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Cowboys & Zombies (2010)
Director: Rene Perez

review by Jim Steel

One of the finest westerns ever made, Peckinpah's elegiac The Wild Bunch, starts with a blood-soaked gunfight. However, it lays out the circumstances in an economical manner so the viewer is in no doubt about what is happening and who the characters are. Cowboys & Zombies, on the other hand, just starts with a gunfight in a small town which leaves us with all sorts of questions. The good-looking cowboy might be the hero, if stereotyping is any guide, but why are they fighting? Who is on his side? Are those sprays of blood really delivered by water pistol? With the action failing to fully engage us, our attention naturally drifts. The town itself looks very bizarre, now, doesn't it? It's been made of brand-new unfinished pine which has then been painted to make it looked aged. This has the effect of making it look as if it is made of cardboard. Some of it may even merely be painted board. It's almost expressionist in appearance, and quite unsettling.

And by this time the gunfight is over. Our hero, Mortimer (David A. Lockhart) is a bounty hunter. He turns out to have a disconcertingly high register when we eventually get to hear him speak and therefore is probably not destined to be the new Eastwood. But never mind. He's saving up for something and when claiming the bounty on a corpse asks the marshal if he has any good leads. The marshal hands him a poster for Brother Wolf (Rick Mora), a Native American who has been accused of raping and murdering a white virgin. If Brother Wolf's name and noble portrait on the poster are consistent with narrative honesty then there has been a miscarriage of justice somewhere along the way but, regardless of that, this fugitive has to be brought in alive which will stop the filmmakers writing themselves into a corner later on.

Mortimer rides out of town and heads off at a particularly leisurely pace to track down Brother Wolf and we learn that he has a fondness for his horse which would be rather sweet in a Disney movie but seems somewhat out of place in a zombie movie. Eventually he comes to Whiskey Town, a rough and tough prospecting place that seems to have used the same building materials supplier as the first place. An old timer, looking not unlike a whiskery Benny Hill, hails our Michael Jackson-voiced hero and the pair of them sit down to indulge in the most ham-fisted info-dumping that it has ever been my misfortune to see. Mortimer then pays the old timer to look after his horse while he goes up in the woods to hunt for Brother Wolf. None of this half-now-now-and-half-latter business; no wonder the old timer looks so happy. And that is the last we shall hear of the horse.

Only later do we realise that Mortimer's horse was the only one that we ever see in this western and the horrible thought occurs to us that the budget did not stretch to hiring a horse for the whole duration of the shoot. Anyway, on with the plot; since it is being dragged kicking and screaming through the film, the least we can do is pay attention to it. Mortimer gets up and walks down the street, passing a man who tries to interest him in one of three women as either a bride or a hooker. In a what-the-hell-is-going-on-here moment, Mortimer takes the surly one (Camille Montgomery). All becomes clear as he leads her up into the woods; he is going to tie her up and use her as bait to catch Brother Wolf. Charming...

Meanwhile, two men find a green, glowing meteor and decide to push it into town on a wheelbarrow. Well, a cart would require a horse, wouldn't it? They push the meteor past beautiful dry stone dykes (which suggests that this frontier area is being heavily farmed) and when they arrive in town the meteor explodes, turning everyone into flesh-eating zombies. Bet you didn't see that coming.

Now it is time to talk of boobs of a non-metaphorical nature. Several of the young ladies in this film get their boobies out in a valiant attempt to enliven the film. The young lady with the biggest boobies walks out into a field and takes her top off to wash herself while the film occasionally cuts away to a peeping tom. This young lady occurs at no other point in the film and we never see any of the rest of the cast on screen with her, suggesting that her part was filmed later and inserted into the film to add interest. Maybe it's a homage to Tinto Brass. Who knows? The two hookers who didn't appeal to Mortimer, meanwhile, are still in town but, since they are inside a tent, they escape the effects of the meteor. They are quite taken by surprise when a zombie bursts in and the one who didn't sign a nudity clause gets munched down pretty rapidly. The other one, who just happens to have her shirt flapping open, is chased out of the tent, through the town, and on through the woods. And on. And on. It eventually becomes clear that the director cannot distinguish between titillation and tedium.

The zombies, when they arrive, actually look pretty effective. The survivors soon master the knack of shooting their brains out but, unfortunately, the special effects again let them down and the impression we are given is of toupees being yanked off with fishing line. A new character does appear out of nowhere - possibly because he wasn't able to attend the filming of the earlier scenes - but it's just chewing and shooting from now on. So there you have it. The original title was supposed to be The Dead And The Damned, and the new one may cause some confusion. You won't go mixing it up with Cowboys & Aliens, will you?

Cowboys and Zombies



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