Nest of Vipers (1969)

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AKA Night of the Serpent,  Nest of Vipers – Ringo Kill     

Directed by Giulio Petroni 

Starring Luke Askew, Luigi Pistilli and Magda Knopka

106 Minutes

Italy

This is an interesting little Spaghetti Western from Giulio Petroni, the director of Death Rides a Horse (1967). Lieutenant Hernandez (Luigi Pistilli) is the commander of a faction of troops stationed in a small village during the Mexican revolution. Together with a group of the town’s outcats, they hatch the plan to rob orphan Manuel (Luciano Casamonica) of inheritance. Harnandez  gets in contact with his old friend, the revolutionary Pancho (Benito Stefanelli), who sets up for Luke (Luke Askew) to be the one to kill Manuel. Luke is an alcoholic former gunslinger with a traumatic past, who somehow has xy5gGz4M.640x360.0come into the care of Pancho and his revolutionary. Flashbacks reveal that he once killed a child by accident, so when he discovers that the person he was sent out to kill is a child, he is forced to confront his demons head end as he gets his act back together and goes after the conspirators.

Just like Petroni’s terrific Death Rides a Horse, the movie starts off with terrifically atmospheric scene in the pouring rain, as one of the conspirators accidentally murders a dispatcher. However, familiatires to that prior film don’t really extent beyond that opening scene (Petroni is known for having really strong opening scenes in his Westerns, such as the  one in A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof which several critics described as one of the best in the whole Spaghetti Western genre). Nest of Vipers plays out much more like a political thriller in some ways, with not much gunplay for the first half of the film and lots of scenes of the conspirators meeting to discuss their plot to snatch the inheritance (the titular ‘Nest of Vipers’ I guess). They’re all good characters though, especially the always welcome Luigi Pistilli as the slimy Hernandez. The fact that all these characters are planning to murder a child just makes then that  much more delightfully hateable.

The real stand out however and what made the movie so interesting for me however, was our hero Luke, played by the american actor Luke Askew. Annoyingly he doesn’t turn up until about a good 20 minutes into the movie, but when he does he really makes an impression for being a completely unique Spaghetti Western hero. Self loathing, alcoholic and with a traumatic past, that while told through the traditional Spaghetti Western flashbacks, is different to  other characters in the genre as here it is his own fault for the trauma he deals with. Characters like Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West and Bill in Death Rides A Horse experienced flashbacks that signified their life was ruined when the villains killed Picture-2-1024x450members of their family, but here Luke ruined his own life through his own foolish pride. It’s extremely rare for the protagonist of any film to have committed such a repugnant action as the murder of a child, but still I found myself rooting for Luke when he realized that he had been sent to kill a child and saw it as a chance at redemption. The scene were he sees the innocent Manuel for the first time and it is intercut with his flashback is a extremely effective moment and demonstrates the character Luke as the films biggest strength.

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Nest of Vipers is an overlooked entry in the Spaghetti Western cannon. Petroni directs with style and the plot has enough substance and character to hold your attention for the just under two hour running time. Check it out if you’re a fan of this genre.

Nest of Vipers is available on a region free DVD from Wild East in the USA which also includes Tails You Lose.

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