Betrayed and brutally slain by his own outlaw gang over control of a town, Guerrero (Danny Trejo) descends into Hades for his sins, but strikes a deal with Satan (Mickey Rourke) to trade the six souls of his murderers to save his own from damnation. Resurrected yet very much mortal, the black angel digs himself forth from his earthen tomb to exact vengeance, but he only has twenty-four hours to kill 'em all...
Before tearing into this dog, I must thank the kind folks over at HorrorTalk.com for the opportunity to win this Blu-ray combo. Upon receiving it a few days ago I was at first was baffled before realizing I had entered their contest! You'll soon see that my review isn't colored from the pleasant surprise of actually winning something for once.
Danny Trejo in an action "horror western" was an inevitability, but the Western genre is deceptively complex. To produce even a "decent" example a convincing drama needs to be constructed around punctuated violence. The screenplay, penned by the duo behind the awful killer clown slasher Drive Thru (2007), instead strings along action sequences with scattered bits of shallow exposition. In that respect, Dead in Tombstone succeeds and shows how well a measly five million dollars, and major studio backing, can be utilized. The Deadwood aesthetic is in full effect with a western town backlot and actors drenched in that unnatural "readymade rustic" grit. Frenzied editing hampers most nuance of the camerawork, but the sound design is extremely impressive and the film never once sounds its low cost.
Trejo seems well aware he can phone-in these DTVers with his now widely recognized marquee and unique badass visage. So the veteran actor doesn't even try beyond mumbling one-liners with his more expressive lines coming off totally unbelievable. Hearing him act surprised at his gang's betrayal or the realization he's in Hell actually provokes chuckles. He's definitely no Bronson.
The supporting cast is sketchy as well with Mickey Rourke lumbering along looking like he's given up on himself in a boring turn as Beelzebub. Anthony Michael Hall appears as the gang's new leader responsible for Guerrero's murder, and while not given much, his grizzled performance makes one wish he were in Trejo's role instead. Dina Meyer, the only actress to appear besides some background boobs, provides a thankless performance as a shorn woman out to avenge the murder of her husband at the gang's hands.
Finally, there's a few weird odds-and-ends like the story never making the effort at a redemption arch for Guerrero. He's just a nicer shade of scumbag that instructs his gang to limit collateral damage. Nice guy, eh? Satan is apparently a dumb yet trustworthy emperor of the damned, failing to realize the gang's souls are already condemned before making the deal and ultimately granting Guerrero's life back.
The film makes a point of showing us Guerrero's dual three-barreled engraved revolvers (pictured), but we only see him use a single Smith & Wesson Model 586. A revolver of precisely machined parts introduced over a hundred years (1981) after this film's depicted time. Way to go, prop master. Also unexplained is Rourke obviously being dubbed by a voice actor for the entire scene of Satan's deal with Guerrero, only for his natural voice to appear in later scenes.
Unless you're a Trejo diehard or hate Westerns, it's safe to pass on this made-for-Redbox quickie. Although billed as a "horror western", the only thing horrifying is how much of a wasted opportunity this represents. More consideration toward Guerrero's internal plight and maybe even a lack of Trejo as lead could have resulted in one of the best low budget Westerns in years. Instead Dead in Tombstone feels spearheaded by a pair who believe gunfights and explosions are the only thing the genre is good for.