Despite their occasional absurdity or even admirable craft, I would consider all the films I’ve covered on From the Depths up until now understandably forgettable. These pleasant oddities are enjoyable enough, and I certainly feel there’s plenty left to be gleaned from them, but I would not argue that a single one deserves some sudden mass reverence. That is, of course, until now. While these other recommendations may still bounce around in my head every once in a while, Cut-Throats Nine left bloody wounds in my psyche and a hollowness in my gut, as if I had just had the breath knocked out of me. While Cut-Throats Nine may be the first entry that I consider to be something truly incredible, it’s also the first with which I feel it necessary to include a caveat. A movie that has nothing but contempt for humanity and for the human body, Cut-Throats Nine is filled to the brim and overflowing with cruelty of all sorts, including a few instances that some may find unwatchable. To those as yet uninitiated into the ranks of horror freaks, spaghetti western nuts, or gore connoisseurs, I offer a warning: abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
Released in 1972 and directed by Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent, who by this time already had a decade’s worth of spaghetti westerns under his belt, Cut-Throats Nine is an outlier both in the genre and in its director’s filmography. Often erroneously referred to as a horror western, this movie could only be seen as horrifying on a moral level. In fact, the concept of Cut-Throats Nine is relatively traditional. After their wagon is attacked while on its way from a gold mine to the oft mentioned but never seen Fort Green, a lone soldier named Brown (Claudio Undari) and his daughter (Emma Cohen) are forced to march through the snow-covered American wilderness with a chain gang of murderous convicts.
There’s an ever increasing amount of anger and distrust among the party, but one that most often manifests in moody stagnation and bloodthirsty stares. By the halfway point, however, the movie takes a few unexpected and distinctly sadistic turns, which I won’t spoil here. The element that managed to procure the “horror” label was not the conceit, the style, or even the semi-surreal portions of the movie’s third act, but the gore.
By 1972, cinematic violence was far from unheard of and not even all that taboo. Three years after The Wild Bunch, blood, guts, and gunshot wounds were starting to become standard fixtures in westerns. In fact, as it always has, violence made movies marketable. Upon the completion of the first cut of Cut-Throats Nine, it was actually the distributor that told Marchent to ramp up the violence. Lucky for us audiences, he did just that, and even better, the violence Marchent added was stranger than just a few inserts of squibs. In Cut-Throats Nine, faces are blasted into cartoonish messes of blood with bulging eyeballs, burning bodies are reduced to goop-covered Halloween skeletons, and stabbings come complete with piles of unidentifiable fake entrails.
These brief and sudden explosions of gruesome color stand out in the film’s otherwise purposefully drab color palette; interludes of neon red among a palette composed mostly of whites, greys, and browns. Some have accused these bursts of over-the-top violence of being discordant with the film’s overall style and even its nihilistic thematic intentions, though I would wholeheartedly disagree. In fact, I believe this studio mandated violence has quite the opposite effect.
The occasional gore in Marchent’s film does, no doubt, clash aesthetically with his murky images of animalistic men and bright white vistas of snow capped mountains, but it is this clash that I believe makes the insertion of the violence so necessary in Cut-Throats Nine’s construction. Throughout the movie, Marchent makes use of freeze frames and slow motion flashbacks reminiscent of Leone’s in his underrated masterpiece Duck, You Sucker.
Such interruptions are also paired with brief stints of borderline Eisensteinian editing (perhaps a nod to Marchent’s other primary influence, a pioneer of cinematic violence and chaotic editing, Sam Peckinpah) and even a few supremely ludicrous moments, such as a house rebuilding itself. I find it highly unlikely that all of these touches were the results of reshoots and that, instead, these experimental and artificial moments were all part of Marchent’s scheme to distance the audience from the evil perpetrated on the screen. With this in mind, the gore is not a hindrance to Cut-Throats Nine, but a natural expansion of its mise en scene. If I were being extravagant, I might say that these defilements of the human body were the supreme conclusion to Marchent’s theses about the nature of man, but I’m not, so I’ll lay the subject to rest with a lousy joke instead: gore is, for lack of a better word, good.
Aside from that which it’s most known for, Cut-Throats Nine remains a hell of a good picture. The movie’s dispensation of information is messy and cruel, with the solution to a murder mystery subplot being provided to the audience in flashback, but never to the characters whom it concerns, who instead continue to sink unhappily into hellish pits of their construction. Marchent and cinematographer Luis Cuadrado linger on interesting faces (that of a drunken soldier has stuck with me, a man with a visage that seems to have been stitched together from the remains of Peter Lorre and Robert Mitchum in equal measure) and make use of the stunning natural environments at their disposal.
There’s even a sadistic, sardonic parody of “My Darling Clementine'' that gradually comes to be a representation of the wounds the characters have left on each other and the world, both visible and otherwise. Save for a few stretches of subpar dialogue and choppy blocking, Cut-Throats Nine is an unimpeachably exciting experience, right up to its explosive, nihilistic final shot. If you can stomach it, watch it—it’s too late for you, anyways.
“From the Depths” is a recurring column where the central conceit is that I bumble ignorantly into the vast realm of widely unseen movies, scraping the bottom of the barrel in search of hidden gems or, at the very least, interesting disasters.
Cut-Throats Nine is streaming on Tubi and is available for rent or purchase through Amazon Video.