BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: S. Craig Zahler

Written by: S. Craig Zahler

Starring: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Sid Haig & Geno Segers

Two genres that don’t often go together are Horror and Westerns. Combinations of the two very different genres have only been attempted a handful of times to my knowledge (THE BURROWERS, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, and TREMORS). BONE TOMAHAWK just happens to be the latest effort that tries to blend these two distinct genres into one creative story. While it definitely leans more onto the Western side before diving straight into Horror country for the final third, I can easily fathom that this film will please fans of both cinematic genres. Blending a slow brooding pace of a John Wayne flick with some graphic cannibal horror, BONE TOMAHAWK is an unexpectedly great film that came out of nowhere and knocked me on my ass.

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Bright Hope is a peaceful, out-of-the-way town that never encounters any serious problems. Tonight is different as a strange drifter has just rolled into town and caught the eye of Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell sporting a magnificent bit of facial hair). One brief confrontation later and the drifter is behind bars at the local jail with only a law man and a nurse to keep him company. This drifter’s arrival was the mere beginning of something far more sinister and the jail turns up empty in the morning. Hunt suspects that Indians might have something to do with the three disappearances and soon learns that there’s something in the wilderness that even Indians are afraid of. Taking their lives into their own hands, Sheriff Hunt brings along Arthur O’Dwyer (the missing nurse’s husband), Chicory (an old-fashioned deputy), and John Brooder (a trigger-happy bigot) on a rescue mission into some very dangerous territory.

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For a movie that’s essentially been sold as Kurt Russell fighting cannibals in the Old West, BONE TOMAHAWK is far better than I think anyone could have anticipated. I mean, sure that one sentence pitch sounds fun in and of itself, but this movie treats itself as a dark and brooding ride. Everyone is playing this ridiculous-sounding material with a believable straight face. This approach works far better than it probably should have. First-time director S. Craig Zahler (who also penned the decent ASYLUM BLACKOUT) uses a confident hand behind the camera to bring his vision to life. This feels like a slow-burn Western that just happens to have a long showdown with vicious man-eating cannibals in the final act.

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This self-serious approach can also be seen in the performances of a remarkable cast of big-name actors. Kurt Russell (who’s also starring in certain other Western that arrives later this year) is very much in his element. He’s having a blast as Sheriff Hunt and gives the performance his all, which brings to life a likable bad-ass with a heart of gold. Patrick Wilson is especially good and plays the wounded husband (he has a broken leg all throughout the film) as a determined man on a mission. Richard Jenkins brings a strong screen presence as the kindly old deputy. Meanwhile, Matthew Fox really shines as the despicable Brooder (who has an interesting motivation of his own). David Arquette and Sid Haig also make brief, memorable appearances.

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When it does get into the horror section of its story, BONE TOMAHAWK also gets extremely graphic in the violence department. Seeing as the plot involves cannibals, I was expecting gore. I just wasn’t expecting this film to have a scene that rivaled the best moment of THE GREEN INFERNO in its sheer viciousness. Even when we get severed body parts and guts spilling out onto the screen, the movie never goes into cheesy or over-the-top territory. Instead, the brutality only adds to the dark atmosphere that the movie was playing with from the very beginning.

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Though the running time might be a little too long and there’s a noticeable leap of logic made in the final moments, BONE TOMAHAWK is far better than I think anyone could have anticipated it being. The premise may sound ludicrous on paper, but the way it’s executed with an exciting new director/writer behind the camera, a rock solid cast acting their hearts out, and exciting bursts of violence transform the silly material into a seriously great time. It’s a shame that BONE TOMAHAWK didn’t hit theaters, because there are scenes that would get great audience reactions (I found myself cheering while watching it at home). If you’re craving something out-of-the-ordinary for this final week of this Halloween season (or any time really) and don’t want to make a trip to the multiplex, BONE TOMAHAWK should satisfy your craving. This is one of the best horror movies of 2015!

