In Robert Altman‘s stunning, dreamily haunting piece of anti western melancholia McCabe & Mrs. Miller, two lost souls wander out from unseen former lives into the rugged, barely tamed Canadian Pacific Northwest and attempt to carve out their slice of enterprise from a vast, unforgiving environment. Warren Beatty’s John McCabe is a shrewd yet caustic entrepreneur whose sense of romanticism is dwindling like the stars at dawn, a man who plans to capitalize on the wants and desires of the townsfolk of frontier settlement Presbyterian Church by tent-poling a successful local whorehouse. Julie Christie’s Constance Miller is a forlorn, sharp tongued opportunist bereft of any wistful innocence, her piercing, deep set blue eyes peering out from a thicket of gingerbread curls, scanning the horizon for lucrative endeavours. Both of them seem to arrive in the Northwest as if from another dimension; no backstory save for unfounded rumours, no goals except for capitalist monopoly and no sense of wonder or lyricism save for the few shiny flecks that haven’t been rinded down by the harshness of their lives, like mountains plundered for precious gold until not but scant flakes remain amongst weathered, weary crags. They team up as any person with a good head for business will concede to do, and before they know it they’re making a pretty penny… until big money mining interests try to muscle them out. Altman shows here how capitalism was a precursor to violence and corruption even in the early days of this continent and is successful in getting across his themes but for me the real treasures of this film lie in cinematography, tangible sense of character and mood. Christie and Beatty probably give career best performances as two hardened pioneers of commerce who collectively arrive at the end of each of their respective journeys in the saddest, mournfully poetic fashions imaginable. I wish I knew these two individuals before the world made them the way they are and the snowdrifts settled into the final acts of their arc because they’re two wonderful, well rounded and unique characters. Filling out a solid supporting cast are the likes of the late Rene Auberjonois, Keith Carradine, William Devane, John Schlick, Michael Murphy, a very young Shelley Duvall and more. Altman uses unbelievably evocative wilderness photography to tell story and several aching, poignant songs by Leonard Cohen to bookend his film. It’s tough to capture the essence of this thing in a review, one has to let it wash over you, let it murmur in your ear for two hours as wood doors slam, horse drawn carriages trundle through muddy streets, wind whispers through tree lines, characters move in and out with organic disorganization like moths to and from firelight and McCabe & Mrs. Miller’s sad, introspective, beautifully ponderous story plays out. Sensational film.
Vampires in the old west!! I’m surprised that Ubisoft’s Darkwatch: Curse Of The West has never been made into a movie because it’s the perfect concept. Kind of like Van Helsing by way of Priest, you play as Jericho Cross (Christopher Corey Smith), a late 19th century outlaw on the American frontier who has been turned into a vampire and seeks bloody, bullet ridden revenge against those who made him what he is and any of their underlings, of which there are a staggering amount and variety. This is one stylish motherfucker of a game, both in terms of cutscenes and gameplay. There’s a slick, moonlight drenched, silver glinted hue to everything and a decidedly steampunk flair to weaponry and costumes, not to mention enough gore to please any horror hound. Jericho is joined by the badass, Catwoman-esque Tala, an antiheroine voiced by Rose McGowan back when she was awesome and not all batshit crazy like these days, relishing hard boiled lines like “I’ve always gone for the tall, dark and bloodthirsty type,” she really adds a lot of personality and dialogue whereas Jericho is a man of few words and a whole lot of shooting. There’s a ton of monstrous creatures, flying beasties and even great big fatso things that spew corrosive bile at you. The weapons are steampunk too, with double barrel chrome beauties, crossbows, powerful sidearm pistols and one mean motherfucker of a train mounted Gatling gun. One of the best action/horror games for PS2 console.
