Tag Western

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

The arrival of a stranger in tiny Western town of Bright Hope sets off a chain of deadly events for Sheriff Franklin Hunt. After confronting his suspicious actions, the stranger tries to flee and Hunt shoots him in the leg. Overnight, the town doctor Samantha O’Dwyer is brought to the jail to tend to his wounds but when Hunt returns in the morning they, along with a deputy, have disappeared. When a local Indian identifies the attackers as a tribe of Indians he calls Troglodytes, Hunt sets up a posse to go and rescue them. Joined by aging deputy Chicory, Samantha’s husband Arthur who is desperate to go despite having a broken leg, and former soldier John Brooder, Hunt sets off in pursuit, totally unprepared for the fate that awaits them in the territory of the Troglodytes – the Valley of the Starving Man.

 

Bone Tomahawk can easily be summed up as cowboys versus cannibals. In today’s mix-and-match genre pairings, where all manner of genres are being juxtaposed together to freshen up a stagnant market (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies immediately springs to mind), it wasn’t going to be long before the western was back in the sights of filmmakers given that Quentin Tarantino was ready to burst back into the genre with The Hateful Eight in 2015. There have been sporadic attempts to mix westerns and horror over the past few years but none have been particularly successful. I can think of a couple like Jonah Hex or low budget ones like Undead or Alive but generally the genre made famous by John Wayne hasn’t been a source of inspiration for budding horror filmmakers to make a crossover film. It’s a pity because Bone Tomahawk works very well as a western before the horror elements kick in during the second half.

If you only say one thing about Bone Tomahawk, you have to say that it’s gritty. The western influence rides head and shoulders above the horror and for the better. This is a harsh world, alien to us living in the 20th and 21st centuries, and one with certain codes and conducts which seem brutal and cruel to us and where logic and reason don’t exactly go hand-in-hand with compassion and love. There’s no over-dramatisation of anything. There’s little Hollywood-esque glamour and glitz. This is an unforgiving world where it’s survival of the fittest. Be warned through: this gritty approach is rather leisurely and many horror fans will most likely tune out before Bone Tomahawk ever gets close to its gory surprises. At around two hours in length, almost unheard of for something like this, the film doesn’t exactly burst forth with energy. The narrative sets up the eventful rescue mission by introducing the characters and spending time with them as they trek across the countryside. Very dialogue-heavy, the bond between the posse is constructed with the end game in mind – not all of these characters are going to survive the eventual encounter with the Troglodytes – so that we care about them as fully-developed characters, rather than just one-dimensional cannon fodder to be served up on a platter.

Director and writer S. Craig Zahler has assembled a great cast for such a little-known film. The leading light is obviously Kurt Russell, who effortlessly slips into the moustached-wearing lawman role he had in Tombstone back in 1993. Russell has such power and gravitas in this type of role and delivers a great, no-nonsense performance, far better than he has done for a long time. The supporting players are all equally as good. Richard Jenkins is excellent as the elderly, dim-witted deputy and the rapport he shares throughout the film with Russell is one of its highlights. Patrick Wilson tackles the role of the crippled husband with vigour and really gets across his character’s desire to rescue his wife. Rounding off the four main actors is Matthew Fox who hasn’t been this entertaining in, well, ever really. His ex-soldier without a moral code and a hatred of Indians is definitely one of the standouts of the film. The chemistry between the four men is fantastic and you really get emotionally involved in each of them. There are also small roles for the likes of David Arquette, Sid Haig and Michael Paré to name a few. How Zahler managed to get this cast together is beyond me but it works wonders for the authenticity of the film.

Sadly, a lot of Bone Tomahawk’s great build-up work and sense of overwhelming dread, particularly when the group enters the Valley of the Starving Man, is undone somewhat when they actually encounter the Troglodytes. Almost everything that happens from this point, save for some great gore moments, is rather matter-of-fact. The film resolves itself rather quickly, and without a lot of major fuss, which kind of detracts from the hard work that had gone in before it. I was expecting something that packed a little more punch and delivered a few more thrills than it did. The eventual show-off with the cannibals is disappointingly brief.

