‘When it’s red, you’re dead’
Blood Moon is a 2014 British horror film directed by James Wooding (comedy TV series Peep Show) from a screenplay by Alan Wightman. It stars George Blagden, Tom Cotcher and Barrington De La Roche (Escape from Cannibal Farm).
1887, Colorado: A deserted town lit by the glow of a reddish full moon. A stagecoach full of passengers and an enigmatic gunslinger find themselves prisoners of two outlaws on the run. As the travellers attempt to outwit the outlaws it becomes apparent that a bigger menace lurks outside; a beast that only appears on the night of a blood red moon…
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A curiosity, if nothing more. A UK production with a largely British cast and crew, set in old Colorado but filmed on the cheap, partly in a forest (Black Park in Buckinghamshire) and partly in Laredo, a replica western town built in Kent by a living history society. The script plunders Native American mythology to embellish desultory werewolf shenanigans in a scenario modelled, like so many before it, on Stagecoach and Night of the Living Dead: mismatched characters thrown together to face an external threat.
In this case a laconic gunfighter, cowardly preacher, newlywed lawman and bride, sultry widow and young English reporter pitch up on a stagecoach in Pine Flats, a failed silver town, where they are waylaid by the outlaw Norton brothers. The latter kill the drivers and the priest without thinking – thinking not being their forte – but hold the remainder hostage for no good reason other than to initiate the kind of siege situation exploited by film-makers ad nauseam. And, of course, to supply a captive audience for the ‘skinwalker’ – supposedly a warrior in bestial form – that emerges under a blood moon that night.
Elsewhere on the trail is the marshal of nearby Lassiter, whose bank the Nortons have robbed and whose idea of a posse consists solely of a female halfbreed. (To be fair, perhaps the budget wouldn’t stretch to extras.) She can’t take her liquor – when will these Injuns learn? – but knows a lot about the lore surrounding skinwalkers. For good reason, as it turns out.
Writer Alan Wightman and director Jeremy Wooding stay inside the confines of the horror and western genres, deferring too readily to their respective clichés. Several of the characters, for example, have ‘a past’ – was gunman Calhoun (Shaun Dooley) a former priest who renounced the cloth to avenge his murdered wife? – but details are sketchy or introduced too late to make a difference. Exposition of this kind distracts from the group’s efforts to defeat the monster in the closing stages. Wooding spoke of a light-hearted intent, so presumably talk of “one-horse towns” and “rustling up some vittles” is not to be taken seriously, but the irony founders on flimsy writing and flat line delivery. John Landis may sleep soundly.
There are guns that don’t fire when most needed, villains who pause just long enough to be disarmed. Even the skinwalker is inconsistent, killing some victims outright, merely knocking down others – it’s more a tool of the script than the force of (super)nature it ought to be. The creature costume is nothing to howl about, but it is nice to see practical effects in these CGI-saturated times, even if the beast appears only fleetingly.
Had the film-makers flipped off the safety catch, such generic flaws could more easily be overlooked. Technically it is more than adequate, given a budget in the region of £500,000 – the production design and costumes aid verisimilitude, and the photography capitalises on the muted palette of south-east England to create what the director called ‘gothic noir’, accentuated by wisps of fake mist. Not an original aesthetic, but effective.
If only the rest of Blood Moon weren’t similarly muted. In the sparsely plotted field of British werewolf films that pit guns against fangs and claws, the lack of verve and absence of bite leave one pining for Dog Soldiers.
Kevin Grant, MOVIES & MANIA
“Blood Moon has a hell of a lot going for it: the look is authentic (you’d never guess that it was shot in the south of England, home of country manors and village churches) as are the performances (almost all English actors) and some of the lore behind the Skinwalkers… If anything let’s down Blood Moon, it’s the story, which takes too long setting up too many characters, without giving most of them much to work with…” Anything Horror
“The werewolf / skin walker is actually decent looking. The practical FX for the body are ok and does the job but the head and face, when shown straight on, is quite striking and vicious looking. From the side it looks like they lifted the lips a bit too high, exposing too much gum line, if you pause it, but overall, the resulting look is genuinely bestial.” Mike Duke, Ginger Nuts of Horror
“With a delightful cast, brilliant cinematography, some shocking moments of true violence, and sets and locations that belie the film’s relatively small budget, Blood Moon is truly a great film. It lives up to the promise of its premise, and doesn’t cheat with digital monster effects.” Bob Brinkman, HorrorNews.net
Death Rides a Horse: Horror Westerns – article by Kevin Grant
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