Due to some of the subject matter within this particular slice of horror, let the record show that I'm reviewing this on its merits of being a horror movie as opposed to the story within. In short, it tackles 1879 America and how some people may have seen indigenous tribes back then. Up here in Canada, this is a very touchy subject right now, and I'm honestly hesitant to even review this. But I will do my best, as I do feel like the film has a somewhat appropriate message to convey - basically "the monster here isn't who the characters think".
The film opens one night when a family of settlers is violently taken in the night by an unknown source. This is where their fellow pioneers immediately suspect the surrounding tribes, and they form a posse to set out and find the missing family. Among them, Irish immigrant, Fergus Coffey (Karl Geary), hardened fighters, John Clay (Clancy Brown) and William Parcher (William Mapother), naive teen who keeps screwing up, Dobie Spacks (Galen Hutchison) and former slave, Walnut Callaghan (Sean Patrick Thomas) and if I missed anyone, my bad, but sometimes I rely on Wiki for reminders and it just plain doesn't list any character names. But Doug Hutchison is also a part of this as Henry Victor , and he's just as likable as always (the character you really wanna punch in the nose).
As the posse sets out, they have to endure certain aspects such as the weather and the threat of the surrounding tribes. However, as the film unfolds, they soon learn that the indigenous people of the area are not what is to be feared so much as the monsters they have dubbed "the Burrowers" (not to be confused with "the Borrowers"). These creatures cut their victims and drug them with a paralyzing toxin. Then, the victim gets buried alive and consumed after decomposition has begun. I have to say, kudos to the film for creating such a terrifying creature, and providing the viewing audience with something truly disturbing. The idea of total paralysis followed by what it probably a torturous death is really disturbing, and the last time I saw something close to this was probably 'Serpent and the Rainbow'; also involving a paralyizing drug and getting buried alive.
Setting certain things about this movie aside, they do a pretty good job here with the horror. I do have to give them credit for giving us a period piece horror movie as well - something I think the film industry lacks in a very big way. I mean, think about how much scarier horror can be when you take away something like what modern health care can help with. Things get much more visceral, and the disturbance of it all can build up much more if the victim can't do something we take for granted today like, say, call an ambulance. I further enjoyed the creature design of these burrowers - sort of reminiscent of a small version of the Rancor from 'Return of the Jedi' mixed with a Licker from 'Resident Evil'. It's just plain monstrous and intimidating and you don't wanna run into one.
So given some of the subject matter involved in this one, I do have a hard time just telling certain horror fan to check it out. I think for the most part, it was pretty cool, but there could be some stuff here that has since been dated. I do think the underlying message here is still a good one in that there is more to fear than something we might not understand, and we often use our judgment in some pretty stupid ways. We're also pretty gullible - it takes a long time for these guys to accept that actual monstrous creatures are what they should be worried about. I think that this has the potential to be watched the right way, but I also think that right now this could be a very touchy one for my fellow Canadians, and to skip it would be perfectly fine. I'd probably sooner recommend something a little more educational at this point. But if you feel so inclined, this can be found on Amazon.
I must say, it's pretty unfortunate that I've yet again chosen a 'Bruce Campbell' title where he's not even that big a part of it. That's odd, considering he takes up 90% of the movie's poster, and is third billed in the cast. However, his role in this is important enough, as in a cast full of vampires, he's playing a descendant of Van Helsing, as well as providing much of the comedy relief.
The film's main focus in on a colony of vampires who reside in a small, seemingly uncharted desert town called Purgatory, armed against the sun with shades, big hats and sunblock. Under the guidance of their ancient leader, Jozek Mardulak (David Carradine - top billed), they seek a peaceful coexistence with humankind. To help with this transition, artificial blood is made to sustain them, but the "blood" is a milky color, and it's not exactly real in comparison to draining actual fresh blood from a human. Sensing trouble, Mardulak brings in the plant designer, David Harrison (Jim Metzler), who brings along his wife, Sarah (Morgan Brittany - second billed) and two morbid young daughters, Gwen and Juliette (Vanessa Pierson and Erin Gourlay, respectively) thinking they're in for a nice summer vacation.
