Tuesday, January 12, 2016

#1,975. The Burrowers (2008)

Directed By: J.T. Petty

Starring: Clancy Brown, David Busse, William Mapother

Tag line: "They wait... They hunt... They feed"

Trivia: J.T. Petty wrote the first draft of the script, originally titled '10,000 Little Indians', around 2002

Released in 2008, The Burrowers is an exceptional creature feature, with underground monsters that finish off their victims in a most unusual way. But The Burrowers is also an effective western, following a group of cowboys as they search for a family that has been taken from their home. It’s an excellent blending of the two genres, and a rare horror film in that is just as interesting when its monsters aren't on-screen.

The year is 1879. The setting, an area that, at the time, was known as the Dakota Territories. Farmhand Fergus Coffey (Karl Geary) had been courting Maryanne Stewart (Jocelin Donahue) for months. The very day he intended to ask her father for her hand in marriage, Fergus visited the Stewart homestead, only to find that the entire family had vanished without a trace. Making matters worse was the discovery that the Stewart’s closest neighbors had all been murdered, each with a mysterious wound on their neck.

Believing that Maryanne and the others were kidnapped by hostile Native Americans, Coffey teams up with his bosses, John Clay (Clancy Brown) and William Parcher (William Mapother), who, along with a cavalry troop led by the abrasive Capt. Henry Victor (Doug Hutchison), set off to find the Stewarts before it’s too late. 

During their rescue mission, Coffey, Clay, and Parcher make a startling discovery: a woman, buried alive but still in a comatose state, bears the same wound on her neck as the other victims. All at once, these cowboys realize they are dealing not with natives, but something they have never seen before, and may require some outside help to solve this perplexing mystery.

I do love me a good western, and for the first hour or so, that is exactly what The Burrowers is; the initial two-thirds of the film have more in common with John Ford’s The Searchers than they do any monster movie. Like Ford’s classic, a team of rugged cowboys hit the open trail to find the tribe that has kidnapped a loved one. Clancy Brown and William Mapother do an outstanding job as the experienced ranchers who, over the years, have been on an expedition or two much like this one, and Doug Hutchison delivers a fine performance as the bigoted Cavalry officer who would sooner hang an Indian than question him (Victor and his men torture the lone Native American they take into custody). Shot on-location in New Mexico and featuring a handful of exciting shootouts, The Burrowers looks and feels like an authentic western movie.

It is so convincing, in fact, that, for a time you forget you’re watching a monster flick. Then the last act rolls around, at which point we finally see the creatures causing all the trouble. To the filmmaker's credit, they relied on practical effects (as opposed to CG) to bring these monsters to life, and they look pretty damn menacing. It's what they do to their victims, however, that is truly chilling.

I personally enjoyed the western scenes, but admit that they may move a bit too slowly for die-hard horror fans. My advice to them would be: hang in there. The payoff in this movie is well worth the wait!

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