Bone Tomahawk (2015) Kurt Russell & Cannibals (Review)

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The mark of any good film is the urge to immediately watch it again after viewing. “Bone Tomahawk,” with Kurt Russell battling cannibals, is one such film. With just enough truth in the production to make is stand out as a straight up western, this horror film combines genres even better than the 2008 film The Burrowers.

While the earlier western/horror had some pretty imaginative “boogeymen” this film takes from American history to bring a Native American tribe of cannibals to life, with a little poetic license, in an area quite close to where a real tribe of cannibalistic warriors existed; the Kronks.

(Anyone wanting to read more about this tribe can check out Mike Cox’s “The Texas Rangers” ‘Wearing the Cinco Peso 1821 -1900’ where he goes into detail about the group, which both the Spaniard’s and the other tribes feared; the Karankawa – called Troglodytes in the film.)

Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler (his first effort in the director’s chair) and starring Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew FoxDavid Arquette and a splendid cameo by Sid Haig, this is a cracking film. In terms of cast, the film is rounded out by Lili Simmons, who plays Mrs. O’Dwyer, Wilson’s wife and there are three more well-known actors in cameos: Zahn McClarnon, as The Professor, Sean Young, as the Mayor’s wife, and James Tolkan, as the tired pianist.

At the start of the film, which is set in the mid 1800s, two literal cut-throat bandits, Haig and Arquette are busy murdering a small camp of men who are  sleeping. A gunshot alerts  a mounted group of men and the two escape on foot in the surrounding hills.  Buddy (Haig)  is killed and Purvis (Arquette) runs away in terror.

Time passes and the town of Bright Hope, where Sheriff Hunt (Russell) is the law with a deputy (Nick) and “reserve deputy” (Chicory played by Jenkins) and the man does not suffer fools or insolence gladly.  O’Dwyer, the new foreman of the local ranch is laid up with an injured leg and Chicory spots Purvis, on the outskirts of town burying the luggage he and the late Buddy stole earlier.

Hunt braces the odd acting man in the local saloon who tries to run. Hunt shoots him in the leg and as the town doctor is drunk, O’Dwyer’s wife Samantha comes to dig the bullet out. In the morning a stable lad is found murdered and the jail is deserted. Arrows left at the scene implicate a tribe of Native Americans that The Professor calls Troglodytes.

Hunt, Chicory, O’Dwyer (Cowboy) and Brooder ride out to save the deputy and Mrs. O’Dwyer. After a number of hardships, and O’Dwyer repeatedly injuring his leg, the men catch up to the cannibal tribe who outnumber the rescuers and seem other worldly.  The battle ends in capture and things look pretty bleak for the group.

At two hours and 12 minutes the film should have been overly long, however, despite the somewhat slow pace, Zahler keeps thing interesting enough that at no point does the film drag.  The action, which includes some gunplay, a theft of horses and some darned scary predators makes for a compelling experience.

The cast all bring their characters to life in the most delightful way. There are moments of truth scattered throughout and the protagonists all are of the taciturn and stoic breed of yesteryear. Russell, who was born to do westerns (despite his “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” Disney beginnings) always makes his dialogue sound authentic.

In one scene, after the lawman discovers  that O’Dwyer’s wife has been kidnapped, a local businessman is complaining about his four prize horses being stolen. When he mentions it again,  Russell (as Hunt) stops him mid-sentence:

“You mention horses again and I will slap you red.”

Said with all the authority of Wyatt Earp, Russell makes the line as serious as a heart attack and the bigger man stands disbelieving but does not move against the threat.

The performances are spot on, as is most of the dialogue, and Russell is in good company with Wilson and Fox  working in concert to bring an air of believability to the tale of western  horror. Richard Jenkins however (who actually went unrecognized by this reviewer till the credits) gives a brilliantly odd and quirky, yet honest, performance  as the limping reserve  deputy.

The film has quirkiness to spare. Wilson talks to God throughout, and apologizes to Him when he swears inappropriately. In a film about cannibal Native American’s Hunt constantly worries about how much his companions are eating and the “gunfighter” Brooder manages to be prickly enough to everyone that they miss his humor.

(At one point the gunman claims to be the smartest man in the group because he never married.)

In terms of gore there is a moment, in the lair of the cannibals, where it is pretty horrific but it is not “in your face” and lasts seconds. There are nods to other  films. The troglodytes make one think of the hunters in Predator and there are a few little winks to other western films.

“Bone Tomahawk” looks brilliant, the  lighting is spot on and the framing of each scene is right on the money. There are some things not quite as impressive, some of the sound effects do not  ring tru; , too near the microphone or slightly off and less realistic sounding. The fashion, in terms of headgear is a bit hit and miss but none of these things really matter.

