With a title like Cowboys & Zombies my expectations adjusted themselves when I popped this one in my DVD player. Cheap, dumb, but fun was what crossed my mind and although it exceeded one of those expectations in a way, it faltered on others.
The plot of Cowboys & Zombies is little more than a throwaway excuse for the title to work, but here we go. Mortimer (David Lockhart), a bounty hunter in the old West, goes in search of his latest pay-check in the shape of Brother Wolf (Rick Mora), a Native American accused of abusing and murdering women. To entice his target Mortimer uses a whore he buys, Rhiannon (Camille Montgomery), as bait. He succeeds in capturing the 'clearly not that bad after all' Wolf and the three head back into town. Unfortunately the locals, upon discovering a strange meteor, get turned into flesh-hungry zombies and turn on our 'heroes', the only living humans in close proximity.
It's prime material for trashy fun and following quite an exciting opening shoot-out I was totally on board. What struck me straight away were the production values. For a cheap and cheesy straight-to-DVD release it looks pretty damn good. It's classily shot with a healthy dose of camera movement keeping things lively without getting too carried away. The make-up, sets and costumes are decent enough too and the music was surprisingly effective. The only technical aspect that showed it's low budget roots was some quite tinny audio recording.
A well-made exploitation flick is something rare and welcome in my books, so I was ready to give this a fairly decent rating after the first quarter, but as the film went on it started to reveal it's main flaws. Yes the acting and dialogue was poor, but I've come to expect that from films of this ilk. What really spoiled matters was the fact that it takes itself way too seriously. This would be ok if the film had the content to back it up, but when the plot and characters are paper thin you don't want to draw attention to that by having a reverent mood to it all.
Saying that, the film keeps up a reasonable exploitation quota, with a healthy dose of gore, action spread throughout and a lot of gratuitous nudity. These elements, although professionally handled, are never all that scary or exciting though. The opening gunfight, as mentioned, was pretty impressive, but a lot of the other scuffles and showdowns lacked tension and dynamism.
The film on a whole just lacked drama, which is why it lost my attention after a while and felt dull after a fairly promising start. Which is a shame as on a technical-level it's proficiently made for it's genre and has it's moments, but tries to be something it isn't and ultimately fails.
Cowboys & Zombies is out now on DVD in the UK, released by Left Films. Extra features are a bit thin on the ground, only a trailer and a stills gallery. The picture quality is decent. The audio sounds a bit off at times as mentioned, but I think this is a problem with the film itself, not it's DVD transfer.
The film's trailer: