“Ellements of Film” is back! With… Gallowwalkers? Wait, why did we
[cw: mention of film depiction of sexual assault]
I have notes sitting in various notebooks for long, in-depth posts on various movies that I have watched, enjoyed, and been affected by over the last year. Most of these movie posts have been sitting in my brain long enough that the movies themselves have come out on video. Or even Netflix. I have tons of thoughts on the way that women are depicted in them, the ways that the fan community has reacted to them *cough* Star Wars *cough* and even the way that they have reacted to sociopolitical trends. This post is about none of those movies.
There is a spectrum of bad movies. On the far end, there are “movies I refuse to watch.” These are movies that seem to have little to no redeeming qualities to them. For me, this category mostly consists of “torture porn” movies that seem to get more out of showcasing violence and rape than they do things like “story.” This is where Hostel and Human Centipede live. Then there are “bad movies.” Bad, pure and simple, with little to redeem them, and even drinking games feeling like a sort of penance. For me, these are movies like Catwoman and Descendants. Then you have “so bad they’re good” movies, where somehow the horribleness of the movie comes back around and makes it fun. These are the movies it is fun to MST3K with a group of friends, like The Happening or Plan 9 From Outer Space. Then you have “good despite being bad” movies. These are the movies that just soldier on, despite not having a lot to recommend them. Or they have some aspect that should discount them, but they manage to overcome it. This is the category for Demolition Man and White Chicks. Then you have “guilty pleasure” bad movies. These are movies that I acknowledge are not great, but that I will watch all the way through whenever they come up on cable, or that will make me coo, “Oh I love that movie!” when someone brings it up. You can pry Spice World and The Faculty out of my cold, dead hands. Zig-a-zig ah.
But there’s another category that is mobile, and whose contents can fall anywhere along the spectrum. These are what I call the “What happened?” movies. The movies that seemed to have almost everything going for them, but failed despite that. Or the movies that had almost all of the right elements, but then some key component failed. This is the category for Wild Wild West and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This is also the category for about half of Paul Bettany’s career. Legion and Priest should have been amazing and definitely weren’t. Wild Wild West, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Legion, and Priest actually have a lot in common as “what happened?” movies. They have interesting worldbuilding, fun visuals, (mostly) good casts, and the outlines of an interesting plot. They fail in different ways, however, and these failures put them on different parts of the spectrum. For me, Wild Wild West falls into the guilty pleasure category. I know it’s bad. I know that Will Smith and Kevin Kline have the on-screen chemistry of baking soda and more baking soda. Now that I’ve passed my 20s and have read a lot of intersectional theory, I know that the whole “ableism versus racism” scene between Smith and Kenneth Branagh is hella problematic. But god damnit I will watch steampunk spiders and Crazy Southern Kenneth Branagh every time it is on TNT. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen falls into “so bad it’s good.” It really, really wants to be a mix of Oceans 11, Victorian novels, and the Justice League. It fails so hard. But it fails endearingly. I will drink beer and say mocking things about Dorian Gray any time. Legion and Priest are actually probably also in that category, though Legion edges towards “just bad.” Mostly because I am sick to death of the whole “magical baby will save the world” trope.
Which brings us to Gallowwalkers. A mixture of boredom, Netflix, and an idle curiosity regarding what Wesley Snipes has been doing since he got out of prison had me pulling this gem up late one evening. And it is a “what happened?” movie on a scale I previously didn’t think was possible. I don’t even know if I can categorize it. And I’m pretty sure the English language does not contain the proper words and syntax to give the movie a synopsis.
The imdb blurb says, “A cursed gunman (Snipes) whose victims come back from the dead recruits a young warrior to help in the fight against a gang of zombies.” But oh, it is so much more than that. So much. I am going to list some plot lines, any one or two of which would have been a perfectly good movie. I’m not going to worry about spoilers, because no one besides me should go into this movie not knowing what they are in for. Please keep in mind that ALL of these plotlines are in the movie.
