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A wagon load of convicts on their way to prison is being escorted through the mountains by a cavalry troop. They are attacked by a bandit gang, and only a sergeant, his beautiful young daughter and an assortment of seven sadistic, murderous prisoners survive, and they are left without horses or a wagon. The sergeant must find a way to get his prisoners to their destination while protecting his daughter, watching out for the still pursuing bandits and trying to determine which one of the prisoners was the man who raped and murdered his wife. Written by
CUT-THROATS NINE (Jose' Luis Romero Marchent, 1972) ***
I knew this Spanish-made Spaghetti Western had some kind of notoriety in Euro-Cult circles but, since I was totally unfamiliar with its director, I didn't really expect a lot from it; as it turned out, it's one of the nastiest films of its kind surpassing even DJANGO, KILL! (1967) in its bleakness, nihilism and graphic depiction of extreme violence!
The plot itself is highly unusual: a cart-load of slimy, murdering convicts is being transported through dangerous terrain in the mountains by a cavalry officer and his daughter; the catch is that one of them was responsible for the brutal killing of the soldier's wife and, ingeniously, their gold cargo (coveted by bandits) has been disguised as the length of chain shackling the prisoners together! Soon, they lose their transport, provisions and one of their number and they're forced to continue the journey on foot; the already tenuous relationship within the party continues to deteriorate as the sex-crazed men turn on the girl, leading the soldier to himself commit cold-blooded murder; then, half-way through the picture, the convicts get the upper hand and the soldier (ostensibly, the hero figure) is killed in gory fashion! Still, the girl has a surprising ally in one of the remaining prisoners except that his tenderness is belied by the final revelation concerning the nature of his crimes (most of the characters' back-story is effectively retold in intermittent flashbacks heralded by freeze-framing)!
The effective choral score (reminiscent of Gothic horror movies, no less) admirably evokes the danger and the savagery of the narrative; while most of the cast members were also unknown to me even when their faces looked vaguely familiar, I especially appreciated the contribution of a couple of Jess Franco alumni namely Emma Cohen (from the startling if still little-known THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR ) as the only female presence in the film of any stature and Alberto Dalbes (star of all three of the Spaniard's Universal horror pastiches) as the gambler leader of the chain gang.
To get to the brutality, it comes in all varieties (including a shot to the back of a woman's head at point-blank range) though, especially disturbing, is its propensity for severed limbs, charred corpses and, worst of all, gut-spilling!! I should mention here that the script (courtesy of renowned Euro-Cult scribe Santiago Moncada) also includes a sequence where one of the prisoners suffers a hallucination of the murdered soldier's corpse coming back to life to haunt him. The finale, then, sees no survivors as the long-suffering girl decides to take the matter into her own fragile little hands with a single, definite explosive act.
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