Director: Andrew Goth
Screenplay: Andrew Goth and Joanne Reay
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Kevin Howarth, Riley Smith, Tanit Phoenix
Year: 2006 / 2012
Running Time: 89 mins
BBFC Classification: 15
Through some moody black and white flashbacks we determine that a beautiful young woman has been violated by some unpleasant types passing through. We later discover that the woman was the girlfriend of Snipe’s character, Aman, who then takes off after the bad guys to wreak revenge. He eventually catches up with them in a backwoods prison five years later where, marked up in war paint, he shots four of the five who did the deed (plus a whore who just happens to be with them) in cold blood. On his way out of the prison he’s gunned down himself. He’s rescued by his mother who makes a pact with the devil, on his behalf, in order to save his life. However, there’s one small snag – anyone that Snipes has killed or kills in future will return from the dead, which means that he’s destined to have to repeatedly kill those he would wish dead.
On returning to his girlfriend he finds that she has passed away during his long absence. Mourning, he goes wandering and realises where his destiny lies when he comes up against those he’s already put in the ground.
All the above is told during a number of flashbacks throughout the course of the film, which is mainly set in the present (well, the wild west present) with Snipes rescuing a young convict from the gallows in order to train him to help him finally put to rest the ‘gallowwalkers’ he’s responsible for creating, through his mother’s pact with Satan.
Gallowwalkers is full of interesting and cool ideas and is beautifully shot, making the most of some great locations and general desert-like vistas. However, the film’s a bit of a mess, although not as bad as the fuller version I seem to recall seeing in Cannes last year, which ran for considerably longer and made even less sense than this version. The only good thing that the earlier version had going for it, I seem to recall, was the presence of considerably more gore; unless I’m getting confused in my old age and dotage!
The new version is somewhat sleeker, but is still a little awkward to follow, although I did grasp what was going on more this time around so the filmmaker’s tweaks must have helped make the plot less translucent!
Gallowwalkers is full of arresting imagery and has a dream-like quality that at times reminded me a little of some of French auteur Jean Rollin’s work. The scene where three weird priest-like gunfighters arrive in the middle of the desert, by hand-cranked rail cart, their lips sewn shut, is pretty memorable, as is the outlaw who replaces his own skin with that of a lizard’s to slow the rotting process, which is what happens to the risen corpses – they frequently have to replace their own skin with that of others to stop their own degeneration (a cool idea).
At times it feels as if Gallowwalkers has pretensions above its station and is trying hard to escape its obvious B-movie roots as it attempts, unsuccessfully, to be more of an art movie at times. There seems to be a lot of staring off into space with characters posing in the foreground of imposing backdrops and saying profound things while trying to look mystical.
The film is quite amusing at times, both intentionally and unintentionally, with the lizard-faced bad guy saying stuff like: “Forgive me father, for I have skinned” and an interaction between a sheriff and a prostitute which goes like this: – Sheriff: “What part of you can I buy for a dollar?” Prostitute: “My pity!” Plus the main bad guy ruefully muses on his gangs’ resurrection: “Well if it’s good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us!”
I think, apart from confused plotting, the main problem with the film is that it doesn’t make good use of its main star’s fighting skills, particularly since most people going to see a Wesley Snipes’ film want to see him kicking arse with style and skill. Admittedly, there’s some okay action dotted throughout the film’s running time, but it’s nothing to write home about. And it’s pretty bad that Aman’s narration is not actually done by Snipe, which is a bit confusing. Maybe he was in prison when they had to record it!
Director Andrew Goth is obviously a fan of spaghetti westerns and has created a kind of weird mix of spaghetti western and gothic horror, which probably seemed like an interesting idea on paper, but he doesn’t quite pull it off. However, the music score is good and, overall, I would say the film is better than was initially reported by various film critics who were obviously out to slate it no matter what. Overall, Gallowwalkers is an interesting, and nice-looking, failure.
Reviewer: Justin Richards
Gallowwalkers has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Signature Entertainment. There were no special features on the disc.