Of all cinematic genres, horror is probably the most malleable. Its presence can be found in sci-fi (Alien), musicals (Sweeny Todd), family films (The Nightmare Before Christmas), comedy (take your pick) as well as countless others. Why it has taken so longer for a horror-western to be made is a mystery, but now we have The Burrowers - a proper western-cum-creature-feature. The film is not, as you may expect, a tongue-in-cheek subversion of western elements but a fully fledged entry into the cannon, taking both its western and horror elements completely and totally seriously.

The western elements follow through so strongly that one suspects it was writer/director JT Petty’s desire to make a straightforward western, and after finding out no one would fund such an antiquated endeavour decided to spice it up with monsters (a theory Petty pretty much confirms in the extras).

Copy picture

Because of the film's very deliberate pacing, after the initial attack it is a long time before the titular Burrowers make their presence felt. Indeed, many of the film's strongest scenes take place without the monsters at all, including a wonderfully tense ambush by a tribe of Indians. A special mention should go to cinematographer Phil Parmet, who gives the film a beautiful classic western look on a limited budget.

That’s not to say that Burrowers is a slouch in the horror department. The creatures have an original, nicely organic design, and for the most part are a seamless addition to the world created by the film. In an industry becoming increasingly dominated by computerised effects, it’s heartening to see the practical work on display looks so good. It’s only during the inevitable final showdown between man and beast when the filmmakers rather foolishly decide to show the full creature design, characterised by disappointing CGI in complete opposition to the wonderfully subtle glimpses of prosthetic work shown earlier.

Overall though, The Burrowers is aware of its budget limitations, and keeps things on a small scale, never trying to be ‘cool’ at expense of story or character. The only real complaint to me made is that it takes itself a little too seriously, and lacks the sense of fun you’d expect from a western-horror crossover. If you’re looking for a serious, dour western with a twist, and even a sneaky environmental message snuck in (the Burrowers are only attacking people because the white settlers killed all the buffalo, their original source of food), you could do far worse.

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2009
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The Burrowers packshot
When a town's prime lass is kidnapped in the Old West, a posse get together to bring her back. Easier said than done when the kidnappers are underground monsters.
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Director: JT Petty

Writer: JT Petty

Starring: Doug Hutchison, Clancy Brown, William Mapother, Sean Patrick Thomas, Karl Geary, Jocelin Donahue, Laura Leighton, Stan Burd, David Busse, Trip Davis

Year: 2008

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: US


Leeds 2008

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