Tag Archives: S. Craig Zahler

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

S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete

Dragged Across Concrete is exploitation auteur S. Craig Zahler’s third feature film, and so far stands as his best. I use the terms auteur and exploitation vaguely here because neither can completely encapsulate what the man is doing with his work, the flavour he strives to bring us is so specifically distilled and perfectly see-sawed a recipe that there are really no pins to drop on the cinematic landscape or existing terms for it, and he may have pioneered something new entirely. He blared onto the scene with primal horror western Bone Tomahawk and followed it up with brutal flick Brawl In Cell Block 99, but Concrete is his most deliberate, suspenseful, heavily charismatic, thoughtful and entertaining piece yet.

Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are Ridgeman and Lurasetti, two sinewy older detectives prone to excessive force and bitter attitudes, until a particularly violent arrest lands them on a viral video and an unpaid suspension from their captain (Don Johnson in a delicious extended cameo). Feeling slighted by both the department and the civilians they’ve served for decades, they decide to tap into underworld contacts and win back some currency as they both have family problems that unemployment wouldn’t serve well. “We have the skills and the right to acquire proper compensation” growls Gibson through a muskrat ‘stache and eyes clouded with anger, and it’s easy to see why he’s miffed. The film is under vague fire for showing us two racist asshole antiheroes and while their actions in the opening collar sequence are extreme and not very nice, they’re not as played up, hateful or heinous as I’ve read some whiny reviews claim. These two are hard bitten jerks, but when the anvil comes down and we see the moral core of each laid bare, they are essentially decent guys who won’t stand by when real injustice rears it’s ugly head. It does too, in the form of nasty arch criminal Vogelmann (an icy, evil Thomas Kretschmann) after a tip off from an underworld contact (Udo Kier, all too briefly). They decide to try and score some mob loot just as ex con Johns (Tory Kittles) and his childhood buddy Biscuit (Michael Jai White) gang up with Vogelmann to do some criminal shit.

This film has its action scenes and close encounters but what really enthralled me is the patience it takes to show us stakeouts in real time and set up incident on its own clock. The two cops post up in their car, eat snack food, nap, banter and compare world views as they simply wait for their quarry to make his move. This is the kind of character cultivation and pacing that leads to investment in the story, so that when the payoff comes we are riveted. I’ve already spoiled too much because I just saw this and want to gab about it endlessly but it’s essentially a long, measured surveillance game followed by a chase and one knockout of a confrontation scene that’s insanely suspenseful and ducks many expectations we have given what we’ve seen so far. Gibson and Vaughn are just so great here, they eat up the dialogue like fast food served with fine wine, it’s Mel’s best performance in years and he owns it. Zahler has a way of writing that is like protein for the ears, a poetically rich timbre as if every character has several thesaurus’s on hand and uses rich, offbeat dialogue to place you right in the scene. Some will inevitably find it too purple or pretentious a script, but I love the way this guy writes. Further down the cast lineup we get turns from Zahler regulars Jennifer Carpenter and Fred Melamed as well as Laurie Holden, Cardi Wong, Matthew MacCaull and others.

My only one gripe is the ongoing and blatant use of Vancouver as other cities when it’s very clearly not. It’s supposed to be Bulwark here but they’re sat up there in Don Johnson’s office on like the twentieth floor somewhere in Coal Harbour with the whole Burrard Inlet visible and it’s like… get real, it’d be nice to see things filmed where they’re set for personality instead of just lazily using my city, but oh well. Probably not a gripe for most, but having grown up here it takes me out of the story just a bit when everything under the sun is recognizable. This has to be Zahler’s most complete and streamlined creative vision so far, a nasty gutter-ball genre piece that shows life in the inner city boiling over the pot into street violence, heists gone up in flames and good intentions shot to ribbons by high powered artillery. The best film I’ve seen so far this year.

-Nate Hill

S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl In Cell Block 99- Thoughts from Nate Hill


