The Crossings by Jack Ketchum: A Genre Blending Western

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If the name Jack Ketchum sounds familiar, you might have seen one of the three films adapted from his books – Red, The Girl Next Door or The Woman. The award-winning Ketchum (real name Dallas Mayr) has been praised by no less than Stephen King who ranks the man very highly in the world of horror literature.

I had never come across Mr Ketchum or his work before. Then while writing a review about The Woman (directed by Lucky McKee) one of the things I found out during my research was that the film was adapted from Ketchum’s book of the same name.

My interest piqued, I then looked on Amazon.com to see what else he’d written. I know that I probably should have read The Woman, but honestly, the film put me off so much, I didn’t have the stomach for it.

I discovered this book, The Crossings, which is a sort of cross-genre western. Set sometime in Texas after the Texas/Mexican war (a time period that included the Alamo and General Scott’s “invasion” of Mexico) we meet Martin T Bell, the narrator of this tale; John Charles Hunt and “Mother Knuckles.” We also meet the Mexican woman Elena, who wants to save her sister from an occult group run by three old witches and a bunch of Army deserters.

When Bell joins Mother and Hart in the rounding up of wild mustangs to sell to the Army, he has no idea that a half-dead Mexican woman will change his life, destiny and make him into a heroic figure.  In Ketchum’s west, the bad guys are really  bad and some of the good guys only marginally better than his villains.

I was very impressed by Ketchum’s version of the old west and the introduction of an occult/supernatural bent to his tale  was woven into the story seamlessly. The action moved swiftly and never failed to hold my interest. He combined just the right amount of historical fact to make the story feel possible.

All the characters impressed and he did not rely on two-dimensional characters or clichés to round out his story.

At 110 pages the book is not overly long and it reads so smoothly that I had no problem finishing it in a single reading. The book is so entertaining that I now count Jack Ketchum as a new addition to my stable of favourite writers. I will now busy myself in the acquisition of more of his tales.

I’d have to give this a full 5 out of 5 stars for a brilliant blending of the horror/occult and western genres.

Simply a great read.

Author Jack Ketchum.
Author Jack Ketchum.

Bedevilled (2010): A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Bedevilled (2010 film)
Bedevilled (2010 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is not often that I find a Korean film that angers me as much as this film did. Directed by Chul-soo Jang  it is his first time at bat in the motion picture arena. Starring Yeong-hie SeoSeong-won Ji and Min-ho HwangBedevilled  starts off slow, like a roller coaster moving up the long climb before dropping like a stone on the other side.

The picture starts off in Seoul. It is broad daylight and a young woman is being savagely beaten by two thugs. The woman breaks away and runs to a car for help, but the occupant rolls up the car window and ignores her pleas for help. The thugs then drag the beaten woman away.

Later we meet Hae-won (Seong-won Ji) she is a loan officer in a bank. She is turning down an older woman who she evidently told earlier that she would give a loan to. The old woman is upset and Hae-won could care less. She gets a call on her mobile phone and she answers it angrily, “Stop calling me.”

We think that perhaps it is a boyfriend or lover, but no, it turns out to be the police who want Hae-won to pick out the two thugs in a line-up. Hae-won goes to the police station and refuses to admit that these two men are the ones who beat the woman.

When she comes back to work, she gets trapped in a toilet cubicle and when she gets out she strikes a colleague in the face, thinking that she had trapped Hae-won in the stall. Her boss then sends her on a mandatory holiday.

When she gets home she throws some envelopes in the trash and drinks several tins of Guinness.  She finally decides to visit her old childhood home, an island called Moo-do.

Arriving on the island she finds childhood friend Bok-nam (Yeong-hie Seo) and discovers that she is a virtual slave on the island. A sexual plaything to any of the men on the island as well as a work horse for the rest of the island’s occupants. Bok-nam has a ten year old daughter who is also being mistreated by the islanders.

Before Hae-won ever comes to the island, she is portrayed as cold, distant and unfeeling. She is completely self-centred and, as such, she is an extremely unpleasant and unlikable character.

Bok-nam is hard working, compassionate and desperate to get herself and her child off the island. Two of the three men who live on the island are cruel, lazy and addicted to chewing a narcotic leaf. The third is an anciently old fellow who does nothing but eat and sleep.

Bok-nam begs Hae-won to help her and her daughter, telling her that her husband is having sex with her child. Hae-won accuses her of lying and refuses to help her.

Then Bok-nam enlists the help of a prostitute that her husband regularly brings out to the island and everything goes horribly wrong.

This slow to start film had me firmly gripped. My emotions went all over the place. I was in turns shocked, dismayed, angry, horrified, indignant and repulsed. The very fact  that this film could make me feel so many different emotions is a testament of how well the director and actors performed their jobs.

I was along for the ride. I was caught up in the film completely. Right up to the last half hour of the film, I was there.

Then, in the last half hour, I hated the film. The ending infuriated me so much, that if I could have reached into the television screen and throttled the life out of Hae-won, I would have.

Never has a film so disappointed in the last few minutes. My daughter and I both felt like screaming at the screen. It was so bitterly wrong.

I suppose that the film makers and the actors should be congratulated on bringing their characters so to life that our emotional reaction to them was so strong.

But in a film where only one or two of the cast were characters that you could care for and relate to, it was very hard indeed to have one that you despise come out on top.

My final rating on this film would be two popcorn bags for the first three quarters of the film and an extra large Coke to swallow the bitter pill that is the ending.

Bitter Pill