Tag Archives: Kathryn Bigelow

Blood on the Frontier: Nate’s Top Ten Horror Western films

I love a good horror western. There’s something about the American West that lends itself to to mystery, menace and an ever felt presence of supernatural evil. Be it ghosts in the mountains, giant cryptozoological behemoths from beneath the earth, terrifying cannibalistic psychos, cursed burial grounds or haunted ghost towns dotting the vast plains, there’s an unspeakably harried energy to be found in this setting and the combination of dust, horses, blood and terror is a delicious mixture akin to movies and popcorn for me. There’s a lot of them out there ranging from low budget B grade junk to beautifully crafted genre efforts, but whether gooey schlock or eerie art house, the genre mashup has no shortage of creative efforts. Here are my ten favourites.. Oh one more thing! I’ve tried to stick to films set in the Old West as that to me is what a western is, while more contemporary stuff set closer to present day feels like cheating. I did make an exception with one entry though because despite being set somewhere in the 80’s, it totally falls squarely into Western territory and deserves inclusion. Enjoy!!

10. J.T. Petty’s The Burrowers

There’s something nasty dwelling beneath the acrid soil, something that was once content to feed on bison until the population was driven scant by millions of hunters. Now it’s forced to breach the earth and feed on humans, while a gaggle of gnarled character actors like Clancy Brown, Doug Hutchison and William Mapother form a posse to try and face them. This is a genuinely frightening creature feature with graphic, sickening violence and a sly commentary on capitalist colonial tendencies that swept across the land during that era.

9. Grim Prairie Tales

This is a creaky old anthology flick from the 80’s that sees James Earl Jones cast against type as a gregarious, grizzled bounty hunter and the great Brad Dourif as a timid businessman trading spooky stories around the campfire. Their tales involve murder, haunted canyons, betrayal and more and although are hit and miss occasionally provide chills. The real fun though is the interaction between these two brilliant actors and honestly I would have preferred the filmmakers not cutting away to every story and just having James and Brad tell the whole thing, leaving the rest to our imaginations.

8. Sam Shepard’s Silent Tongue

River Phoenix sits out in the desert looking haggard and grieving over the corpse of his Native American wife before she comes alive to haunt him. This is a bizarre, disjointed film full of terrific ideas and striking imagery, and although I can’t quite wholeheartedly recommend it because overall it doesn’t work, it’s worth to see vivid performances from Phoenix, Alan Bates, Richard Harris and particularly Sheila Tousey as the vengeful ghost.

7. Dead Birds

Several confederate outlaws and their hostages hide out on one severely haunted farmland after robbing a bank in this low budget but well made chiller. There’s nicely gooey creature effects, a pseudo twist ending and cool work from varied folks like Mark Boone Jr, Patrick Fugit, Henry Thomas, Muse Watson, Nicki Aycox and Michael Shannon.

6. From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter

The best of the Dawn sequels (better than that lame duck TV show too) is a prequel set in the past outlining how the vamp bar the Titty Twister acquired it’s business license of sorts and how evil princess Santanico Pandemonium (Ara Celi) came to power. The real treat here is seeing legendary Michael Parks playing real life poet Ambrose Bierce, who really did go missing near the end of his life. This film plays ‘what ifs’ with that notion really nicely and just has a wickedly imaginative story that builds upon the Mexi Vampire mythos in a cool way.

5. Avery Crounse’s Eyes Of Fire

This one is almost damn near impossible to find, but my god is it worth it. A weirdo minister (Dennis Lipscomb) is booted from a pilgrim colony for being a creepy polygamist and sent along with his followers out into the wilds of Missouri. They accidentally wander through the burial ground of a Native Tribe though, and the ghosts are none too happy. This is a surreal, pagan style trip through eye catching folk horror elements, witchcraft lore and strange earth magic. Trees come alive, spectral figures loom out from thickets and the sheer creativity behind production design is commendable. Their low budget goes a long way in crafting something beautiful and striking. Good luck finding it though, it never made the jump to DVD and VHS’s seem to be lost to time. There was a YouTube version so that’s probably your best bet. Like I said though, this one is something special, and well worth the hunt.

4. S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk

Kurt Russell and his entourage hunt down deadly troglodyte (such a great word) cannibals in this paced, aggressive, atmospheric and arresting piece. What makes Zahler’s aesthetic so special is he takes time getting to know his characters, their eccentricities and relationships to one another in meticulous fashion before throwing them to the wind, and whatever comes howling along with it. In this case it’s a tribe of terrifying cave dwelling inbred psychos who provide a formidable enemy for Russell’s grizzled Sheriff and Co.

3. Ron Howard’s The Missing

This film is tied with Backdraft as my favourite Howard film and I’ve never understood why it’s so low rated. Cate Blanchett plays a plucky frontierswoman whose young daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) is snatched by an evil witchdoctor (Eric Schweig) who is also a part time human trafficker. Together with her estranged and dysfunctional halfbreed father (Tommy Lee Jones), she hunts them down across plains and mountains to an eventual showdown. This is a frightening, atmospheric genre film that I’ve always loved and provides the actors with excellent roles to have fun with. Plus it’s got a Val Kilmer cameo that he only took to spend time around Blanchett, but can you blame him?

2. Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark

Not a traditional western but bite me. Bigelow’s lyrical, dreamy take on the vampire mythos is an enduring masterpiece with colourful character work from Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and others. It’s a nice touch that the word vampire is never mentioned but the energy and ambience around those legends couldn’t be thicker. That gorgeous Tangerine Dream score is one for the books too.

1. Antonia Bird’s Ravenous

Probably the quirkiest film on this list, it’s a spectacularly gory, pitch black horror comedy that sees ex soldiers Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle facing off against the breathtaking backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains sometime after the Mexican American war. This is a curious film that approaches the taboo of cannibalism with a cheerful, nonchalant attitude and wholeheartedly plunges down a narrative with no end in sight but blood, guts and mayhem. A literal acquired taste, it has offbeat energy, a kooky but beautiful score and spooky, campfire story energy that has always spoken to me.

Thanks for reading!! What are your favourite horror westerns?

-Nate Hill

Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel

How bad could your first day on the job as a cop go? For Jamie Lee Curtis in Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel, pretty damn bad. Before the title was a Ben Stiller fourth wall break it was a sexy, simmering, extremely violent psycho thriller from Bigelow, who was always way better back in the day when she focused on gritty genre films and not the politico-war stuff she’s known for today.

Curtis is a rookie cop who finds herself in a tense stand-off with a convenience store robber (Tom Sizemore, fired up in one of his first gigs). When the guy won’t back down she’s forced to shoot him, case closed. Right? Nah. First of all, her superiors take harsh disciplinary actions instead of giving her the medal she deserves, but there was also someone else there that night, a posh stockbroker (Ron Silver) who witnessed the whole thing, and something about the violence and potency in the air just kind of makes him lose his shit. He somehow got ahold of her gun, has been carving her name into the bullets and shooting people all over town, making it look like she’s out there playing vigilante. The captain (Kevin Dunn, always welcome) and the DA (Richard Jenkins, also always welcome) are furious and blame her for inciting this whole hellish series of events. But soon he’s insinuated his way into her life and she finds herself in a steamy affair with him, unbeknownst that he’s the lunatic that’s been circling her for days like a hungry wolf. There’s also another fellow cop, a hard nosed detective played by Clancy Brown, who she *also* starts up a torrid affair with and naturally that doesn’t end well. It’s nice to see Brown in a non-villain role for once and especially as the romantic lead, of sorts anyways. Elizabeth Pena shows up as well, as do Louise Fletcher and Philip Bosco as her troubled parents.

This is a gritty, bloody, scary piece of filmmaking and I can see why it turned many viewers off. There’s a kinky psychosexual vibe running through it like a perverse current of deviant energy and delirious, trashy abandon. Curtis is tough but vulnerable as well, no stranger to playing the lone girl stalked by an unrelenting, spectral madman. Silver is an actor who is no longer with us (remember him as the evil senator in TimeCop?) and it’s a shame because he was a real treasure. This has to be his best turn and he’s eerily on point in showing how a mind can deteriorate and turn sick after witnessing trauma. There’s an ‘unstoppable killer’ vibe to his action and pursuit scenes but he also gives the quieter moments a terrifying humanity as a guy who maybe doesn’t even know what he wants or isn’t in control anymore, it’s deeply disturbing work. Bigelow is just so good at staging practical action scenes and makes the chases, gunfights and jump scares supremely effective while maintaining a shadowy, blue tinged nocturnal palette that’s decidedly noirish and feels like an outright horror film in many instances. A real forgotten classic.

-Nate Hill

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Weight Of Water

I love Kathryn Bigelow’s early films from the 80’s and 90’s, she’s such a fantastic storyteller when she sticks to genre stuff, but I’m not quite sure what went down with The Weight Of Water, a muddy, confusing doldrum of a thriller that drifts by heading nowhere, with no real rush to get there either. I’m assuming there’s a level of clarity and coherence in the source novel by Anita Shreve that just didn’t translate onto the screen too well, but what the film lacks in discernible themes and substance it at least makes up for a bit in the production design and visual department. Two stories unfold simultaneously here: sometime in the 1800’s, restless housewife (Sarah Polley is all kinds of creepy) lusts for her brother in a rural township on the blustery New Hampshire Coast. A mysterious stranger (Ciaran Hinds) enters their lives and bears witness to a violent, romantically motivated double ax murder that culminates in a freakish storm and ends their story, becoming infamous throughout the centuries to follow. Meanwhile in present day, a keen photojournalist (Catherine McCormack) peruses that very same coast on a yacht, researching the long past events that led to the horrible crime. She’s joined by her listless husband (Sean Penn), his brother (Josh Lucas) and foxy girlfriend (Elizabeth Hurley). They start to forge an equally tense romantic triangle that is somehow supposed to mirror the past in profound or symbolic ways but doesn’t feel like anything deeper than narrative coincidence. The two stories have little to do with each other beyond happenstance and are constantly at odds in tone and intent. The Sarah Polley one works better but only just, having a more specific atmospheric mood, also because she’s just a terrific actress who puts on a dangerous, unnervingly introverted show. I’d like to read the novel one day and see if there’s more to be found there or some lynchpin of content that missed the boat from paper to celluloid, but as it stands this film is a hollow blast of nothing, and the only weight to be found is in the title.

