Tag Archives: Robert Carlyle

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

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Antonia Bird’s Ravenous


Murder. Cannibalism. War. Treachery. You wouldn’t think that such subject matters would make for any sort of lighthearted film, but Antonia Bird’s Ravenous somehow manages it, becoming a classic in my canon along the way. Despite the dark events that unfold, it’s become somewhat of a comfort film for me, one I can put on any old time for a rewatch and enjoy the hell out of. It’s amusingly disturbing, lively, cheerfully gruesome, well casted, oh so darkly comedic and has wit for days. Guy Pearce plays Boyd, a timid soldier who’s banished to a remote fort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains after a prolific display of cowardice during the Mexican American war. His superior officer (crusty John Spencer) just wants him out of his sight, and Boyd just wants to survive and forget the horror he endured in combat. Even worse nightmares are just around the corner though, when mysterious drifter Calhoun (Robert Carlyle in Charlie Manson mode) shows up at the encampment and all sorts of depraved shenanigans kick into high gear. Calhoun turns out to be a serial killing, cannibalizing, grade-A certifiable madman, and no one in their company is safe from that moment forward. Jeffrey Jones is a jovial scene stealer as the fort’s commander, getting all the best quips and quirks. David Arquette howls his way through a barely coherent performance as the resident peyote hound, and further colour is added by weirdo Jeremy Davies, Sheila Tousey, Joseph Runningfox and Neal McDonough as the tough guy soldier who discovers he ain’t such a tough guy after all. Again, as dark as this film gets, it never loses it’s sunny, demented disposition. This is largely thanks to one bouncy melody of a score from “, ditching any portentous strains or eerie chords for a purely arcade style, quite pretty lilt that’s catchy, silly, warped and probably the most memorable aspect of the piece. Pearce plays it introverted, keeping his fear close to the chest and using it when desperation creeps in, or whenever there’s a hair raising encounter with Calhoun’s monster. Carlyle is a caffeinated blast in what has to be the most fun type of character to play this side of Freddy Krueger, an energetic goofball psychopath with a lovable side that he jarringly switches off on a whim in favour of his leering demon persona. The gorgeous Sierras provide stunning photography for this peculiar fable to play out in, a perfectly evocative backdrop for a campfire tale of murder and, I should mention, pseudo vampirism. There’s a supernatural element to the consumption of human flesh that runs alongside the vampire mythos, putting a neat little spin on an ages old concept. There’s nothing quite like this film, in the best way possible. Leaking wicked sharp atmosphere and knowingly deadpan performances, while retaining the spooky, blood soaked edge of a great horror film. One of my favourites.

-Nate Hill

The Tournament: A Review by Nate Hill 

The Tournament is just about as awesome as action movies can get, and just about as bloody too. I love films involving assassins, contests, games, violence and such. The Running Man was clearly a huge influence on this one, right down to the inclusion of a larger than life game show host, here played by Liam Cunningham. Liam plays a shadowy nut job named Powers, and every four years he arranges an elaborate and incredibly destructive Olympic games for contract killers and psychos alike. Every time he hosts it in a new city, using hidden cameras and explaining away the damage with disasters and attacks. If this sounds so very 80’s, it is. We’re in throwback city here, with a touch of modern tone not unlike Joe Carnahan’s Smokin Aces. The reigning champion is Joshua Harlow (Ving Rhames), a brutal warrior who has been coaxed back into the game with revenge on his mind. Each assassin is fitted with a tracking device so they can track each other, an idea which goes haywire when a civilian accidentally gets stuck with one and ends up in the cross hairs. The civilian in question is a drunken priest (lol) played by Robert Carlyle, who has no idea what’s going on and suddenly has a dwindling life expectancy. He catches a break when a lethal but sympathetic female competitor (beauty queen Kelly Hu is an angel of physicality) takes pity and decides to help him out. They’ve got quite an armada to cut through though, including a rowdy cockney whacko (Craig Conway) a parkour master (Sebastian Foucan), an ex Spetsnaz freak (Scott Adkins) with a habit of blowing shit up left right and center, and lastly a Texan pretty boy lunatic played cheerfully by Ian Somerhalder. He’s so evil they just had to include a bit where he shoots a stray dog in the face without batting a perfect eyelash (animal lovers, you’ve been forewarned). All this mayhem is taken in by Powers and his sickening audience of wealthy kingpins, who sit in a great big boardroom and bet on the outcome of the carnage. Cunningham is a blast of devilish charm as Powers, an amoral villain of dark showmanship and sociopathic class. Between exploding heads, grenades ripping through the streets of London, frenetic hand to hand combat, colorful personalities, over the top depictions of bad human behavior and a general sense of hedonistic, slash and burn glee, this is one for the books. 

Dead Fish: A Review by Nate Hill

  

There’s a minefield of British gangster flicks out there, riding the colourful wake of Guy Ritchie’s output, and similar fare. Some are solid, and some blow up in your face with mediocrity when you come across them. Dead Fish falls somewhat in between those two reactions. On the one hand, it’s slick, visually adept, well casted and for the most part acted and knows how to set up a stylized scene. On the other hand, parts of it are silly, incongruent to the piece as a whole and kind of.. Shitty. It’s both a good bad movie and a bad good movie, and I know that doesn’t give much of a concise picture or really tell you whether to watch it or not, but too bad, that was my conflicted reaction. Gary Oldman, in one of his last loopy performances before he reigned it in, plays Lynch, a lively assassin with an unstable personality. He jumps from contract to contract, until a beautiful girl (Elena Anaya) catches his eye, and he’s struck with alarming and slightly creepy lovesickness for her. She’s got an American boyfriend (Andrew Lee Potts, who almost brings the film toppling down with his shoddy acting) who is on the run from violent loan shark Danny Devine (Robert Carlyle, frothing at the mouth like a pissy little windup toy). Lynch collides with them all including Pott’s stoner buddy (Jimi Mistry always looks like he needs to pee really bad and he’s waiting for them to say “cut”). It’s not super clear what Oldman’s character objective is besides going off on a freaky bi-polar tangent as he pursues his perceived dream girl and seems ready to forsake the high paying hitman job he seems so comfortable in. Nevertheless it’s fun to see him run around shooting people and being a mental head, and no one can do that like our Gary. The plot thickens, or rather becomes unintelligible, when two secret spy operatives are brought in by some agency to.. do…man I don’t even know. Billy Zane is a weird loony toons caricature as Virgil, a stuffy old spook with a plummy upper crust accent and some… wardrobe issues. He’s paired with Eastern European psycho Dragan (the always excellent Karel Roden) and the two literally spend their portion of the film bickering, cat fighting and squabbling, having actually no real interaction or function with the plot. Oh well, they’re amusing if nothing else. There’s also a brief appearance from Terence Stamp, who classes up the affair as Samuel Fish, a shady businessman with a vaguely coherent part to play in the madness. It’s all very strange and seems assured that it knows what it’s doing and where it’s going, even if at times the audience has not a clue. On the plus side, this is the only film I can think of where you can behold Gary Oldman break out into a musical number whilst tied down by a 250 pound S&M hooker. Yikes. Keep your ears peeled for a sonic little score from Groove Armada as well.

TRAINSPOTTING – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Trainspotting flew out of the gates in 1996 and took the world by storm, first causing a sensation in the United Kingdom, and then moving on to the United States bolstered by a soundtrack that mixed classic rockers (Lou Reed, Iggy Pop) with contemporary ones (Blur, Primal Scream). Audiences couldn’t get enough of this gritty, often funny, sometimes harrowing tale of Scottish heroin addicts. Based on Irvine Welsh’s edgy cult novel of the same name, Trainspotting was adapted by a trio of filmmakers – director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald – who had previously collaborated on the nasty suspense thriller Shallow Grave (1994).

They chose just the right passages from the novel and proceeded to capture the spirit of what Welsh was trying to say without judging the characters. This resulted in the film getting into trouble as some critics felt it glorified drug addiction. The film takes an unflinching look at the lives of a group of drug addicts and shows why they do drugs — the highs are so unbelievably amazing. However, Trainspotting also shows the flip side: death, poverty and desperation, which lead to stealing, lying and cheating just to get more drugs. Regardless, the film was a commercial and critical success, spawning all sorts of imitators and influencing countless other U.K. filmmakers to go through the door that it kicked open.

