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It's true, none of the stories told in this strange campfire chat are
particularly scary. Jones' tales of vengeful Indians, mysterious pregnant
drifters, and undead gunslingers fail to chill the marrow, with only the
middle tale of the three providing a certain "gross-out" factor. Dourif's
single tale of family and bigotry shows true horror can lie not in the
supernatural but in everyday life.
However, it's the play-off between these two great actors that gives the greatest joy in this film. The contrast (and unlikely rapport) between prim clerk Dourif and grizzled bounty hunter Jones - the latter playing against type in a way that'll surprise those used to his supporting roles in, say, the Jack Ryan films - makes them a "buddy" pairing to rival Riggs and Murtaugh. Give them their own series!
I think this is a "lost" film that never truly found its audience. It
was billed as a mainstream horror film, but it actually transcends true
genre classification. This is more of a thinking man's movie. The
terror is almost entirely psychological, but it is more of a quirky
drama than horror.
This is a real overlooked gem. I don't want to build it up too much because I realize it isn't everyone's cup of tea. Just read a few reviews from dim-witted critics and you will see that generally this film was not well received. Maybe those reviewers should have stuck with classics such as "Face-Off" or "Armageddon". No need to use that brain if there are enough explosions.
I can tell you that "Grim Prairie Tales" is one of those movies that I have to watch every so often because it sticks with me. It has a winning combination of high-caliber writing, directing, cinematography, and acting that really gets in the back of my mind and emerges at times. There is just something memorable about it. Dare I say it it is haunting.
The film stars James Earl Jones as a want-to-be bounty hunter who encroaches upon the camp of a schoolteacher (Brad Dourif of "Chucky" fame) in the middle of the desert. Soon, sitting under a still moonlight night by the fireside gives rise to some strange tales (making this an anthology film). It seems that the two share little in common, except for a love of great storytelling.
The first yarn is from Jones' character, Morrison. It is about an old man and his fear of dying, which manifests itself as religious intolerance and some general crotchety-ness. While I believe this is the weakest tale of the movie, it does employ some clever devices that broach the subject of mortality. My main problem with this segment is that it uses day-for-night shots unsuccessfully. I have a hard time getting past a technical shortcoming such as that. Don't judge the movie solely on this aspect, though.
Deeds (Dourif) is impressed with the craft and mechanics of the story, but not its shock value. Morrison takes it as a challenge to make a stronger impact with a more intense story. He relates another tale designed to both titillate and disgust the schoolteacher on the surface. Lurking beneath those still waters is a narrative that raises questions about the more base nature of even the most pious man.
The next segment stars none other than Jimmy Olsen Marc McClure. He plays Tom, a wayward husband on his way to meet his wife. Along the way, he meets Jenny - an attractive pregnant woman. Tom decides to act as her guardian. The woman reluctantly agrees, and that night the campfire reveals that her "pregnancy" was only a trick to try and protect herself from potential assault. She writhes in ecstasy, and while her mouth is gently whispering "no" her eyes are begging for Tom to have his way with her. Without spoiling too much, what follows is one of the most intriguing "encounters" ever filmed. To my knowledge, it is entirely unique and original (albeit disturbing).
Upon completion of the story, Deeds is thoroughly disgusted. Morrison suspects that Deeds was, in fact, excited by the tale and was forced to cover-up his reaction by masking it with disdain. Deeds then must redirect with his own campfire story.
Similar in theme with Morrison's last tale regarding underlying sin, Deeds spins a yarn that also involves an idyllic pioneer life that is not quite as it seems. It is a new beginning where Arthur (William Atherton from Die Hard), an upstanding and religious man, marries a woman nobody else would have as she was pregnant out of wedlock. Life looks promising. That is until Arthur's stepdaughter sneaks out to see how her new father is helping the community.
The innocence of the daughter is permanently marred as she witnesses true hatred and betrayal. The family unit continues, despite the sojourn through evil. The most shocking part is how the daughter can bury the atrocities in her mind to gain some semblance of normality.
Morrison is astounded. The well-crafted tale gets the wheels turning. Now the gauntlet has really been thrown. He can't let Deeds have the best story of the night. Finally, after some soul-searching, Morrison attempts to top his story-rival.
