Holy shit, dude. An old fashioned Western starring Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke, and Anthony Michael Hall! WhatÂs this review doing in the Shithouse? This just might be the best film of the year.
Before you get too excited Â and I agree, thereÂs much to be excited about Â just remember, weÂre swimming in DTV waters, my friend. Direct-to-video. As in, sure, we funded the damn thing, but like hell thereÂs 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, letÂs face it, the Great Triumvirate of low budget atrocities. If thereÂs a movie to be made, theyÂre available. Hell, theyÂll 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! HeÂs an Oscar nominee. Resurrected career and all that. I bet heÂs some ruthless killer, right? The sort of man who robs stagecoaches and doesnÂt care if a petticoat or two gets stained with blood.
LetÂs just cut to the chase. Rourke is the devil. No, not devilish, or so damn evil heÂs, like, metaphorically sprung from the bowels of the underworld. He is literally Satan. Admittedly, heÂs 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, heÂs still the CEO of Hell. HeÂs even so kind as to provide an opening narration, shot, conveniently, right inside his kingdom. ItÂs worth quoting in full, though for a full picture, please know that while his words litter the soundtrack, heÂs relentlessly pounding out steel like a good blacksmith: ÂThe WestÂ people call it the New Frontier. It sounds almost nice. TheyÂll tell you itÂs built on the backs of God-fearing folks with true grit in their hands and the American Dream in their hearts. Well, whoever wrote thatÂs selling snake oil, sure as shit. The real West is a heartless, lawless viper pit Â 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.Â
There goes my hope for another Unforgiven. But does it have to go the supernatural route? EverythingÂs 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, itÂs 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 heÂs 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, RourkeÂs voice is an echo, so he sounds super evil. He also cackles a lot. And whatÂs with all that forging? Is that the worst punishment the universe can see fit to mete out? And whereÂs all that steel going, anyway? Oh yeah, Satan needs an unlimited supply of branding irons. HeÂs not going to make the things himself, for chrissakes.
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 rootinÂ-tootinÂ 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 IÂm guessing only GuerreroÂs father was Mexican. At any rate, she was two-bit whore, and they vowed to ride together for all time. And itÂs a good thing Red was saved, too, as he had just learned about a big score in Colorado. Edendale, to be exact. Seems thereÂs 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 bankÂs vault. Some say thereÂs a boat load of cash, too. Riches beyond imagining!
IÂm 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. SomeoneÂs 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, ÂIÂm the Jesus H. Christ of this town!Â 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: ÂIÂll see you againÂ Â .IN HELL!Â RedÂs a bad, bad dude. But weÂre miles away from Rusty Griswold. Like Rourke, Hall has done little but eat ever since. HeÂs bloated, bearded, and looking like shit. But heÂs working, damn it all.
So this is where hell comes in. Guerrero dies and ends up in RourkeÂs torture chair.
ÂWhere am I?Â Guerrero asks. With a smile, Satan replies, ÂSomewhere south of heaven.Â 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 GuerreroÂs flesh and sticking his finger in various bullet wounds. Yeah, real original. But GuerreroÂs no dummy. Between the screams, he offers the devil a deal: spare my soul, brother, and IÂll 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 soulsÂ .well, that would make it easier. Deal! Only thereÂs 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 GuerreroÂs soul in hand. Why would he give that up? Seems fishy.
ItÂs 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 itÂs extra dramatic. And fuck, man, he gets right to work. Within two minutes, heÂs killing innocent bystanders in the blacksmith shop, which wonÂt help secure his soul. Only a specific six will do Â his old gang Â and to keep an accurate count, he sets up six coffins in front of the church, which heÂll fill one by one. Six coffins for six souls! Not even Guerrero could fuck this up.
ThatÂs all well and good, but what kind of a leader is Red? You said he runs the town.
RedÂs first order of business is to rename Edendale something more colorful. An original moniker for a crazy bunch of rascals. Why, heÂll call it Tombstone! And here the DVD title had me thinking weÂd 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 donÂt 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 RedÂs gang are grabbing titties with all the brute force they once gave steer wrestling. ItÂs just as well, though, as all the men will soon be shot dead and put on display before a house of God.
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 thereÂs 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 IÂm 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 letÂs face it, Dead in Tombstone can be reduced to three essentials: slo-mo, airborne dead guys, and Danny TrejoÂs grunts. Submit that screenplay in a fortune cookie.
I assume thereÂs a love interest? I mean, we canÂt have Danny Trejo without a sex scene.
Naturally, though itÂs 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 sheÂd give a forecast for snow amidst a blizzard. Seems anythingÂs 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 RourkeÂs furnace. Only Red remains, and heÂs 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 heÂs channeling a Scooby Doo episode. But he slits a manÂs throat, so itÂs all good. The ride home from the mine, however, has to be seen to be believed. Or not. After all, it does mean youÂd have to watch the movie. Let it be said, however, that if youÂre 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, thereÂs more shooting, a little chaos, a man on fire while riding horseback, and cutaways to hell so Satan can give a play-by-play.
Can I go out on a second limb? Do Red and Guerrero meet on Main Street at high noon for the final showdown?
Well, itÂs technically midnight, but youÂre 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 itÂs two minutes too late. Satan wants GuerreroÂs soul posthaste, but the whole thing feels like a raw deal. Talking frankly in the church, Satan has another change of heart. He likes GuerreroÂs 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 DevilÂs Outlaw. HeÂll 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 movieÂs only godly character was a belligerent drunk. And the D. Draper Hotel was kind of a cute in-joke. The best line? ÂAll that money and you still canÂt take a bath.Â He was talking to Trejo, not his character? Got it.