he finds at hand (e.g., rocks, cacti, etc). An Indian pursuer’s head is turned into an instant pin-cushion by airborne cactus fragments (talk about a ‘spiked’ haircut!). Glass also utilizes a makeshift ‘minefield’ of buried cactus parts whose sharp spines wreak havoc with the unshod hooves of the Apaches’ ponies. Elsewhere, a luckless trooper is buried up to his neck in desert sand, whereupon his head is then used as a surrogate polo-ball during a ride-by group bludgeoning by mounted bucks (a variation of an unenviable fate seen in more than one spaghetti western). The gruesome aftermath of soldiers tortured by Indians is also shown. APACHE BLOOD’s crowning act of cynicism (*SPOILER ALERT! Skip down to the next paragraph if you don’t wanna know how it ends!) has Glass the severely-stressed hero – having courageously battled and slogged his way ever onward towards sanctuary within a distant Cavalry fort as tenuous and unreachable as a desert oasis wavering hazily on the horizon – getting ‘accidentally’ plugged between the eyes by a trigger-happy and evidently short-sighted sentry right within spitting distance of its front gate.
Really looking the part, the grim-faced Danton – a Euro cinema alumnus who never actually appeared in a western bearing the spaghetti brand – wears white war-paint accessorized with a blood-red headband. Playing a cavalryman, Troy Nabors does a slimly-disguised Slim Pickens impersonation (e.g., “It’s shore takin’ him a helluva long time ta die!”)
Using only the barest minimum of dialogue just for exposition’s sake, the laconic narrative instead accents gutsy, grisly survivalist action, pitting man not just against his fellow man and the so-called lower lifeforms – in this unforgiving wilderness world, the lowest lifeform is very definitely Man himself, be he white or red – but against the very elements themselves, too. A common ploy of the ultra-cheap westerns (e.g., Fred Williamson’s and Larry G. Spangler’s thematically and structurally highly similar JOSHUA ; which I reviewed in Weng’s Chop zine #4) was to set their action out amidst the rural wilds, in this case Arizona, so as to save on either renting or building costly sets. In vain hopes of concealing its cheapness of construction, the rickety-picket firewood ‘stockade’ is only glimpsed in quick cutaways. Just in case we might have missed them the first time ’round, in best exploitation fashion the film closes with a handy montage which recaps all its preceding brutalities. Often seeming at odds with the sometimes grisly content – including bloody knifings and scalpings – Ed Norton’s at times overly sentimental score sticks to well-trod folksy / rootsy American trails. That said, bulk of the music seems to have been composed with a much ‘bigger’ production in mind than this small-scale rural stalk ’n’ slay actioner. The soundtrack also incorporates generic low-rent library file tracks; some of which I know I’ve also heard on various cheapo horror flicks of the period somewhere along the line, only I can’t quite place which ones. End-theme song lyrics include the phrase “a man called She” (shades of Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”?!).
Either erroneously or intentionally, APACHE BLOOD (presented in a scratchy full-frame print) was included as part of Mill Creek Entertainment’s 2008 sell-through DVD box set generically entitled Spaghetti Westerns; totaling twenty titles in all, of which it is the sole non-‘authentic’ example.* Novices not bothering to pay too much attention might be unlikely to notice, however. It has also appeared on DVD in the UK courtesy of Pegasus, in what appears to be the same scratchy full-frame print, and for you VHS collectors, it was released by A.N.E. Home Video under its alternate title of PURSUIT.
Ignore the IMDb’s current pitifully low user rating (not that you should generally put much stock in their entirely subjective ratings anyway), because, despite what they say, this grim and gritty film definitely warrants a far higher one than the measly “3.0” it gets at said site. So by all means check it out and decide for yourself!
* In 2005, Mill Creek Entertainment also released APACHE BLOOD as part of their massive Gunslinger Classics – 50 Movie Pack, and then in 2010, Mill Creek Entertainment released an even larger collection of spaghetti westerns simply titled Spaghetti Westerns – 44 Movie Collection, which included APACHE BLOOD once again.