The last story is the most visceral of the quartet, both visually and psychologically. It is about a gunslinger contest to be the best in the west. The favorite is the focus and the story is about his reconciliation of conscience and actions. There is an animated dream sequence that, while entertaining, feels tacked-on. Otherwise, this story is one of the best tales. "One bullet!" - great line.
Deeds concedes the victory to Morrison. As the sun rises in the east, both must continue their very different journeys. The tale ends with another interesting twist, as well.
I am hoping that this gets released to DVD soon, and hopefully with some sweet extras. As it is now, you can only get used VHS copies of it. If you like thinking about the film you are watching, and don't really go into the film expecting to see a horror film, then you might really enjoy "Grim Prairie Tales".
Brad Dourif (the voice of Chucky) and James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader) play two heavily contrasted travelers in the nineteenth century who end up camping together and telling scary stories. Dourif Plays Farley Deeds, a naive clerk who is on his way to see his wife who is visiting his ill mother-in-law. Jones plays a gruff bounty hunter who is attempting to cash in on the corpse that hangs off the end of his horse. Together, they are a priceless pair with some of the most humorous and interesting exchanges in film lore. The tales are overshadowed by the two star's immense talent and their unusually great chemistry.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Coming in a close second behind "The Shadow of Chikara" and certainly
the strangest picture to get made during the short-lived 90's revival
of the Western movie genre, this refreshingly off-beat 18th century set
omnibus oater rates as the finest horror-Western to ever grace
celluloid, a fascinatingly unusual film which dips into America's rich,
but largely (and shamefully) underexplored past with often hugely
The remarkably strong wraparound segment concerns prissy intellectual city slicker Farley Deeds (a pleasantly low-key portrayal by the often over-the-top Brad Dourif), who's forced one night on the cold, lonely open prairie to either listen to or relate a quartet of spooky campfire stories in the less than prepossessing company of uncouth, vaguely menacing bounty hunter Morrison (a wonderfully ripe, robust, rip-snorting turn by the always great James Earl Jones).
First tale: grouchy old cuss Lee Colby (amusingly essayed by grizzled character actor Will Hare, who also acted in the arrestingly oddball horror-Western doozy "Eyes of Fire") desecrates a sacrosanct Native American burial ground and promptly regrets it. Second yarn: a sweet young man (affable Marc McClure, who appeared in the equally underrated fright film anthology flick "After Midnight" around the same time) meets a lovely young woman (the gorgeous, raven-tressed, almond-eyed Michelle Joyner; Michael Rooker's doomed wife in "Cliffhanger") with a ... well, I don't want to spoil the deliciously nasty shock ending to this one. Watch and find out for yourself; it's sure to hit guys especially right where they live. Third story: a family of homesteaders must contend with a bloodthirsty lynch mob who want the sole man of among the beleaguered threesome to help them catch and subsequently hang an escaped slave. This particular tale is too sentimental and obvious to really work, although it boasts a strong performance from the under-appreciated William Atherton (the jerky TV reporter in the first two "Die Hard" movies) as a basically decent, but hateful man who's gamely struggling to control his more base impulses. Fourth anecdote: a sleazy gunslinger (marvelously played to the slimy hilt by Scott Paulin; the first victim of the rampaging mutant monster in the terrifically trashy "ALIEN" rip-off "Forbidden World") competes to be top dog in a tiny desert town and later regrets that he did.
Capably directed and smartly written by novice filmmaker William Coe (who previously designed the posters for such features as "Back to the Future" and "Out of Africa"), with uniformly fine acting from a nicely varied cast, plenty of eerie atmosphere, a flavorsome recreation of the 1800's, and a welcome emphasis on vividly drawn characters and similarly colorful old-fashioned storytelling over any needless excess flash or pretense, "Grim Prairie Tales" ranks as a most rewarding and highly different kind of horror movie, one in which story and character are more important and meaningful than either cheap shocks or disgusting gore. The anxious, intriguing, masterfully developed and sustained rapport between Jones and Dourif, both in superior personable form, is extremely enjoyable and unexpectedly affecting (the film not only deals with the expert telling of four scary stories, but also delightfully details the gradual genesis of an unlikely, but sturdy friendship between two radically contrasting individuals). The spiky, frequently hilarious, insult-laden rat-a-tat-tat banter that Jones and Dourif heatedly exchange throughout is a tremendous source of rousing entertainment alone, highlighted by the sidesplitting moment a fuming Brad calls Big Jim "a corpulent old buzzard!" It's a small, but bright and sparkling little gem of a sleeper.
