When my older son and his family were last up to visit, he and I decided that we had to watch Bone Tomahawk (2015), which was recently available on Amazon. Nick and I sat up watching the film, which we both found enjoyable, gripping, and horrifying in I think equal measure. Almost two months later, I find I’m still thinking about it. In part, this is because of the way the film moves from semi-traditional western (a group of heroes rides out to rescue a kidnapped loved one) to out and out horror film. There’s a kind of pulp quality to the narrative that makes me think of Robert E. Howard’s fiction, or maybe one of Joe Lansdale’s weird westerns.
There are elements to the film that are pure western, particularly the plot-construction: you have a fast-moving beginning, a fast-moving ending, and a period in-between in which the characters move across a vast landscape (which makes me think that there’s an element of the sublime in westerns I’ve never thought much about, and which does seem to dovetail with the concerns of cosmic horror in an interesting fashion).
It isn’t too bad as long as they have horses…
There are also elements of the film that are pure horror: you have acts of awful violence committed by a group for whom the rest of us are so much provender; you have a lone, wounded hero confronted with the seemingly-impossible task of defeating that group.
Finally, there’s the cast. I’m a big fan of Kurt Russell, whose work I admire more with each passing year (and whose facial hair in this film I would emulate, were it not for the fact that it would cost me the love of my wife and family), but Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and especially Richard Jenkins all bring their best work to the table.
Look at that facial hair! Look at it!
There aren’t a huge number of what you could call horror westerns: J.T. Petty’s brilliant The Burrowers (2008) comes to mind, and Ravenous (1999), and I suppose High Plains Drifter (1973). You can add Bone Tomahawk to that small but creditable list.