Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Gallowwalkers (2013)
Dir Andrew Goth
Written by Andrew Goth, Joanne Reay
Starring Wesley Snipes, Kevin Howarth, Riley Smith, Tanit Pheonix

So, with Wesley Snipes now out of jail and staging his big comeback by jumping on the already outrageously bloated bandwagon of check-cashing that is THE EXPENDABLES,* I thought it was time to take a look back at the last thing he did before the IRS unfairly stole from us a future filled with BLADE sequels. If it seems a little late for that, given that Snipes has been in the big house since 2010, well, at least it’s not my fault: they shot this thing back in 2006, but just put in out in December 2013. Maybe they should have just waited two more years and released it as a special 10-year anniversary edition, but oh well, I guess I really do have to think of everything myself. Instead, somebody over at Lionsgate apparently rediscovered the box with all the raw film they shot in it in some kind of RADIERS-style warehouse, gave it a few hard shakes, dumped it out on the floor, and then released it directly to DVD.

OK, so obviously there’s a few red flags in that description. But while the movie is a bit too incoherent to live up to the enormous potential any horror-western starring Wesley Snipes as a Namibian zombie-hunting cowboy inherently has, I gotta say this is much more unique and interesting than the usual DTV dreck. Though the writing is iffy, it's full of unique and polished visuals, utilizing the wide open spaces in its Namibian locations to evoke Leone, Mad Max, and --with the addition of bizarre stylized sets and villains-- Alejandro Jodorowsky. Seriously, this this is what would happen if EL TOPO was made as a DTV sequel to JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES. Kinda crappy, but too weird and ballsy to completely ignore.

Yes, that is Cthulu's vagina backing Wesley up.

Now, before I go on, I gotta admit that when I say “a bit too incoherent,” I mean that the movie is a complete and total mess, an absolutely incomprehensible jumble of scenes which appear to be playing in random order, sometimes with no discernable relationship to each other. And when I say “the writing is iffy,” I mean that there’s no way this thing was completed with a finished script, and much if not all the dialogue is utterly inscrutable babble or free-associative narration, and that Snipes really only says about 5 words the whole way through anyway.

Obviously, those are bad things. But if you can get past that, everything else here is awesome. I realize that to get past that, you have to be a person willing to ignore the entire structure and plot of a movie, but hey, you’re reading this, you must at the very least be tempted by the idea of seeing Wesley Snipes as detective John Gallowwalker, undead bounty hunting Namibia cowboy. Give in to the darkside, bud, I promise this won’t waste your time like so many DTV schlock knockoffs which promise greatness only to deliver tedious retreads of lame genre cliches. This one is gonna deliver a bunch of craziness like you ain’t never seen.

This guy has a lizard instead of hair, I think that's pretty self-explanatory.

The plot is this, as far as I can gather, and please don’t quote me on this, but I think at one point in the past (revealed by a flashback in the last third of the film, only none of this really makes sense so I didn’t realize it was a flashback at the time) I think Wesley’s wife or somebody was raped (and murdered?) by a bunch of guys, so he killed them, but then also died himself, and then for some reason was resurrected (magic?) but then so were they, and I think that every time he kills someone they come back as the undead and he has to re-kill them again**, only now they’re weird mutant freaks that wear other people’s skin. And there’s this guy Kasana, who decides to get the band back together and come after Wesley, but that was Wesley’s plan all along (?), and also he gets an arrogant young partner to help him. And I think there might be something supernatural about all this but I can’t say for sure. I definitely don’t know what a gallowwalker is, though. I guess either the mutants or Wesley probably. There are some gallows early on, but no one walks away from them so I dunno, your guess is as good as mine.

Even after typing that, I don’t really have any idea what any of it means, but that’s OK, mostly it’s just a convoluted excuse to shoehorn in a bunch of nutty imagery and bloody violence. Interestingly, I feel like it might be possible to re-edit this and save it from itself. If my interpretation of the plot is even remotely correct, at its heart there’s a pretty simple revenge story here, with Snipes cursed so that the people he revenge-kills come back and hunt him down. If they’d just laid out the characters and their motivations in a semi-chronological way I think we might have been able to get a better idea of what in god’s name was going on here; as it is, it seems like they’re trying to save Wesley’s backstory for a kind of third-act twist, but nothing makes sense without it so by the time it’s revealed you still have no idea what the hell is happening, and it completely disrupts any momentum the film has been able to build by that point.

Oh I'm sorry, did I break your concentration?

But you know what, it almost doesn’t matter. This would arguably be a technically better movie if I knew what the plot was after having watched it, but the best things about it don’t have anything to do with that anyway. Most of what’s great about the movie can’t really be described in words, because man’s language is not powerful enough to accurately articulate why it’s cool that Wesley Snipes is a cowboy who blows away these three guys with Dark Jedi eyes who wear identical Catholic cardinal’s robes and hang around the railroad tracks like a bunch of big shots. Or that there’s this guy Bucketskull who wears an oversized novelty helmet that makes him look like an evil bobblehead of the voodoo master from PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. Also I’m looking at some images online right now, and there’s a bunch of pictures of this cool looking guy with no skin, I don’t even have any specific memories of him, that’s how much fun this movie is. In a normal movie, you’d definitely remember the no-skin guy; here, he’s lost in the shuffle of carnival masks and lizard-skin pony tails and so forth. Who can argue with this bountiful catalogue of wonder? I mean, look at these images below, does this look like stuff you could ordinarily find in some Wesley Snipes DTV knockoff?

Alas, Snipes himself is pretty inert as the stoic badass, mostly relying on his costume and poses to seem cool, but never offering any genuinely compelling characterization. I’m sure he had other things on his mind (i.e. that when the movie wrapped and he headed home it would be to a much smaller bedroom than he was used to, and there would be another guy already in it) but come on, if you’re gonna make a movie this weird you gotta loosen up a little, fellah. I’m not saying make it jokey, but have some fun, take a chance on a more unique performance. Anyway, Snipes does fine, but I’d have liked to see a little more hustle. Fortunately the remaining cast is full of colorful characters and weird, surreal visuals enough to mostly make up for it, and the sparse, desolate Namibian locations serve as a compelling character unto themselves.

With so many crappy-looking oversaturated but bland DTV action films on the market, it's really nice to see one which clearly aspires to a stylish and memorable iconography. Mexican Cinematographer Henner Hofmann*** takes fantastic advantage of the wide-open desert space and the stark, weathered minimalism of the primitive sets, creating a classic look and highlighting the excellent production design. The action is pretty good too, full of classic Western standoffs but also some pretty well-choreographed knock-down-drag-out fights. Yes, ultimately its fragmented and needlessly convoluted flashback structure kills most of the momentum the simple revenge narrative should have been able to build, and it kind of limps to the finish. But even so, those who are in the market for an offbeat action film with some genuine visual polish will find plenty to like here. And hey, how often do you get to see Wesley Snipes fight an all-albino cast of ghouls with a penchant for Baroque Vaudeville costuming in the deserts of Namibia? Not too often, I'm guessing. Take a chance on this one, and enjoy it for its imagination (if not always its execution).

* Along with, STALLONE. STATHAM, SCHWARZENEGGER. FORD. CREWES. COUTURE. BANDERAS. and… GRAMMER? What, are they gonna get David Hyde-Pierce for the next one?

**That’s what it says on the poster, anyway. Not sure that is borne out by the events of the movie.

***Mostly unknown-to-me Mexican films, but he did shoot the hilariously shitty Bon Jovi-starring VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS, so I guess my JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES comparison at the beginning of this review was apt.

Like celebrity deaths, zombie priest gunslingers always come in threes.

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