Period horror flicks can be very effective if the creative team knows what they’re doing, and that means first and foremost making sure you have a grasp of your time period. If you want me to believe in vampires attacking homes in medieval France, gimme a little something about the Pyrenees, the Alps, or the Rhine; at least mention the Hundred Years’ War. If you want me to accept the concept of some mad scientist’s experimenting in Victorian England, it’ll really help if I see something like gas lit streets, class separation, poor people in certain districts, dirty clothes, and children toiling in workhouses. If it’s a true period piece and you want me to buy into it, you gotta at least try to make me believe in it as a whole.
The Burrowers, a horror flick set in the American Old West, is one of those where I feel the filmmakers were quite loyal to their setting, blending the horror into the film in a very creative and original fashion while holding true to the Western genre.
The film opens with what appears to be an indian attack on a family home deep in the Dakota territories, circa 1879. A man hustles his family to the cellar of their home, but after hearing shots and terrible screams, something crashes in to find them. The following day, Fergus Coffey, suitor to the oldest daughter of the family, finds only pools of blood and corpses when he calls upon the home; his beloved is not among the dead, but is missing.
Fetching the boss of the ranch he works on, William Parcher, he returns to the site of the seeming massacre; they are met there by John Clay, who like Parcher is an experienced frontiersman and indian fighter. What the men find is strange; wounds don’t seem to have bled enough, and the general method of attack isn’t like any indian raids they’ve seen before. Nonetheless, they enlist the aid of the local army officer Henry Victor and his troops to form a posse to seek out the raiders and hopefully rescue the missing woman. Along the path, they capture one native to see if he can get them any closer to their goal; however, the cruel methods of torture visited upon the indian to extract information are distasteful to the civilians (and the camp cook, Callahan); this plus the general sadistic nature of the officer causes the men to set off on their own, Callahan joining their ranks. Without the vicious stupidity of Victor, the four hope to make more progress relying on the knowledge and skill of the seasoned pair of Parcher and Clay. As they travel deeper into the wilderness, however, they find that although there are indeed hostile natives to contend with, their true enemy is far more deadly and far more ancient than they could have conceived of…
The film is a horror movie, but it’s well-disguised as a Western. The panoramic shots of the frontier, the costumes, dialogue, and behaviors; the filmmakers hit the nail on the head for the period they were aiming at. It’s a slow-mover, but the skillful direction and acting ensured that I didn’t find it a hard watch. The character development, while not as deep as you would think, is interesting and poignant in its exploration of life in the Old West, especially as it pertained to some of the darker aspects of the period, in particular racial prejudices, against not only the showcased Native Americans, but even blacks and other ethnic groups. This isn’t to say that the film gets bogged down or ever forgets it’s a horror flick; suspense builds deliciously, and the sounds of the…things in the darkness beyond the campfires is used to terrifying effect. Add to that one of the most original spins I’ve seen lately on a methodology of preying upon victims by the antagonists, and the ‘scary’ element is pretty satisfying. The creature effects were well-done for the most part; the monsters are only seen in dimly-lit glimpses, and close-in shots were by and large some nicely-done practical effects.
Sadly, there are some shots (especially during the climax) where the lower-end CGI is quite obvious, and it came very close to pushing me out of the suspension of my disbelief; also, there’s not a lot of gore that’s gonna stick out in your memory. Still, I didn’t find these facts to be deal-breakers, and I’m glad I stuck it out; from the climax the film moved to what I thought was an inspired and bold ending (albeit quite dark and hopeless), adroitly proving that true horror lies in the hearts of men.
I can see where it’s low gore level and slow burning might not be a lot of you Fellow Fan’s cup o’ tea, but I myself enjoyed the watch.
Two pennies lighter.
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