The pleasure of the horror anthology is that of brevity. No story can
really out-stay its welcome or be forced into unnecessary padding. And if
one episode fails to work, never mind, there will be another one along in a
James Earl Jones and Brad Dourif are both excellent as the contrasting storytellers and make the linking storyline into a highlight itself. Their tales are a mixed bunch. The opener about an Indian curse is rather slight. However the second tale about a helpful young man and a mysterious pregnant girl finishes on such a disturbing, horrific note that the viewer might not recover for the rest of the film! Especially if they're male. Definitely it is the moment that will be talked about afterwards. Deliberately, the third story concerns a more cerebal horror. A girl discovers a shocking truth about the father she idolises. Yet it emerges as probably the most satisfying tale of the night with a haunting punchline. Finally the concluding tale of vengeance beyond the grave is fair, its highlight being an animated nightmare sequence.
The Western trappings bring a welcome original atmosphere to these Tales from the Crypt refugees, making this a worthwhile diversion for the jaded horror fan.
Oscar nominees Dourif and Jones are the main reasons to watch this collection of stories set in the west. The most bizarre, involving the "pregnant" Jenny, is almost as entertaining as Dourif and Jones, who are more fun than the stories they tell. I give this a 6.
Blustery bounty hunter James Earl Jones and jittery eastern tenderfoot
Brad Douriff share a campfire on the prairie and swap horror stories,
some of the supernatural variety while others are all too natural.
This is a low budget but ambitious and atmospheric horror western, worth a look for fans of either genre, though some fans of traditional westerns might not be amused.
The vignettes are great but the wraparound with Jones and Douriff is so entertaining that the stories they tell pale in comparison.
Other than Jones and Douriff, the best performance in the film is by William Atherton as a frontier dad with a dark secret.
Grim Prairie Tales is an acclaimed film of bizarre anthology and
spellbinding horror featuring an all star cast. Academy Award nominees James
Earl Jones and Brad Dourif lead a cast including Scott Paulin (Turner &
Hooch), Will Hare (Back to the Future), Marc McClure (Superman), Lisa
Eichhorn (The Talent Mr. Ripley), William Atherton (Die Hard) and Michelle
Joyner (Cliffhanger) to star in a tale of two pioneers who cross paths in a
Western desert land and tell tales of both ghastly hauntings and
supernatural tragedies. It's a low-buget film, but has some good quality of
directing and acting. I especially liked the first and last stories the
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This anthology set up is quite good with a colorful wrap around and Dourif and Jones shine as the storytellers. The first story is of an old man (Will Hare) who travels through a forbidden Indian graveyard and is buried alive while he sleeps. The next story is of a man (McClure) who meets a woman (Michelle Joyner) who tricks him into a deadly surprise while they make love. Finally, there is a man named Arthur (Atherton,) who appears to be a good family man until his daughter Eva (Wendy J. Cooke) sees him brutally murdering some innocent people one night. Writer / Director Wayne Coe mix the Horror and Western genres together and it has a great set up. The problem comes when the stories don't deliver any horror. One quick shock is delivered when the man making love is sucked into and through the woman he is making love with but even this is bloodless. The tales are interesting and even amusing they just don't lead to any terror. Well made with nice cinematography from future Academy Award winner and Steven Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski. Unfortunately, the best stuff in this film is the go between with story tellers Dourif and Jones.
This movie managed to sneak up on me and I have never forgotten it. Brad Dourif was his usual superb and James Earl Jones absolutely masterful (one of his best performances). Its just too bad cable providers and show selectors have not seen fit to provide it to subscribers and viewers looking for compelling film. Brad Dourif's acting prowess was confirmed in his role as "Doc" on HBO's Deadwood series. Do yourself a solid and chase this one down. The dark humor in GPT is golden and is frequently profound. I wish this was the pilot to a series but sadly it was a one off. Praise should also go to the writer and producer.
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