STUDIO: Lions Gate
MSRP: $27.98
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes
• “The Burrowers: Making a Horror Western”
• “Digging Up The Burrowers: Creating the Monster”
• Commentary with writer/director & lead actor

The Pitch

A showdown/hoedown between Tremors 4 and The Descent.

The Humans

Cast: Clancy Brown, Karl Geary, Doug Hutchison, William Mapother, Sean Patrick Thomas
Director: J.T. Petty

“Call me a LARPer one more time, cocksucker, and I’ll fill yer guts fulla lead. I am… a ReenACTOR!

The Nutshell

The Dakota Badlands. 1879. Someone or someTHING has been killing and/or abducting the local settlers. A posse is formed and the hunt is on. Are hostile Indians responsible? Will the missing ever be found? What’s more ironic, an Irishman named “Coffey”, or a Black man named “Callahan”? Or are they only ironic when juxtaposed? Joey, do you like movies about ranch hands?

“T’ain’t no crop circle! This here’s the hole I done dug fer when ‘the train leaves the station‘. I just don’t know when to say ‘WHEN’ to Mr. Taggart’s beans. Downright deee-lectable, they are.”

The Lowdown

Is it a Monster-piece or POS?

The Western genre is mythic: sweeping stories featuring archetypal characters and classic themes; basic conflicts (Man VS Man, Man VS Nature); stark landscapes, beautiful and unforgiving. Like the samurai milieu, it’s a malleable backdrop to tell a variety of tales. When you mix in horror, another blendable genre, all those conflicts get amplified. The survival stakes are raised. The unknown of the desolate wilds are now populated with the unknowns of the supernatural. Uncharted territories, indeed.

“… P.S. On the way back to the homestead, don’t ferget to pick me up some Manitou  neck-cyst ointment at the general store.”

The Burrowers simply works*. It’s atmospheric as hell, it’s biting, and even occasionally, amusing. Composer Joseph Loduca (Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, Hercules, Xena, Brotherhood of the Wolf) gets his shot at a Western finally, since Raimi bypassed him for Alan Silvestri during The Quick and the Dead, and his score complements the rugged vistas of New Mexico to a tee. The lighting can be dark at times (which seems natural, considering the time period), but the shot composition hides the low budget with assured artistry. There’s plenty of downtime between creature attacks (be prepared for deliberate pacing), but the dialogue is sharp and natural, the performances are bonafide (Doug Hutchison’s limited scenery-chewing role is noteworthy, and Mapother’s typecast but effective), and the characters are always distinguishable and engaging throughout. It almost works without the horror elements, based on the strength of everything else. It’s not Deadwood, by any stretch, but fans of Westerns should find admirable details here.

“I know you broke yer leg clean off in that prairie dog hole back yonder. I truly sympathize, Hobby. But Artemus replaced it with this here newfangled wagon wheel… So why the long face?”

Howbout horror fans? Almost Human, the make-up and creature FX outfit responsible for said horror, mixed puppets, animatronics, suits, and CGI into a satisfying blend. Coincidentally, they also served duty on Dead Birds, another 19th Century rural supernatural thriller (and a fine one at that). Similar to my reaction at the end of The Boogens, they didn’t deliver the dungeon denizen I would have picked from The Monster Manual (I’m desperate for a cinematic Umberhulk or Bulette analogue). I’d have probably guessed The Burrower to be a Lurking Fear type Gollum, as in The Descent? Nope. Nevertheless, Almost Human summoned a creature (and a matching physiology/ecology) that serves the story well enough in this case.

Here there be SPOILERS!

Resembling the offspring of a giant cave cricket and a naked mole rat, the Burrower (or Rancor fetus impersonator) is low to the ground yet considerably more mobile than the Oven Stuffer Roaster that Coach pukes up in Poltergeist 2. I have a theory that the pink-fleshy, hairless, lowly beasties who poison, bury, and feed on their prey in The Burrowers are really a twisted mirror for White Man’s vile M.O. and treatment of Native Americans/the land. The film-makers did not confirm this suspicion in the supplemental materials, however. But it sounds thematically correct to me and I applaud them, if it’s intentional. They’re patient, stealthy, fugly, and hongry. That’s for certain anyway.

On today’s episode, you’ve witnessed the majesty of the “Hitler ‘Stache”. Next week on “Queer Eye For the Bad Guy, we’ll show you how to manscape a proper “Snidely Whiplash”.

My two main nitpicks are thus… Fan-fave Clancy Brown gets his ticket punched too early (much like his underappreciated and prematurely-cancelled show, Carnivale). This is a shame considering he’s slightly wasted for the first half, relegated to a peripheral presence until the script calls for his taciturn character to step forward.

In the vein of Cold War era (and now the Gene era) Monster Cinema, The Burrowers places blame for the horrific events squarely on the shoulders of meddling Man. White Man, to be specific. It’s a classic premise, but here the message is a tad heavy-handed. The villains are painted with big broad strokes of hypocrisy, racism, and brutality (“We need to torture these Injuns before they do unspeakable things to our woman-folk!”). I can see why this exaggerated route would be traversed in order to get the timely analogy across. It’s historically accurate, but it colors some of the supporting characters a little too one-dimensional. Natives = noble & respectful, Military = evil & incompetent, etc. I might not have cared in a lesser film**, but this one gets it mostly right and strives for (GASP!) themes, storytelling, and relevance, so I feel obligated to burrow a little deeper into my critical analysis mode. Thankfully, this Grim Prairie Tale has brawn and brains.

You may know her from a slew of more recent Deathtime Channel TV movies, but Melissa Ghoulbert made a name for herself on “Little Corpse on the Prairie”.

The Package

The Audio (heard that Wilhelm!) seems balanced ok, but the picture could use some better contrast in certain scenes. The cover art is adequate (and seemingly familiar), and otherwise, unremarkable. I really enjoyed the audio commentary with the director and lead (J.T. Petty and Karl Geary). The two guys have a good rapport and gunslinger-fast wit. The behind-the-scenes features are pretty standard, but certainly nice. When I enjoy a movie (especially a gritty and disturbing creature feature like The Burrowers), I immediately want to know more about the film-makers’ process. Plus, I like to watch FX guys manipulate rubbery puppets awkwardly from off-camera. It takes the wrinkles outta my chaps.

7.5 out of 10

If’n this newfangled motion picture gets yer biscuits a burnin’, give these others a fair shake: Dead Birds, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, The Descent, the Tremors series

Those Carnosaur cocksuckers will just have to wait. This looks like a job for Turok: Paleface Hunter!

* Yes, even better than the Natassia Malthe career-solidifying Horror/Western double-feature of Bloodrayne 2 and Skinwalkers, believe it or NOT!

**Speaking of… While digging through the Monster section of my DVD collection, I realized that Unearthed and It Waits both feature Native American identified monsters of subterranean origin (unleashed by meddling White Man) and alcoholic/guilt-ridden female sheriffs as main characters. What in tarnation???