David and his family soon find themselves in the middle of a vampiric civil war between the vampires led by Mardulak, who want peace and prosperity, and vampires led by another elder named Jefferson (John Ireland) who wants to take it back to the old ways. That's the essential plot of the film overall, but Van Helsing's descendant (Campbell) finally does make an appearance, there to hunt and destroy all vampires in town, but he may or may not find himself caught up in this battle through no fault of his own.
So while the film lacks a lot of the Campbell I came to see, I have to admit that as a nifty cult vampire film, on the whole, it's really not bad. It's nothing great, but I can understand its cult following, and it does have the potential to grow on one over time. I thought the concept was pretty interesting, and when it comes to Van Helsing's role in it, it's honestly a very strange breath of fresh air. Campbell isn't your typical bad ass vampire hunting Helsing so much as the complete opposite of what you'd expect. He's awkward, clumsy, and doesn't seem to really know what he's doing. Being that he's not the legendary Van Helsing, but a descendant, it's neat to see who could be the black sheep of the family.
The civil war between the vampires is an interesting one, because it's a case where I can't choose a side, because each side makes such a good point. The "good" vampires are tired from all the war between them and the humans over the centuries, and just wanna find a way to end it and not have to keep threatening each other's lives. Meanwhile, the old school vampires I see as basic carnivores. Imagine loving things like bacon, bugers, chicken, and then having it all substituted with vegan alternatives. To me, it's really the same difference, so siding with the "bad" vampires was actually very easy for me.
The whole thing is capped off with a pretty intense gunfight (it is explained why the guns work, don't worry), and for a film this small a caliber, things are pretty well done. It's fairly tough to come across, so I found it on Amazon to rent for a mere $4.00, and I can honestly say I wasn't altogether disappointed with my purchase. The lack of Campbell ruins nothing. I will say that you have to go into this expecting quite a bit of cheese, and some pretty horrendous acting in parts, but the film does have a certain late 80's charm to it (1989 to be exact) and it works for exactly what it is - a cult comedy vampire film from the late 80's
I've always been a pretty hardcore fan of Edgar Wright, but I had gone this whole time without checking out his completely hidden, underground, humble beginnings. In '93, he did a home movie he called 'Dead Right', which is still something I need to check out. But his first feature film, that might mean a little more to the UK than the US. The North American version of this is, pretty much, Trey Parker's 'Cannibal! The Musical', which predates this by a couple of years. Two completely different stories, but certain elements were a little too close.
'A Fistful of Fingers' is a straight up 'Naked Gun'-like farce on Spaghetti Westerns. But I'd like to give people fair warning that some of this stuff might be a little sensitive - not the least of which is Martin Curtis portrayal of Indian stereotype, "Running Sore". But with that said, again, this is satire. It kinda points and laughs, not at the Native people, but what spaghetti westerns see Native people like. As long as you can see this for what it's trying to do, you should be able to see some of Wright's clever writing techniques that he still applies to his films today. He does enjoy that fine line.
The story follows cowboy Walter Marshall (Graham Low), a cowboy whose horse, Easy, was killed (hilariously) by wanted criminal, The Squint (Oli van der Vijver). Essentially, it's a revenge comedy in the spirit of something like 'Looney Tunes', with its snappy writing, and cartoonish sight gags. It's definitely a solid, early start for the guy, but even an Edgar Wright nerd like myself can see a few faults here and there.
The biggest, glaring thing to me is that there's actually so much here that feels like it actually takes from 'Cannibal'. I can't very well accuse Wright of this, since at this point, Trey Parker wasn't really even a name yet. But it's remarkable how many things here will remind you of 'Cannibal', if you've ever had the pleasure of seeing it. But perhaps it's just that great minds think alike, and it's all a crazy coincidence. The point is, I've seen a lot of the gags in this done in 'Cannibal' before, right down to having an intimate relationship with a horse (don't worry, it's more lovey-dovey cheesy than gross and revealing).
Further flaws in this are pretty simply explained away as it being his first, full-length feature. He had to work with what he had to work with, and even then, this is quite a bit of fun. It feels like something that was filmed in his own back yard or something, but I can't deny that it gave me some genuine chuckles, and it did nothing to ruin the good name of Wright for me. If you're a fan of his work, and can understand that this is more of a spaghetti western satire than something trying to be racey, you can still have a great time with this. Wright has since graduated to write and direct a few titles I hold close to my heart, so this is an easy slide for me. It's fun, but his better movies are the ones you already know of.