COWBOYS AND ZOMBIES, or to give it its original title, THE DEAD AND THE DAMNED, is just about as low budget as our genre gets, and that's fine. You make allowances for films of this calibre. The actors ain't gonna be top of the range, the effects will most likely suffer under the financial strain, and the sets are liable to be non existent. If you can roll with that, you may find a few things to enjoy in here. Its got a hell of a lot wrong with it, which I'll detail soon, but it does a few things right too, that bode well for future productions.
First up, the acting. To be honest, its not anywhere near as bad as some Ive seen in similar productions. The actors do what they can with the sparse script, and they don't embarrass themselves. In fact, they (and the director of course), seem to be taking the whole thing very seriously, which is a little strange given the films hokey plot. I prefer a little more cheese in my B-movie diet, but the straight faced approach doesn't really hurt the work. What does hurt it, and I hate having to mention this, is the seriously miscast lead. Theres nothing wrong with the guy, and he looks the part, (in fact, I'm pretty sure he's Tom Cruise. Hell, someones gotta hire the freak!), but he has a very soft, almost feminine voice, and that's a huge fucking no-no in a Western, especially when your playing a grisly ass bounty hunter. The film opens with a fun little gunfight, but when this cat speaks its hard to buy him as someone who would or could have survived fifteen minutes in the Wild West. Its a shame because he takes the part seriously, as mentioned, and in a monologue that takes place late in the movie, he shows quite a bit of depth. I just think its a casting error. The other actors do their part, and while underwritten, they bring their characters to life as best they can.
I mentioned non existent sets. Well, there actually IS a set on this production. From what I gather, its a replica, Old West town, and while its hokey, and looks like its gonna fall over at any minute, its fun to see it being put to good use this way. Theres something in the use of cheap sets that appeals to me. I named my first Psyche band, 'Plan 9' for a reason, guys. I'm glad the crew managed to secure the use of it. It really does help the production. What really brings the whole show along leaps and bound are the locations its shot in. There are some stunning panoramas in here. The beauty of the locations gives the film a much needed sense of scope. I believe on these small films, location is absolutely key to success.
The effects are a mixed bag. Now, I fucking HATE CGI gore. Ive hated it since I first saw it in LAND OF THE DEAD, and I hate it now. On large productions there just no damn excuse for using it. On these smaller, indie films, I can see why ts used, but I still hate the damn stuff. It takes me out of every scene, no matter how big or small the budget. Theres quite a bit of it here, no more than any other modern horror, but it jars. On the flip side, the prosthetics work is really nice. The in camera gore is well done, and the zombies range from OK to downright creepy. One in particular, a blind one, actually creeped me out, much to my surprise. Of course with a non existent budget we don't get any huge hordes, but what we do get are well done, and convincing. Props to the effects department.
Now back to that blind zombie. And this is where the film really shines. There is one scene in here that is downright intense, and very well directed, A girl is boarded in a house, (to keep zombies out), but one of the fuckers is IN the house, and she cant get out. Its blind, and in the prolonged sequence of stalking that takes place, the film is elevated to full horror. Its notably the only scene that takes place at night, and had the film more scenes of this nature, the film would be far, far stronger. For the most part, we get gunfights set in daylight, which, while all good fun, don't inspire any fear in the viewer.
COWBOYS AND ZOMBIES is a humble little zombie film that tries hard, often fails and occasionally hits the spot. If your a patron of these kinds of films, you'll find things to enjoy, if not beware. Its got decent performances, some cool zombie effects, and one great scene that shows promise for future films. I can't really knock it. They tried, man. Next time take the whole thing a little less seriously. And hell, I sat through it all, which is more than can be said for Platinum Dunes films.
5.5 Zombie Gringo's out of 10