This one is an all timer for me and not just as a video game but as a gorgeous, cinematic piece of western storytelling. Gun is a terrific game, well ahead of its time for the PS2 era, but it’s also a brutal frontier exploitation tale, a larger than life, hugely badass yarn that benefits from one of the coolest voice casts ever assembled, fluid graphics, vast arenas to roam through and music that sets the tumbleweeds rolling, accompanies paddle wheeler boats down rivers and sweeps across the terrain like any great western score should. You play as Colton White (Thomas Jane in the kind of rough hewn gunslinger role he was born to play), who wanders the American frontier of late 1800’s with his mentor/father figure Ned (Kris Kristofferson, perfectly rugged) learning the ways of the gun and living off the land until lawlessness and trouble inevitably interrupt their peace. After a riverboat gunfight and a nasty killing spree perpetrated by psychotic preacher Reverend Reed (Brad Dourif, oozing his trademark brand of evil), Colton sets out beyond the horizon after him and finds intrigue, murder, conspiracy, a whole gallery of villains and even the secrets of his own birthright in a jaw dropping series of action set pieces, tense standoffs, train raids and firefights everywhere from Dodge City to the lands beyond. He goes up against vile, corrupt Mayor Hoodoo Brown (a scenery chewing Ron Perlman), joins forces with notorious outlaw Clay Allison (Tom Skeritt), does battle with fearsome native warrior Many Wounds (Eric Schweig) and eventually comes to the big bad wolf at the end of the chain of antagonists, a civil war general turned maniac named Thomas MacGruder, voiced by a booming Lance Henriksen in one incredibly thunderous portrait of bad to the bone. Other memorable work is provided by Wade Williams, Frank Collison, Kathy Soucie, John Getz, Nolan North, Robin Downes, Phil Proctor and more. The mechanics of the game are phenomenal, and like I said feel quite ahead of their time, or at least they did to me and always immersed me in that world. The gunfights are hectic and ruthless but ever too chaotic and there’s a few super satisfying slow motion features like ‘QuickDraw mode’ that allow you to pick off enemies with otherworldly precision. The horse riding is tactile, smooth and the animals feel real right down to how they jump, get fatigued when you ride them too hard and the way your controller vibrates specifically for hoof beats on whatever path you’re charging down. This is a broad, brutal game that doesn’t glance over the uglier aspects of the west and feels dangerous, lived-in and grandiose both in terms of the natural environment and humanity’s encroaching industries like the railroad, wagon trains and dusty townships. Gotta give a special shoutout to the score composed by Christopher Lennertz, it’s a magisterial, often quite mournfully emotional piece of orchestral work that rivals and even tops many Hollywood compositions. There’s also quite a few references to Hollywood westerns including The Outlaw Josey Wales and many characters are named after real life old west figures to cement the feel. Quite simply one of my favourite games ever made.
It is always a delight indeed to sit down with the director of one of my favorite movies. Steve Carver (Big Bad Mama, Lone Wolf McQuade), acclaimed filmmaker and photographic artist extraordinaire has given us all, not only great cinema, but now his first book, Western Portraits: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen (Edition Olms, 2019). Rendered in evocative tones reminiscent of Edward Sheriff Curtis’s immortal images, the stylized photographs in Western Portraits capture the allure and mystique of the Old West, complete with authentic costuming, weaponry and settings. Among the subjects who posed for the book are the popular actors Karl Malden, David Carradine, R. G. Armstrong, Stefanie Powers, L. Q. Jones, Denver Pyle and 77 others.
From the epic feature film to the TV series and serial, this coffee table book puts the story of character actors and the significance of their memorable roles into an entertaining perspective. Appealing at once to lovers of classic cinema, Western history aficionados, writers, scholars and collectors of nostalgia and fine art photography, Western Portraits of Great Character Actors: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen will awaken movie memories in people’s hearts while introducing others to the amazing work of these acting artists, serving as a record of the best of the Hollywood Western.
With collaborators C. Courtney Joyner – a writer whose first major output was a string of more than 25 movie screenplays beginning with The Offspring starring Vincent Price, and Prison directed by Renny Harlin. His novels include the new fantasy-adventure Nemo Rising and the Shotgun Western series, which have both been optioned for television – and Roger Corman – Legendary film director-producer – who contributed the foreword for Western Portraits alongside Joyner’s crafted series of insightful essays to accompany the photographs.