Speaking of the gore, Bone Tomahawk features some disgusting moments. An opening throat-slit and early arrow-to-the-head moment hint at the brutality to come but it doesn’t really prepare you two of the images later in the film. The best thing is that the effects have all been done with prosthetics and so there’s not a hint of CGI in sight.  Don’t expect an all-out gore-fest though as the violence is sporadic but really hits home when it happens. You really get the feeling that these men are fighting for their very lives.

 

Bone Tomahawk features a simple tried-and-tested Western scenario which is then pushed into the extreme by nature of the horror threat the characters face. It works far better than it has any right to work but when you get a director/writer who clearly knows what he’s doing, a fantastic cast who really make their characters shine and some horrific moments which would rival the meanest scenes from the likes of The Hills Have Eyes, then what do you expect? Check it out if you get the opportunity.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Undead or Alive (2007)

Undead or Alive (2007)

Guns don’t kill people. Zombies kill people.

Army deserter Elmer Winslow and local cowboy Luke Budd find themselves on the run after breaking out of jail and robbing the sheriff. With the sheriff and a posse in hot pursuit, the duo cross paths with the niece of the great Apache warrior Geronimo. She warns them of a curse that he put on the white man which has turned all of the local people into zombies!

 

The zombie circle is coming around full once again. The circle always starts off seriously with one landmark film bursting onto the scene in a blaze of glory. Then the fad slowly fades as the genre saturates itself. Once there is nowhere left to go, it turns itself to comedy, self-parody and goofiness before dying a slow death for a few years. It resurrects itself again with another landmark film before the circle starts again. It’s happened before and plain to see. Romero kicked things off with Night of the Living Dead but the market quickly became stagnant with countless rip-offs and Italian clones flooding the market. Along came Return of the Living Dead to shake the genre up with its comedy horror approach before the whole thing died out in the late 80s when guys in masks killing teenagers became the norm. Then along came 28 Days Later which made zombies popular again and got the genre back on its feet (come on, it is a zombie film in everything but actual zombies). Every hack in Hollywood and beyond then cashes in on the popularity with scores of clones, rip-offs and straight-to-DVD rubbish. The sub-genre is on its downward spiral again so the best way is for the genre to poke fun at itself and turn to comedy to stop the rot. There’s been Shaun of the Dead, Fido and now Undead or Alive. Where does the genre go from here? Well it’s about time it had its rest period as I’m just a little tired of watching the same old shindig every time I slap a zombie film into my DVD player.

Thankfully Undead or Alive is not your typical zombie film. It’s a zombie film set in a western and the two unlikely genres make a quality pairing. It’s fresh, original and definitely not something you’ll have seen before. There isn’t a lot you can do with zombies anyway but at least this film gives it a go by giving us the western spin. You’ve got the hallmarks of a great western – a mysterious stranger, a bad ass sheriff, bank robberies, jailbreaks, shoot-outs and saloons. However this isn’t played straight in the slightest and what you get is a goofy, cornball movie which works as well as it has any right to be.

The film looks gorgeous it has to be said. Shot in beautiful 16:9 widescreen, it looks like a multi-million dollar western with blistering wastelands, dusty desert plains, rolling mountains, creeks and streams stretching for miles in some of the backdrops and, of course, a very bright and hot sun. But once the film starts rolling and the characters begin doing goofy things, it turns into Blazing Saddles with zombies! The zombie element isn’t meant to be scary so you get the zombies talking, thinking and acting like normal people, only with a taste for flesh instead. The make-up effects for the zombies are a little cheap and a lot of the gore is CGI and a bit cheesy at times. But the splatter and gore aren’t the main focus of the film – this isn’t meant to be scary in the slightest, it’s meant to be fun and that it is.

Chris Kattan is annoying. He plays the same whiny character in all of the films that I’ve seen him in and it grows old fast. His smart-ass wisecracks just aren’t funny and soon begins to grate on your nerves. For some bizarre reason, his comic relief character is the one to get the love interest side plot usually reserved for the main hero. James Denton (from TV’s Desperate Housewives) is great as the straight man hero or at least that’s the way he appears to start the film. His deadpan performance to everything that happens easily works in his favour as the comments and observations that he makes are genuinely funny.

