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WEST SIDE GORY
Night of the Tommyknockers (15)
Director: Michael Su
Screenplay: Rolfe Kanefsky
Starring: Richard Grieco, Tom Sizemore, Angela Cole
Review: RJ Bland
One of the joys of watching 70s and 80s genre films is that so many of them are essentially B-movies. Features made with small scale budgets but with concepts uninhibited by this fact. The result is a real smorgasbord of horror fare, ranging greatly in technical output. Regardless of film-making quality, the personality and energy of some of these titles have endeared themselves to audiences looking for something that doesn’t necessarily take itself too seriously. That’s not to say that we don’t get lots of low-budget indie horror films today because we do – and plenty of them. However, the ones that tend to stand out are those with serious artistic merit. That’s great. But what if we don’t want to watch Pontypool or The Eyes of My Mother? What if we just want to sit back and watch something a bit more effortlessly gratifying? Well, that’s where films like Night of the Tommyknockers come in…
It's the 1870s and we’re Nevada, where a group of miners are busy blasting open a new section of mountain. They find gold. But they also find something else. Tommyknockers. Which, for the uninformed, are mythological subterranean creatures. Turns out these humanoid like beasts don’t like being awoken and the miners find themselves in a spot of bother. Meanwhile, in a nearby town, the Dirt Gang – a posse of misfit outlaws and criminals - are in the process of robbing a bank. Although they get away with the money and a hostage, they leave behind a dead bank manager in their wake. As they head off to their next target, a little town called Deer Creek, little do they realise that they are being pursued by not only a bounty hunter but also by a relative of the deceased, hellbent on revenge. When they arrive at Deer Creek, the place seems to be abandoned. However when they enter the local saloon they find the remaining townspeople have holed themselves up because the Tommyknockers have paid their town a visit and might still be around…
Directed by Michael Su (Bridge of the Doomed) and written by Rolfe Kanefsky and Adrian Milnes (from a story idea by Michael and Sonny Mahal), NOTT plays out pretty much as a standard Western for the first half or so. Outlaws, Marshalls, shootouts, bank robberies, people riding across the desert on horseback, people saying ‘fixing to’ every other minute – it’s all there. Although the quality of the performances are a little patchy to begin with, the solid production design keeps it from providing too much of a distraction. It’s essentially forty minutes or so of action and light comedy, which feels impressively restrained for a film that has shown us some moments of carnage in the opening sequence. There are a plethora of characters to introduce in the first half but thankfully, enough of them are entertaining enough for it to not feel too bogged down. Richard Grieco looks like he’s in his element as Dirk, the brooding leader of the band of outlaws and Robert LaSardo is as watchable as ever. But it’s Angela Cole, who plays Betsy, the only female member of the Dirt Gang who steals the show somewhat with a spirited performance as a feisty gunslinger. Special mention too for Robert Donovan, who plays the vengeful brother of the murdered bank manager, who always brings a touch of class to whatever he is in.
Once our gang of outlaws are inside the saloon, we are introduced to a whole load more characters, including Tom Sizemore and Jessica Morris. At this point, you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that the cast list has tipped over into overcrowded territory. But when you offer cameo perks as part of the crowdfunding campaign then ‘them’s the breaks’ (as a foolish idiot once said). Fortunately, NOTT almost immediately switches from Western-Drama to Action-Horror and Su wastes no time in trimming down the characters via a host of Tommyknocker attacks and set pieces. At times it feels like The Decent meets Unforgiven, albeit a bit rough around the edges. Some will think the men-in-suits look of the creatures may be a bit crude but they’re generally fine and let’s face it, a better option than utilising sub-standard CGI effects. It all ends in a whirlwind of gore and violence and well, you’d expect nothing less.
NOTT doesn’t offer anything particularly original in terms of its plotting and it isn’t the most refined horror-western you are likely to see. However, it largely delivers on the promise of its premise and serves up enough B-movie thrills to satisfy those looking for some facile fun.
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