Dead in Tombstone

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Holy shit, dude. An old fashioned Western starring Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke, and Anthony Michael Hall! What’s this review doing in the Shithouse? This just might be the best film of the year.

Before you get too excited – and I agree, there’s much to be excited about – just remember, we’re swimming in DTV waters, my friend. Direct-to-video. As in, sure, we funded the damn thing, but like hell there’s a market worth a shit in regular theaters. But Redbox? People rent these fucking movies after eating Big Macs, or picking up painkiller prescriptions from Walgreens. Standards of decency are decidedly lower, if they exist at all. Still, this is a Western with, let’s face it, the Great Triumvirate of low budget atrocities. If there’s a movie to be made, they’re available. Hell, they’ll do it just because they need a vacation. And why not? Dead in Tombstone, an exploration of the real West, was shot entirely in Romania.

 

Yeah, but Mickey Rourke! He’s an Oscar nominee. Resurrected career and all that. I bet he’s some ruthless killer, right? The sort of man who robs stagecoaches and doesn’t care if a petticoat or two gets stained with blood.

Let’s just cut to the chase. Rourke is the devil. No, not devilish, or so damn evil he’s, like, metaphorically sprung from the bowels of the underworld. He is literally Satan. Admittedly, he’s Satan reimagined as if the Prince of Darkness had little to do with his time but eat greasy food and gain a shit ton of weight, but yes, he’s still the CEO of Hell. He’s even so kind as to provide an opening narration, shot, conveniently, right inside his kingdom. It’s worth quoting in full, though for a full picture, please know that while his words litter the soundtrack, he’s relentlessly pounding out steel like a good blacksmith: “The West…people call it the New Frontier. It sounds almost nice. They’ll tell you it’s built on the backs of God-fearing folks with true grit in their hands and the American Dream in their hearts. Well, whoever wrote that’s selling snake oil, sure as shit. The real West is a heartless, lawless viper pit – an American nightmare forged by the flames of hell and the hammer of the beast. I oughta know, I am Lucifer, and I devour the souls of man. In the West, I never go hungry.”

 

There goes my hope for another Unforgiven. But does it have to go the supernatural route? Everything’s vampires, zombies, and ghosts these days.

Are you really complaining about Mickey Rourke as Satan? A fat Satan, no less? That shit pretty much writes itself. Still, it’s a pretty unimaginative hell, if I do say so myself. Again, Rourke is a tub of lard, forcing the director to shoot him in shadow like he’s Brando in Apocalypse Now. And hell is just some flames and shit, with a big chair for torturing the damned. To add nuance, I guess, Rourke’s voice is an echo, so he sounds super evil. He also cackles a lot. And what’s with all that forging? Is that the worst punishment the universe can see fit to mete out? And where’s all that steel going, anyway? Oh yeah, Satan needs an unlimited supply of branding irons. He’s not going to make the things himself, for chrissakes.

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So wait, is this a Western set entirely in hell? That could be cool.

Not so fast. Hell makes an appearance, but most of the action is above ground. This is the story of the Blackwater Gang, a rootin’-tootin’ set of sumbitches who rob trains, shoot up banks, and steal horses. Talk is, they also love whiskey and women. They have names like Darko, Snake, Baptiste, and Washington. When we first meet them, their second-in-command, Red (Anthony Michael Hall), is about to be hanged. The rest of the outfit, led by the ruthless Guerrero De La Cruz (Danny Trejo), will save the day at the last minute. Naturally, Guerrero and Red are brothers from the same mother, though I’m guessing only Guerrero’s father was Mexican. At any rate, she was two-bit whore, and they vowed to ride together for all time. And it’s a good thing Red was saved, too, as he had just learned about a big score in Colorado. Edendale, to be exact. Seems there’s a mineral rights issue being debated, and until the law steps in to settle matters, the gold will just have to sit, unguarded, in the bank’s vault. Some say there’s a boat load of cash, too. Riches beyond imagining!

 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Red and Guerrero, despite being brothers, will have a falling out over the gold. Someone’s going to get shot, right?

If you have to play spoiler, fine. But yes, Red is a turncoat, and it seems he has an arrangement with the town to protect the rights of some greedy Brit who owns the mine. In exchange for running Edendale like a fiefdom, Red will get a chunk of the cash. But he has to be in charge, so he murders Guerrero in cold blood. Before the deed, Red snarls, “I’m the Jesus H. Christ of this town!” As Guerrero bleeds to death on the saloon floor, he manages to squeeze out the chestnut of chestnuts, a line that, despite being uttered 35,000 times over the years, stays as fresh as the morning dew: “I’ll see you again…….IN HELL!” Red’s a bad, bad dude. But we’re miles away from Rusty Griswold. Like Rourke, Hall has done little but eat ever since. He’s bloated, bearded, and looking like shit. But he’s working, damn it all.

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So this is where hell comes in. Guerrero dies and ends up in Rourke’s torture chair.