The storyline and the acting move this film forward well enough that any shortcomings are easily ignored or forgotten.

“Bone Tomahawk” is an award winning film and for good reason.  A perfect 5 out of 5 stars for a movie that engrossing, engaging and impossible to stop watching, even for a moment.  It is currently on Amazon and  this western/horror masterpiece  is a must-see film.

The Walking Dead Strangers: Bob and Food for Thought

The Walking Dead Strangers: Bob and Food for Thought

After watching The Walking Dead: Strangers episode last night and then re-watching, as it was recorded on DVR, there was something about Bob and the one-sided conversation he was having with Gareth that provided something more than chills as the Terminus survivors nibbled on Stookey’s leg, pardon the pun, but the whole interaction provided a bit of food for thought. Of course there were many questions that needed answering by the end of this episode of The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead: Season Five Who Is in That Car

The Walking Dead: Season Five Who Is in That Car

In The Walking Dead, season five has introduced cannibals, who have made appearances in the game and the comic books, and now it has reintroduced that car with the white cross in the back windscreen and the big question has got to be, who is in that car. Once it turned out that Beth was not on the Terminus menu (And how many people watching the show expected to find some evidence that that plate of barbecue was “rib of Beth?) the whereabouts of the youngest daughter of Hershel has been hanging around in the background.

Kronks – The Native American Cannibals of Texas

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I am reading Mike Cox‘s brilliant recounting of the Texas Rangers in his Wearing the Cinco Peso 1821  -1900 The Texas Rangers and I found, early on in the book,  a mention of the Karankawa Indian tribe. This tribe, was said to be a cannibal tribe of Indians that were greatly feared by everyone.

They lived along the Texas coastal region next to the Gulf of Mexico. Cox relates in his book how Stephen Fuller Austin (ex-Missourian and “father” of Texas) encountered a “branch” of Coco Indians who were part of the larger Karankawa tribe.

Where it was considered common knowledge that the tribe engaged in the act of cannibalism, it was not a part of their dietary requirement. It was more a case of eating their fallen foes to gain their strength and abilities, a cultural rather than sustenance reason shared with other races in the world.

Author Robert A Ricklis points this out in his (out of print) book on the Karankawa tribe written in 1991. Although if you read Austin‘s description of the Coco’s he encountered they certainly don’t sound like they exist on human flesh, they look too healthy!

From The Texas Rangers by Michael Cox: “These Indians were well-formed and apparently very active and athletic men.”  The women were also something to be admired, “They wore painted animal hides that hung just below their knees, but, above the waist they were naked…Their breasts…marked or tattooed in circles of black beginning at the nipple and enlarging as the breast swelled. All the women were handsome and one of them quite pretty.” (Stephen Fuller Austin – July 1821)

Detailed picture of Karankawa Indians from Unversity of Autin
Detailed picture of Karankawa Indians from Unversity of Autin

The Karankawa, or Kronks as the white settlers called them, were not a popular tribe. The other tribes and the Spaniards feared them. They generally protected their territory fiercely and the added practise of eating the carcasses of their fallen enemies gave them an overall terrifying reputation.

They also, according to Austin, were clever and cunning in their dealings with outsiders. It was the war-like tendency of the Kronks combined with the cannibal rituals that made them especially feared by the white newcomers to the Texas territory. Before the battle with the Mexican government for their freedom, the settlers first declared war on the various tribes already entrenched in Texas. The Kronks were the first to be vanquished from the face of the countryside.

Oddly, this race of Indians were not the only people who did not find cannibalism distasteful. On a Ranger scouting trip after  three Indians had been dispatched with extreme prejudice; a member of the company named Dave Lawrence then proceeded to “step up and cut off the thigh of one of the slain Indians.” When Ranger Cicero Rufus Perry asked Lawrence what he intended to do with it, he replied, “Why, I am going to take it along to eat. If you don’t get some game before noon tomorrow we’ll need it.” (From Mike Cox’s The Texas Rangers)

It could be argued that Lawrence was just “buying” into the general feeling at the time that Native Americans were too hostile to be human and were viewed by many as more like animals, but, I don’t think so.

Being of Native American descent myself, I’m aware that the Indians encountered by the white settlers as they made their way across the country were considered savages by the mutual consent of the “civilised” men who did not understand their mostly nomadic and war-like way of life. When it came to the way the tribes fought and killed their enemy (often killing women and children indiscriminately) the white man could not and would not accept that this was acceptable.

Artist's rendition of The Trail of Tears. Painting by Max Stanley.
Artist’s rendition of The Trail of Tears.
Painting by Max Stanley.