Navi Rawat kept me watching with her gorgeous looks. The character was a bit throwaway but who cares when you are this smoking hot? The three main characters all work well together and play off each other. There is this ‘odd couple’ chemistry to the pairing where they shouldn’t click but they do. And it is to the film’s credit that you do want to see them all get out of their predicament alive. That’s a much harder task than you’d think given that Kattan is in it!

 

Undead or Alive is refreshingly original with a decent slant on the rather stagnant zombie genre. It may be a little too silly and goofy for it’s own good at times but the western setting really gives it that added kick. I wonder what John Wayne would have thought if he knew that the genre he helped make popular has become overrun with zombies!

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Burrowers, The (2008)

The Burrowers (2008)

Evil will surface.

In the Wild West, a posse sets off to find and rescue a family of settlers who were apparently kidnapped by hostile Indians. But as men begin to vanish in the night and strange holes begin appearing around them in the ground, the posse soon realise that their prey is something far more terrifying than Indians.

 

I’ve seen a string of horror films recently which have been set in the Wild West and I must say that it is a really interesting time period to be setting them in. Gone are the clichés of modern day horror films where characters are all stereotyped teenagers; where mobile phones don’t work; where characters spout off their film knowledge; where they have all of the wonders of 21st century life to help them get through their struggles. Take that away, strip the film down to its basic elements and play up an odd western cliché or two and you’ve got the ground work for original horror films where creativity is the key because you can’t rely on technology to save you. The Burrowers comes hot on the heels of Undead or Alive and Copperhead, two other Wild West horror films in which the basic elements are the same as countless other modern era horror films, only with the novelty value of setting it somewhere historically remote, desolate and as wild and savage as the monsters you’re fighting.

That’s not to say The Burrowers is a good film. Far from it – the best I can say is that it had potential but it just didn’t live up to it one bit. It’s very slow-paced but I got the feeling that was deliberate on the part of the director. It’s a good forty-five minutes before anything really exciting happens and the odd Burrower attack is peppered through the middle of the film which promises a great finale but fails to deliver. I think the director was going for a slightly more dramatic affair with lots of paranoia and eerie goings on but it just doesn’t work as well as it should.

The Western setting is nailed down a tee though with some spot-on cinematography. The characters are all well-rounded and, dare I say it, likeable. You don’t want any of them to get harmed because they all get a chance to develop. It’s always great to see a stalwart like Clancy Brown in something like this too! The film definitely plays to its strengths which is the mood and atmosphere. As I’ve already touched upon in my opening, the Wild West was a remote, savage place so when the posse end up in the middle of nowhere, you know that is just where they are – no small towns hiding around the mountains, no police station nearby or no cabin to shelter in. This feeling of isolation is played up in the film a lot as the characters know they’re on their own and need to stick together.

However twists and turns along the way mean that is not possible. Some of the night scenes where the Burrowers are scurrying around in the grass around the camp are pretty tense affairs. The only light is coming from the fire so it’s impossible to see too far. You just hear them brushing past the grass. The Burrowers themselves don’t appear a lot. It’s good because they look rather rubbish when they do appear in their CGI form. The actual latex suits used in some scenes look far more convincing, especially in a dimly lit environment. But they work better as unseen assailants anyway, crawling out from their ground holes to poison and paralyse victims before burying them in the ground alive and coming back to eat them later on when they’ve turned all squishy inside! A lot of real life animals and insects use this method to eat their prey but it just sounds a lot harsher when its human beings involved.

There aren’t too many bloody scenes of people getting their insides sucked out but there is one great scene where you see one unlucky victim get poisoned, paralysed, buried alive and then feasted upon later in the film. They are definitely a unique creation and this film needed more Burrower action! Again though I think any more of the monster action would have overdone it.

 

The Burrowers is a decent monster flick which sacrifices cheap scares and gore for a slow-burner pace and lots of excellent atmosphere and tension. Whether you’re in the mood for something more sophisticated than your usual teen horror will depend on your enjoyment. Everyone who keeps up-to-date with horror films should at least check it out. You won’t be overly disappointed.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Copperhead (2008)

Copperhead (2008)

The deadliest killers are always cold-blooded

A stranger arrives in a small town in the Wild West and warns them all that thousands of copperhead snakes are heading in their direction. No one believes him at first and he has a run-in with the local outlaws. But soon the town must band together when they realise he was telling the truth.

