“Comin’ At Ya!”: A grisly, sleazy and mean-spirited western in 3D!

By on April 16, 2016

After over half a decade of trying to shove “immersive 3D” down our throats I think time has shown that three-dimensional movie watching is mostly enjoyable when it is of a gimmicky sort. Comin’ At Ya! (1981) is the ultimate example of just that. Now available on Night Flight Plus.

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Comin’ At Ya! tells the story of a frontier couple whose wedding is interrupted when two villainous brothers kidnap the bride and shoot up the groom. Hubby recovers and sets out to rescue his missus from the terror-siblings before they can sell her and other unfortunate ladies to brothels.

After several failed attempts to get an around-the-world-in-80-days type film off the ground, star and producer, Tony Anthony, decided on returning to the genre that made his career, the Spaghetti Western, and, for the first time in the genre’s history, turn in a three-dimensional opus.

A risky proposition (that class of shit-kicker had been commercially dead for a decade), made riskier by the sketchy 3D cameras of the time (it had been thirty years since the format was commercially viable outside of the softcore crowd in the ‘70s) but the gamble paid off.

The film was a smash success and opened the floodgates for three-dimensional imitators to swarm the movie screens of the early 1980s …and ‘boy howdy’ did they (Friday the 13th Part III, Jaws 3-D, Amityville 3-D, etc.)!

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Heralded for its unending assault on retinas, Comin’ At Ya! Is actually a more relaxed experience than you’d expect. The first bit of dialogue isn’t uttered until a dozen minutes into the proceedings, leaving the music and actions of the characters to tell the, admittedly, simple and deliberately paced story.

Couple that with the camera work ranging from tight close ups to long, gorgeously photographed, panoramic shots and what you have is the closest thing you’ll get to an indulgent Leone western in 3D, and I mean that as a good thing!

There’s this idea that Comin’ At Ya! Is some sort of ninety-minute gag reel where the subject matter is unimportant and …yes it’s flagrant with its unending lunging and hurling of objects at the lens but the movie treats its minimalist story with a deadly seriousness. Comin’ At Ya! is actually a grisly, sleazy and mean-spirited western.

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Aside from the bloody gunfights — generally not a thing for the genre… dozens of people do die from lead poisoning in each of these pictures but they often do so bloodlessly — the movie delights in its brutalizations and deals with its poor treatment of women in the same cavalier manner that most entries in this genre do but this one takes it to lofty heights.

Even a sequence in which bats, clearly rendered ambulate by wires, swooping down on helpless females goes from eliciting kitsch laughs to gaping mouthed horror as the victims of the rubber vermin scramble to get away and meet their crushing doom by losing their footing and falling off a stairwell.

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A 10-minute chunk of the movie was removed before its original release (and reinstated for some home video releases). The lengthy segment fleshes out the backstory a little more. The protagonists are not just nameless newly weds but wannabe bandits who, after a botched heist, are beaten near death by the bank’s hired goons. Though both are rousted pretty good the lady, in true Spaghetti Western fashion, gets dished with more punishment than her male counterpart for no reason other than shock value.

It’s easy to see why the segment was excised. It stops the narrative flow of the largely silent first half hour of the picture with banter between the husband/wife team and the banker. The comedy really doesn’t jive with the rest of the movie and when we finally enter more familiar territory (the beating) it just seems gratuitous. As is, the minimal approach happened to be the best approach. You can see what I mean for yourself below, just keep in mind the quality is less than optimal. For the moment this is all that exists of the footage.

Tony Anthony was born Antonio Petito (IMDB incorrectly states the birth name as Roger Petito, who is his brother) in Clarksburg, West Virginia. To avoid mine work he sought a career in entertainment. He began as a pop singer in the late ‘50s. When that didn’t pan out he figured he’d try his luck at acting. After majoring in the practice at Carnegie Melon (along with frequent collaborator Lloyd Battista) Anthony found a guiding hand in businessman Allen Klein who got young Tony started in the movies.

Anthony’s filmography is small but impressive; ranging from theatrical realism pictures of the 1950s (Force of Impulse and Without Each Other) to a counter culture road movie in the early ‘70s (Come Together), the actor/producer somehow managed to put his own personal stamp on almost every popular genre. Hell, if lost films were a genre he even has one of those too -a bullfighting picture titled Wounds of Hunger based on the novel of the same name by Mexican author Luis Spota.

