While Sergio Leone's legendary pairings with Clint Eastwood may have injected fresh blood into the waning genre of the cinematic western, Sergio Corbucci's quasi-remake Django (1966) with Franco Nero was the first film to really draw it. Considered to be one of the most violent motion pictures ever made at the time, Django's popularity resulted in a new era of filmmaking in Europe: the bastard sequel. Soon, unofficial followups ‒ few of which had anything to do with the character ‒ were popping up in cinemas courtesy seasoned professionals trying to make a quick buck to total newbs who were trying to get a little dusty street cred out of it.
In all, there were quite literally dozens of bastard sequels to Django made over the next couple of years alone, most of which were either retitled, redubbed, or re-released in order to cash in on the popularity of the iconic character. And then there was Ferdinando Baldi's Django, Prepare a Coffin, which was about as close as anyone ever came to creating a true entry in the original cinematic universe until Corbucci and Nero made an official sequel in 1987. That said, however, Django, Prepare a Coffin was initially slated to star Nero: a casting choice which would have significantly changed the film history books a tad had he done so.
Alas, a career in the American film industry was calling Franco, and so, in his stead, the producers of Baldi's Preparati la bara! cast the always likeable (and yes, slightly similar looking) Mario Girotti to portray the character of "Django." It was one of the first times Girotti would appear under his better-known anglicized alias, Terence Hill; paving the way for his own claim to fame come Corbucci's impeccably timed spoof of the genre, They Call Me Trinity (1971). Here, though, Hill plays the part as seriously as can be, keeping the somber tone of the original film in this, a story which ‒ were one to consider it official canon ‒ would fall under the category of "prequel."
After being betrayed and pumped full of lead by order of his friend David (Horst Frank) ‒ a politician-for-cash whose unscrupulous behavior would fit right at home within the confines of today's Congress ‒ young Django takes up the noble profession of executioner, traveling from one town to another in order to rid them of their convicted troubles. But the actual trouble itself lies in the local legal system, which is being manipulated by local big wig Lucas (big George Eastman, in the midst of his cinematic transformation from handsome leading man to ugly villain) in order to add a little more land to his expanding empire of corruption. "The more things change..." right, kids?
Fortunately for the doomed innocents, Django has been secretly amassing an army of presumed dead folk to seek revenge on those who murdered his wife and left him for dead several years before. To this extent, he regularly gathers up his phantom soldiers to torment the individuals whose false testimonies sent them to the gallows, all the while trying to build up enough evidence to properly bring the parties behind the shenanigans to justice. And it's all fine and dandy for the most part (even if nothing really happens during that time) until the ever-tempting aspect of mankind's most coveted element ‒ gold ‒ starts to corrupt even the most loyal of Django's posse.
Although Django, Prepare a Coffin lacks much of the finesse the original (official) film possessed, this lower-budget offering nevertheless manages to hit a nail or two on its wooden overcoat, and stands as a pretty solid entry in the vast world of bastard sequels. It also has a nice funky theme song you can get down and dirty to. Also known by English-friendly titles such as Viva Django! and Django Sees Red, the unofficial prequel never hit American cinemas, and the only home video version to debut stateside was an inferior bootleg. Thankfully, Arrow Video has rectified that situation with this, the first genuine home video release of a legitimate bastard sequel.
As far as Arrow's Blu-ray goes, this 2017 Region A release is essentially identical to the label's 2013 Region B UK release. Image-wise, the 1.66:1 presentation is a mixed bag, occasionally looking a little flat in some places, and the skin tones tend to make the actors and actresses involved look like they're wearing too much bronzer. (But I'm not complaining, mind you.) Aurally, Django, Prepare a Coffin boasts English and Italian audio tracks, both of which are presented in LPCM 2.0 and with optional English subtitles. Special features are identical to the UK release, consisting of a trailer and a brief "explanatory" featurette with author/genre guru Kevin Grant.
A booklet with another spaghetti western specialist, Howard Hughes (no, not that one), also available in the 2013 UK, wraps this Blu-ray/DVD combo release up, although it should be noted the collectable liner notes are only limited to the first pressing for this US issue. Either way, Django, Prepare a Coffin is a fun little Euro western that even the most devoted fans of the real Django should be able to appreciate, and comes recommended by yours truly.