He learnt the art of story-boarding from the great Alfred Hitchcock, he learnt to make pasta with Sergio Leone, and has directed the man we remember as the American Ninja. Steve is so full of stories I hope his next book is definitely an autobiography, but in the meantime we have this glorious work to sit and marvel at. Some of the greatest character actors of all time (that have also been my guests, in the persons of Tim Thomerson and Fred Williamson) take center stage in a book the is the ultimate amalgamation of fine art and Hollywood yesteryear.
Brooklyn native Steve Carver studied photography at the University of Buffalo and Washington University in St. Louis. He pursued a formal education in film-making at the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies, also participating in the Directors Guild of America’s apprenticeship program. Prolific motion picture producer Roger Corman hired Carver to direct four movies, including Big Bad Mama. Carver also directed American action star Chuck Norris in An Eye for an Eye and Lone Wolf McQuade.
Liam Neeson ruthlessly pursuing Pierce Brosnan across an unforgiving post civil war US landscape, from snowy peaks to vast plains to acrid deserts and all the midlands in between. David Von Ancken’s Seraphim Falls is a stunning, folklore inspired tale of revenge, burning guilt, wayward ambitions and the joyless act of the hunt, portrayed not as thrill here but more as grim duty.
Brosnan is Gideon, an ex General now on the run from Carver (Neeson), another high ranking soldier who harbours deep hatred and rage against him for reasons the film wisely keeps to its chest until the last few minutes. This allows us to form our own picture of each man that is cultivated by each passing deed, and the labels of bad and good, hero and villain need not apply, which is how stories should be told anyways. They both appear to be good men in some instances, and both hardened killers in others. The film starts off in the snowy northern mountains, moves below to hills, valleys and ranches, continues on to the river lands and finally winds up in a scorching desert where the final revelations are laid bare and each man must make a choice. Von Ancken gives this story an almost biblical tone, from the Dante-esque journey from one specific natural setting to the next to the appearance of several key characters that seem to have supernatural undercurrents including a lone First Nations man (Wes Studi) who mysteriously guards a watering hole to a strange medicine lady (Anjelica Huston) who appears in the desert as if a phantom.
Neeson and Brosnan are phenomenal here. Liam lets the sickness of revenge spill out in his behaviour, that of a man with tunnel vision and no hesitations on letting anyone in his way become collateral damage. Pierce is haunting as a man running from both his adversary and his past, scenes where he hides out in a farmhouse and interacts with a young boy are subtly heartbreaking when you finally see the big picture later on. He’s grizzled to hell too, and there’s nothing like watching him patch up a bullet wound on his own, frontier style. Von Ancken carefully chooses his cast with wonderful character actors and familiar faces like the awesome Michael Wincott as Neeson’s roughneck hired bounty hunter, Xander Berkeley, Ed Lauter, Kevin J. O’Connor, Angie Harmon, Jimmi Simpson, James Jordan and more. I’d like to think that this exists in the same western universe as Von Ancken’s AMC drama Hell On Wheels because Tom Noonan briefly shows up here as pretty much the same Minister character he went on to excellently portray in the show, which I thought was a nice touch. This is a mean, callous, relentlessly and graphically violent piece of filmmaking that throws nods to Eastwood films of the same ilk while subtly doing its own kind of mythic, folklore thing that thrums along under the main story arc for you to pick up on, if you’re tuned into it’s ever so slightly esoteric frequency. Great, underrated film.
Powers Boothe was one of Hollywood’s most understated yet grittiest badasses, a powerful, stone voiced presence who could vividly bring many characters to life including cowboys, corrupt politicians, stern law enforcement officers and more, always with the kind of steely eyed, half smirk charisma that suggested he’s holding a couple cards close to his chest for a fiercely explosive element to the performance arc later on. Unfortunately he is no longer with us but the vivid impression he left with his multiple, varied and always intense portrayals lives on every day. Here are my top ten personal favourite performances!
10. Philip Marlowe in HBO’s Philip Marlowe: Private Eye
Many actors have taken a whack at playing this iconoclastic gumshoe, but Boothe’s turn remains the most charismatic, entertaining and also under the radar. This is kind of a long lost HBO miniseries that’s hard to find these days but his gruff, keen and dangerous version of Marlowe is a key touchstone of the man’s career.
