Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yee Haw-ror

For such a good website, IMDB sure has a pretty stupid readership. Somehow I once again find myself prowling the dangerous neighborhood that is their message boards, this time for the 2008 little historical horror, The Burrowers. Tremors meets Jeepers Creepers,” cries one probably-thinks-he’s-very-clever commenter. You know, because The Burrowers has worms. And...hats?

My point, aside from the fact that people who frequent the IMDB message boards are generally not very bright, is that The Burrowers is a refreshingly well-made and even, dare I say it, original little film that’s mean, gooey, and surprisingly witty. So pah.
Quick Plot:
In the 1870s, a young Irishman named Fergis woos a pioneer lass (House of the Devil’ s Jocelin Donahue in a quick cameo) until her and her entire family disappear one day in the Dakotas. Fergis is soon met by a too-cool Clancy Brown, Lost’s William Mapother and his prospective stepson, and a suspicious military outfit led by another Lost veteran (Doug Hutchison, with a kicking handlebar mustache) to follow the probably doomed trail, assuming the settlers have been abducted by Indians.

It doesn’t take long for the four men to break off into their own posse, joined now by Sean Patrick Thomas’s not-so-Irish cook. Soon they discover a young catatonic woman buried (slightly) alive, her neck marked with an oddly oozy cut and mysterious infection. 
Following my review of Dead Birds  and callout for more historical horror, several readers and friends recommended this 2008 Western creature feature, directed by J.T. Petty. To those who did, I say...thank you. 
The Burrowers isn’t the best straight-to-DVD film I’ve seen this year, but it’s a genuinely rewarding 90 minutes of effective atmosphere, likable acting, and a far smarter-than-it-had-to-be script. It even has some laugh-out-loud lines, particularly in its early scenes as the comfortable cast starts their trail. It can't be easy to write dialogue set one hundred and thirty years ago, but Petty produces some natural and entertaining conversations for his game cast.
More importantly, the film is scary in a unique way you don't really see too much of nowadays. In no way does The Burrowers change the nature of horror cinema, but it actually does some fairly interesting things with its story, killing off characters you expect to go further, avoiding cheap scares where plenty could be used, and teasing us with the nasty subterranian carnivores until near the film's end. Following a rather neat climax, the final moments are incredibly unsettling in a way you just don't find in most horror.

High Points
Headed by a cast of character “that guy” actors, The Burrowers is extraordinarily played. All the men are believable as nineteenth century working fellas, but they also have great chemistry and come off as a likable, if flawed (and doomed) crew

For CGI creations in a low budget film, the titular monsters are surprisingly neat little creatures, with phallic wormy bodies, muscular cricket legs, and ugly little faces primarily marked by the kind of teeth you're really not looking forward to being devoured by

While I don’t usually enjoy a dreary ending for dreariness’ sake, (and The Burrowers finish is a downer), the final images and lines are hauntingly appropriate. We've seen that this is a cruel world run by narrow minded men. A fairy tale finish would've been ridiculous. 
Low Points
I appreciate a film set before electricity not going for the easy fake lighting during night scenes, but at the same time...I really like to see things in movies 

Lessons Learned
Never mess with another man’s Indian
When in doubt, assume you’re surrounded by bear traps. Just trust me on that one

The ability to fall asleep while riding a horse is a power that must be cultivated, though unfortunately, bares no correlation with good aim when shooting a pistol
Vertically challenged men in positions of power will usually do nothing but cause trouble
A highly recommended little Instant Watch, The Burrowers has an intriguing pace that may be a little slow for some viewers. Though it took a fair amount of time to get to the (surprisingly not that brutal) monster mashing, the engaging style of the acting and rare historical setting will still make it a winner for most genre fans. Watching it so closely after Survival of the Dead  even makes me think that my problem with Romero's film had nothing to do with my lack of love for Westerns. This is a solid, scary, and entertaining film that easily warrants a bargain priced buy.


