Let’s Go The Other Way

So after three movies of considerable quality, I felt the need to balance out my cinematic diet. And if nothing else, my collection has quite the surplus of films on the other end of that curve.

First up: The White Buffalo (1977), which is probably the oddest Jaws rip-off ever made. Charles Bronson plays an older, wiser Wild Bill Hickok who returns to an Old West that really doesn’t want him, or would prefer him dead. Hickok is  suffering from recurrent dreams of a gigantic white buffalo charging toward him, and he is chasing rumors of just such a beast into the Black Hills of Dakota during a gold rush. He is also suffering from syphilis, requiring him to wear smoked glasses in bright daylight. Many he confides in think the disease is eating into his brains.

There are historians who are going to take umbrage at that supposition; it is generally agreed that Hickok was suffering at the very least from glaucoma and possibly trachoma, common at the time; but it’s typical of the revisionist Western that the syphilis rumor is presented as fact, and is of a piece with the rest of the movie. A trip to the combination bar/brothel of a boom town is one of the most raucously filthy. smoky, noisy and chaotic scenes in a Western ever. I’m in no position to judge its truthfulness, but it does stick with you.

The upshot of the movie is that the White Buffalo is real, and is rampaging through the Black Hills as Winter approaches. One Indian village is destroyed by the beast, and a little girl killed: the daughter of the tribe’s War Chief, Crazy Horse. Until he can slay the buffalo and wrap his daughter’s corpse in its pelt, her soul will be tormented; additionally, his real name is taken from him until he can achieve this, and he will be known as “Worm”. Will Sampson plays the role with great gravitas and stoicism; he’s one of the best things about the movie.

It is, of course, inevitable that the two will team up to hunt the White Buffalo, and getting to that point makes for a pretty entertaining flick, as Hickok and Crazy Horse save each other’s asses and come to respect each other, mainly because neither one has any idea who the other actually is. Jack Warden tags along as Charlie Zane “The White Warrior of Sand Creek”… which, if they’re referring to the Sand Creek Massacre is not a compliment, but Zane is pretty much the spokesman for the Indian-hating white majority in the last half of the movie.

The major problem with The White Buffalo is that it’s two-thirds of a decent movie. It’s a very entertaining revisionist western whenever the title character isn’t around – there are some scenes where it looks good, but overall, the Buffalo isn’t one of Carlo Rambaldi’s finest creations. The first half of the movie has a bunch of fun cameos – Slim Pickens as a foul-mouthed stagecoach driver, John Carradine as (of course) the town undertaker, Ed Lauter as Tom Custer (George’s kid brother), Clint Walker as murderous trapper Whistling Jack Kileen, Stuart Whitman as a frontier pimp, and Kim Novak, making one of her last screen appearances as Poker Jenny, a reformed whore from Hickok’s younger days.

The final showdown doesn’t carry with it the same emotional grip and lift of Jaws. Director J. Lee Thompson, a long way from Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear, just can’t seem to make it click. But up to that point it’s diverting enough, and I don’t mind sharing its company every now and then.

I can’t really say the same about The Reaping, which is one of those movies I kept meaning to see but never did, so much so that it wound up on one of the lists of movies I will see this year. I had a pretty religious upbringing. It didn’t stick, but I know my way around a Bible, and instances of God taking physical action in this world is one of the things that has continued to intrigue me.

So you have Hilary Swank playing a woman who was once an ordained minister, but after a tragedy during her missionary work – blamed for the local famine, her family was murdered/sacrificed to the local heathen gods – she has turned her back on religion, and now, in fact, is a professional debunker of modern miracles. It doesn’t take a scriptwriting genius to realize that her character has yes, lost her faith, but is searching, however unconsciously, for something to rekindle it – only to find scientific explanations for everything.

She – and her associate, played by Idris Elba (which gave me great hope) are called to a small Louisiana town where, apparently, the Old Testament Plagues of Pharoah are being played out. The river has turned to blood, there is a rain of frogs upon their arrival, cattle sicken and die – and blame is falling on a young girl from an outcast family on the edge of town. Swank, having lost her daughter to murder, is immediately conflicted.

The Reaping pulls out lots of gross stuff – instant maggots, lice (instead of gnats) boils, eventually a literal plague of  locusts, while the viewer drums his fingers and waits for Swank to regain her faith or something. Eventually she pieces everything together and sorry, I’m not going to tell you what’s going on. It’s not really worth the trip, but why should I be the only one to suffer?

The movie wants to become The Omen in its final act, then actually manages to pull off a fairly decent twist… which is negated mere minutes later by one of the lamest final twists since Big Trouble in Little China. I sincerely hope it was included at the insistence of some clueless little studio weasel who sniveled that there had to be a final twist, every horror movie has a final twist. Mainly because I don’t need more reasons to hate director Stephen Hopkins, who also dropped Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and the Lost in Space movie on us. He also did Predator 2, which I don’t hate, and The Ghost and the Darkness, which I really liked.

So screw you, nameless and probably fictional studio weasel. I hate you for that final twist. Hopkins, I glare at you for wasting a great cast like Hilary Swank, Idris Elba, David Morrissey and Stephen Rea, whose portion of the story makes no goddamn sense whatsoever given that decent twist I mentioned earlier…which brings us to writers Corey and Chad Hayes, who are also responsible for the 2005 House of Wax movie, and that dreadful version of Whiteout that mangled a good story by Greg Rucka.

And then I just sort of lose the will to live and go to bed. I don’t mind watching crap, unless it’s listless, boring crap. I’m going to give some props to the production for sticking it out in Louisiana when Katrina interrupted their shoot, because they knew that the local economy could really use the cash infusion brought in by a film production. I just wish the end result had been more worthy of that suffering.

So now I find myself in a bit of a quandary; in the aforementioned lists, I still have 27 movies left to go before December 31st. That’s not impossible, except that my life is a patchwork of part-time jobs and nailing down time to watch movies is more of a challenge than it ought to be. Still in the realm of the doable. But. It’s October. Everybody else is having fun watching nothing but horror movies. On The Lists, there are five, possibly six movies that could be classified as horror if I stretch the definition a bit.

So I suppose if I watch those, it still brings me down to 21 movies, and that should give me some leeway to watch some horror movies that aren’t on The Lists, right? Right.

Phew. Thanks for your help, I really appreciate it.