War between the two factions was inevitable as was the Indian’s eventual defeat. Despite the country being enormous, the settlers numbers were too big to be turned back and having superior firepower and numbers, the tribes were continually being forced onto smaller and smaller bits of land.

As I have at least one direct relative that was found by the “trail of tears” (a baby abandoned, no doubt by the parents who most likely died on that forced march) by a Cavalry Patrol and was adopted by one Pvt Sallee (a French immigrant) I know that Native Americans all have long and fascinating stories of their life before and during the invasion of North America.

Having read a large amount of literature about my (distant) relatives, I was surprised to learn of a “cannibal” tribe. The tales from Texas Rangers and settlers who lived in the country at that time, give a wonderful look at the tribes that they encountered, fought and vanquished. Unfortunately, the tales are a bit one-sided as the victor often gets to dictate the “truth” of events.

In this case, the Karankawa or “Kronks” were not cannibals as such, as I stated above, they practised a cannibal ritual that has been around since, presumably, mankind first started walking the earth.

I’m reading three books on the Texas Rangers to get background for a book I am writing. I will periodically stop to write about the more interesting things I discover. Things like the cannibal Kronks.

Image of the Texas Ranger, the lariat, the pistol, cartridges and the cinco peso.
Image of the Texas Ranger, the lariat, the pistol, cartridges and the cinco peso.

The Woman (2011): Nell With a Twist

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Lucky McKee directed and co-wrote (with author Jack Ketchum) The Woman; a film  that could be called Nell on acid. Although this is a sequel to the 2009 McKee film Offspring about a “tribe” of cannibals who roamed the north-east coast. The “woman” is the sole survivor of this tribe. But not having seen the film, I did not learn this from watching the feature. Wikipedia kindly supplied that information.

Like the 1994 film Nell, where a small town doctor (Liam Neeson) finds a “wild” hermit girl who has very limited social skills, The Woman features a male character who finds a “hermit-like” feral girl with very limited social skills. The main difference between the two films are that in Nell, Neeson’s character wants to help the girl.

The male in The Woman does not have help in mind when he captures the feral woman.

Vive le différence.

Of course the other connection between the two films is that the actor who plays Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) was also in Nell. Small world isn’t it? I’ve also got to say, it bothered the hell  out of me that Bridgers looked enough like Will Ferrell to be his twin brother.

The Woman opens with a wild and savage woman in the woods. She is feral and adept at hunting and fishing. She’s also Amazonian in stature and apparently quite strong. Chris Cleek goes out into the woods to hunt and stumbles across her.

He is obviously intrigued and makes plans to capture her. He succeeds in this and takes her captive. Unlike Nell, where the good doctor wants to study and help his “discovery,” Cleek wants to turn her into his and his son’s plaything. Something to torture and humiliate and abuse.

The Cleek family consists of Chris, wife Belle (Angela Bettis), daughters Peggy  (Lauren Ashley Carter) and Darlin’ (Shyla Molhusen) plus son Brian (Zach Rand). The family is all about what Chris wants. He is a class A pervert, control freak and hater of women. Son Brian, under his dad’s loving but controlling tutelage, is a chip off the old block.

While the woman is held captive in the old storm cellar, tensions rise as the whole family become involved with this wild creature and the school is getting concerned at the constant absence of Peggy from classes.

As the film moves disturbingly to it’s almost inevitable and anticipated finish, you will be hard pressed not to be disgusted at the way that head of the family Chris rules his family with an iron hand. The females of his family are terrified of him and not without cause.

While the woman he is holding captive in the cellar might be feral, he is a monster and son Brian a monster in-training.

Not the real monster in this story.
Not the real monster in this story.

When the film premiered in the US, there was some controversy about the subject matter and the way that women were treated and depicted in the film. I seem to remember charges of sensationalism being levied as well. But considering that director Lucky McKee was not above generating any kind of publicity for his film, I don’t know how much credence can be given to any of these charges.

As for myself, I couldn’t for the life of me decide whether the filmmakers were making an anti-feminist sort of statement or were awkwardly trying to make some sort of empowering statement for women!

The climax is shocking, but not surprising. It is bloody and savage and well worth the wait. But having said that, it is still confusing. It is a powerful film and a shocking and disturbing one.

I would give the film a 3.5 stars out of 5 only because it was very different. Not having seen the prequel of Offspring, I have no idea if continuity was good or bad. I only know that for the most part, I found the film very distasteful and kept watching to see if some sort of justice would be served.

A film that is definitely not for everyone. But if you can stand it, it is on Netflix at the moment.

Not nearly as violent or disturbing...
Not nearly as violent or disturbing…