9. Mace Ryan in Dwight H. Little’s Rapid Fire
Perhaps the crankiest big city narcotics task force commander that Chicago has ever seen, Ryan teams up with the late great Brandon Lee to viciously take down a heroin syndicate and fire as many guns as he can in the process. He’s loud, mean and always on edge here but underneath that bristled exterior there’s a warmth and strong moral compass that we see in his subtly paternal relationship with Lee’s character. I might add this is one of the most underrated martial arts/shoot out actioners of the 90’s.
8. Mayor Eo Jaxxon in Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City
Not many people paid attention to this short lived, balls out animated series but it’s a fucking gem. Basically like an Archer type cop show with that amazing 80’s neon pastel Miami Vice aesthetic that we all love, starring Rob Lowe as a cocky but ultimately dipshit big city cop. Boothe steals the goddamn show in one episode alone though as the brash, coke fuelled, megalomaniacal mayor. Sporting a crispy white suit and two snow leopards for pets, it’s the kind of voiceover performance that lets this mostly grave and serious actor have a fucking ton of fun and just be looney for a little while, he had a real untapped gift for comedy that was only really apparent in this role.
7. Curly Bill Brocius in George P. Cosmatos’ Tombstone
Nothing beats the sight of villainous Brocius stumbling out of of an opium den, drawing his revolvers and deliriously shooting civilians for the sheer hell of it. Or his deadpan, nonchalant “Well… bye!” sardonically sneered at Wyatt Earp and his gang. He’s admittedly overshadowed and outlived by Michael Biehn’s ferocious antagonist Johnny Ringo but still makes a hell of an impression.
6. Cy Tolliver in HBO’s Deadwood
Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen gets much of the accolades here and rightfully so but Boothe’s rival saloon kingpin is an evil snake whose perverse, complex and twisted relationship with his chief whore (Kim Dickens) is a powerfully compelling dynamic.
5. Sheriff Virgil Potter in Oliver Stone’s U Turn
All of the townsfolk in Superior, Arizona are nasty, secretive snakes, Powers’ scary local sheriff included. He spends much of the film intimidating Sean Penn, getting silly drunk on spirits and not a whole lot of actually enforcing the law. When the third act revelations begin to play out and the noirish twists come along there’s a terrifying, blind drunk ferocity to his work that remains some of the best in a large, prolific cast.
4. Corporal Charles Hardin in Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort
A well read, thinking man stuck in the military isn’t something you always expect to see in cinema every day but here he plays an educated Texan who is less than thrilled to be saddled with yokel fellow soldiers for a Louisiana National Guard training exercise that goes hellishly South. There’s a hard bitten nature to his resilience here as he and another survivor (Keith Carradine) in the unit do battle with dangerous Cajuns who know the terrain far better than them.
3. Senator Roark in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City & Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
His monologue about power in the first film was a chilling picture of ultimate evil and corruption, and then in the second we got to see him actually act on all that for one of the most memorable and heinous comic book baddies ever written. Gravel voiced, power-mad beyond reason, narrow eyed and psychopathic to the bone, Powers makes this guy one arch villain for the ages.
2. Cash Bailey in Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice
The pimpest drug baron to ever wear a white suit and swig tequila, Cash is in a fierce turf war with childhood friend and Texas Ranger Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) that erupts into bloody Peckinpah-esque madness. Boothe is slick, mean, magnetic, deftly verbose and creates one of the coolest, baddest dudes of action cinema here, whether he’s prophetically killing a scorpion or menacing his and Jack’s childhood sweetheart (Maria Conchita Alonso). What a character.
1. Bill Markham in John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest
Perhaps the most vulnerable and down to earth character he’s played, Bill is an industrial developer who loses his son at the edge of the vast Amazon rainforest, only to be reunited after a decades long search and the boy’s adoption into a Native tribe. He shows striking depth, compassion, determination and paternal instinct here, I love that Boorman cast him against type because he wound up giving what I consider to be a career best turn.
