Kill Or Be Killed (Movie Review)

Kill Or Be Killed (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: When a grizzled gang of train-robbers make a play for stash of forgotten gold, a rival band of law enforcement isn't the only deadly force majeure ready to get in their way. Who will KILL OR BE KILLED?

REVIEW: Genre-bending westerns are often a difficult proposition. When met with various horror, inarguable exemplars come in the form of NEAR DARK, RAVENOUS, or more recently, BONE TOMAHAWK. When met with outright humor, BLAZING SADLES, THREE AMIGOS! and the Coens' TRUE GRIT would seem beyond reproach. When met with both horror and humor together however, we've got what? Well, in gallops Duane Graves and Justin Meeks' KILL OR BE KILLED, a movie that wants desperately to be both a hyper-violent western with supernatural undertones, as well as a levity-laced, cartoon-toned farce. Yet by leaning too heavily on the latter, the humorous underpinnings of the flick tend to sap the hard-bark of the shoot-em-up violence, and by proxy the horror, rendering the overall movie far less consequential than it would have otherwise been. Meaning, the tenor of the movie is just too damn silly. It's too parodic for too damn long to warrant anything other than spots of mild enjoyment. When it's over however, KILL OR BE KILLED isn't likely to have anywhere near the drawing or staying power as some of the classic, aforementioned western mash-ups.

1900. Pecos, Texas. Claude "Sweet Tooth" Barbee (Meeks himself) is the deadliest gun in the west. As we pick up the pace, a dusty chain-gang working on the railroad is suddenly set free when Barbee and his crew appear from the brush and waylay the entire legal outfit. Barbee rescues his own kith and kin, including Slap Jack (Paul McCarthy Boyington), Frank Blockey (Greg Kelly), Willie (Bridger Zadina), Goody (Deon Lucas), Tom Nixon (Larry Grant Harbin) and a few other filthy looking outbackers shrouded under a thicket of facial hair. As they coadunate, the Barbee crew is intent on liberating the 300 lbs of pure gold left behind in a botched train robbery. 60 miles to Galveston is the destination, then La Grange, Texas...yet when Barbee and his boys hit the dirt, they aren't so warmly welcomed...by anyone. This includes Sheriff Everheart (Luce Rains) and his vigilant band of townies, as well as cheeky cameos by longtime genre vets Edwin Neal (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) and a top-billed Michael Berryman as Dr. Pepperdine. But that's not all out to fell the Barbee clan. Turns out there's also some kind of mysterious supernatural presence that torments members of the gang while unconscious.

That is, as soon as a seductive young lass named Pearl (Arianne Martin) appears from the darkness, softening Barbee a bit, some kind of evil curse is unleashed. Barbee has a nightmare about being some sort of bedeviled demon-savage, eyes aglow, roaming the land as a nude quadruped equipped with a machete. What the hell could this be? Goody instantly senses something afoul with Pearl's aura, but Barbee dismisses such, likely listening to his boner rather than his own common sense. And for me, this is where the movie derails a bit. First off, the supernatural element isn't introduced until an hour into the flick, and therefore plays more as a half-baked afterthought than a legitimately warranted tonal shift. I mean, perfectly fine was the story of Barbee riding on a collision course with Sheriff Everheart, so why even involve an out of place horror subplot? It's neither needed, nor effective. The corresponding VFX, like the movie as a whole, is crippled by its limited budget and indie DIY stylings. The FX look chintzy and unconvincing, just as the story device itself (the accursed plotline) lacks a credible foundation. Had the horror angle either been introduced earlier or scrapped all together, I'm guessing the overall tone of the movie would jive a bit better as a unified whole.

Not that there isn't merits to the film. Starting with the modernized score, a sweeping homage to Morricone and the unforgettable Spaghetti western music of the 60s and 70s. The music by John Constant, perhaps the one true constant in the film, instantly draws us in and gives a good indication of things to come. Then there's the drolly delivered old-timey dialogue, despite coming from the mouths of mostly over-the-top caricatures old wild west archetypes. I mean, anytime the word hornswoggled is dropped with a straight face, I can dig it! Most of the humor in the movie in fact derives from the dialogue, the problem is, by banking up such a goofy amount of material early on, that very silliness has a tendency to render the violence and the horror all but academic later on. The two don't quite compute. That said, the level of violence itself in the film is about as high as you'd like to see from a wild west shootout. High-powered gun-slinging, headshots aplenty, gorily explosive exit wounds, disemboweled livestock, nasty knife-work, the whole deal. Honestly, as viciously unremitting as the violence is in the film, the supernatural angle feels all the more unnecessary. If scrapped altogether, the unnerving violence itself would be more than sufficient.

So in the end, the strength of KILL OR BE KILLED also kind of leads to its own undoing. The humor in the film that keeps the entertainment value as high as it could be is also the very thing that detracts from the darker, more genre-tinged aspects of the film...especially in the second half. The horror is not only unneeded, it's made ineffective by the cartoonish levity of the first hour or so. Too little, too late, I suppose is an apt way to categorize the horrific developments of the story. Had the movie simply done away the supernatural angle altogether and boasted the far more serious tone the last half hour engenders, all the while keeping the humorous dialogue (without the hammy overacting), I think the movie would play with a far more substantial level of intensity than it currently does. As it is, KILL OR BE KILLED is too light, too slight, and has a quasi-parodic quality that's sure to keep it from climbing the ranks of all time hybridized western send-ups.

Extra Tidbit: KILL OR BE KILLED hits DVD/VOD Tuesday, March 1st.
Source: AITH



Latest Movie News Headlines