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THE BURROWERS (2008) ***1/2 further proof of the return of the “Creature Feature” horror subgenre! by DARK SIDE

Posted on March 10th, 2009
Posted on March 10th, 2009


Here’s another indie fright flick that suggests the reign of the so-called “torture porn” horror subgenre is on the outs.

“The Burrowers” begins like a remake of the 1956 John Wayne vehicle, “The Searchers.” A homestead in the late 1800’s Midwest suffers a vicious attack by supposed Sioux Indians. Half of the family gets slaughtered, the other half… kidnapped. Young Irish immigrant Coffey (Karl Geary) joins a posse to hunt down the Sioux raiders since his sweetheart numbers amongst the kidnapped. A tough Rancher (Clancy Brown), a world-weary gunslinger (William Mapother) and a bloodthirsty cavalry officer (Doug Hutchison) join Coffey in the hunt. Soon they discover a threat even the most vicious Indians are afraid of. A breed of ancient creatures (apparently descendants of mole crickets or maybe even Potato Bugs) the natives dub “The Burrower Tribe.”

This one plays out like a revisionist western until things begin to take a turn for the scary. Once the creatures start attacking, all bets are off. You have no idea how this could play out or who might survive. It’s got a solid mythology behind the existence of the creatures, plus a valid revisionist western theme that also explains why the creatures were relatively non-threatening until that point. It’s a bonus to see a few of the genre faves like Brown and Hutchinson chew the scenery a bit. While it sounds similar to the “Tremors” franchise don’t let the synopsis fool you. “The Burrowers” sustains an indie feel that mixes various films together, including “Jeepers Creepers” and a particularly famous “X-Files” episode that some consider a bit of a… fluke (hint, hint!).

While not completely satisfying, the film doesn’t shy away from letting the story unfold organically and for that I give it serious props. If the acting doesn’t always work, at least the writing of the dialogue seems spot-on and genuine. What intrigues me the most is that this began as a TV series or possibly mini-series. Not quite sure the story behind that, but I intend to find out.

The most important thing about “The Burrowers” is that it proves a trend that I’ve pointed out before. I think it’s a sign that the next big thing in horror will be “creature features.” You can count Japanese-styled horror dead by a couple of years now (as David Goyer learned after releasing his “Unborn” this year to underwhelming results). The “torture porn” movement will prove passe once “The Last House on the Left” underperforms this upcoming weekend. Nobody gives a damn about ghost stories right now, so “The Haunting in Connecticut” won’t make squat. Slashers are making a WEAK comeback and probably won’t last another year or two without extreme boredom setting in. Even the Zombie movie genre’s starting to slump a bit, but… don’t count it out. With hard economic times and civil unrest, the hillbilly cannibal/zombie films might linger longer than you think.

No, the horses to bet on at the moment are the “creature features.” Why? Because it’s both escapism AND a scapegoat for our problems. It’s more fun to blame our woes on something inhuman rather than ourselves, especially when the the entire world seems to wallow in collective denial. People toss around the word “recession” and “depression” around like it’s a rash we simply need to buy some ointment for. Until the really harsh realities begin to sink in… we need some escapism. That’s where the monsters come in.

Recent movies like “Splinter” and last year’s “Cloverfield” took the blame off of us (for the most part) and squarely on the horrible thing that looks nothing like us, eating our brethren and destroying the landscape. Back in the 50’s when people gorged on giant bug movies, people had fun watching the U.S. kick the crap out of the enemy and sleeping safe, barely realizing the allegory of the “nuclear age” was staring right at them from the screen. It’s time for that to happen again.

In the next couple of years, expect some inventive monster movies with hints of current political/social commentary underneath. Current evidence of a “Cloverfield 2” on the way and a remake/sequel/prequel of “The Thing” strengthens the validity of this trend. “The Mutant Chronicles” (which was HORRIBLE by the way, review will post closer to release date) also approaches and even the new “Terminator” film ditches its famous format to slide over into the “monster” category a bit more firmly. “Transformers” count as well (giant, alien robots ARE monsters!). One of the more interesting entries, the Cronenbergesque “Splice” will debut in September. Apparently it’s a story about geneticists who intentionally create monsters with disastrous results. Even “Ghostbusters III,” the original being one of the greatest creature features ever, is currently in development. One can only hope for a new “Gremlins” as well. Expect plenty more examples as details on new films begin to emerge.

I embrace this trend. It’s an organic process in the horror genre and when people finally become tired of it and jaded, a new trend will arise. What’s after that? Maybe alien abduction terror films again? Who knows. It doesn’t matter though. I’m ready for anything. Even killer clown films.

Expect “The Burrowers” to hit DVD shelves on April 21st. Here’s a trailer…


Watch what happens next!

-Dark Side

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