Blood Moon (2015)
Clint Eastwood once said that there are only two truly original American works of art: jazz and Westerns. And as the man is as tough as a stick of jerky left soaking in glue, I’m not gonna argue with him.
I grew up watching Westerns partly because I was trying to bond with my Dad, who loved them because they were filled with manly men who used guns to solve their problems and every time he did that, he’d get into trouble. Everyone talks about how great Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns are, but my favourite remains Howard Hawks’ RIO BRAVO (1959), with the indefatigable John Wayne. I’m even currently writing a supernatural novel about a teenage cowgirl combating a skinwalker in Victorian Manchester.
Skinwalkers – Navajo medicine men who commit terrible crimes to gain powers such as reading minds, possession, invulnerability, and most famously the ability to transform into any animal – have been featured in numerous books, films and television programs in the last few years, to varying degrees of accuracy to the original folklore. Some depictions have them as little different from traditional European werewolves, however.
This is a tack that BLOOD MOON takes. The film is remarkable already for being filmed in England, one of only two Westerns I’m aware of to do so (if Italian westerns are called Spaghetti, what would you call the British equivalent? Yorkshire Pudding Westerns?). You wouldn’t think that Britain (specifically in this case, a place called Dorset) would be an effective stand-in for the Wild West, but then that’s only if you picture dusty, tumbleweed-ridden desert wastelands with buttes and cactuses.
BLOOD MOON opens with a man, Calhoun (Shaun Dooley) approaching the camera, pistol raised, his face determined to no doubt shoot dead some cattle-thieving cowpoke. But no, it’s to put his injured horse out of its misery. We then get some night-time shots of a Colorado ghost town, where the caretaker (David Sterne) gets spooked, and then killed.
Then we get introduced to the Norton Brothers, Jeb (Raffaello Degruttola) and Hank (Corey Johnson) as they rob a bank in a neighbouring town, killing the tellers when the latter try to play Hero, and escape. The local Sheriff goes to Navajo tracker Black Deer (Eleanor Matsuura) for a guide, and she stops drinking long enough to accept. The alcoholism aspect is a bit stereotypical, but the character isn’t, played as a tough, smart woman with troubling knowledge about what might be out in those mountains.
Now we get a stagecoach filled with a number of more Western tropes: a Marshall and his new bride, a hooker with a heart of gold, a preacher, a young English reporter. They are joined by Calhoun as they ride off to a rest stop – the first ghost town where the old guy had been killed. There they are ambushed by the Norton Brothers, who kill, menace and generally threaten, until the threat of the Skinwalker outside turns the hostage drama into a siege, and Calhoun takes over…
BLOOD MOON has a hell of a lot going for it: the look is authentic (you’d never guess that it was shot in the south of England, home of country manors and village churches) as are the performances (almost all English actors) and some of the lore behind the Skinwalkers (mentioning their weakness to white ash, for instance, something I’ve not heard in other depictions), although what I’ve learned about the subject for my book indicates that not many people outside of the Navajo tribes would have had knowledge about these creatures. Wooding has an eye for storytelling, working with what he has to make an impressively-shot movie.
If anything lets down BLOOD MOON, it’s the story, which takes too long setting up too many characters, without giving most of them much to work with, and then spending a good portion of the film with them held hostage by the Norton Brothers, before the Skinwalker returns to menace them (the relatively low budget also means that actual decent shots of the monster are few and far between).
But I wouldn’t want to put anyone off seeing it, it’s enjoyable, and even has a set-up in the end with a potential for a sequel for one of the main characters. BLOOD MOON is available on DVD in the US and UK, and the trailer is below.
Director: Jeremy Wooding
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy, ya gotch-gutted bottleheaded varmints!