The Burrowers

It also hates Kenny Loggins, unlike some gophers.

 

One day, many years ago, when Captain Midnight was just a small child, I met a girl at the sandbox in the park. She was like many little girls, a bit of a bossy know-it-all. Still,  she was probably a whole year older than me, so I figured she was somebody I’d better listen to. Listen I did. She told me some pretty horrendous tales, including one about the Devil. She told me that the Devil lived underground. That seemed reasonable to me. I knew there was a Devil. I’d seen him in movies. He had to live somewhere, right? Why not underground? Still, I wasn’t a total sucker. I wanted proof. She said that if I buried something and came back to dig it up later it might be gone. If it was gone, it was because the Devil took it. So we buried a marble in the sandbox. The next day she and I tried to dig up the marble but never found it. A cold chill went up my spine. The Devil had my favorite aggie! Still, I could console myself with the fact that, Prince of Darkness or not, at least he wouldn’t eat me.

 

I’m a sucker for horror films placed in a historical setting. It’s like getting two movies for one, in this case a monster movie and a western. The Burrowers takes us back to 1879, a time when every man was Forrest Tucker and every woman was Larry Storch (Go ask your parents or check Wikipedia), popping us down in the Dakota Territory. I sat with crossed fingers hoping that some of the horror driven mayhem would spill into the saccharine world of Little House on the Prairie, but sadly The Burrows unfolds further west than Laura Ingalls’ childhood stomping ground of DeSmet, South Dakota.

Fergus Coffey (Karl Geary), a young Irishman has come to the vast prairie of America to settle and start a farm and a family. He has his eye on Maryanne Stewart (Jocelin Donahue), his neighbor’s eldest daughter. The movie opens with a little montage of Fergus and Maryanne doing a “courtin’ on the prairie” routine with a voice-over by Fergus as he clumsily practices asking for Maryanne’s hand in marriage.

Night falls and the Stewart house is filled with excitement. Fergus gave Maryanne a silver brooch that belonged to his mother as token of his love. The next day he’d be coming to ask Mr. Stewart for Maryann’s hand in marriage.

Suddenly, gunshots and screaming can be heard outside. A neighbor comes banging on the door yelling that Indians are attacking and telling them to get in the cellar. In the cellar, the Stewarts hear more screaming and gunshots and the sound of something scrapping along the floor above. Something smashes through the floor. The lantern is dropped. Screaming is heard. The scene goes black. Awesome!

The next day Fergus comes calling to find the Stewart house in ransacked, a dead body in the doorway and community leader John Clay (Clancy Brown) already starting to get the situation in hand. They believe that Indians have abducted the Stewart family. Clay recruits William Parcher (William Mapother), a man who is familiar with Indian customs and language to help. Parcher brings Dobie Spacks (Galen Hutchison), a young man he’s mentoring in the skills of frontier living.

Our group sets out to track the Indians and is joined by a troop of soldiers commanded by the colorful Captain Henry Victor (Doug Hutchison). Along the way they begin to pick up unsettling clues as to who is truly responsible for the missing settlers. We get all this and we’re not even fifteen minutes into the movie. The Burrows gets off to a quick start and steps up a little at a time as it goes, building to unnerving conclusion.

The Burrowers has many of the basic western archetype characters, but they entertainingly presented, rather than boring cliche. The principal cast members get to deliver some cracking old West dialogue. Though Karl Geary’s Fergus Coffey is more or less the hero designated “hero” of the film, it really is an ensemble cast. William Mapother and Clancy Brown get nearly as much screen time and as many lines. It works out well, especially since it eliminates the need, story-wise, for any single character to turn into the Ellen Ripley of the Prairie.

At first blush, The Burrowers seems like writer/director J.T. Petty just spun Tremors into a cowboy picture; nope. Tremors was a fun tongue-in-cheek 1950’s style atomic mutant monster movie. The Burrowers is a seriously grim horror-western. The feel of it is almost like if Edgar Allen Poe has written a cowboy story.  I’m not saying the J.T. Petty is the second coming of Poe, so much as I am saying that he certainly seems to borrow some of Poe’s themes and puts them to good use.

So what about these Burrowers? Some people like to see the monster, like Godzilla; others like to keep the monster in the shadows, obscure and menacing like Jaws. Petty splits the difference and we get the full reveal near the end. The creature effects are good, though the monsters themselves might have been a bit scarier. What I had imagined before the reveal was way worse, but isn’t that always the way it goes?

The Burrowers is a well done bit of cinema, so much so that even if the monsters were stripped out of the movie and replaced with a fictitious malevolent native tribe the story would still work as a western, and because of that The Burrowers should appeal to horror and western fans alike.

Starring:

Karl Geary
Clancy Brown
William Mapother
Doug Hutchison
Sean Patrick Thomas
Galen Hutchison
Laura Leighton

Screenplay:
J.T. Petty

Director:
J.T. Petty

Three and a half out of five Vincents

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