- Wesley Snipes plays an Old West version of Blade, as a semi-immortal monster hunter. There is no point at which it is not super clear that the main character is Wesley Snipes/Blade.
- Wesley Snipes/Blade is the child of a Satanist priestess who makes a deal with the devil and revives Snipes after death, but at the cost of also reviving his enemies.
- Wesley Snipes/Blade seeks revenge on the people who raped and robbed his would-be wife and struggles to live with the mixture of duty and hatred he feels towards the child she had as a result. She died in childbirth, because of course she did.
- Wesley Snipes/Blade saves a young man from some bad guys and then trains him to be a monster hunter to help him defeat his enemies.
(Side note: New Guy is played by someone who I recognized as “Dean Talon” from the Disney movie Motocrossed because I am a young woman who grew up in the 90s and early aughts. I possibly missed some attempts at plot while I imdb’d what he’d been up to since the early 2000s. The answer is “not much.”)
- Wesley Snipes/Blade paints his body in random war paint to go after the people who raped his would-be wife. There is no clear purpose behind this war paint, besides Looking Badass.
- Vampire/zombie hybrids known as Gallowwalkers roam the west, having to frequently kill people and steal their skin, because the bright sun dries out their stolen flesh, revealing their weird muscly underbits. Some of them wear metal helmets or make do with lizard skin in order to avoid this. Those people are more interesting than about 90% of the other characters and get little screen time.
- The head Gallowwalker seeks the home of the Satanist priestesses in order to find out why he and his crew were revived, but his son was not. He carries his son’s body on a weird cross thing, and frequently kidnaps women in anticipation of them needing to provide his son’s new skin.
- There is a weird sect of Religious people who are primarily Albino or just very, very pale, and they are planning to hang sinners on the same day that the Gallowwalkers invade their town.
- Wesley Snipes/Blade’s training of the New Guy includes dropping him into a secret set of underground tunnels where he has trapped a random Gallowwalker that he just sics on the new guy to test his skills.
- Wesley Snipes/Blade’s would-be wife is the daughter of a badass lady butcher, who took Wesley Snipes/Blade in as a child and now looks after her grandson.
- The girl the Gallowwalkers kidnapped happened to be acquaintances with the person Wesley Snipes/Blade gets to be his new trainee. She also might be a prostitute, because the only women in the Old West are prostitutes, women who die in childbirth, and one (1) badass butcher lady.
- It is revealed that anyone Wesley Snipes/Blade kills becomes a Gallowwalker as well. The rules for actually killing a Gallowwalker are hand wavey.
- Wesley Snipes/Blade, New Guy, Feral Child Snipes Abandoned, and Badass Butcher Lady have to protect their home from the Gallowwalkers in a 30 Days of Night/Home Alone hybrid scene.
- Wesley Snipes tracks down the main Gallowwalker and they fight.
(Side note: At this point I’d given up paying attention/was kinda falling asleep, so I don’t remember much of the climax of the movie. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.)
Seriously. ALL of that happens. In 90 minutes. And through the use of flashbacks and bare exposition and basically everything they can do to make sure you are mightily confused. It’s like watching a car crash with someone projecting a Western over the top of the crash and a vampire movie over the bottom of the crash. You have no idea what is going on but there are lots of moving pictures and you’re certain that something bad but fascinating is happening.
I literally cannot place this movie on the spectrum of bad movies. It’s a “what happened” mixed with a “bad movie” mixed with a “guilty pleasure” mixed with a “so bad its good.” It is fifteen movies in one. And some of them had promise! You would have had me at “Old West Blade.” There. Done. Do that. Or focus on the weird albino religious people, or the lizard head Gallowwalker. That town was fascinating. But everything together is just…. WTF.
Normally I’d have to say that you’d have to see it to believe it, but I’m not even sure that I would recommend that anyone else watch it. At least not sober.
Signed: Feminist Fury
Featured image is a close-up of Wesley Snipes’s face and his gun as shown on the cover of the Gallowwalkers movie poster with the words “Ellements of Film” superimposed.