PICKIN’ THE CARCASS: THE BURROWERS (2008)
DVD Review by Michael Arruda
As we pick from the carcass this week, we snack on THE BURROWERS (2008), and if we’re not careful, the title creatures from this movie will be the ones snacking on us. Yikes!
I heard a lot of good things about THE BURROWERS (2008), and when I saw the trailer for the film, I thought, this movie looks terrific! How can it not be a hit? Well, the answer is quite simple. The movie is not as good as its trailer.
THE BURROWERS starts out strong, with a quick pre-credit sequence that is genuinely frightening. It’s the old west, and a frontier family is suddenly attacked in the middle of the night. The family hides in an underground room, in a scene that reminded me of a similar scene in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009), only it’s not Nazis on the prowl, but the title monsters. The family’s efforts to remain hidden fail, as they are discovered by the unseen predators. It’s a scary way to kick off the movie.
When word gets out that the family has been kidnapped, presumably by Indians, the locals form a posse. There’s John Clay (Clancy Brown), William Parcher (William Mapother), and Fergus Coffey (Karl Geary), among others. They soon join forces with a cavalry officer and his soldiers, and the chase is on.
This is a good premise, and it drew me into the story immediately. However, strangely enough, after this strong opening, the movie hits a lull. There just isn’t that much suspense in the early scenes where the men set out in pursuit of the missing family members, and as the movie goes along, it oddly takes its sweet time getting to the scary stuff.
Eventually, the men discover large holes in the ground, and of course they speculate just what might be inside those holes. When they capture one of the Indians, he tells them of “the burrowers” which they wrongly assume to be another hostile Indian tribe.
More creepiness ensues, including the discovery of a woman buried alive, who seems to be drugged and in a vegetative state, and finally- finally- as in the final third of the movie, we get around to the monstrous meanies of the film, the Burrowers, mole-like creatures who drug their victims and bury them alive so they can come back for them later and eat their “soft parts” when they’re hungry, which begs the question, why not just hunt when they’re hungry? Why hunt first and eat later?
The Burrowers prove to be vicious adversaries, and after several encounters between our heroes and the Burrowers, advantage Burrowers. This all leads to a surprisingly mundane conclusion that simply doesn’t satisfy. It left me feeling hungry for more.
The scenes with the Burrowers are sufficiently gruesome and scary, but these scenes are few and far between. I liked these scenes and thought they worked well, but there are simply not enough of them.
We don’t really see the Burrowers all that much either, as we only seem to catch occasional glimpses of the creatures. This is too bad, because they look cool and definitely warranted more screen time.
Writer/director J.T. Petty does an average job at the helm of this western thriller. While the Burrower scenes are intense, they suffer from the “Curse of the Drive-In Movie” in that most of these scenes are all very dark and difficult to see, the kind of movie that years ago you wouldn’t have wanted to see at the drive-in. You don’t want to see it on DVD either. Dark scenes, where you really have difficulty making out what’s going on, are not fun. The darkness really prevents there being any memorable scenes in this one, as it’s hard to have memorable scenes if you can’t see them.
The acting here is fine, although no one really stands out nor dominates this film. William Mapother probably fares the best as William Parcher, as he comes off as genuinely likeable, and Clancy Brown as John Clay [who we saw earlier this year as one of the parents in the remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)] is a fairly strong presence as well.
The biggest disappointment for me with THE BURROWERS was J.T. Petty’s screenplay. The story’s a winner and should have been a gold mine. It’s got a compelling premise, a posse of heroes in search of kidnap victims who encounter underground monsters. It has a creative setting, in that it takes place in the old west, and I’m a sucker for the western-horror hybrids, from films like JONAH HEX (2010) to the old black and white cowboy vampire flick CURSE OF THE UNDEAD (1959). How can this story go wrong?
Well, in the case of THE BURROWERS, it goes wrong because the story lacks focus. Rather than home in on the mystery and horror of the Burrowers, the story gets sidetracked with subplots of violent Indians, a pigheaded cavalry officer, and the background stories of several of the posse members that just aren’t that interesting. Think JAWS (1975) leaving its shark storyline and going off on subplots about pirates, while delving into background stories of more of its characters, spending more time on these things than the compelling hunt for the shark, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
As a result, THE BURROWERS never really rises to the level of intensity and terror its title creatures suggest, which is too bad because from what little we do see of the Burrowers, they’re very scary. THE BURROWERS had the potential to be a first-rate horror movie, but with its story muddled by pathways that are far less interesting than the main story about the underground monsters, creatures I would have been only too happy to learn more about, it never quite reaches that elite level.
I can’t really recommend THE BURROWERS. While there are flashes of terror here and there, these scary scenes are way too sparse to be all that effective, and in terms of creativity and spunk, this one’s has about as much vision as a backyard mole.
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda