The western and the horror film are two genres that rarely get blended together. Whenever they do, it's generally with somewhat mixed results. Think "From Dusk Till Dawn 2" or "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter."
It's an awkward mixture of genres for one simple reason: In westerns pretty much every guy has a gun. Horror blends well with almost every other genre, from comedy to sci-fi to drama to even documentary. But in a genre where everyone has a gun -- well what's to be afraid of? A psycho on the prowl? Just gun him down. A ghoul? Blow its head off.
But people try, becuase a horror western is always something unique. And when "The Burrowers" was announced, people in the horror web-o-sphere were all somewhat excited about it.
Once again, however, the movie demonstrates the problem of this genre blend. "The Burrowers" is a slow moving, western, monster movie that feels a bit like a low-rent Clint Eastwood western with creatures thrown in for good measure. It's never really scary or all that suspenseful. The performances are pretty good. It's actually better as a western than a horror movie. But then, we are all on this site to talk about and judge films as horror movies and not westerns.
"The Burrowers" starts off as a slow moving Eastwood-style western, with our main character Coffey (Karl Geary), an Irish immigrant in love. He's shown poetically offering his heart to a young plainswoman in the film's opening scene. But when she and her entire family are carried off, it's assumed some damn Injuns were responsible. So a rescue team is put together to bring them back.
As the party rides off into the wild west, torturing Indians they come across, it slowly becomes clear that something else entirely dragged away the family -- and threatens to kill off the would-be rescuers. That would be a group of creatures known as "The Burrowers," which basically poison their victims, paralyzing them, then burying them alive for future feeding purposes. These creatures have been operating in the west since before the white man arrived. Even before the Injuns.
The performances in this film are all top notch, particularly William Mapother of "Lost" fame as a ruthless, bullying cowboy. Also, the movie's subtext that it's always easier to blame an enemy you know -- in this case Indians -- than an enemy you don't know, or are maybe too afraid to fight, actually has some relevance with the Iraq war, in which the United States blamed Iraq for 911.
As a western and a drama, it's rock solid and believable. As a horror film, however, it just doesn't quite stack up. The Burrowers themselves aren't particularly interesting as movie monsters. Much of the film's budget is spent during its climax when we get to see the monsters close up. Yeah, the effects are pretty impressive and all. But there's something rudimentary and un-scary about the proceedings.
A good, but far from great, horror movie that proves once again that the old west still isn't the ideal place to set a monster movie.