Print (Aaron Stielstra) is a hired gun who takes a huge amount of pride in his work. From the offset, and with the help of his narration, we learn during his first onscreen kill that he likes to cap each hit off with finesse. He sees his work as a form of art � despite the mess he can leave his victims in. Hence, we first see him stuffing the corpse of a suspected cattle thief into the gutted cadaver of a cow ...

But Print is growing wary and tells us of a feeling he has that God is telling him to make his next job his last. Far from being some religious epiphany, however, Print is quick to back himself up by claiming his retirement is not down to any sense of guilt ... simply "fatigue".

His best pal Hank (Kevin Giffin) seems to reinforce this notion, having long since hung up his hired gun and now at peace acting as the local barber.

Enter craggy-faced Mr Paul (Brett Halsey, appearing in the credits here as Montgomery Ford), Print�s boss. His latest job is more flavoursome than normal: he wants Print to take out Heinrich Kley (Dan van Husen), the local brothel�s owner.

It transpires that the softly spoken German, who tends to chickens in his free time, has been gleefully enforcing abortions upon any of the resident whores who have been careless enough to fall pregnant. Paul has more personal reasons for being bitter towards Kley, and tells Print to make this particular kill "quick ... and dirty".

There are just a couple of snags.

Firstly, Kley�s motives for his deeds may not be as psychotic as Paul suggests. The more Print observes, the more he learns (even if Kley�s religious ramblings are contradictory to much of his actions).

Secondly, and more pertinently, Print has been saddled with the task of training hot-headed young killer-in-the-making Lee (Derek Hertig). He�s a reckless youth without a hint of Print�s creative style. Print is therefore determined to teach Lee a thing or two about killing with imagination and grace, before he calls it a day.

No matter that when the pair of them are together they look like a folk duo ...

The brainchild of a sextet of film fans who dreamed of making an old-fashioned �tough guy� film together, THE SCARLET WORM was made largely thanks to one of them being established filmmaker Michael Fredianelli (THE MINSTREL KILLER; XENOBITES). Okay, his legacy isn�t fantastic so far, but his experience is undoubtedly greater than the others concerned: the remainder are authors, publicists and film site curators (the most high profile of which is arguably film historian Mike Malloy). Still, Fredianelli welcomed them in to his Wild Dogs production banner, and the fruits of their labour are indeed impressive.

For a start, the film looks the part. The Californian desert location is utilised superbly, mixing sun-kissed terrains with authentic-looking old school grit and dust. Cinematographer Michael A Martinez has a background working in music videos, and it shows through his slick compositions. The cast are dressed suitably, and performances come complete with steely stares and hard-as-nails delivery of hard-as-nails dialogue.

Slow-motion shootout sequences and extremely splashy squibs echo the best work of Sam Peckinpah, while an elegiac tone also brings the great man to mind. In this respect, THE SCARLET WORM leans more to American Westerns as its reference points, rather than the Spaghetti offerings it at first suggests it may follow.

For a start, there is less focus on conflicts between good and evil here than in the classic Italian blueprints. Everyone here is pretty much equal in terms of badness � and they don�t seem too concerned with ideas of redemption either.

It doesn�t hurt the screenplay any, as the plot is an effective and simple one regardless. The abortion sub-plot is original within the genre, and allows for a couple of queasy moments that approach horror territory.

Print meanwhile is the type of immoral antihero that�s easy to warm to, while his skewered views as events progress serve to keep the viewer uncertain of how it�s all going to end.

The biggest drawbacks that the film has are its pacing and budget. The latter is unavoidable and the film is well-shot despite its obvious low budget (reportedly $25,000.00). The usual pitfalls of low budget filmmaking are present: uneven peripheral performances; a tendency to disguise the cheapness of the production with gimmicks (here, it�s sepia flashbacks and freeze-frames). The film is long and feels drawn out, some scenes appearing to have been expanded for the sole purpose of testing the audience�s endurance. The middle section of the film suffers especially. Some brutal editing would�ve been beneficial as a whole.

Still, kudos to Wild Dogs for getting off their arses and � literally � putting their money where their mouths were. The end result is a good-looking, mostly engaging and original film with likeable central performances. Having Halsey and van Husen in your film helps too, of course.

THE SCARLET WORM comes to this region 0 DVD uncut courtesy of Unearthed Films.

The film looks very good, presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Colours and flesh-tones remain natural throughout while images are sharp and stable for the duration. Shot on HD cameras through 35mm lenses, the film retains a low budget look but has a healthy texture and depth to its presentation regardless.

English audio is provided in 2.0 and plays without cause for concern. Optional Spanish subtitles are an odd addition to the disc.

The static main menu page leads to a static scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

Extras begin with two audio commentary tracks. Between them, they offer a plethora of genuinely interesting titbits revealing many of the tricks of low budget filmmaking. The filmmakers are joined by assorted cast members for these tracks.

A more condensed but no less edifying look at the bizarre way in which the film was born is put across in the 7-minute Making Of featurette, "Of Worms and Dogs". Here, the tone is tongue-in-cheek as it�s reiterated about how 6 film fans met online and agreed to co-finance their own film in the South Californian desert, with the assistance of filmmaker Fredianelli.

Two trailers both clock in at less than 3 minutes each, but manage to do a fair job of selling the film at the right pitch.

Bonus features are rounded off for trailers advertising other films from this collective: THE MINSTREL KILLER, SABBATA and the awesome-looking documentary EUROCRIME (featuring interviews with Fred Williamson, John Saxon, Franco Nero, Henry Silva and many more). We also get trailers for fellow Unearthed titles ROCK AND RULE, FLEXING WITH MONTY and MERCY.

THE SCARLET WORM is an admirably ambitious slice of genre filmmaking. It looks good and isn�t afraid to tell its tale at its own pace. Fans of the violent, vaguely moralistic Westerns of the late 60s and mid 70s will love its sincerity, as well as the welcome appearance of some famous old faces.

Unearthed offer a solid presentation of the film on this well rendered disc.

Also available on blu-ray.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Unearthed Films
Region 1
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review