Bone Tomahawk

Oct 25, 2015

Western, Horror, Comedy--Bone has it all.

Bone Tomahawk

Grade: A

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Screenplay: Zahler (Asylum Blackout)

Cast: Kurt Russell (Tombstone), Patrick Wilson (Space Station 76)

Rating: NR

Runtime: 132 min.

by John DeSando

The landscapes and clear division between good and evil in Westerns seduced me to love cinema. I am thus comforted by the recent revival of the genre that Quentin Tarantino most notably supports with Django Unchained and coming soon, The Hateful Eight.

Newbie director S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk is even more eccentric than Tarantino’s oaters. It may even be  more enjoyable given its fusion of Western and horror with humor and amusing Victorian-like dialogue. Musician, novelist Zahler uses his skills best with this unique language.

Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) assembles a posse to track down cave-dwelling, Indian-like cannibals called “troglodytes," who have abducted horses and townies,including the doctor, Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons). Her recently hobbled husband, Arthur (Patrick Wilson) joins the posse, which also includes Gabby Hayes-Walter Brennan type Deputy  Chicary (Richard Jenkins) and slick gunslinger, Indian-hater John Brooder (Matthew Fox).

Arthur best exemplifies the crippled nature of the search (think a ramped-down The Searchers) and the almost tarot-card doom.

Along this macabre journey is plenty of time for dialogue, stylized and unusually witty. For example, early on before the trip, a bartender calls out a depressive customer:  “It’s like a tree fell on you. A Redwood.” The dialogue is amusingly delivered in a slow, high style, with literate words contrasting the gritty horror story.

I was reminded by this remarkable adventure of Odysseus’s struggles with, say, the Cyclops and Sirens (the throaty cannibal howl is not exactly lurid; it just can be heard from far away and demands exploration).  Likewise did I think of John Huston’s ragged morality play, The Treasure of The Sierra Madre (1948). Zahler rivals in look, mood, and dialogue the work of the master.

Right to the end, words count. After the posse meets and fights the mute, ghastly white kidnappers, the credits roll to a fetching background parody of a Western ditty by Zahler and Jeff Herriott. These are the most civilized moments in an unusually odd film, the likes of which you’ll not see again. Given its highly disturbing images, maybe that’s for the best.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at