-Nate Hill

Accepting the Energy: An Interview with Douglas Burke by Kent Hill

5-dead-whale-2000x1125

A generous portion of modern day movies are what Macbeth was talking about when he uttered the words, “…full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.”  But SURFER from Doug Burke is no tale told by an idiot. No sir. For this writer, director, actor, poet, musician is also a physics professor – so about as far from an idiot as you can get.

When I was gifted the opportunity to watch the film and chat with Doug I thought I’d look into it a little first. Through my trawling I came to an article that spoke of Surfer as the next ‘The Room’. And, with lines like, “God made me out of squid and lightning” – let’s just say I was intrigued.

What I came away with after watching Surfer is two things. Firstly, it is not the next ‘The Room’ – that along with its creator, Tommy Wiseau, are a law unto themselves. Secondly, Surfer is more than a piece of self-expression, more than what an audience might label as absurd. What I saw was Hamlet, trapped in the microcosm of a relationship between father and son. A father passing on his legacy, ideology, faith – all to aid in the strengthening, fortifying if you will, of his son’s character – specifically to aid him, in this case to get back into the ocean which he loves, but also for the journey – the long life he is yet to experience and endure.

MV5BMzE1MTMzNzUzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODEzOTcxNTM@._V1_

This was one of those instances for me where the character and the motivation, indeed the creator of the picture, was just as fascinating as the images on screen. It was a trip to watch the movie (I hope you will seek it out) as it is to present this interview with one of this world’s true originals in the form of Douglas Burke.

You might say, “Hamlet don’t surf!”

Well, this one does . . .

PTS Presents Writer’s Workshop with PETER ILIFF

ILIFF POWERCAST

Iliff 1Podcasting Them Softly is thrilled to present a chat with screenwriter and director Peter Iliff, a name many movie fans will likely recognize, as he’s the guy responsible for writing one of the greatest action films of all time, POINT BREAK. The film has become a massive audience favorite over the years, and it’s one of those movies that Nick and Frank have seen so many times they’ve probably got most of it committed to memory! Peter‘s other screenwriting credits include the Jack Ryan adventure PATRIOT GAMES, the teen classic VARSITY BLUES, and the underrated and stylish Stephen Hopkins thriller UNDER SUSPICION. His directorial debut arrived in 2012 with the horror thriller RITES OF PASSAGE,  and he’s got a number of exciting projects on the horizon which are detailed during this exciting discussion! Nick and Frank are both big fans of action movies in general, so this was a real treat to be joined by the creator of one of our absolute favorite flicks in POINT BREAK — We hope you enjoy our latest episode!

KATHRYN BIGELOW’S POINT BREAK — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

11187752_10204677621876686_6975547608249485115_o

A thrilling sense of kinetic filmmaking has guided the work of Kathryn Bigelow over the last 25 years, and Point Break is just a go-for-broke action picture, complete with moments of total absurdity, fantastic and unexpected humor, and dead serious thrills. Bigelow’s film, from a clever and exceedingly entertaining screenplay by W. Peter Iliff (Rick King received a story credit), is an incredible piece of vigorous action filmmaking — a heist picture, an undercover policier, a romance, an extreme sports movie that feels ahead of its time in retrospect — the creative team threw a little bit of everything into this film and it’s no surprise that the movie has taken on a massive cult following after a solid but not break-out box office performance. Donald Peterman’s dynamic and muscular cinematography is always bracing and exciting, while Mark Isham’s awesome score swells and builds to some great peaks. Ultimate Patrick Swayze POWER here, Gary Busey steals the entire film, and it goes without saying, Keanu Reeves was just all live-wire terrific here, letting his inner Surfer Dude attitude shine through but also getting a chance to kick some ass when called upon; call it a warm up for his heroics a few years later in the blockbuster action pic Speed. Howard Smith’s editing is fluid and keeps the pace at a fast clip (that backyard chase!) and Bigelow really shined with the action sequences, which have been cribbed from repeatedly throughout the years by various filmmakers. The film was a solid success in the theaters, doing $80 million worldwide on a 50/50 split, but the movie would really cement Bigelow’s action chops, after early efforts like Blue Steel and Near Dark announced a new, distinctive voice, and setting up more ambitious future endeavors like Strange Days, K19: The Widowmaker, and the one-two punch of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Hell – I’ll even go to bat for The Weight of Water! And it must be said: Jumping out of airplanes with no parachute POWER!

11357043_10204677622196694_4091379395212596949_o