It has been the dream of many an artist to be able to do what they love for a living. Find the thing you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life…so the saying goes. Thus my cinematic adventuring has brought me to the cinema of Rene Perez…and the man they call…..Bronzi.
It began as a trickle on social media. Fleeting glimpses rumors permeating of the man who would be Bronson. Who was he…was he a relative…the product of an onset love affair…? I went, as I often do, to the director of what would turn out to be bold cinematic statements which would not only shine a spotlight on the incredible one-man-band movie-maker who is Rene Perez…but also…it would cement the coming of a new age DTV or VOD genre icon – his name Robert Kovacs . . . aka Robert Bronzi.
It has been documented by the New York Post, Variety as well as our brothers and sisters in the cinema-obsessed website and podcast community . . . and now, it comes at last….to Podcasting Them Softly. Here I present the furiously, fascinating life of a work-a-day filmmaker. Rene is a man I admire greatly. Surviving via a high output of commercially released B movie productions, he sleeps little and creates much – the price he pays for being in essence, a solo auteur. Generating genre staples in the arenas of Horror, Action and Westerns – Perez has the distinction of having directed Bronzi in such films asDeath Kiss, Cry Havoc, From Hell to the Wild West and the most recently released, Once Upon a Time in Deadwood.
So listen now to my chat with the inexhaustible Rene Perez and then continue to scroll down for my interview with the man himself….Bronzi.
In another time, in another place….in the age of VHS…this story of two artists colliding at the right time, at the right place would not be uncommon. There are many stories of thrilling partnerships in genre cinema history. They came together and transformed the B movie into an event. And, in this age where the video stores are dead and the streaming services rule the world…a glorious sight it is to see this…a type of mini-cataclysm…rise out of the rivers of mass media…pooling in an ocean of awesomeness. I give you…A Boy and his Bronzi….
Rene Perez is a movie Director known for “Playing with Dolls: Havoc” and “Death Kiss”. In addition to being the Director, Perez is also the Cinematographer, Editor and Writer of his films. Born and raised in Oakland California, Perez started writing and drawing comic books as a child and in his teen years he became a musician known as ‘The Darkest Machines’. Perez still composes music under the stage name “The Darkest Machines”. Perez now lives in a small town in northern California with his wife and children. He works full time as a movie director / producer for hire for several producers and distributors
When Rene related the story of how he uncovered a living, breathing…for all intents and purposes the reincarnation of Charles Bronson – and let me go on the record once more when I say to you…he walks like Bronson, he pulls a gun like Bronson, he walks boldly into the face of certain doom like Bronson…in fact…for my money Robert Kovacs, the guy that Rene saw a picture of and figured it to be a digitally remastered photo of an old picture of Charles Bronson, is more than just a guy that reminds us of a dead icon. The truth is…Charles Bronson, like John Wayne before him, left us a-ways back. But they live forever in their movies – we can visit them anytime we like. So, Bronzi, like Bronson will enjoy his moment in the sun. Some would argue that the novelty will be short-lived…? That maybe the case, but for right now, we have ourselves a brand new B movie icon . . . I think that should be celebrated…?
Here’s my chat with Robert Bronzi . . .
KH: Could you tell us a little of your life before you started making movies?
RB: I’m an actor musician and stuntman ,I did a lot of different things in my life. I worked as a horse breeder and horse trainer. I performed at western shows in Hungary and Spain. I’m an accordionist; I played music in bars, in weddings and private parties.
KH: The million dollar question . . . at what point in your journey did people start saying, “Hey, you know you look a hell of a lot like Charles Bronson?
RB: Many years ago in Hungary I worked as a horse breeder where there were a lot of visitors every day. People told me that l looked a lot like Charles Bronson. I worked with my good friend Peter, he would always say that I looked like him and he began calling me Bronzi. So he gave me this nickname.
KH: Was it purely this attribute that attracted attention and motivated filmmakers to want to work with you?
RB: I would say yes. A short story: Director Rene Perez saw my photo on a saloon wall in Spain in the western village where I worked as a stunt performer. He thought it was a photo of Charles Bronson years ago. He asked the owner about the photo. When he found out it wasn’t Bronson it was me, he told him, “I want to meet this guy immediately!”
