Cult cinema has always been a mixed bag of the sublime and the utter garbage. Of course, each film to their own, but it can be frustrating to see particular sub-genres never finding their audience amongst the swamp of shameless cinema. The Weird Western is one of them — its pulp roots unashamedly wrapping itself around the Old West and horror — unfortunately, nothing more than a quick draw of the revolver against the revolting. The majority of the films on offer are less dope and more dopey in their execution with barely a zombie vs cowboy vs werewolf in sight. It should be that simple, yet there's always one person who thinks they're dealing with something more complex.
Andrew Goth's Gallowwalkers is one such film. Long in development even before its FrightFest premiere in 2012 — a limited release followed 18 months later with a 2015 release on DVD in the US. The troubled production can be traced as far back as 2005 when the film was originally titled The Wretched, with Chow Yun-Fat attached to star and to begin filming in New Mexico. While production reassembled and relocated to Namibia — recasting Wesley Snipes in the lead — the star was arrested for tax evasion towards the end of 2006. He would later travel back to America to face the charges and, other than an additional actor providing the voice-over, he managed to complete production when he was allowed to fly back to Africa. Snipes eventually served a three-year sentence from 2010 to 2013, his career sunk.
The logistics of filmmaking can be astronomical and if one domino falls the entire production can fall apart so it is somewhat miraculous that Gallowwalkers ever saw the light of day. With this in mind, it remains somewhat entertaining, wearing obvious influences on its sleeve — from Leone's framing and bastardised dialogue to Jodorowksy's sadistic, acid inspired landscape and set pieces — but it's not enough to keep everyone's head above the sand. Whether there was more to the script is doubtful; the story lacking direction and any substance as characters mumble through stitched up mouths and other people's faces.
Snipes' lead character Aman ('A man' with a name) is a mysterious lone gunman; the son of a cursed nun who travels the West ripping the spines from the undead. Except they're not your traditional zombie but flayed individuals who wear the skins of their victims stretched over their bodies. When a vengeful Aman wipes out a gang of outlaw rapists and murderers they return from their graves and the gallows to hunt him down.
In light of the film's production problems, the limited sets and ambling nature of the characters — stretched as thin as their faces — we follow Aman rescuing a convict and stumbling across every other stereotype of the genre. Somewhere, amongst the blood, sweat and tears put into this film, there's a semi-decent comic book where the hokey concepts would flourish with the right creative team behind it. Unfortunately, we're just left with a shoddy Jodorowsky imitation that, most depressingly, misses the opportunity to flesh out the black cowboy/outlaw (a rarity in the onscreen Western) and what we're left with is this forgotten pulp.
Gallowwalkers is re-released on Amazon Prime July 17th