Bone Tomahawk (2015) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 10

by Jovial Jay

When I first saw Bone Tomahawk, I did not know what I was getting in for. I came to it because of the actors. Maybe I should have watched the trailer first.

The first question you may ask yourself after watching this trailer is, why is a Western film considered a horror film?

Before Viewing

The premise, as dictated in the trailer, is that Mrs O’Dwyer has been kidnapped, presumably by Indians. The sheriff and some other men ride out to rescue her. The trailer also shows some gunplay, and other struggles, including Kurt Russell being choked by someone who puts a tube or something into his mouth. The music is of course, tense.

On second thought, the trailer doesn’t prepare you for what the film holds. I don’t want to give any spoilers away at this point, but check out the preview and then ask yourself how horrific could this film be. Is this a film about the hardships of the old west? Is it about people of questionable morality brought together on a rescue mission? Could one of the party be hiding a dark secret? Judging by the tag “Death waits for no man,” it could be, and is, pretty horrific.

Presented below is the Trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

After Viewing

Bone Tomahawk is a gritty, unforgiving sort of film. The opening shot of the film does a good job of setting the tone for the following 130 minutes. A man sleeping on the desert floor has a knife pressed into his throat slashing it. Two drifters, Buddy (Sid Haig) and Purvis (David Arquette) kill and loot some men, before heading off into the mountains to avoid discovery. They come across what appears to be an Indian burial ground. Before long they are brutally attacked by some natives, in white body paint, that come out of nowhere. Purvis manages to escape wounded, but Buddy takes an arrow to the throat and dies.

In the sleepy town of Bright Hope, 11 days later, Purvis shows up. He is confronted by Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) and gets shot. Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons), the doctors assistant, is summoned to the jail by the backup deputy, Chicory (Richard Jenkins), to look at Purvis. That evening Mrs. O’Dwyer, Purvis and deputy Nick (Evan Jonigkeit) are abducted, with only a strange black arrow left behind.

The sheriff gathers Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) who is recovering from a broken shin, and John Brooder (Matthew Fox), a local, dapper womanizer, to head out with himself and Chicory to find the missing trio. A local indian named The Professor tells the sheriff that they are not normal indians they’re looking for. They’re troglodytes – cave dwellers – from a tribe that has no name!

Bone Tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk (2015) – Brooder, Chicory, Hunt and O’Dwyer search for their kidnapped friends.

The group ride out in search of the Valley of the Starving Man, but have their horses stolen from them one night. O’Dwyer, who is hobbled by his injury, lags behind the other three as they come upon the rocky entrance to the valley. The men are attacked, and Brooder is gravely injured. He stays behind in an attempt to draw out more of the cannibalistic savages as Hunt and Chicory move on. Brooder dies, but manages to take one more savage with him, while Hunt and Chicory are attacked a second time and captured.

Inside the savage’s cave, the two men discover Mrs. O’Dwyer, who is still alive, but both Purvis and Nick have been killed. The troglodytes use bone tomahawks to torture Hunt, who has managed to poison one of the indians with some medicine he had on him. Meanwhile, O’Dwyer catches up to the valley, killing two more cannibals. He discovers a piece of bone inserted in their throats that acts as a whistle or call, and removes it so he can draw more savages out.

O’Dwyer makes it into the cave, to save Chicory and his wife, but Hunt is too badly injured to leave. They leave Hunt with his shotgun, and escape out the back. A short while later three gunshots echo through the valley, as the trio limp off into the sunset.

What do they look like?”
“Man like you would not distinguish them from Indians. Even though they are something else entirely.” – Sheriff Hunt & The Professor

I still find Bone Tomahawk an intense and unsettling ride. But as far as horror films go, it’s definitely a strange one. I feel like it’s more western than horror, and owes as much to Tombstone or The Searchers, as it does to The Hills Have Eyes. We don’t even really see the cannibals until about 90 minutes into the film.

I think what also intrigues me about the film, is the dialogue. Director and writer S. Craig Zahler really has a knack for a western style of dialect, as we might imagine was spoken in the late 1800’s. His use of western archetypes such as the rugged and well-worn sheriff, or the slightly comedic sidekick (in Chicory) make the film fit into a standard western format. But that’s only part of it.

Zahler adds in some gritty and graphic horrors with the introduction of the cannibalistic troglodytes. The threats faced by the protagonists never feel weak or cheap, but very immediate. You are actually fearing for the safety of the group the entire time. Add to that the swift and vicious attacks, the use of body modifications – adding the bone to their throat as a whistle, and any lack of humanity or understanding, and the savages become a truly terrifying enemy.

I hope more people have a chance to see Bone Tomahawk, as I think it’s a really great western, with interesting and varied characters, good dialog, and a strong thriller aspect stitched together in a fusion of genres. It pays homage to many conventions of films that have come before it, while adding new levels of excitement and terror with a twist on the viewers expectations.

Assorted Musings

  • The cast contains a large contingent of actors that have been in other horror films, including: Kurt Russell (The Thing), Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods), Matthew Fox (Extinction), David Arquette (Scream) and Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses).
  • Richard Jenkins, as Chicory, may have some of the best lines in the film, including:
    • “That tea smells gruesome.”  “It’s soup.” “Oh. You think I can have some?”
    • “You know, I know the world’s supposed to be round, but I’m not so sure about this part.”
    • “Mr. Brooder just educated two Mexicans on the meaning of Manifest Destiny.”

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