Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cowboys & Vampires – review

Director: Douglas Myers

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

With its name changed from Dead West for the UK DVD market – 'coincidentally' around the time when a film with a name similar to Cowboys & Vampires is about to hit the cinemas – this is a film that purports to show the death of the western and the rise of the horror movie. Perhaps it does. Though I think most viewers will be watching it for the vampires. Actually, probably most viewers will be watching it for Angélica Celaya (Gabriel) as a vampire. But I get ahead of myself…

end of the gun fight
The film starts with a stand-off between Sheriff Johnny Dust (Jasen Wade) and some low-down varmints. Johnny has the bad guy’s son in jail but the bad guy has a six shooter at Johnny’s wife’s head. Johnny is up on a roof, trips, falls to the floor but soon has his gun back in hand and he, the wife and deputy soon take care of all the bad guys. The scene ends, the crowd move on and the live stunt show finishes.

Jasen Wade as Johnny Dust
Johnny is the star of several westerns that have been made at Tuson, which doubles as a western theme show and a studio. His life is complicated by a bitter ex-wife, Sarah (Shannon Whirry), a daughter, Kim (Ariel Myers), and his on and off squeeze Gloria (Angélica Celaya) who also works at Tuson and wants to be a star. He makes commercials, does personal appearances and the film is punctuated with him in a radio interview that seems to indicate that what we watch is a film he made. He also is ‘spoken to’ by the Kid (William R Scott) – his hero from westerns and, it seems, his guardian angel.

Gloria and Stanburg
Things, unfortunately, are changing. Tuson has been bought by a corporation who want to expand its theme park aspect and draw in a younger crowd. The corporation are represented by Stanburg (Armen Dirtadian). His first big plan is to have a month long Halloween spectacular, nights only, in which Johnny will face off against undead bad guys including a sexy villainess. Gloria auditions and gets that part.

vampire Gloria
Part of the attraction will be a mine ride, with caves. As they are sorting it out workmen come across a Native American burial urn. The confusing part for them is that it wasn’t there when they blocked the area off some years before. Unseen, Stanburg breaks a protective seal and a mist flows from it, just as Gloria happens along. There is confusion for the audience too, as the urn’s presence is never explained nor do we see the fate of those in the cave – just the aftermath, as Gloria goes veiny, develops strange irises and can produce fangs!

who was Lowenstein?
The confusion doesn’t stop there. The entire film is then geared at the vampires attacking the crowds on opening night. Johnny discovers what is going on, gets bitten and half-turned by Gloria and then makes wooden bullets from a cross soaked in holy water and he tries to protect the crowds – and his ex-wife and daughter who attend opening night. However we don’t know why the vampires are doing this, though there is a master called Lowenstein (Norman Stone) we know nothing of him, where he came from (other than the urn), why he came, how the Native American’s came to seal him in the urn or how Stanburg knew of him.

wooden bullet through the heart
All these questions float around, especially during the final scene where several people are trapped in the mines and we follow their fate, but they are all strangers to the audience, disposable extras, so we have no feeling of dread, little in the way of atmosphere and the sequence seemed to drag a bit, I’m afraid. We do discover that they keep hidden during the day, that a stake (or wooden bullet) through the heart will kill and so will fire.

Angélica Celaya as Gloria
Acting wise the two main actors both do a fair enough job and, as indicated in the first paragraph Angélica Celaya is rather photogenic. The film seems fairly ambitious in its attempt to be an allegory but that isn’t going to work awfully well when you are still puzzling about the straight narrative whys and wherefores. However, when the disc arrived I thought the film, given the name and obvious marketing tie in to ride a bigger film’s shirttails, was going to be blooming awful. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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