This has been a source of mystery for a couple years now, the weird sounding horror-western that Wesley Snipes filmed right before he got convicted. In fact the prosecutors tried to accuse him of running when he flew to Namibia to film it. Were they just trying to fuck up his life, or did they really believe he was crazy enough to start over there, become the African DTV Roman Polanski? I mean, that would be kinda cool though.
From the early descriptions it sounded like they were trying to do Cowboy BLADE, the promotional materials were amateurish, the director is an unknown and there was always the possibility that “Andrew Goth” was not his real name but a fake one that he actually thought sounded cool. Also, there was reason to believe Wesley needed money and was not necessarily being picky about which projects to do. And then it didn’t come out for six years. So I never had any faith at all that this would be good.
And yes, it’s a mess. First and worst example is the narration, which could be Snipes sounding really weird, but I’m pretty sure it’s a Steven Seagal OUT OF REACH situation. I just thought it was a third person narrator until the last sentence of the opening chunk, where it sounds like a pretty good Blade imitation. Later he’s saying “I” and it’s clearly supposed to be Snipes’s character Aman talking, but it sure doesn’t sound like his voice.
I can see why they wanted some narration at all costs, though, because even with it (and the power of the rewind button) I couldn’t follow some of what was going on. God bless ’em for trying to be understated, but they don’t really have the storytelling thing down. There’s a long scene of Aman explaining his whole backstory, including the rape and death-during-child-birth of his love, him gunning down the perpetrators, him and them both resurrected due to a deal with the devil. I get that stuff, but then one of the rapists (Kevin Howarth, THE LAST HORROR MOVIE), now a skinless ex-priest wearing the face and hair of a transvestite bootshiner he killed, is gonna hang a bunch of people and he makes a big speech about that. And it goes on for a while but I never quite figured out what he was talking about.
Are those guys on the gallows gonna be the gallow walkers? I don’t think so, I think these guys doing the hanging are already the gallow walkers. Then what’s all this about? I’m not sure. There is talk of a “gateway to Hell” and some sisters of something, and there’s a flashback where Aman’s mom has a weird occult nun outfit and she’s out in the desert talking to a voice that represents the devil. I mean… I don’t know.
But I wish I did, because otherwise this is kinda good. It boils down to a classic western situation. He lives at a slaughterhouse with a beautiful older “Mistress” (Jenny Gago) and a little freckled white kid with dreadlocks (David De Beer). He brings home a young gun-for-hire named Fabulos (Riley Smith, BRING IT ON) and leaves a trail so his enemies will come after him for a showdown. Basically, he died revenge-killing them, and they were all resurrected, so now he has to re-revenge-kill them.
There’s plenty of weird, colorful stuff to make it worthwhile. The GWs have this ability to apply dead skin to themselves and make it their own, so one guy gets creative and adds two lizard tails to the back of his head. And he rambles about why that’s better.
There’s a guy named Skullbucket, who it turns out is played by wrestler/DEVIL’S REJECTS bounty hunter Diamond Dallas Page, but I had no idea because his head is always covered with a giant metal jug with blades sticking out of it. Aman has a pretty good fight against that guy inside the slaughterhouse, using his knowledge of the geography and slaughter tools to overcome Skullbucket’s superior size and strength.
Best of all there’s a great scene where a mutant guy makes a run at Aman. You guys know how much I love a good out-of-the-blue-desert-mutant-attack. If there was some set up for that scene that I missed I don’t want to know. I love it just how it is. Just, an Elephant Man looking dude in a duster making a run at him, and the little boy tries to take him out with a sling.
Oh wait, it just occurred to me… is that Skullbucket with the bucket off his skull? No, don’t tell me. It’s just a random mutant attacker is all I need to know.
Wesley is mostly quiet, doing his menacing poses, occasionally getting to rip a motherfucker’s head off and let the spine dangle. I’m not saying it’s one of his better characters, obviously, but the movies problems don’t seem like they could be his fault. As usual he gives it a real performance, alot of it through his poses and posture.
I really think it might’ve been possible to edit this into a legitimately good movie. As many problems as it has it avoids the ones I would’ve expected. The main one is that it’s not bland and cheesy looking. It looks good, nice and raw like a real western, not the typical slick digital shot-on-the-set-of-a-syndicated-TV-show bullshit that you usually get in a DTV or made-for-cable western. I’m sure this is mostly because of shooting it in Namibia, where Snipes was proud to help establish a film industry. It’s a kapana western.
The Danny Trejo western DEAD IN TOMBSTONE has a similar subject matter and is done by a director whose work I usually enjoy, but I couldn’t even finish watching that one. GALLOWWALKERS, when it’s working, has the right mix of classical simplicity (guy getting revenge) and originality (weird monsters and shit). Like most modern westerns it shows an obvious ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST influence, but more in an “obviously lots of wide establishing shots but also some closeups of expressions is the right way to do this” type of way than in a corny copycat kind of way. And the score by Andrew Glen and Stephen Warbeck is miraculous in that it’s neither cheesy fake Morricone or shitty standard low budget electro business. It sounds kinda retro but not following the cliches of what a western score is supposed to be.
What I didn’t expect is an obvious Jodorowsky – especially EL TOPO – influence. That’s one you don’t see in any other Wesley Snipes picture I could name (admittedly I still haven’t seen WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP or MONEY TRAIN). The dead animals in the desert, weird structures, occult-ish symbols, and there’s an adorable mummy character they carry around on a cross that always reminded me of the flayed lambs they march around with in HOLY MOUNTAIN. You can see in these shots that at least it doesn’t look like your usual DTV western:
I mean, at the very least somebody is gonna catch this late at night on cable and have no idea when or where it was made. It’s what comes on after Videodrome instead of Gunsmoke reruns.
I can’t say GALLOWWALKERS works, but I respect the attempt. I’ll probly remember it.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.