Grade: A-

THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sadistic Violence, Strong Sexual Content, Language and Drug Use

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Directed by: Rob Zombie

Written by: Rob Zombie

Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Ken Foree, Matthew McGrory, Leslie Easterbrook, Dave Sheridan, Danny Trejo, Brian Posehn, Tom Towles, Michael Berryman & P.J. Soles

Two years after he broke into the horror filmmaking scene with HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, Rob Zombie returned with a sequel. THE DEVIL’S REJECTS follows the same band of psychopaths who originally appeared in HOUSE, but couldn’t be more different in tone and execution. That’s a very good thing as it shows Zombie’s overall improvement as a filmmaker and storyteller. The film isn’t perfect, but it is a dark, gruesome ride straight into hell.

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Set seven months after the events of the first film, DEVIL’S REJECTS kicks off with Sheriff John Wydell (brother to the dead Sheriff in the previous film) leading a violent raid on the Firefly clan’s house of horrors. In the fiery fray, Otis and Baby escape onto the road, while Mama is captured and interrogated. Getting word that the coppers on his tail, crazy clown Captain Spaudling also takes to the road. Together, this trio of redneck psychopaths (Otis, Spaulding, and Baby) come across new victims and attempt to outrun the law, all while Sheriff Wydell resorts to drastic measures to nab them.

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While 1,000 CORPSES definitely had its share of disturbing exploitation-heavy moments, I feel that DEVIL’S REJECTS better captures the gritty feeling that most disturbing 70’s grindhouse films carried. I’d liken the tone of this to something like the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. There’s a grimy atmosphere that runs through the entire film. In spite of having some pretty damned disturbing sequences, the screenplay also has a few extremely dark bits of humor. While some of the more obvious ones (a quick trip to an ice cream shop) didn’t work for me at all, other pieces of dialogue came off as hilarious in a really twisted way. These mainly come in little off-hand comments that Otis makes to a small group of future victims.

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Otis is played by a returning Bill Moseley and though his demeanor has changed to resemble Charlie Manson, his demented delivery is still the same. Sheri Moon Zombie also returns as Baby. I wish I could say that she’s not as annoying as she was in the first film, but the only reason that Rob seems to have cast her was to get numerous shots of her butt. Captain Spauding (Sid Haig) is given more wiggle room than he received in CORPSES. He’s one of the main characters this time around, but we only get a few scenes of him in the full-on make-up. Leslie Easterbrook serves as a fitting replacement for Karen Black as Mama Firefly. While the psycho-killers are as interesting as ever, William Forsythe steals the show as good-cop-turned-bad Sheriff Wydell. Forsythe serves as the character who the audience should be rooting for, but his psychotic side increases with each passing second. Side characters include various horror veterans: PJ Soles of HALLOWEEN, Michael Berryman of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, Ken Foree of DAWN OF THE DEAD and Tom Towles of HENRY. Also, Danny Trejo shows up as a blood-thirsty bounty hunter, so that’s worth mentioning.

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This sequel may be vastly superior to Zombie’s directorial debut, but he shows a penchant for a distractingly excessive amount of profanity. When a script is well written and contains cursing, the swearing blends naturally into the dialogue. However, Zombie makes ever single F-bomb stand out. These lines don’t fit well, especially when compared to the better pieces of dialogue in the film. There are a number of great scenes throughout this movie (including one intense kidnapping in a motel), but then we cut to conversations than consist entirely of characters yelling “fuck you!” at each other. It’s a bit jarring to say the least. However, this is the only major complaint that I have with DEVIL’S REJECTS.

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THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is a definite improvement for Zombie’s directorial talent and writing abilities. The characters, as psychotic and repulsive as they might be, are fascinating to watch. There’s also a pitch-black sense of humor that works in various bits of dialogue. The story flows far better than one might expect, especially give the general premise of the film. While certain scenes (I can’t express how much I hate the ice cream scene) stick out like a sore thumb, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is a remarkably horrific experience. If it sounds up your alley and you haven’t seen it for whatever reason, check this one out!