“Where am I?” Guerrero asks. With a smile, Satan replies, “Somewhere south of heaven.” A Slayer lick on the soundtrack would have been a killer capper, but instead, we get the drone of all that fucking forging. Satan being Satan, though, he gets right to work tearing off chunks of Guerrero’s flesh and sticking his finger in various bullet wounds. Yeah, real original. But Guerrero’s no dummy. Between the screams, he offers the devil a deal: spare my soul, brother, and I’ll get you six more from the world above. Satan, to his credit, gives it careful consideration. Six souls, instead of just the one? Stoking the fires takes a whole hell of a lot, and five more souls….well, that would make it easier. Deal! Only there’s a catch. He is Satan, after all. Guerrero has but 24-hours to kill all six men, and they must die by his hand alone. The penalty for failure? A thousand-fold more misery, which might mean forging while being branded with a hot poker. Is there no end to the madness?

 

But Satan has Guerrero’s soul in hand. Why would he give that up? Seems fishy.

It’s the Wild West, my good man. All bets are off. So Guerrero is sent back to earth, thankfully without a shirt. He rises from the grave in wind and rain and lightning, so it’s extra dramatic. And fuck, man, he gets right to work. Within two minutes, he’s killing innocent bystanders in the blacksmith shop, which won’t help secure his soul. Only a specific six will do – his old gang – and to keep an accurate count, he sets up six coffins in front of the church, which he’ll fill one by one. Six coffins for six souls! Not even Guerrero could fuck this up.

 

That’s all well and good, but what kind of a leader is Red? You said he runs the town.

Red’s first order of business is to rename Edendale something more colorful. An original moniker for a crazy bunch of rascals. Why, he’ll call it Tombstone! And here the DVD title had me thinking we’d actually be in the spot of that famous Gunfight at the OK Corral. No, we just get some megalomaniac who has the good fortune to lead a gang of men so dumb they don’t realize he stole the name. But as he says, people who happen to drop by will know he means business. Cross old Red, end up dead. Simple as that. After changing the sign out front, Red orders all women to remain, now and forever, defiantly topless. At least it seems that way. Within hours of the regime change, members of Red’s gang are grabbing titties with all the brute force they once gave steer wrestling. It’s just as well, though, as all the men will soon be shot dead and put on display before a house of God.

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Okay, so Guerrero is back from hell, Red is a sadistic tyrant, and the townsfolk are ready for action. Full compliance?

Absolutely. Only the director, some guy named Roel Reine, seems to have left all his film school training back in the closet, except for the belief that if there’s a scene to be shot, shoot it in slow-motion. Played at normal speed, this movie is a half-hour, tops. But once the bullets start flying, every last man must glide through the air as if time itself has stopped. And if I’m not mistaken, every gun in Edendale has the power to lift a man off his feet and into the sky as if blasted from a cannon. Amazing, even for 1884. But let’s face it, Dead in Tombstone can be reduced to three essentials: slo-mo, airborne dead guys, and Danny Trejo’s grunts. Submit that screenplay in a fortune cookie.

 

I assume there’s a love interest? I mean, we can’t have Danny Trejo without a sex scene.

Naturally, though it’s a love interest who only wants to kill. Seems Red murdered her husband years before, and she wants revenge. Guerrero tells her that he alone must pull the trigger. But why? Because the devil says so. She accepts the explanation with all the incredulity she’d give a forecast for snow amidst a blizzard. Seems anything’s possible in the Old West. Still, despite the lack of eroticism, we do get more naked whores, including one running down the stairs in full-tilt hysterics. Say what you will, she manages to get out of that saloon without so much as a scratch, which is amazing given that it had been pumped through with Gatling guns moments before.

 

I take it Guerrero is fulfilling his end of the bargain?

Yes, one by one, the members of the Blackwater Gang are sent into Mickey Rourke’s furnace. Only Red remains, and he’s damn near shot by the meddling woman, so Guerrero has to stop her, which leads to him being trampled by a horse. Red escapes to the mine, and the pair follow in kind. The expected silliness ensues, including Guerrero hiding in a mining cart like he’s channeling a Scooby Doo episode. But he slits a man’s throat, so it’s all good. The ride home from the mine, however, has to be seen to be believed. Or not. After all, it does mean you’d have to watch the movie. Let it be said, however, that if you’re ever in the mood for a chase scene involving a stagecoach, horses, and top speeds of 2-3 MPH, this is the DVD for you. Once everyone gets back to town, there’s more shooting, a little chaos, a man on fire while riding horseback, and cutaways to hell so Satan can give a play-by-play.

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Can I go out on a second limb? Do Red and Guerrero meet on Main Street at high noon for the final showdown?

Well, it’s technically midnight, but you’re essentially correct. As the clock ticks ever-closer to the deadline, Satan starts manipulating bullets so Guerrero will fail. Who knew Satan would try and fuck with a contract? But a fatal bullet eventually strikes poor Red, though it’s two minutes too late. Satan wants Guerrero’s soul posthaste, but the whole thing feels like a raw deal. Talking frankly in the church, Satan has another change of heart. He likes Guerrero’s style. The partnership, it has to be said, worked out pretty well. So, in exchange for letting Guerrero walk the earth a bit longer, he demands that he become the Devil’s Outlaw. He’ll kill bad guys until no more remain! Why, it could take months. Do I smell a sequel? Or, dare I say it, a franchise?

 

Any parting shots?

The final image, naturally, is of Red in hell, being branded on the chest by an upside-down cross. Seems right when the movie’s only godly character was a belligerent drunk. And the D. Draper Hotel was kind of a cute in-joke. The best line? “All that money and you still can’t take a bath.” He was talking to Trejo, not his character? Got it.

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About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52