Aussie zombie film hits the target as a tribute to Spaghetti Westerns
But misses the mark as a zombie flick.
Bullets for the Dead review
by TS Alan
Bullets for the Dead is set in the American West circa 1870, and follows bounty hunter James Dalton (Christopher Sommers), who discovers the aftermath of a massacre while escorting gang leader Annie Blake (Vanessa Moltzen) and her band of outlaws to the sheriff.
After thwarting a holdup, Dalton takes Blake and her cronies into custody and heads off to a distant train station in order transport them to Driftwood to collect his reward. On the journey he discovers the train sitting on the tracks abandoned. Upon further investigation, Dalton discovers the aftermath of a gruesome massacre inside and only one survivor; a priest named Alan O’Rourke (Hugh Parker).
O’Rourke sheds little light on the horrific events, claiming he was in the toilet when he heard screaming and was too frightened to come out. Later that night Dalton and his group are attacked by a group of the talking dead (yes, they talk!). They escape, however, they are pursued constantly by the ever growing horde.
Seeking shelter in a convent the truth is finally revealed when O’Rourke’s wife, who had supposedly perished on the train, is found to be the Mother Superior. O’Rourke’s dark secret is then revealed. O’Rourke’s wife had died from Consumption. Not able to live without her, he used a book of the dead, and summoned a demon to resurrect her and to feed upon the essences it so desired.
As an ode to the Western genre, Bullets for the Dead is an exceptional film. The cinematographer has splendidly captured the scenic, pristine beauty of the Australian landscape, lending credence to it being the Old West of the United States. The director also does a fine job, bringing out the emotions and nuances of the actors, giving them depth. The acting for the most part — those of the mains — is solid with characters both interesting and believable.
At times the film is gritty, dirty and violent. It is also punctuated with moments where the script takes time to reveal some of the backgrounds of the characters. Just enough for you to understand who they are and what brought them to this point in theirs lives. This is all reminiscent of the Spaghetti Westerns of yesteryear — plenty of action but not too much character development. Even Christopher Sommers portrayal of James Dalton has the quality of look and feel that Anthony Steffen put into films like Seven Dollars on the Red, Blood at Sundown and Garringo.
However where Bullets for the Dead shines as a western, it falters as a zombie film. Writers Joshua C. Birch and Michael Du-Shane have crafted a script that does not adhere to a traditional style George Romero zombie nor a Danny Boyle 28 Days Later infected type of zombie. Instead they decided to do something different, making their “zombies” demonically possessed cannibals.
Birch and Du-Shane must have a fondness for Sam Raimi and his Evil Dead films. The parallel between O’Rourke’s summoning of a demon using a dark book of the dead is similar to Ash Williams’ summoning the Kandarian demon using the Necronomicon. In both films an unstoppable demon is unleashed upon the world. However that is where the similarity ends. With the original Evil Dead films, there was a sense of foreboding throughout and the demon was truly menacing. However with Birch and Du-Shane’s film the foreboding never reaches nail biting intensity nor does the demonically possessed Mrs. O’Rourke truly seem menacing. Though she does come close for a moment in the convent, and then the script gets in the way of itself.
If you are going to attempt something different when it comes to reinventing or re-invigorating the zombie genre, then it needs to be exceptional. There is nothing special in regard to the zombie element in this movie. However this is not to say that the film is without merit as a horror film. Considering the budget it was shot on the special effects are very good. It is also has moments of genuine gore and suspense.
There’s a lot of talent behind this film and by no means is Bullets for the Dead a bad zombie film, its just not a standout. With that stated, I do recommend viewing it for the exceptional Western theme, and that is where it shines.
Bullets for the Dead
Directed by Michael Du-Shane
Written by Joshua C. Birch, Michael Du-Shane
Cast: Vanessa Moltzen, Christopher Sommers, Libby Munro, Carol Burns, Hugh Parker, Renaud Jadin
Run Time: 91 minutes
Release Date: August 18, 2016 (Australia) Currently only available on DVD in Australia and the UK.