“Live by the gun. Die by the gun. Come back for more.”
Directed by Andrew Goth
Starring Wesley Snipes, Kevin Howarth, Riley Smith, Tanit Phoenix, Patrick Bergin, Diamond Dallas Page and Simona Brhlikova
A desert. A child in a bad wig hauling buckets of blood. A man on a horse. A body. A woman with an axe. A group of yellow-eyed, gunslinging cardinals re-enacting the opening sequence of Once Upon a Time in the West. Gruff, internal monologuing cowboy Aman (Snipes) apparently shoots four men with two shots, then rips one man’s head off.
Um… There’s some prisoners and Aman rescues one of them (Smith) to be his sidekick, then drops him in a zombie pit to test his chops. Another of the prisoners is a hooker or a thief or God knows what (Phoenix) and she and the others are taken by a marshal (Bergin) to a community of weirdly pale religious folks where a zombie bandit (Howarth) and sidekicks including the spike-helmeted Skullbucket (Page) and Kisscut (Brhilkova) are stealing skins and trying to find Mount Resurrection and the Sisters of San Diablo so that his son can be brought back from the dead like the rest of his gang were after Aman killed them, because Aman’s mother gave her soul to the Devil to restore his life but this meant that everyone he ever killed came back as a zombie but the son killed himself after his dad forced him to rape Aman’s wife to ‘make a man of him’ and…
You know what: Snipes is a cursed gunslinger who makes zombies. Done.
What’s wrong with it?
Holy crap this film is a confusing mess. The plot is not actually that complicated, but its eked out through a series of broadly connected scenes which raise all sorts of questions. Why is the marshal transporting criminals to albino Amishtown? When Aman shoots up the prisoner transport, does anyone actually die or are they just all lying still for a very long time? How do half a dozen zombies sneak up to a farm with 360-degree views to the desert horizon?
The exposition is parceled out by Aman in the form of rambling monologues delivered to his sidekick in such a way that one expects the film to cut back and find the sidekick asleep.
The action is confused, to say the least.
The setting is… unclear. It has a lot of western trappings, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that the film is actually set in the Old West.
The film borrows scenes whole cloth from other, usually better movies, but badly. The most egregious example is the totally mangled and ultimately nonsensical attempt at Once Upon A Time in the West‘s ‘one horse shy’ opening.
Villain Kansa spends most of the movie leering on the female prisoner Angel (oh, and I am straight up getting all of these names from the credits. I think Kisscut may be the only character actually named onscreen) and calling Kisscut ‘my whore’. Not cool, dude. For extra creep, he apparently wants to use Angel’s skin to dress his son when he gets him resurrected by the Blessed Sisters of Complete and Unexplained Absence.
What’s right with it?
You know what, this film is fucking gorgeous. Goth shoots the hell out of the Namibian locations. The hero costumes are some fine-looking threads, with a special shout-out to the episcopal-cut longcoats favoured by the zombie bandits (perhaps in a nod to Cheyenne’s dusters in Once Upon a Time in the West, since so much else homages that movie and its ilk.)
The action is competent and the gore… not tasteful, but not cartoonish, even when Snipes is ripping off heads.
The villains are weird, but memorable, unlike bland, white sidekick dude and cowboy Blade.
How bad is it really?
Oh, it’s terrible, but there’s a certain… je ne sais quoi to its terribleness that makes it oddly watchable. Ultimately it is an entirely superficial movie, but it has a style – reminiscent of the work of renowned free-wheeling surreal auteur Alejandro Jodorowksy, at least based on my limited knowledge of that canon – that draws the viewer in in search of the depth and philosophy that it lacks.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Aman faces off against Kisscut in an utterly contrived duel. He offers knife or gun. She chooses gun but has a knife up her sleeve, which she throws… and misses. Never mind bringing a knife to a gunfight; bringing guns, choosing a gunfight and then using a knife anyway is going the extra mile.
What’s up with…?
- Wesley Snipes? I mean, fair play, he’s not as weird here as in Blade Trinity, but… Well, he still has a lot of singles and close ups, and not many two shots, is what I’m saying.
- The Sisters of San Diablo? I mean, apart from ‘Saint Devil’, they just… aren’t there at all. And yet the world is not flooded with darkness due to the lack of their prayers, which we are assured is the likely outcome. Maybe they’re actually a motorcycle gang?
Production values – This film had a budget if $17 million dollars. For reference, that’s six million less than a TV movie about Liberace got in the same year. For that, it has some decent action and gore, stunning landscapes and excellent costume porn. 5
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue could be superb. It’s hard to tell since most of it is mumbled by Snipes as third person biographical exposition. 13
Plot and execution – At its heart, the plot is a pretty simple double revenge plot with a zombie twist, but damn they make it complicated. 15
Randomness – There’s a dude with lizard tails on his scalp. 12
Waste of potential – I… God, I don’t know. Apparently it was originally about a zombie bounty hunter who was to have been played by Chow Yun Fat, but who can say really? The director is clearly an excellent cinematographer, but it’s impossible to know if he can’t wrangle a cast or just can’t wrangle Snipes. It could have been better, but could also have been a lot worse. 11