KH: I recently saw a sneak preview of Cry Havoc, directed by Rene – I especially love the scene where you prepare to lay it all on the line for your daughter in the film – your pull the shirt off and walk towards him, staring death in the face. I cheered loudly watching it and woke my wife who was in bed. What was that scene like to shoot?
RB: I really enjoyed it; this is a very important part of the movie as I fight to save my daughter, for life or death. In addition, we were shooting in a burnt forest where thick ash covered the ground. Ashes flew everywhere during the fight.
KH: You have worked with Rene now on a number of films. Do you enjoy the creative freedom on offer shooting with him? He also told me when I interviewed him, that you also help holding microphones and other duties beside your work as an actor?
RB: Working with Rene is easy, he is a very talented director, he knows what he wants, but if I have some ideas, we discuss them and he is usually open to making changes based on my suggestions. Of course, I help with filming that’s in my own best interest isn’t it? We are often up in the mountains or shooting in difficult conditions. I help him with a few things, and not just me, everyone out there, I think we’re a team and we need to help each other out.
KH: Are you at ease with, in a way, being engulfed by the shadow that is being a performer that is recognized for the whole “he looks like Bronson” deal?
RB: I have used my appearance to my advantage throughout my career as a stuntman and actor and I am grateful for the resemblance that I have to the great Charles Bronson as it has created many opportunities for me.
KH: Would you work on a big budget film should you be presented the opportunity?:
RB: Yes of course I would love to have that opportunity and I’m sure it will happen in the near future.
KH: What are the types of movies ‘you’ want to be in, or are you happy to be offered the type of parts you are making a name for yourself with at present?
RB: So far my roles have been quite varied and I would like to continue making western and action movies in the future.
KH: I can’t get over – not just the amazing and uncanny resemblance – plus the fact that even the way you carry yourself on screen is so similar to the legendary Bronson – would you be happy if this is your mark on cinema history?
RB: I am very grateful for my resemblance to Bronson, and I am proud to be compared to him. I also appreciate the opportunities that I have had because of this but ultimately, I really want to be remembered as an actor in my own right, as Robert Bronzi. I put a lot of work and effort into each role that I take on and I want my personal skills and talents to be my legacy.
KH: If Charles Bronson were alive today…if you met him…what would you say to him, and what do you think he’d reply?
RB: I would say to him, “Mr. Bronson nice to meet you in person and I am very proud to be your double. I try to do everything well, with my best knowledge and talent as an actor, and I hope you will be proud of me.” And hopefully he would reply, “Nice to meet you too Robert I really like your personality and I think you represent me well. Best wishes for your future career. I give you my blessing.”
You heard it here folks. Out of the shadow of a legend he came. His place in genre cinema…I’d say is a lock!
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?
Sam Shepherd’s Silent Tongue is a bizarre one. The writer/director is usually in succinct, assured control of his art but here he kinds of makes a mess in the sandbox, literally since this is set in the deserts of the American Southwest. There are some outright fantastic ideas at play here and scenes of striking beauty and chilling poetic morbidity, but the narrative isn’t fixed together solidly enough and much of it is lost on the viewer in a hail of haphazard scenes and a story that barrels along with scant exposition, a complaint that you will rarely, if ever hear from me, but here we are.
This is River Phoenix’s last film before an untimely passing, and it finds him sitting half crazed out on the frontier, grieving the death of his halfbreed Kiowa wife Awbonnie (Sheila Tousey), who perished during childbirth. He’s an already slow kid who is driven positively mad by this tragedy, and sits there with her corpse on a makeshift alter howling at the moon and brandishing a giant rifle at anyone and anything who comes near them. Because of his refusal to give her proper burial rights, she comes back as a vengeful, spooky ghost to harass and haunt him, something like a desert legend crossed with a spectral Kabuki costume. Elsewhere the boy’s distraught father (Richard Harris) returns to the dusty travelling circus where he bought Awbonnie in hopes of purchasing her twin sister Velada (Jeri Arredondo) to console his son out there on the plains. The circus owner and father of the two (Alan Bates) is less than cooperative when he learns of his first child’s passing and his son (Dermot Mulroney) is downright hostile. Seeing no other option, Harris kidnaps the girl and high tails it for the desert enclave where Phoenix sits and Awbonnie roams around like a lost soul tormenting him.
