Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Gallowwalkers (USA, 2012)

A Wesley Snipes project that got lost in the shuffle of his tax problems, Gallowwalkers, a Western horror movie, supposedly had its genesis in 2005 as Chow Yun-fat (of Curse of the Golden Flower [2006 / trailer], the Hong Kong classic The Killer [1989 / trailer], A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon [1989] and sooooo much more) project about a zombie bounty-hunter. By the time the film began filming in Namibia some years later, Yun-fat was long gone and the film had turned into something even rarer than a Western horror: a Western horror starring a Black man.* No way we couldn't watch this one when we accidentally stumbled upon it on YouTube while looking for something to waste our life on...
* Hmm, if you get down to it, about the only thing rarer than that would be a Western horror starring an Asian man (not to even speak of an Asian woman)... 
Trailer to
As Aman, the movie's morally questionable hero, Wesley "GILF" Snipes (of Demolition Man [1993 / trailer] and Dolemite Is My Name [2019 / trailer]) channels his cool and deadly Blade (1998) persona — occasionally he even takes the same "Look, I'm so cool!" after-kill position — but smiles a bit more often and has cooler hair. The what and the why and the how of the undead gallowwalkers and Aman's obsession to hunt them down is disclosed slowly, sometimes even clumsily, in fits and flashbacks. They reveal that Aman, if not his mother, a nun who breaks with her holy responsibilities, is responsible for the creation of the undead gallowwalkers. That, and the score Aman has not settled as long as they walk the Earth, is what motivates his hunt. A hunt for which he is more than willing to kill anyone to see successfully through to the end, as revealed in the scene where he basically slaughters an armament of military and Western lawmen transporting criminals just to free Fabulous (Riley "Generic" Smith of Bleed [2016 / trailer] and Lovers Lane [1999 / trailer]), despite the fact that they were really just deplorables if not Joe Schmoes simply doing their job. (If there is a given reason why Aman specifically wants Fabulous as his wingman, we missed it.)
The vast, barren and dirty Western lands of Gallowwalkers, as well as the towns and settlements found therein, owe less to those of the traditional Western than to the more intentionally surreal of movies like El Topo (1970). The religious settlement under the leadership of Marshall Gaza (Patrick Bergin of Highway to Hell [1991], Berserker [2004] and Shark Week [2012]), for example, which seems to exist just for hanging people and is populated by a religious sect whose mandatory outfit seems to include bad blonde wigs, is high on the dream-like scale. It is here that we first meet the gallowwalkers, led by Kansa (Kevin Howarth of The Seasoning House [2012 / trailer], The Last Horror Movie [2003 / trailer], Razor Blade Smile [1998 / trailer], Summer Scars [2007 / trailer] and Don't Look Back [2003 / trailer]). Regrettably, it must be said, as a character he is actually far more frightening and threatening while he is still alive than when he is undead, despite the fact that in both guises he is the epitome of evil narcissism.
Basically, it's the hair. As the gallowwalkers must regularly shed and take on new skin, he pulls on that of one of the religious town's blonde acolytes; for all Kansa's seething and menace, that blonde hair just never cuts the mustard. What seems particularly odd about the skin shedding bit is that it doesn't seem to apply to everyone: the gallowwalker with sewn-shut lips, for example, seems never to have shed his, just like, apparently, another major-major character of the film never did or has to. Likewise, the "twist" that involves a killing "because I like you" totally ignores the fact that the good-guy undead will also eventually have to re-skin himself.
If you are one of those who view the word "horror" as a synonym for "scary", well, Gallowwalkers is anything but. At best, it is an occasionally fun and frequently visually striking dramaturgical mess that is as often interesting as it is too long. Visually, much of the movie is a stunner, particularly in its first half, and the Mexican cinematographer, Henner Hofmann, does some pretty amazing eye candy that easily calls to mind the masterpieces of the Spaghetti Western. (An influence acknowledged in an early exchange, on railway tracks, of "you brought a horse too many", a direct play upon an early exchange in Once Upon a Time in the West [1968 / trailer].)
Indeed, swathes of the movie comes across as if it were written around the visuals; unluckily, that means the story and narrative speed is occasionally sacrificed to almost operatic images which, while beautiful to look at, not only tend to be held too long but never truly manage to cohere into the Wagnerian whole that the filmmakers were obviously aiming for.
Likewise, Gallowwalkers would truly be a stronger film if the narrative, which is somewhat disjointed and clumsy and damaged by the constant use of flashbacks, like the timing, were a tad quicker. Pretty babe Angel (Tanit Phoenix of Death Race II [2010 / trailer] and Death Race: Inferno [2013 / trailer]), for example, introduced in a manner that makes you think she has a reason to be there, is reduced to having no reason to be there. Really: as nice as her cleavage is — it is definitely Hammer-level nice — her part should have been cut.
And therein lies the rub. Both in the visuals and in the narrative, Gallowwalker's screenwriter-director (Andrew Goth) and co-screenwriter (Joanne Reay), whose other joint projects include MindGamers (2015 / trailer) and Cold and Dark (2005 / trailer), reveal a notable inability to kill their darlings. And while both the visuals and the narrative often work, too often they stumble or overstay their welcome. There is a really good film in Gallowwalkers that fought hard to come out, but failed. The result is a movie that intrigues and disappoints, and leaves an unsatisfying aftertaste. (And, really: a bit more money should have been spent on the wigs.)
For that, we would nevertheless be hard placed to say that Gallowwalkers is a complete waste of time, particularly if you have the opportunity to see it a screen the size for which it was obviously shot. (In other words, a damn big screen.) Eye candy is eye candy, after all, and who doesn't enjoy eye candy?

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