Bring a strong stomach with you to S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl In Cell Block 99, a casually vicious ode to 1970’s exploitation that pulls no punches, kicks, backhands or wet-crunchy head stomps that will make your balls retreat up in those nether regions. Zahler is also responsible for 2015’s incredible horror western Bone Tomahawk, which set him on the messianic path to bring hard hitting genre cinema back to the forefront of our awareness. He’s proved here that he plans to make that his long-game plan, with an utterly unapologetic, icily paced prison flick that ramps up into levels of violence that shake and stun. Vince Vaughn, that neurotic, rotund teddy bear, sheds his image as well as his shirt to ruthlessly pummel anyone that gets in the way of his quest to save pregnant wife Jennifer Carpenter after a drug deal gone bad, an area of employment he only entered to provide for those he loved. Stuck inside a minimum security prison, he’s visited by a deliberately sinister old gentleman (Udo Kier, whose very presence solidifies the film’s perpetual eccentricity) who uses the man’s captive wife as leverage, and orders him to get himself transferred to a hellhole of a facility run by a nasty warden (Don Johnson, sadism incarnate). There’s he’s forced to fight tooth, nail and skull to stay alive, and fight he does. It all sounds rather lively, doesn’t it? Not so much. Zahler is fascinated by subverting stereotypes and upturning genre expectations, going ballistic here with the film’s patient, slow-cooker pacing. There’s a Tarantino vibe to the wait vs. payoff in terms of violence especially in the last side of the third act, but it’s much more perverse and played up, and if the carnage in Tomahawk made you queasy, you’ll go full chunder with what Vaughn inflicts on his fellow jailbirds here, and shudder at Kier’s casually evil approach to his job. Zahler has given the ol’ German another chomp at the bit in terms of roles, as he hasn’t done much in years, but he’ll turn up again next year in the director’s ‘Dragged Across Concrete’, which headlines Vaughn and Mal Gibson, so there’s that to wet your panties over. Like Tarantino, Rob Zombie and others, Zahler like ms to handpick actors from bygone eras and showcase them in his roster, a quality I love in a filmmaker and one that shows they’ve done their research. Vaughn is an absolute demon here, a man with a specific, patriotic code of ethics and honour, but also not one to shy away from getting his hands dirty. Don Johnson is riding the wave of a magnificent comeback, his characters here has a southern prince exterior, with evil positively oozing from beneath. This was not the film I expected, not should it have been. It’s unique, purposefully dodging expectations, and hits home with the crippling impact of Vaughn terrifying fists. An unconventional winner.

-Nate Hill 

PTS Presents ARTISAN WORKBENCH with CHANTAL FILSON

CHANTAL POWERCAST

Photo Credit: Gina K.
Photo Credit: Gina K.

We are joined with the incredibly talented Chantal Filson who most recently was the costume designer for one of the best films of the year – the horror/western BONE TOMAHAWK. Chantal’s other work includes various  television shows including HBO’s The Soprano’s, Aaron Sorkin’s STUDIO 60 on the SUNSET STRIP, and countless period pieces. Chantal has also worked on various stage plays, music videos, short films, commercials and docudramas. Her most recent works include the live action commercial for the Tom Clancy video game The Division and three feature films: KTOWN COWBOYS, CARPET KINGDOM and DARK SUMMER She is also a contributing writer to Your Wardrobe Unlock’d. Please visit Chantal’s website, cfilson.com so you can see her portfolio in detail, because my words certainly do not do it justice.

Note from Chantal:

I completely neglected to thank my crew during the podcast, they truly made costuming Bone Tomahawk possible in every way and I couldn’t have done it without them– Jocelyn Hublau-Parker [Wardrobe Supervisor], Flora Ronzone [Key Costumer], Charles Nohai [costumer/tailor], Allison Choi Braun [costumer] and Kleev Guessford [Dyer/Specialty Costume Fabricator]. Their talent, endurance and patience went above and beyond in difficult conditions, I can’t thank them enough for contributing to this project.

BONE TOMAHAWK – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

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S. Craig Zahler’s gruesome and gnarly BONE TOMAHAWK is the epitome of a slow burn, and it hits all the marks in this concoction of a horror-western, b-movie, grind house-ish ode to everything that’s transgressivley amazing about cinema.

Set in the late 1800’s, a search party made up of the town’s Sheriff (Kurt Russell), the affable “backup” deputy (Richard Jenkins), the missing woman’s husband (Patrick Wilson) and a mysterious gunslinger gentleman (Matthew Fox) set out on a suicide journey into the heart of darkness to rescue a kidnapped woman (Wilson’s wife played by Lili Simmons) who was taken by a nasty and ghoulish group of indigenous people.

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This is a film that I can’t really peg down.  For a genre film, it’s production value is incredibly high, costume design is fantastic and the score by Zahler and Jeff Herriot achieve in a tranquil way, the characters journey to impending doom.  For having a deserving, gruesome and bloody climax, it was made without CGI and makes it that much more rewarding. The way Zahler captures the locations, the actors and builds an unprecedented amount of suspense is truly awe-some and admirable.

Kurt Russell is absolutely who we want him to be, the archetypal, honorable, ultimate bad ass alpha who will stop at nothing to rescue this woman.  Richard Jenkins is charming as he is affable providing unexpected and quirky comic relief that is an audacious line to walk in a film like this, but is completely welcomed and works perfectly.  Patrick Wilson gives one his best performances as the rage filled husband, forcing himself to go on this journey with a broken ankle, pushing himself to the brink.  And then there is Matthew Fox, who absolutely steals every single scene he’s in as the very cool and calculated gunslinger with his own dark past.

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Rounding out the fantastic cast is David Arquette, the always wonderful Fred Melamed, and surprising and welcome additions by Sean Young, Michael Pare, James Tolkan and the legendary Sid Haig.

The only way I can articulate my admiration and description of the film, is that this film is as if John Carpenter directed THE DESCENT meets THE THING with a dash of THE PREDATOR, set in the late 1800’s.  I’ve watched the film twice back to back, and I can’t wait to revisit it again.  This film certainly isn’t for everyone, but if the trailer and premise excite you, seek it out immediately.  You will not be disappointed.

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