Grade: B+

HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sadistic Violence/Gore, Sexuality and Language

HouseCorpse poster

Directed by: Rob Zombie

Written by: Rob Zombie

Starring: Sid Haig, Karen Black, Erin Daniels, Dennis Fimple, Chris Hardwick, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie & Rainn Wilson

Love him or hate him, Rob Zombie is definitely a polarizing figure in the horror genre. Originally a shock rocker for WHITE ZOMBIE (a band named after the old-school Lugoisi flick), Rob Zombie lets his geeky flag fly all the time. Whether it be at concerts or in his films, you definitely know that this guy is a huge fan of the horror genre. Moving on from music, Zombie made his directorial debut in 2003’s controversial HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. I still vividly remember the advertising for this flick. It had been shelved by Universal for fears of possibly receiving an NC-17 rating and being seen as “too weird” for mainstream audiences. Lionsgate picked it up and then unleashed it on the world. I was disappointed upon first seeing this film, but I honestly blame having unreasonably high expectations for that reaction. HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s freaky fun for certain tastes.

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On an October 30, 1977, four friends make a pit stop at Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen. This rundown roadside attraction is a bizarre delight to behold and Jerry is particularly taken by the legend of a local serial killer known as Dr. Satan. He convinces his three reluctant friends to drive to an old hanging tree. On their way to the tree, they pick up a weird hitchhiker who happens to live next to their destination. However, their trip takes an ugly turn when they find themselves abducted by a family of psycho rednecks. That’s pretty much the plot right there. It’s Halloween, there are psycho rednecks and four potential victims. I think you get the gist.

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Rob Zombie has always had obvious horror influences in his music videos, whether it be the Drag-U-La used in the “Dragula” music video or little sound bites he throws in various other songs (e.g. Demonoid Phenomenon, Never Gonna Stop, etc.). Here, he takes his love for 70’s exploitation and throws it all into one wildly weird, if uneven, concoction that is HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. The script is a hodgepodge of different horror-related ideas that range from a TEXAS CHAINSAW sort of slasher to more bizarre territory during the final act. All of this sounds crazy and it definitely is. However, Zombie also injects a silly sense of humor into the mix. After all, you can’t exactly have someone being turned into an exhibit called “Fish Boy” and not have a bit of a laugh.

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As far as characters are concerned, the four friends are as bland as bland can be. Aside from the fact that a young Rainn Wilson and even younger Chris Hardwick show up as two of the four friends, these potential victims are dull. They don’t have much personality, not even to an extent where they could be considered horror stereotypes. Instead, they’re merely fresh meat for the villains. It is on the opposite side of the coin where Rob Zombie really knocks it out of the park. These villains (the Firefly clan) are great! Bill Moseley puts in a memorable performance that balances out creepy and kooky at the same time as Otis (the lead maniac). It could be argued that this character is essentially Chop Top (from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) before he became Chop Top. Karen Black (mainly known for TRILOGY OF TERROR) is enjoyable as Mother Firefly. Meanwhile, Sheri Moon Zombie is not a good actress in the slightest, but Baby Firefly is a fun character…sort of. The best character comes in the briefly glimpsed (he has a total of four scenes) Captain Spaulding. Played by Sid Haig, Spaulding just might be my favorite evil clown to grace the horror genre.

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The big problems with HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES don’t stem from a jumbled script or weak protagonists though, but rather in Zombie’s directorial style itself. This was Zombie’s first feature and you can tell. He essentially plays the whole thing out like an elongated version of one of his videos. By saying this, I mean that we get really flashy transitions to other scenes and brief sections of the film that no connection with the story whatsoever. While Zombie occasionally cuts away to Otis or Baby yelling into the camera about how they enjoy killing people, we also get bits with crazy old folks rambling about Skunk Apes or totting shotguns. These elderly characters have no place within the story itself and seem to pop up for these 10-second intervals simply because Zombie thought it would be cool. Instead, it becomes a big distraction and annoyance.

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HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES marked the arrival of a new polarizing voice in the horror genre. Love him or hate him, Rob Zombie is an interesting filmmaker to say the least. His feature debut is a mixed bag as a whole, but still provides enough sick enjoyment, dark humor and creepy sensibilities that it’s a worth an occasional viewing for every other Halloween season. Take it as flawed fun.

Grade: B-

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