COMIN’ AT YA! (1981) – Directed by Ferdinando Baldi, Comin’ At Ya! is often credited with starting the pointless and bizarre 1980s revival of 1950s-style 3D movies. The film stars Tony Anthony, famous to us Spaghetti Western fans for the movie series in which he played a gunslinger called the Stranger. He appeared in others, as well, some reasonably good and others, like Blindman, so bad as to be virtually unwatchable.
Tony’s standout feature is the way he always looks like he’s ready to burst into tears, which always set him apart from the countless tough guys in Italo-Westerns. That feature stands him in good stead in Comin’ At Ya!
Anthony stars as gunfighter H.H. Hart. No, not H.H. Holmes, which would be an entirely different type of movie. Hart has, like many a fictional gunman, decided to leave his past behind and settle down with his one true love – a female gambler called Abilene aka the Cajun Queen. Abilene is portrayed by European actress Victoria Abril.
On their wedding day, H.H. and Abilene are separated when the ceremony is crashed by a gang of white-slavers led by brothers Pike and Polk Thompson. Our story inverts the setup of Louis L’Amour’s western The Shadow Riders, in which two brothers who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War set aside their differences to recover female family members from white-slavers headed for Mexico.
In Comin’ At Ya! it’s the villains who are such a pair of brothers. Pike served on the Union side and Polk on the Confederate side. The duo command an enormous gang made up of veterans from both sides of the war in addition to renegade Indians and Mexican pistoleros. They steal the lovely Cajun Queen from her new husband and add her to the rest of their haul of young women to sell into slavery down in 1870s Mexico.
Our main character, Triple H, ain’t havin’ it and sets out to recover his new bride and set free the other unfortunate women seized by the Thompson Gang. Needless to say he’ll also kill every member of the gang as well as some of the snobbish, upper-class Mexican aristos – male and female – who buy the ladies at an elegantly-appointed mansion/ former convent now used for slave auctions.
Even though this is really just a Spaghetti Western, albeit with slightly better production values, releasing a film titled Comin’ At Ya! clearly means you want it to stand or fall purely on its gimmick: 3D. First I’ll address the 3D effects and then examine the movie as a whole.
The problem with 3D movies from the 50s and 80s was always twofold: the 3D wasn’t REALLY 3D and the lame effect was often used idiotically on items that simply look stupid coming off the screen in pseudo-3D. Comin’ At Ya‘s worst offenders are a baby’s butt-cheeks (?), a yo-yo (Friday the 13th Part 3D would also inflict a yo-yo on audiences) and big, fat, stray grains of tobacco chaw tumbling down toward us viewers as we look up at a gunman about to stuff a wad into his mouth.
The tumblin’ terbacky effect is repeated with gold coins and drops of water later in the film. Given the often raw and sophomoric nature of Spaghetti Westerns I was genuinely curious if we’d have to endure looking up at some random hombre lowering his trousers to unleash a 3D stream of urine down at us. As weird as I am I was even prepared to take note if he would be anachronistically depicted using a zipper instead of dropping trou.
(NOTE TO MYSELF: It may be time to stop reviewing bad movies if I’ve gotten to the point where I’m half-heartedly hoping to insert a piss-poor – had to be said – joke about a film character using a zipper before zippers were invented.)
Typical of 80s 3D a few of the effects are well-done, but most are poor to laughable. Bats, arrows and spears “comin’ at us” on VERY obvious wires are the worst examples. For the most part the flick settles on just wagging random long, thin phallic objects at the audience. Gun-barrels, sticks, knives, pitch-forks, snakes, you name it, all get the 3D treatment and leave you rolling your eyes or chuckling at the lameness of it all.
Visual effects that WERE impressive every time came in scenes featuring odd tinting or color-adjustments like the kind used decades later in Sin City or the 2008 movie The Spirit. We would get shots here and there where a suddenly black & white screen has drops of bright red blood shooting from bodies, or some other gimmicky but EFFECTIVE color-play was employed.
I’m being sincere here. Those bits of business really added to the visual appeal of several scenes and were much more dignified than the weak 3D nonsense. The color games would have covered up the wires on the bats, arrows and spears, as becomes evident during the closing credits when those scenes are rerun with color adjustments. (When your closing credits inadvertently make it clear you emphasized the wrong technical gimmick in your film it may be time to change careers.)
Comin’ At Ya! foreshadows that use of color-adjustments during the cleverly-handled opening credits and follows through on it very nicely later in the movie.
As for the movie itself, it would rate an 8 or 9 out of 10 judged purely as a Spaghetti Western. Judged as a major motion picture intended for widespread appeal you can cut that rating in half. I love it, by the way, since Comin’ At Ya! has the kind of production values lacking in most Italo-Westerns not starring Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson.
I’m fully aware, though, that mainstream audiences would not give this flick much praise. Viewers expecting a conventional western will be put off by the bizarrely sadistic violence inflicted by the bad guys on their victims. And casual grotesqueries that don’t even make Spaghetti Western fans flinch will make this movie seem like a partial horror film to general audiences.
On the other hand, if you want another glimpse at the kinds of movies that Quentin Tarantino has basically been ripping off his entire career, Comin’ At Ya! is must-see viewing.
SPOILERS: H.H. Hart successfully saves his bride Abilene in the action-packed finale set in an abandoned border town. Along the way, however, the dozens of other women captured with her got sacrificed by Pike Thompson, who left them bound in the desert to die slowly and agonizingly.
By that point in the story H.H. had killed off Pike’s brother Polk, so our main villain was willing to forfeit some profits to make it clear to our pursuing hero that it’s now personal and he might inflict who knows what type of sadistic fate on Abilene if Triple H gives up the chase.
Most of the action scenes are well-done on their own, independent of the needless 3D embellishment. And white- slavers are always thoroughly despicable villains, which is why they get featured in so many Spaghetti Oaters.
The casting is mostly just fine, except that I think Joe Spinell would have made a much better Pike Thompson and one of the miscellaneous gang members looks so much like Cameron Mitchell I couldn’t help but wish it really was Mitchell every time he appeared. (It’s the gang member who lassoes H.H. Hart’s neck at one point.)
Comin’ At Ya! is a mixed bag for most viewers. The 3D is unnecessary, but without the film getting a bigger budget out of the fact that it was being primed and gimmicked for major international release it might have wound up being a cheap product like the Holy Ghost Italian Westerns and had even narrower appeal. +++
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