Tuesday, November 09, 2010


The Burrowers (2008)
Directed by J.T. Petty

At the urgings of my good friend Mr. Martini (and no, that is not a drinking joke), I finally settled in and queued up writer/director J.T. Petty's western horror film, The Burrowers.

Not to be confused with The Borrowers, about the adorable tiny people who live in your walls.

Mr. Martini had been singing the praises of this film for quite some time, but I always found one reason or another to put off watching it.  I'm not sure why.  His track record is pretty good when it comes to horror films, so I really should have watched this a long time ago.

Because it was just that good.

So good, in fact, that I think all of you should watch it now, too.  Especially if you're a fan of westerns, a fan of monsters, and/or a fan of Clancy Brown.

Yes, the man who played The Kurgan, Sgt. Zim, Lex Luthor, and Mr. Krabs is in this. That should justify the viewing in its own right.  But wait!  There's more!  Starring alongside Brown, is William Mapother, who is probably most recognized these days for playing Ethan on Lost.  He's joined by another Lost vet, Doug Hutchison (who also played Loony Bin Jim in Punisher: War Zone).

Here there be Spoilers.

Brown and Mapother play John Clay and William Parcher, two cowboys helping young Irish immigrant Fergus Coffey (played by Karl Geary) find his kidnapped would-be bride.  They assume that she's been taken by renegade Indians and set out, along with a small regiment of Union Soldiers, led by Hutchison's Henry Victor.  Along the way, however, our heroes discover that it was a strange, unknown tribe called The Burrowers, who were responsible for the kidnapping and a number of murders.

Of course, The Burrowers aren't really a tribe.  They're more like horrifying crosses between Komodo Dragons, Grasshoppers, and Ghouls.  It seems that since the White Man has killed off all the buffalo, the natural prey of The Burrowers, the creatures have started hunting further up the food chain.  Once every three generations, anyway.

Along the way, our heroes are joined by the cook, and free man, Walnut Callaghan (Sean Patrick Thomas) and an Indian woman named Faith (Alexandra Edmo), but I can tell you right now, not everybody's making it home from this adventure.

Not only is this a well-written, well-acted, and extremely disturbing film, it's beautifully shot.  Nearly every shot is magnificently framed to accentuate the landscape and/or the immense sky.  The pacing serves the story well, as we slowly but surely begin to see that we're not watching a typical western, but have the makings of a cult horror classic.

Because believe you me, the horror in this film is visceral.  It doesn't rely on gore, although when the time comes, there are a few very effective gross-outs, but spends most of the time on mood and the extremely uncomfortable realization of just what's happening to the victims of The Burrowers.  Not only are they buried alive, but they're slowly rotting away from the inside, all the better to make a tasty snack for the monsters.

And the design of the monsters is nightmarish.  Particularly their hideous faces and the way the creep across the ground, through the high grass.

Yes, that was me shuddering as I remembered it.

I also really appreciated the fact that once the rules for how these creatures live are set out, Petty doesn't back peddle with his script to give us even the hint of a romantic rescue for the kidnapped lady love.  She's just dead and we don't even get to find the body.  Nice touch.

That emotional brutality plays out in the conclusion, too, as no one really makes it out of the conflict unscathed.  Except for the asshole soldiers, of course.  Because that's how things work in a narrative like this.  The meaninglessness of existence is thrown in the viewers' faces and while our main hero does make it out in the end, all he really accomplishes is surviving.  Nobody is saved.  Nobody wins.

This is one of the best contemporary horror films I've seen in a while, and I've seen some good ones lately.  It has all the fundamentals of good filmmaking covered, and is genuinely disturbing to boot.  I highly recommend this film to everyone looking for a good horror film.  Or even if you just want to see a decent Western.  Just be ready for the horror when it comes creeping up out of the ground in the night.


  1. Glad you liked it as much as me. And Doug Hutchison plays despicable like nobody, doesn't he? You should try and track down the short film that J.T. Petty did before The Burrowers. It's called, "Blood Red Earth," and it's all from the Native American perspective. Very good. Now I have to go and get Susan's needle and thread back from the little people who live under our stairs.

  2. Glad we watched it -- I'm so consistently disappointed by horror films, it was refreshing to see something that was actually good.

    I'd love to see someone do Joe R. Landsdale's "Dead in the West." Cowboys and zombies, my friends...cowboys and zombies.

  3. I'd like to see just about any Joe R. Lansdale movie. I heard they were supposed to be making a film of The Drive-In, but I think it folded.