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Like so many B-actors of his time he achieved international stardom working in Italy. After his first stint in the country, a black and white comedy anthology titled Le Belle Famiglie (1964), he found major success in the Italian variant of the most American of genres, the western. He made six. Four of which belong to the same series (A Stranger in Town, The Stranger Returns, The Silent Stranger and Get Mean) in which he plays a jinxy gunslinger who makes no qualms of shooting an opponent in the back years before Altman made a back shooting hero acceptable in McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

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Anthony would frequently work with the same troupe of characters throughout his career, whether they be bit-players (Italian character actor Raf Baldassarre) or directors. Comin’ At Ya!’s director, Ferdinando Baldi, had worked previously with Tony on an off the wall oater titled Blindman (1971) which the screenwriters of Comin’ At Ya! (again made up of Anthony’s close friends Gene Quintano, Lloyd Battista and Wolf Lowenthal) cannibalized plot elements from to fit into their 3D range picture.

And no reference of Blindman can be complete without mentioning that one of the heavies is played by Ringo Starr, fresh off his break up with the biggest rock band in history, so there you are.

Anthony and Baldi’s next, and final, collaboration would be another 3-D vehicle, Treasure of the Four Crowns, an Indy Jones clone that, outside of a great Morricone score, has little to offer.

And speaking of scores …Stelvio Cipriani’s (who scored five Anthony movies, four being spaghettis) music is probably the most orchestral of his collaborations with Anthony and certainly not far from the sounds you’d hear when entering heaven, if you make the grade.

The lovely Spanish actress Victoria Abril was Anthony’s leading lady in this long before she found stardom as director Pedro Almadovar’s Hitchcockian fascination.

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Jack of all trades Gene Quintano joined Anthony’s extended filmmaking family by pulling double duty on Comin’ At Ya! (as co-writer and playing the main baddie). He would be a sporadic figure in Anthony’s cinematic exploits from that point forward and would have a rather impressive career of his own writing for mainstream Hollywood action fare like Sudden Death (1995) and The Musketeer (2001). He might be best known for directing the Lethal Weapon parody Loaded Weapon 1 (1993), starring Emilio Estevez, which has a serious cult following, although it is anybody’s guess as to why?

Quintano’s relationship with Estevez wound up bleeding into the Anthony camp for the television production Dollar for the Dead (1998); a spaghetti throwback infused with John Woo style gunfights. Quintano directed, Estevez starred and Anthony produced but nearly made it onto the screen himself.

The producer was badgered by Quintano and the crew to return to the screen (however small) for the first time in nearly twenty years for a cameo. The aging producer’s vanity refused the group’s urgings and walked off the set in a huff.

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Originally Bruce Willis was tapped to star in the Estevez role but instead opted for the Walter Hill vehicle Last Man Standing (1996), a very similar genre shoot ‘em up that also took inspiration from Hong Kong actioners. Both films are initially amusing but lose steam quickly.

In Dollar for the Dead, be sure to stick around for a bonkers shoot-out that has Estevez firing endlessly into the flooring beneath him until it collapses and lands him on the bottom floor of a saloon where he commences to perforate all the owl hoots in ridiculous gun-fu fashion. After that you can shut it off if your motor functions still allow you to from the dumbfounded shock.

Anthony eventually retired from filmmaking and ran an optical equipment company, which he has since sold. He still has 35 mm dreams and wishes to one day produce a 3D sword and sandal epic which he describes as “The Ben-Hur chariot race but for 90 minutes and across country.” It wouldn’t surprise us if he managed it.

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About Eric Zaldivar

Eric Zaldivar is a filmmaker, screenwriter, researcher and Spaghetti Western film historian. He co-wrote the original screenplay for Django Lives! and remains involved on the project as a producer (writer/director John Sayles is also now involved). He also co-produced The Scarlet Worm (the world's first "abortion Western"), assisted on the documentary about Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie, and was the second-unit director on Mike Malloy's Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled The 70s documentary. Zaldivar has also penned film reviews for Spectacular Optical and other cinema publications. He lives in Miami, Florida.