  1. I hate to disagree with the matriarch of all things doll, but i found this one too slow for my tastes.

  2. I can understand. It definitely takes its time, but I enjoyed the shuffle.

  3. Now I'm conflicted. When this first came out I was excited as hell to get my hands on it due to its rather original premise. However, as I began scoping bad review after bad review online my excitement quickly gave way to "eh."

    In sounds from your review that it is very much an "Exorcist" type of film in the regard that you must wade through it for the payoffs, but that the payoffs are good... well, add this one to my October-fest list I suppose. :)

  4. See, the payoff isn't HUGE, but it feels really fitting yet still surprising. It's not a great party movie, but to turn the lights off and watch it in a quiet room is fitting. The acting and writing is just so good throughout that you care what happens, whether it's a gory or terrifying or not.

    Now I'll be really curious to see where you stand.

  5. I’ve been eyeing this up for a while – I love the idea of a horror western but I’ve never seen a really good one. I’m going to watch both this and Doomsday in the weekend. Thanks!

  6. Hope you enjoy them Pearce! I think fans of the western genre (I'm not normally one) will at least dig the aesthetics and dialogue. I anxiously await your opinion.

  7. I have had high hopes for this director after seeing Soft For Digging and he didn't let me down! Loved this! Loved Dead Birds as well and I would like some more Western themed horrors. If you liked this, check out Soft for Digging. It's not a western/horror, but it showed promise.

  8. I thought the Burrowers was a very original little slab of horror. While it certainly bore bits that were similar to other flicks, the whole package was novel, the characters were certainly engrossing and believable, there were no "jump the shark" moments, and the downer ending was appropriate. Spooky likey!

  9. Kookie: I haven't seen Soft For Digging but now my interest is piqued. Thanks for the tip!

    Spooky: Totally! I really loved the characters, both for their performances and dialogue. The film followed its time period right down to the bleak ending, which was totally fitting. High spooky five!

  10. I loved The Burrowers! I agree it's not a movie that everyone will take to but I loved the cast, the period setting, and the downbeat finale. The abrupt, almost Romero-esque ending really pulled the rug out from under me - but in a good way.

  11. And the ending made TOTAL sense! I love that the film never cheated by giving its characters an easy outs. It's 187whatever, and that's the way it is.

  12. Your latest post brought me to this one, and while I'm not like "whoah this sounds awesome," it does sound like something I want to check out. Whereas you have a thing for historical horror (of which there is definitely a lack), I have a thing for western horror (Ghost Town, Grim Prairie Tales, Old Chief Wood'nhead from Creepshow 2, etc) and I think that alone is enough to reel me in on The Burrowers. Throw in a slow pace and a grim ending, and I can't resist.

    Thank heavens for your archives of reviews!

    1. Yay! Glad links still work!!!

      I'm not the biggest western fan, but I do love a good western-set horror. Again, I think so much of it for me is the automatic danger, plus the horrors of the elements.

      Some others in that camp that are worth a watch if you're on the hunt:
      Gallow Walkers (not good, but kind of neat)
      The Pale Door (I was bored, but a lot of people I know loved it)
      Bone Tomahawk
      Dead Birds
      7 Mummies (delightfully terrible)
      and Tremors 4!

    2. I actually don't like normal western films at all, so I'm not sure why I'm drawn to western horrors. It's probably just the under-utilized gimmick, paired with my ever-intense nostalgia for videos I remember seeing for rent.

      I've never heard of any of the ones you listed so I'll look them up. Bone Tomahawk, that's a great title. Tremors FOUR?? It's really interesting that you chose a film deep into sequel land as a standout in a series. Is it better than its predecessors, or is it just more western than its brethren?

    3. Fascinating! Now I'm trying to think if there's a subgenre I enjoy as horror, but not out of it (aside from western).

      Tremors 4 is super fun! It's a sort of prequel that doesn't need any context, just the same characters from most of the films (headed by Michael Gross) playing their own ancestors 200 years earlier. Good dumb fun.