Hot on the trail of a renegade Apache warrior, gun-slinging bounty hunter Mortimer passes through an 1849 California gold rush town, where local miners direct him into the mountains to track his prey. While he is gone, the miners unearth a meteor that has landed in their sleepy town. As they crack it open, an explosion releases toxic spores, which quickly infect the entire population, transforming them into blood-thirsty, mutant zombies. Following a ferocious battle, Mortimer triumphantly returns to town with his Indian captive in shackles only to find them surrounded by a ravenous horde of the undead. Now the two enemies must band together if they are to escape the horrors of The Dead and the Damned!
It’s fairly easy to pair up horror with certain genres – sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, comedy and even romance tend to work best – but the line a filmmaker must walk between differing genres is a fine one. For this reason, horror westerns are relatively scarce. Rarer still is a successful one. It’s especially difficult to accomplish a convincing period setting on an independent production with a limited budget. Rene Perez’s The Dead and the Damned is billed as a zombie western. It’s not the first of its kind and will likely end up lost among forgotten horror westerns that miss the mark.
The movie kicks off with a bang – literally. The year is 1849, and Mortimer (David A. Lockhart), a bounty hunter, is in the middle of a gunfight. The character is written as a Clint Eastwood-esque badass, but the actor lacks the demeanor to pull it off. (In Lockhart’s defense, there are very few people who can match Eastwood’s chops.)
Mortimer is after an indian, Brother Wolf (Rick Mora), who has a high price on his head for the rape and murder of a white woman. Despite being warned that he’s not the first hunter after the indian – and the prior attempts were not successful – Mortimer does not heed the advance. He says that he must do it for the money and takes a local prostitute, Rhiannon (Camille Montgomery), to use as bait.
Meanwhile, a pair of local yokels discover a strange meteor that glows florescent green. They bring it back to town, where they crack it open with a pickaxe. A noxious, green gas is emitted, turning the townsfolk into the fast variety of flesh-eating zombies. Mortimer and Brother Wolf soon realize that they must band together if they want to get out alive.
A character in the film mention that woods are crawling with zombies, and they do pop up from time to time, but unfortunately, there aren’t all that many to be seen. They rear their ugly heads one by one, and it’s not until the finale that there are multiple ghouls in the same scene. On the plus side, the makeup and special effects are well done – if you can look past the lackluster CGI.
Genres crossing aside, Perez’s script seems unsure of its tone. Much of the movie is played straight, epitomized by the main characters sharing hackneyed sob stories explaining how they found themselves in their respective predicaments, but there are also a few mismatched moments of camp. There is only a single memorable scene in the film, and it’s also the only real “horror” sequence; where Rhiannon is hunted by a blind zombie.
Speaking of camp, there’s an unexpected amount of gratuitous nudity in the movie. We’re talking ’80s slasher-style scenes in which what little plot there is all but stops so a girl can take her top off. I love boobs just as much as the next guy – probably more, if we’re being honest – but the money they paid for these girls to shed their clothes could have went toward more important things.
The film’s low budget is obvious but not too much of an impediment. The sets are on par with those of a western theme park. The costumes, although far from historically accurate, serve their purpose. The dialogue is obviously not anachronically correct, exacerbated further by inexperienced actors. The score is all over the place, none of which seems to fit with what’s on screen. There is but a single horse to add production value.
Despite its short run time of about an hour and twenty-five minutes, more footage could have been trimmed to benefit the film’s pace. There is too much dead air where nothing happens, which is often filled with montages of the characters traveling. If there’s not a gun fight or a zombie chase on screen, the movie is boring. And that’s The Dead and the Damned’s biggest problem: it never gives the viewer a reason to care.
The Dead and the Damned (2010)