Bone Tomahawk harkens back to times when men had nothing better to do than go out in a blaze of glory. An age where someone would get shot down in the middle of the saloon and everyone would go about their business. An era where one minute you are practicing exquisite etiquette and the next you are showing the savages the dangerous end of your repeater, only to die a hero.
I was skeptical of the amount of actual terror S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk would contain and after a bit of research I decided it would be appropriate enough for the MASSACRE MARATHON. My reaction after watching is that it could have used some more ambiance or tension to transform it from an action/western into full-fledged horror. It did have some horrible true savagery involving cannibals, but they aren’t really around until the final act of the bloated run time and even after they appear they are rarely shown eating anyone. They must have been well fed!
Zahler is an emerging writer/director known for his modern interpretations of the gritty badassness of pulp action flicks of the 70’s and 80’s. His films, like Dragged Across Concrete and Brawl in Cell Block 99, have an unapologetically visceral bluntness to them. People get mangled or perish at the drop of a dime and the camera refuses to cut away. This realistic abruptness typically boasts no fanfare, which is great for a clear-cut action piece, but that doesn’t mean Bone Tomahawk couldn’t have benefitted from fostering more anxiety and adding extra gut-wrenching grief in the wake of some deaths as movies in my favorite genre are keen of.
A great example of how Zahler could have made his film transcend genres is the part when the good guys run past the disfigured cannibal wives. In the true (grit) cut they literally stop for an instant with indifferent looks on their faces, then continue on a second later. If it were a proper horror film the camera would have slowly lifted into that room over their shoulders, the music pulsing while they slowly comprehend what they are looking at. As the wives start to moan and writhe the tension explodes along with the score and the characters recoil in maddened shock! As they try to run by, a wife reaches out for someone- ANYONE, knocking one of the cowboys to the ground as they all scamper out of the room petrified.
I have to give Zahler props for what he does bring to the table. I was not ready to laugh out loud so much at the many sarcastic quips and subtleties between characters. The setting of a mundane small town means everyone is close and has a past together, whether how respectable or not is up to the viewer. The banter helps make the 3/4’s of the film’s 4-man trek bearable. The characters strengths and flaws are very distinct. They are fleshed out enough but you still know what kind of person they are by a quick once-over.
The barbarousness of the Old West is prominent, a genre well worth exploring through different lenses of style. It’s hard to say how much horror Zahler actually wanted in his film and how much certain audiences projected their reactions onto the listings for Bone Tomahawk. The casting is perfect, even the cameos. The plot is simple yet enticing, the acting commendable. Nice work Mr. Zahler! I look forward to your future films, horror or not. “Pain is how your body talks to you. You’d do well to listen to it.”
4 tomas hawked out of 5
BONUS REVIEW (MM 2018)
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE
Yes, as the tagline suggests, it is indeed craazzy! I’ll be honest with you, I was ready for a letdown going into Killer Klowns from Outer Space. I’m starting to get sick of movies pretending they are too inept to come up with something good just to try and break into the cult status word-of mouth scene. Killer Klowns isn’t that at all, granted it came out in 88′, before that became a popular tactic. What you get with Killer Klowns is a heartfelt attempt to create a zany world that is in no way serious, but sticks with you forever. Although the (original) Chiodo Bros. had to work with a shoestring budget, their love for the project is evident and pays off in ways a triple-A blockbuster never could. I particularly enjoyed the klown-logic, seeing how things worked in their culture. The wackiness of it all compels me to put it on my list of movies to put on when drinking heavily. This sci-fi comedy/horror will charm you out of your klown shoes!
4 big top tent spaceships out of 5
P.S. It was a pleasure to experience the Killer Klowns from Outer Space walkthrough at Halloween Horror Nights last year at Universal Studios Orlando. The theme fit perfectly into the funhouse setting of HHN, especially to contrast the other straight-laced attractions!
BONUS REVIEW (MM 2019)
Spectral is a 2016 Netflix military science fiction film, a genre of which I wasn’t aware of. It’s essentially Ghostbusters Join the Army. A novel concept, with interesting creature designs and cool ways to defeat them. This big screen film dropped to a streaming service after second thoughts provides a solid helping of action with visuals of appropriate caliber, but the problem is when added up, Spectral‘s total package is about as hollow as its own ever-pursuing ghosts. Decent but very forgettable.
3 uberhypercamcorders out of 5