 

Meh – the killer snake sub-genre is quickly becoming one of my least favourite although it’s not like it was ever my favourite to begin with. Like zombie films, there’s only so much you can do with killer snakes (be they giant ones or just normal-sized) so when you’ve exhausted all possible settings and plots, what do you do? Why not do what the zombie genre has done with Undead or Alive and set it back in time in the Wild West? That put a novel spin on the stale zombie theme and it was pretty quirky watching the two genres collide (albeit it in a low budget sort of way).  As atrocious as Copperhead is, the Wild West setting gives it that little extra novelty value. I’ve seen it dubbed Snakes on a Wagon Train in some quarters and although that may be a little too ambitious, the film still does manage to deliver enough of the western setting to give it an edge over similar fare.

Ironically enough, the best bit of the film is the opening twenty minutes or so with the stranger heading into town to confront the gang that killer his friend and warn the town about the snakes. It’s standard western fare with the saloon, poker games, grizzled bartenders, sheriffs with twirling moustaches, shoot-outs and such like all coming to the fore. The sets look suitable, the costumes fitting and the whole thing looks like a professional TV-movie western. No frills or expenditure, just something that looks believable. The western stereotypes are all played up pretty early with the cowardly sheriff, the feisty whores, the dangerous gunslinger and his dim-witted yes men and, of course, the mysterious ‘Wild’ Bill Longley who rides into town and cleans up. The dialogue is all very cliché but at least it sounds like an old western and not just one with a load of modern dialogue. The score sounds like an cheap Sergio Leone western knock-off but it does what it has to do.

So far so good you’ll think but that’s because the snakes haven’t arrived yet. The shoot-out in town is the film’s highlight (which is brief but does as much to rip-off The Good, The Bad and The Ugly than anything else on show here) and things go downhill quickly from there. As soon as the snakes show up and start biting the extras, the film shifts into some goofy sub-par Tremors knock-off. The dialogue becomes less serious, some of the characters develop silly traits and the film just goes off the rails. The surviving townspeople decide to fight back with what they can so cue a visit to the local shopkeeper/inventor who has loads of gadgets waiting for them including a crude flamethrower and a Gatling gun. They’re all set for a showdown against the snakes but what should probably have been the finale actually turns into some run-of-the-mill action scene in which some minor characters get killed off and the rest of the survivors barricade themselves up in the saloon.

So now we’re in Night of the Living Dead territory as the snakes try to get in. But there’s one last surprise for the audience as it turns out there’s a giant snake on the loose too. I see no reason for them to have included it in here as the smaller snakes were doing just fine on their own. The killer snakes are all CGI and they look rubbish too. But what did you expect? There’s also a huge Copperhead snake lurking around too which looks like exactly the same snake as every single giant CGI snake ever made. The Sci-Fi Channel just rolls the same animation out over and over again and simply change the colour.

As per usual with the Sci-Fi Channel, the film was shot in Eastern Europe (Bulgaria to be exact) and features a whole host of bad supporting actors who butcher the English language at every opportunity. At least Brad Johnson, as Bill Longley, makes an effort and is pretty decent in the lead role. Although like the majority of the film, he works best when he’s in western-mode and not in giant-snake-mode. Billy Drago, a veteran of ‘weasels, runts and generally unpleasant people’ characterisations (his most famous role being Frank Nitti, the assassin from The Untouchables) pops up as the leader of the outlaw gang but unfortunately he’s run out of town way too early and before the snakes arrive. The banter between him and Johnson is pretty good during the card game so it’s a shame that this was thrown out of the window too soon to be effective.

 

Copperhead is the same old crappy giant snake flick in a western setting. It’s got a few ok moments and the Wild West setting certainly helps but at the end of the day, once you’ve seen one of these duff snake flicks, you’ve seen them all. Not the worst one out there and definitely worth watching over any of the dreadful Anaconda sequels (or pretty much any killer snake flick released since Anaconda).

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