After being so fascinated by that weird movie I reviewed last week, URBAN JUNGLE a.k.a. HOMEBOYZ II: CRACK CITY, obviously I had to see what else writer-director Daniel Matmor had done. He wrote Tobe Hooper’s NIGHT TERRORS and he has a story credit on a 2007 Kim Coates movie called KING OF SORROW, but his only other directorial work is this cheap rape-revenge movie BUFFALO HEART: THE PATH OF DEATH from 1996.
Buffalo Heart (Buffalo Child, “Pawnee #1,” DANCES WITH WOLVES) is camping out one night singing traditional Native American songs to his daughter (Autumn Blessing) when this group of six belligerent drunk assholes (some of them off duty cops) approach saying racist shit about welfare and war dances and then attack them for no reason. Matmor himself plays Jerimiah, whose face we see in close up as he rapes the little girl (fortunately you can tell that the young actress is not really in the scene). After he accidentally kills her they shoot her dad, bury both in a shallow grave and swear not to ever discuss what happened “even amongst ourselves.”
The basic story is pretty much like THE CROW. It’s his daughter instead of his wife, but they’re both murdered and only he comes mysteriously back for revenge. And that’s the next day, but then it skips to a year later. And he rides around on a motorcycle tracking down the different sleazeballs responsible, tormenting and murdering them, making them play Russian roulette and things like that. There’s even a bird that seems to be involved in the magic of bringing him back, but it’s not a crow, it’s an eagle (or maybe hawk) flying over in stock footage with sound effect.
The similarity really makes you appreciate how important visual style is to THE CROW. This has none of it, and is far more tedious.
Of course, the Native American angle makes it a little different. Old Joe (Skye Greywolf, stuntman in the 1994 tv movie BLIND JUSTICE starring Armand Assante) finds Buffalo Heart after he stumbles out of the grave. The old man does some kind of healing ritual, burning sage or something, and later helps him out in other ways.
Alot of the movie is wallowing in the sleazy lives of the killers, which is honestly the most interesting stuff. Buffalo Heart finds Jerimiah in a motel where he has convinced the manager Jack (Mel Howard as “Mel Horowitz”) to let him use a room free for two hours for sex. The manager first tries to get him to pay $40 and give him “a piece.” This same asshole later lies to Buffalo Heart saying there’s no vacancy and when he comes back with a gun he says “You need money? You need money for booze?” And this is before Yelp reviews so what recourse does Buffalo Heart have?
There’s a waitress who gets terrified and drops a bunch of food when she notices some cops eating at the diner during her shift. It turns out the sheriff or whatever, Ray (Tom Davies, “Male Nude Corpse,” UNFORGETTABLE), keeps her as a sort of sex slave. Her threatens to turn her in as an accomplice to her boyfriend robbing a store, so she gives in to his abuse while he complains that she “better not lay there like a sack of potatoes,” makes her give him a beer and demands she take off her clothes because “I always like to inspect the merchandise.” There’s a really disgusting scene where he’s off from a long day of work, sits on the bed and takes his socks off, you get the impression his feet are sore and smelly. And later in the scene he stands up on the bed and steps on her chest with a bare foot. When Buffalo Heart comes in and has his way with this fucking guy it feels pretty earned.
One thing THE CROW does not have: a mentally challenged farm worker who gets blamed for The Crow’s murders. Jerimiah drives around in some kind of food truck with a soda fountain in the back and a crudely drawn dead pig logo. He and his brother go to a farm and purposely chooses to slaughter the favorite pig of farmhand Billy (Sam Dobbins as “Craig Eisner”) and then torments him with the severed head. When the butcher bullies are found hanging like meat it seems like Billy did it. They arrest him and the dead guys’ dad Buck (Ed Birmingham) brings a posse to try to kill him. “We don’t do that around here no more,” he’s told. I wonder how recently they used to do it?
To his credit, Buffalo Heart busts Billy out of jail and leaves him with Old Joe. But Old Joe seems annoyed to have to look after him. He refuses to give him food and then gives him a rake and tells him to clean up all the dirt in a patch of dirt.
Note: since URBAN JUNGLE explicitly mentioned parallels to Oliver Twist I’m surprised they never point out that this is like Of Mice and Men.
A pretty good touch is that one of the cops who was there, the one who was most hesitant before swearing to keep it a secret, is a deputy now and he seems like an upstanding citizen. They make a point to show him saying goodbye to his wife and loving children before work. But he was part of this atrocity and he’s gonna pay.
There are the kind of awkward scenes that only low-low-low budget movies offer. One where a girl and her mom ring the bell for service at the motel for about a minute before they notice that the manager has been dead and bloody right in front of them the whole time but they somehow didn’t look at him. Or the one where the mortician’s assistant (Karl T. Hirsch, now a prolific trailer editor, story writer of ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES and producer of the English language version of WOLFHOUND) gets yelled at for carrying a severed head around in an Igloo cooler.
Also there’s a part where Old Joe randomly starts talking about Superman, asking why he doesn’t take all the nuclear missiles and throw them off into space. “Maybe we should call him Lazyman.” It’s weird that they would put that in the movie like it was kind of a deep or clever thing to say, without anybody pointing out “Yeah, that’s the plot of part IV.” I haven’t seen it but I know it.
Of course, I’m not complaining, because those types of things are what make an otherwise generic exploitation movie interesting. This doesn’t have nearly as much head-scratching or artfulness as URBAN JUNGLE, but I suppose it has more coherent storytelling. It also adds to the mystery of Daniel Matmor, because now we know he’s an upper class Englishman who directs operettas and collects paintings and makes b-movies about the classic struggle in American inner cities and battles between Native Americans and redneck stereotypes in our desert towns. And at least it has more flavor to it than other some-guy-out-in-the-desert-getting-revenge-on-rednecks movies of similar production value. It’s watchable and has its moments. I have not discovered a great body of work here in the films of Daniel Matmor, but I’ll still take it as a win.
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.