Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Horror Western? Really?

I hadn't seen a good period horror film in many moons when I added 'The Burrowers' to my Netflix queue.

I had read really good reviews via Fangoria regarding this movie, and so was a bit anxious to see it.
Westerns are not my genre. At all.
It's not that I won't watch them- I've seen my fair share of old John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns (who hasn't, really?) - but besides my love for the horses I wasn't exactly a fan.

And I've seen (and liked) recent fare such as Appaloosa and 3:10 to Yuma. The hubby likes a good western, so since I practically force him to watch all my scream-fests (some of which are really crap, truth be told) - I sit through his penchant for bad (read: stupid) comedies, pointless action films (some of which I really enjoy), and attempts at making the western genre shine again.

So it was actually a shame that I sat alone in my living room to watch 'The Burrowers', cause I think hubby would have appreciated it.
I'll wait for the $5.00 bargain bin at Wal-Mart to pick this one up - and that's not because it was bad. On the contrary, it just means I'm cheap.

The Burrowers, set in the Dakota Territories in 1879, is a really good blend of western and horror. I am a big fan of the slow-burning pot boiler 'Dead Birds', which took elements of a western as well - it being set back in the Civil War era West. The casting for that film was as fine as I've seen, and The Burrowers also has that going for it as well.
So imagine my happy surprise when I read (on Amazon I think) that both Dead Birds and The Burrowers have the same creature designer. Makes sense.

Straight up, here's what was stalking the poor chaps in this flick:

Nice, huh?

Anyway, the story begins by showing a couple courting (as it was so aptly called back then) . The man is an Irish immigrant, Fergus Coffey, who is making plans with his beloved, Maryanne.
Cut to an attack on Maryanne and her family late at night by something ... but what?

Simply put, the rest of the story is the search for the mysterious disappearance of some of the family (Maryanne included) who were apparently dragged off into the darkness.
Those who were left incurred odd and inexplicable wounds and were DOA.

The group of searchers (like that western reference?) include Fergus (Karl Geary) - who may I just stop and say looks like a cross between Gerard Butler and Julian McMahon (of Nip/Tuck fame)... so I was rooting for him, for sure.
See below:


Among those helping in the search for what they feel was certainly an Indian assault, is an Army officer named Henry Victor (Doug Hutchison of 'X-Files' and 'Lost' fame) , and a couple Indian trackers (Clancy Brown and William Mathoper (both of whom are also seen in 'Lost'). An ex-slave (Sean Patrick Thomas) and the future step son of the Mathoper character (Galen Hutchison) round out the group.

(Brown and Mathoper)

As time goes by, the Army dude and a few of his men separate from the original posse. They argue too much about how to go about finding the missing family members, and after coming across some Indians and using too much force, they agree to go their own ways.

Turns out the Indians know a bit about the strange "tribe" that apparently took the missing.
Before splitting up, the group holds an Indian hostage who proceeds to try to explain about the Burrowers. Naturally the language barrier prevents them from understanding completely, and hence, the men begin to be picked off one at a time - like a somewhat more frightening Friday the 13th movie.

When one of the men discovers a body covered over with dirt but still breathing, it ratchets the uneasiness up several notches. The girl is unable to speak - and though alive, has the same strange wounds as the others. The stepson is chosen to take her back, though as scared as they all have become it is quite odd that they would allow the youngest and most inexperienced member of the posse to "escort" the young girl back home. Naturally, his trip is not without problems.

Yes, you do see the creatures. And yes, they do resemble the subterranian dwellers of The Descent somewhat, but it doesn't make them any less creepy. I don't want to give away too much, but it becomes obvious that the people that are buried alive are there for the underground carnivores future use. There is also an un-nerving clicking sound (reminisent of both The Grudge and The Descent) when these beasties are about.

The irony of the bleak ending just sits there and stews, making you feel utterly as helpless as the poor man just trying to find his loved one.
I, for one, don't always like the obvious happy ending.

The cinematography for this film is absolutely top notch. Waving wheat and ominous sunsets abound. New Mexico stands in quite nicely for the Dakotas.
Each night when it grows dark you can feel the tension of the men's dread. The panoramic views and sweeping landscapes really set the stage for the complete sense of helplessness and isolation one might feel if forced to spend the night alone in such a inhospitable and menacing terrain.
Just seeing those men, lying on the ground around a small campfire awaiting their own doom is enough. But knowing it's something more sinister than "just" bloodthirsty Indians makes the unpleasant anticipation more than just a little bit entertaining.

What is most amazing to me is that a superior movie such as this goes direct-to-DVD and crap like the remakes of both Prom Night and April Fool's Day get a theatrical release.
Somebody out there needs to actually watch that crap before giving it the go for the theater!

All in all, it's a two thumbs up for this one.
Check it out!

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