Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, June 1, 2009

White Buffalo, The (1977)

...aka: Hunt to Kill

Directed by:
J. Lee Thompson

Unique, semi-surrealistic, allegorical horror-western (a box-office flop when released to theaters) about aged, weary outlaw Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson, a little less wooden than usual here) and his obsession with the legendary, mythical White Buffalo; a giant, snorting monster that's been haunting both his nightmares and the Black Hills region during the height of the Gold Rush. The buffalo itself represents the fear of mortality within the main character, or as Wild Bill says "If I don't kill the buff, the dream will kill me." After a train ride, a stagecoach ride, a bar brawl, a hoe-down, various shoot outs and Indian encounters, Hickok (who uses the alias James Otis and often wears dark glasses to conceal his identity) teams up with fellow wild west legends Charlie Zane i.e. General Custer (Jack Warden, with white hair, beard and a glass eye) and Indian brave Crazy Horse (Will Sampson), who has been downgraded to "Worm" when he cries over his dead baby, to hunt the elusive creature down. The buffalo causes avalanches, gores people with his horns and destroys an entire Indian village. The whole package doesn't really work and there's a lot of campfire talk about war, the white man, being universal brothers, "the great spirit," etc, but it's strange and amusingly pretentious enough to keep your attention and partially transcends the normal 'monster movie' nonsense. The production values, costumes, sets, location work and period design are all very good. The (mechanical) buffalo design and action scenes are also surprisingly effective, even though you can sometimes see the support apparatus operating the monster.

There's also an impressive line-up of guest stars, including John Carradine as Amos Briggs, a foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking grave digger in a top hat, who makes a comment about wanting to keep the bodies fresh before he exits his one scene. Also here are Kim Novak as Wild Bill's former gal Poker Kate, Clint Walker as Whistling Jack, Slim Pickens as a stagecoach driver, Stuart Whitman and many others (including several notable western stars). For a PG movie, there's quite a bit of violence and cursing ("You silly peckerwood!"). Presenter Dino De Laurentiis had just given us another giant monster movie; 1976's remake of KING KONG. Richard Sale adapted his own novel and John Barry did the score.

Score: 5 out of 10

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