The six-minute prologue does a brilliant job of introducing a group of Scottish drug addicts as seen through the eyes of one of them — Mark “Rent Boy” Renton (Ewan McGregor). His friends include a speed freak motormouth named Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner), a suave ladies’ man, Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), straight-edged Tommy MacKenzie (Kevin McKidd) and sociopath Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Each one of them has their own distinct personality that each actor vividly brings to life. This prologue also sets the tone for the rest of the film as it starts literally on the run with Renton and Spud being chased by the cops to the pounding strains of “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop (before it became overused thanks to countless commercials using it bizarrely out of context) as Renton’s voiceover narration talks about his “sincere and truthful junk habit.”

The energetic camerawork — fasting moving tracking shots (that recall Mean Streets) as Spud and Renton run from the police and the freeze frames (reminiscent of GoodFellas) with title cards identifying each character is an obvious stylistic homage to Martin Scorsese. Like many of his films, Trainspotting is bursting at the seams with energy and vitality that is very engaging. The prologue does its job by immediately grabbing our attention and drawing us into this world populated by colorful characters. After 30 minutes of showing the incredible highs of shooting heroin where we’re caught up in the euphoria of it with Renton and his friends, director Danny Boyle starts to show the ugly side, starting with the death of fellow junkie Allison’s baby due to neglect.

From there, Renton and Spud get arrested for stealing with the former going into a rehab program while the latter goes to jail but not before Renton takes one more hit and promptly overdoses in a surreal bit where he sinks into the floor and is taken to the hospital by taxi seen mostly from his zonked out point-of-view to the strains of “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed. However, Trainspotting’s heart of darkness is the sequence where Renton goes through the horrors of withdrawal and his reality becomes warped by hallucinations of Allison’s dead baby and his friends. Ewan McGregor really does a fantastic job of conveying Renton in the depths of a painful and terrifying withdrawal.

John Hodge’s screenplay masterfully distills Welsh’s novel to its essence and includes some of its most memorable dialogue. From Renton’s famous “Choose life” monologue (“Choose life … But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”) to Sick Boy’s “Unifying Theory of Life” speech (“Well, at one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever.”), Trainspotting has insanely quotable lines. This helped it develop a loyal cult following over the years that continues to champion the film even to this day. And yet what resonates most is its honesty. The film doesn’t sugarcoat its message and it isn’t preachy about it either. There is an ironic detachment that transforms it into a playful black comedy mixed with gritty drama and surreal sequences.

It doesn’t hurt that this excellent material is brought to life by a fantastic cast of then relative unknowns (especially to North American audiences). Ewan McGregor has the toughest role in the film playing an unrepentant junkie while also acting as the anchor that the audience identifies with and the character that the rest of the cast revolves around. It is a tricky balancing act because Renton does things that make him unlikable and yet we still root for him because of McGregor’s charisma. Fresh from his role as an American computer user in Hackers (1995), Jonny Lee Miller plays Sick Boy, Renton’s best mate but someone who lacks “moral fiber” despite his vast knowledge of Sean Connery. He ends up taking advantage of his friend in a dodgy scheme and Miller does a nice of showing how Sick Boy went from best mate to scheming con man.

Robert Carlyle is also great as the completely unhinged Begbie. The scene where he recounts a colorful story about playing pool (“I’m playing like Paul-Fuckin’-Newman by the way.”) and dealing with his cocky opponent (“You ken me, I’m not the type of cunt that goes looking for fuckin’ bother, like, but at the end of the day I’m the cunt with a pool cue and he can get the fat end in his puss any time he fucking wanted like.”) perfectly captures the essence of his character. Begbie gets his kicks from starting up trouble. As Renton puts it, “Begbie didn’t do drugs either. He just did people. That’s what he got off on; his own sensory addiction.” Carlyle has a frightening intensity and an unpredictability that is unsettling and exciting to watch. Ewen Bremner completes the core group of characters as the not-too bright Spud. He has a good scene early on when, hopped up on speed, he goes to a job interview with the notion of sabotaging it without appearing to. It’s a tricky tightrope that Bremner handles expertly.

