My pick for best horror film of 2015 is not a horror film in the conventional sense. It is neither a supernatural or a slasher film. It is not a film about a giant bug or shark or bear. Nor is it a film about an invasion from outer space, a world-wide mega-virus or the now-tedious zombie. It is titled, BONE TOMAHAWK, and it is a hybrid horror film -- a horror western to be exact.
Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wayne, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins and directed by S. Craig Zahler, this two-hour plus indie flick is much worthier than its limited and short theater run. Now available on DVD and Amazon Prime, it is, in my opinion, a movie not to miss.
A word of warning, however. Don't expect the usual relentlessly high energy action film that has attached itself to the film industry like a parasite. Admittedly, for the first hour or so, BONE TOMAHAWK is leisurely. But the pace picks up, tension mounts and weaves its way almost imperceptibly into the nervous system, and then the horror explodes, suddenly and violently.
The plot is simple and is immediately reminiscent of John Ford's THE SEARCHERS. A disparate quartet of cowboys sets out after one of the group's wife has been abducted by -- wait for it -- cannibal troglodytes! There is none of Ford's breathtaking and expansive Monument Valley panoramas here. Instead, the film is lensed by Benji Bakshi (no relation to Ralph) at Paramount Ranch near Malibu, CA.
The characterizations are what makes this movie tick. They are are deep and complex and the initial pace of the film breathes easy enough to allow for their development so that the viewer can be drawn into them on a visceral level. Kurt Russell is always awesome and Matthew "Lost" Fox puts on quite a show as an uppity, self-important Indian killer. But it is Richard Jenkins' Oscar-worthy (yes, you heard right) performance as Russell's Deputy Chicory, that steals the show. The venerable actor has many movies to his credit, but few, if any, have given him the opportunity to "own" his character like 'ol Chicory. Perhaps the weakest link in the entire cast is the abductee herself, played by Lili Simmons. She just seems to lack the ability (or the talent) here to coalesce with the verisimilitude of her co-stars.
Outside of the characters, the script is the backbone of the movie's style. Penned by Director S. Craig Zahler, he has a Western novel, A Congregation of Jackals, that was nominated for both a Peacekeeper and a Spur award, and another, Horror/Western, Wraiths of the Broken Land, that has garnered enthusiastic reviews from the likes of Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, Joe R. Lansdale, and none other than Kurt Russell himself.
As for the horror elements of the story, they are only hinted at until the last half of the film. The "troglodytes" are described by the town professor (played by Zahn "Longmire" McClarnon) as flesh-eating throw-backs, living in a blasted land that has a history of being known as "forbidden territory". The rescue party finally meets up with the dozen or so survivors of a lost race who fanatically protect their land from interlopers using primitive, but effective means. The "bone tomahawk" alluded to in the title of the film is the trog's weapon of choice, a deadly throwing implement sharpened from the jawbone of a horse. Their warning system is a sort of bone whistle that is surgically embedded into their larynx. When the whistle is used it sounds like a deafening cross being an elephant giving birth and a lion's roar. As a warning to the fainthearted there is a dismemberment scene that will curl your toes if you are not used to such gruesome scenes.
Made for under $2 million, BONE TOMAHAWK is one of those movies that can illustrate how a powerful film can be presented in a convincing historical setting without relying on a crew of 500 and a budget that would make the U.S. Government envious.
This movie receives MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD'S highest recommendation.
Below are a few screen grabs from the movie.