Bone Tomahawk (2015)

BT7Because I’m a writer, I’m also a shameless self-publicising exhibitionist, so I will take every appropriate opportunity to hawk my work or work in progress. At the moment, it’s the latter, a novel 90% completed, about a teenage cowgirl battling a murderous Skinwalker in 1895 Manchester (and yes, I will be looking for any kind folk who might like to read some and let me know how brilliant I am).

As the brief description I’ve given might hint, it’s a mix of the Horror and Western. it’s not an easy mix. If it’s done right, it’s Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. If it’s done wrong, it’s BILLY THE KID VS DRACULA. One movie that has stuck with me for years was THE WHITE BUFFALO (1977) starring Charles Bronson as Wild Bill Hickok, pursuing the titular creature in a cheap Western pastiche of JAWS that, if you ignored the terrible special effects used to portray the beast, succeeded with regard to acting and authenticity of setting and dialogue.

A lot of what I liked in THE WHITE BUFFALO made me appreciate S. Craig Zahler’s BONE TOMAHAWK, though I acknowledge that it can polarise viewers.

Quick, send for Captain Spaulding!

Quick, send for Captain Spaulding!

The movie opens with a man getting his throat slit, courtesy of petty crooks Purvis (David Arquette) and Buddy (Sid Haig! Hi, Sid!), who rob the bodies and, while they’re on a roll, steal from what looks like an Indian burial ground. This desecration earns Buddy a death too soon (Bye Sid!) but Purvis escapes, though later he’s spotted burying his ill-gotten gains by Chicory (Richard Jenkins), a “backup deputy” for the town of Bright Hope. Chicory alerts Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) about the suspicious activity, and Hunt ends up shooting the perp in the leg.

Hunt sends for Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) to tend to the leg in the jail (the town doctor is too drunk to deal with it, of course), leaving behind her husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) behind with his own broken leg. The next morning however, Hunt discovers that someone came to the jail during the night and took Samantha, Hunt’s other deputy Nick (Evan Jonigkeit) and the drifter, the only clue being an Indian arrow left in the jail.

There's Big Trouble in Little Deadwood...

There’s Big Trouble in Little Deadwood…

But as a local Native American tells Hunt (and us, the audience), this was the handiwork of no Native American, but a truly savage, aboriginal tribe of cannibal Troglodytes living in a cave nearby. (Well, I suppose they *are* technically Native Americans, but we need a disclaimer, because let’s face it, Hollywood has stomped on actual Native Americans for literally more than a century).

The Magnificent Seven Ride! (Okay, there's just four of them. And they're walking. Look, just go with it, okay?)

The Magnificent Seven Ride! (Okay, there’s just four of them. And they’re walking. Look, just go with it, okay?)

Hunt decides to go ahead and try to rescue Samantha, his deputy and the drifter, reluctantly taking along Chicory, Samantha’s injured husband Arthur, and John Brooder (Matthew Fox), a gunfighter said to have extensive experience as an Indian fighter. But the quartet face danger along the way, not just from bandits and the Troglodytes but from within, and Arthur’s leg and Brooder’s douchebaggery threaten to derail them…

Eat it, Russell!

Eat it, Russell!

BONE TOMAHAWK boasts a decent cast, and a script that offers the usual Western tropes (the solid Sheriff, the comic relief deputy, the gunslinger) but gives them nuances and real personality (the deputy Chicory, for instance, at first seems like an incompetent drunk, but along the way you get to know him and root for him). The dialogue also has an authentic feel (just like in WHITE BUFFALO), where you get the impression that these are people who live in another age (I loved the series DEADWOOD, but their decision to have the characters speak with modern dialogue was off-putting to me).

He needs to get out more...

He needs to get out more…

The gore and blood is also unflinching, in particular a scene where a captive of the Troglodytes is stripped, scalped, and has a spike inserted where only alien probes would dare go… Even scenes such as when Arthur’s broken leg has to be reset is played with a gritty realism that made me wince.

Boo!

Boo!

The movie is slow-paced. Many great Westerns are, they’re not all gunfights and bar-room brawls (my favourite Western of all time, Howard Hawks’s RIO BRAVO (1959) is nearly two and a half hours long and consists of long stretches of John Wayne chatting with his buddies or flirting with Angie Dickinson, and I’m perfectly okay with that), but anyone expecting a non-stop orgy of ultra-violence will be disappointed until our heroes actually reach the home of the Troglodytes. There’s also a low-budget feel to it (the town seems to consist of maybe eight people in total).

But if the movie has any major failing, it will be that it will be too horrific for Western fans, and too Westerny for horror films. But that’s the nature of hybrids. BONE TOMAHAWK is available is several different formats, and the trailer is below.

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Plot: 4 out of 5 stars

Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Deggsy. Yippee Kay-Yay…

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Comments
4 Responses to “Bone Tomahawk (2015)”
  1. Gynocrat says:

    The subtlety of the Professor Tall Trees’ scene is brilliant. Zahn McClarnon plays Tall Trees, and when they’re all demanding to know what tribe it is, ‘he says the’re no tribe’, and explains they’re troglodytes (no capital T there), then the people around him are like– ;they’re a tribe called Troglodytes’—the look on his face says it all: I’m an educated native surrounded by stupid white-people.

    Liked by 1 person

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  1. […] BONE TOMAHAWK: In some alternate reality where Westerns never died out, this could have been made by Wes Craven or John Carpenter, a story of a small band of cowboys led by Kurt Russell who set out to rescue a small group of people who have been abducted by a tribe of cannibalistic Troglodytes living high in the hills. As much a character piece as horror, it doesn’t flinch from the brutal scenes when they come, though its hybrid nature might put off pure Western fans, or bore pure horror fans. But it was something different in a field filled with zombies and ghost stories, and that’s something to consider.  […]

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