Trainspotting also features one of the best contemporary soundtracks with an eclectic mix of British music from the likes of Primal Scream, New Order, Blur and Underworld, and from America, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. The music veers back and forth from the adrenaline-rush of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” to the faux spy music by Primal Scream to the drugged-out mellow mood music of “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed. Taking a page out of Scorsese’s book, the filmmakers use the music as signposts by conveying the transition of guitar-driven rock in the 1980s to the acid house music scene in the 1990s.

Producer Andrew Macdonald first read Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting on a plane in December 1993 and felt that it could be made into a film. He turned it on to his filmmaking partners, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in February 1994. Boyle was excited by its potential to be the “most energetic film you’ve ever seen – about something that ultimately ends up in purgatory or worse.” He convinced Welsh to let them option the rights to his book by writing a letter stating that Hodge and Macdonald were “the two most important Scotsmen since Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson.” (legendary European football player and manager, respectively, from Scotland) Welsh remembered that most people interested in optioning his book, “wanted to make a po-faced piece of social realism like Christiane F or The Basketball Diaries.” He was impressed that Boyle and his partners wanted everyone to see the film and “not just the arthouse audience.” Welsh agreed to sell the rights to them.

In October 1994, Boyle, Hodge and Macdonald spent a lot of time discussing which chapters of the book would and would not translate onto film. Hodge adapted the novel, finishing a first draft by December, while Macdonald secured financing from Channel 4, a British television station known for funding independent films. According to the screenwriter, his goal was to “produce a screenplay which would seem to have a beginning, a middle and an end, would last 90 minutes and would convey at least some of the spirit and the content of the book.”

Pre-production on Trainspotting began in April 1995. When it came to casting the pivotal role of Mark Renton, Boyle wanted somebody who had the quality “Michael Caine’s got in Alfie and Malcolm McDowell’s got in A Clockwork Orange”: a repulsive character with charm “that makes you feel deeply ambiguous about what he’s doing.” Boyle and Macdonald were impressed with the performance Ewan McGregor had given in their previous film, Shallow Grave, and cast him in advance. Ewen Bremner had actually played Renton in the stage adaptation but agreed to play the role of Spud because he felt “that these characters were part of my heritage.” Boyle had heard about Jonny Lee Miller playing an American in Hackers and was impressed with him when he auditioned by doing a Sean Connery accent. For the role of Begbie, Boyle thought about casting Christopher Eccleston who had been in Shallow Grave but asked Robert Carlyle instead. The actor said, “I’ve met loads of Begbies in my time. Wander round Glasgow on Saturday night and you’ve a good chance of running into Begbie.”

Once cast, Ewan McGregor shaved his head and lost 26 pounds. To research the role, the actor actually considered taking heroin but the more he read and learned about it, the less he wanted to do it. Then, he went to Glasgow and met people from the Carlton Athletic Recovery Group, an organization of recovering heroin addicts. He (and several other cast members) took classes on how to cook up a shot of drugs using glucose powder.

With a budget of $2.5 million, Trainspotting was shot during the summer of 1995 over seven weeks. The cast and crew moved into an abandoned cigarette factory in Glasgow. Due to the rather small budget and limited shooting schedule, most scenes were shot in one take with the effects done practically. For example, when Renton sank into the floor after overdosing on heroin, the crew built a platform above a trap door and lowered actor McGregor down.

When Trainspotting was shown out-of-competition at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, it received a standing ovation. Once Miramax Films picked it up for North America, Macdonald worked with them to sell the film as a British answer to Pulp Fiction (1994), flooding the market with postcards, posters, books, soundtrack albums, and a revamped music video for Iggy Pop’s’ “Lust for Life” directed by Boyle.

Trainspotting has aged surprisingly well considering it was one of those zeitgeist-defining movies of the ‘90s. It also set the tone and style of later British exports, opening the floodgates for films like the nasty crime drama Twin Town (1997), the hyperactive rave culture comedy Human Traffic (1999) and the films of Guy Ritchie. In an interview for The Guardian, Boyle said, “Has it dated? I can’t tell you that. I am alarmed sometimes by how young the people are who say they’ve seen and loved Trainspotting, so it might have lost an edge it once had. Shallow Grave looks dated, fashion-wise, but Trainspotting has an abiding style.”