This isn’t a pretty boy western, a shoot em up or a cowboy picture, it’s a gnarly, fucked up frontier horror story populated by strange people and punctuated by odd, supernatural occurrences and disturbing flashbacks involving the mother of the two Kiowa girls (Tantoo Cardinal), who is called Silent Tongue for a very specific and unsettling reason. Phoenix is convincingly unhinged and plays the horror well, Harris is weary and understated, while Mulroney seems miscast and stumbles over the articulate western dialogue. It’s Bates who takes the cake though as the constantly drunk circus owner who has to face his past out there on the plains, he practically fills up the whole runtime with his ranting and raving, it’s a wonder he could sustain that level of mania for an entire performance. Tousey is intense and elemental as the ghost, adorned in eerie makeup and face paint and spewing out freaky threats in a guttural voice. Shepherd tries his best to anchor everything in symbolism and provide a story that makes sense, but it simply gets lost in a muddle and ends up making little emotional impact, which is kind of unforgivable because this story technically *does* make sense when you work it out in your head and *should* make a landing like that. I’m not usually one for remakes but this one practically begs for it because the story and ideas are so beautiful and full of potential, but the execution turned into kind of an inconsequential shit show. Shame. Great score by Patrick O’Hearn though.
How iconic has the image become of Clint Eastwood, poncho adorned, rolled cigarette locked firmly in that drawn snarl, peering out from a wide brim, dust caked hat atop a horse? The Man With No Name is such a household name these days that he’s shown up everywhere from Stephen King lore to an animated Johnny Depp movie, but it all began with Sergio Leone’s original spaghetti western trilogy, the best of which is the fireball classic The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.
The trilogy itself not only launched an entire sub-genre in the early sixties but created a mood, a feel that no one besides Leone has ever been able to so specifically distill. Extreme closeups on eyes deep set in furrowing brows. Languid establishing shots of frontier town streets, expansive railroads and acres of dry brush-lands. The actors aren’t necessarily blocked from scene to scene with any kind of briskness but rather wade languidly through an ambient space seemingly at their own leisure and never with haste. Spaghetti westerns are never about the plot, but about the moment, the setup, the apprehension in the saloon, grotto, civil war torn graveyard or desert that these hard bitten folks find themselves in.
Eastwood’s nameless gunslinger meanders across a bitter, busted up American west that is, of course, actually Italy, engaging in war games and an obsessive treasure hunt with two other pieces of work, the sociopathic monster Angel Eyes (Lee Can Cleef) and the lecherous, untrustworthy rodent Tuco (Eli Wallach). All three are after a legendary gold stash somewhere out there in the desolation and are prepared to kill anyone who stands in their way, bonus points for each other. Eastwood is cold, calm and opaque, Cleef is cheerfully, sadistically ruthless, Wallach oozes weaselly survival instinct and together they make a captivating trio.
Three scenes in particular stand out in my mind; the first is the epic showdown between them all, stood a few hundred paces apart in a triangle, locked in a tense pre shootout stare-down as Ennio Morricone’s gorgeous and threatening score booms around the landscape and plays with expectations wonderfully. It’s a kicker of a scene and probably the showcase Western showdown in cinema. The second (and I’m assuming at this point that anyone who’s read this far has seen the film) is the final sequence where Eastwood taunts Wallach by literally leaving him hanging and riding away as Morricone yet again gives our eardrums symphonic bliss. It’s a wicked little epilogue that illustrates the character’s dry, subtle sense of humour nicely and I remember my dad (this was a favourite for him) rewinding it just to catch the beats a second or third time. The third is a moment where Eastwood comes across a soldier who is dying in the dust. He offers the man a drag off his cigarette, and the simple action suggests a beating heart and flickers of compassion in a mostly hard, stoic fellow. Nice touch.