Django Strikes Again (1987)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:



Blazing Saddles

Django Strikes Again

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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

Unlike Clint Eastwood,
he has a name... Django!
Sometimes film companies want so badly to cash in on a proven franchise that they will compromise everything that made the original film great in order to slap the franchise name on the title. This can extend as far as re-working a film in progress to meet the needs of a franchise sequel, or even re-titling a completed film with vague similarities to its adopted prequel. In the case of Django Strikes Again, the producers were willing to settle for a Franco Nero twenty years older than his previous appearance as Django. They were willing to settle for a different director. They were even willing to settle for filming in Colombia instead of Spain and Italy, which would give the picture a completely different look and feel from the original. "Don't worry!" we imagine them saying as we roll our eyes heavenward in the universal sign of supplication to whatever cinematic gods may exist. "We can take care of those problems while with a complicated premise and lots of colorful characters!"

Amazingly, they were right.

The original Django was a moderately good Spaghetti Western, made memorable by the title character hauling around a machine gun hidden in a coffin (it was more than a little bit of an influence on Robert Rodriguez's Desperado) and a groovy theme song. The sequel heads down a completely different path, owing more to the then current trend of Italian Rambo rip-offs than the works of Leone.

"Wheee! Being a monk is fun!"
Mexico, the late 1800's. Two elderly gunfighters kill a defenseless weather vane and talk about old times. Then they are killed by naval artillery. The weirdness starts right off.

For the last few years Django (the Franco Nero) has been living in the monastery at San Domingo, preparing to become a monk. One day a woman comes to see him. The woman tells Django that she is dying and she wants Django to take care of her daughter. When Django refuses, she informs him the girl in question is his daughter too. Django goes to the town where he was told his daughter is, only to find nearly everyone is dead.

This brings us to the Devil (Christopher Connely), a Hungarian aristocrat who commands an armored riverboat. The Devil and his Austrian crew where in Mexico to support Emperor Maximillian, but now they pass their time by committing acts of piracy and enslaving the local population to work a silver mine. Django quickly finds out that it was the Devil who attacked his daughter's village, and took her prisoner.

Django responds to this situation with a plan as simple as it is stupid. He just goes to the Devils boat, the Mariposa Negra, and asks for his daughter back. The Devil and his men laugh, slap Django in chains and torture him for a while before putting him to work in the silver mine.

"Pure evil... this hat is pure evil!"
At the mine Django meets Gunn (Donald Pleasence), an entomologist enslaved by The Devil years before because Gunn failed to help him find the legendary, possibly fictional Black Butterfly. With Gunn's help Django stuffs himself into a cooking pot and goes over a waterfall to escape slavery. Somehow Django doesn't end up with every bone in his body broken, despite the obvious flaws in this plan.

Once free again, Django goes back to his usual plan, which is shoot them all and let God sort them out. To this end Django visits a certain graveyard and digs up a grave labeled with his own name. Out of the grave Django removes his trusty machine gun. Now, a cynic would point out that Django lost his machine gun in the original Django. Of course, a cynic would also point out that Django lost the use of his hands in Django. Luckily, we aren't cynics.

Just park that thing anywhere.
Django uses his machine gun to kill a few of the Devil's goons, but this doesn't flush the Devil out. So Django formulates a new plan, one so ludicrously complicated it's doomed to failure. With the help of the monks of Santo Domingo Django dyes a large butterfly black, then secrets it and a falsified letter from a butterfly collector who "caught" it into the vault of a bank Django knows The Devil is going to plunder. The letter will tell the Devil where the butterfly was caught, and when he goes there to catch one for himself Django will be waiting to ambush him. Does it, against all odds, work? No. Django is in for another round of capture and torture.

"I just don't care for Robert Ryman."
It wouldn't be much of a movie if Django just stayed captured. But Django's escape, and that of his daughter and the urchin started tagging along with him about halfway through the film so Django had someone to talk to, has nothing to do with one of Django's harebrained plans. Instead, Django is released from his bonds by the Devil's African slave master, who is jealous of the Devil's attentions to a Countess he kidnapped. Once free and reunited with his machine gun, Django attacks the silver mine, killing dozens of goons on the way to a final showdown with the Devil.

Audiences have long derided Hollywood's willing ignorance of the practical matters of gunfighting, especially once Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Norris began jumping ten feet in the air from rivers and lakes, hefting a machine in gun in each hand. Not only do such action sequences dismiss the weight issues involved in carrying the guns and their accompanying ammunition, but they also ask us to believe in a fantasyland where such weapons need no reloading (at least none that takes longer than a quick scene change) and never, ever overheat.

"Did I put a one inch or a
two inch fuse on this one?"
If you think Django Strikes Back is any different, well, you're in for some disappointment. Django's weapon of choice is an early-model machine gun that never seems to sport more than a foot-long chain of bullets, but that fires multiple rounds per second and is always ready for action, no matter how long Django holds down the trigger. Our hero's other favorite method of dispatching his enemies is to lob a sparking stick of dynamite in their direction. His repeated and wanton use of these weapons led us to believe that the man must spit bullets and crap dynamite. Well, that's Mexican cuisine for you.

(See Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics for a good discussion of the actual physics of movie machine guns.)

"I've got a great idea
for my superhero name!"
From Django's ride-off-into-the-sunset farewell ("There are others who need my help!"), we're supposed to understand that Django wasn't meant for the monastery. His place in God's plan is to assist those who need his particular brand of intervention (i.e., they need the intervention of a lunatic with a particular talent for death and destruction). Django's unscathed emergence from every single one of his failed plans supports this theory, but his actual motives for helping people tell us that Django isn't interested in anyone but himself. The way he casually abandons his daughter to what is probably a difficult life on a Mexico farm suggests that he rescued her more for the sake of saving face with the monks than for any actual concern for her welfare.

All flaws in Django's character aside, Django Strikes Again is a fun movie. The action scenes are suitably exciting, the music keeps things moving, and all the characters are amusingly colorful, whether it's Gunn and his outrageous accent or the urchin and his single-minded goal of retrieving his father's severed head from the Devil's boat. It's all so loopy it somehow works. Like Django himself, Django Strikes Again succeeds more through luck than intelligence.

Own it!

Review date: 012/13/2003

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