Directed by Michael Steves
A group of strangers get trapped on a train to Hell. I guess they are strangers. It is kind of hard to tell in this disjointed supernatural Western.
I went in to this film with high hopes given the names I recognized. Tony Todd and Lance Henriksen are two fine actors in general and two great genre actors in particular but even they could not save this meandering, disjointed mess. Having watched the film and read a little about it before writing this, I am still not sure of the plot or much involving the characters.
Jericho Whitfield (Tony Todd) is all about killing Roland Bursley (Michael Eklund) and Annie Hargraves (Jennifer Laporte) in the beginning then abruptly decides they should team up and investigate whatever weirdness is going on with the train even though the only thing we’ve heard are sounds that could be voices coming from a mysterious piece of luggage that is never really connected to events. I get how Jericho knows Annie but the connection between Jericho and Bursley is fuzzy at best. I am not sure if Bursley was after Jericho and using Annie as bait or vice versa or Yousef Abu-Taleb (story), Gabi Chennisi Duncombe (co-writer), Bubba Fish (really?) (co-writer), and Michael Steves are just bad at their job.
When the weirdness starts happening Jericho seems very accepting of it as if he were expecting it even though he was not there for the weirdness. He was there to kill Hargraves (primarily) and Bursley (secondarily-I think). And Bursley acts as if he was expecting it all too even though he was just hired to escort Annie back to her father. Or was this a trap for Jericho as well? Or is their meeting a coincidence but he was hoping to see him?
Lance Henriksen is in this movie as the Devil. I guess. He just kind of shows up abruptly talking to Tony Todd. For the most part he is not even a factor in the film. It is a shame because Henriksen, much like Todd and Eklund, is a fine actor that could have added menace to the film just by being in more scenes. The man has a sinister and foreboding delivery (even though he is fully capable of coming off much more jovial) and could have given this film more creep.
Grace McDowell (Jill Hoilles), Desdemona Lark (Jeryl Prescott), and Father Locke (Yousef Abu-Taleb) make out the rest of the significant cast but I will be a monkey’s uncle if I can tell you much about the characters. They just were there to get gruesome ends. That is standard in low budget horror, but we got little explanation of them in any capacity until their demise.
I was left with the distinct that Todd and Henriksen took their roles to get a paycheck. Not that all involved did not try but Eklund was the one most involved in his material. Todd and Henriksen were just phoning it in. I cannot blame them though. We all need to eat, and this was not a very good script.
There are jumps in the narrative as well as in the scenes. There is no explanation or demonstration for example of the demon (?) getting tied up in the contraption with the chairs. Then they are all just in hell. I guess it is an attempt by the creators to join the audience that lasted that long watching this travesty. They just know they are in hell but there is a little explanation as to how they came to that conclusion. There is an ominous voice that talks but it is hard to understand. Maybe it mentioned they were in Hell but given the script I have my doubts.
Then the story becomes some kind of weird challenge with a demon before the Devil just shows up. I am not even sure exactly what the whole plotline of this movie is. It just kind of meanders around. The movie lacks cohesion or a discernable story flow. It is just a bunch of random things lumped together that someone thought should work but they really do not.
I am especially confused by Annie’s desire to become a bounty hunter for Satan. She wishes to escape eternal torment but exactly how did she decide that being the Devil’s bounty hunter was an option? Other than Bursley without real explanation offering himself if she went free, what was her motivation. And after saying he was only doing it for the money and he would not do anything to save her, why did Bursley decide to turn himself over to Satan?
Sometimes a script gets changed during production. It happens. Either a scene is not working, or something/someone abruptly becomes unavailable or a director inexplicably just changes things. Option three looks to be what happened here. Maybe he had an idea of where it was going but clearly had no idea of how to get there. Steves had his money and was going to spend it whether he made a passable film or not.
The production budget is bargain basement. I am not a budget snob. Low or high, I have watched good and bad ones at both ends of the spectrum. Money and quality are not linked but given a weak script a better budget would have been a good idea given the end product. The director did not know what to cut. A better director could have mined a good story from what was here.
I am not sure why they did not bother to rent out a train car or two at night at some historical railroad. Looks like they did it for the engine. Most countries have at least one. Instead they used sets that were obviously meant to be a house before they got re-purposed. Watch when they open a door. They talk about going to another car, but it is obviously the next room.
I picked this movie up at my local Dollar Tree. I knew nothing about it. I figured it was a win-win for a dollar. If I liked it then I got a bargain. If I hated it then I only spent a dollar. It was a confusing and unfocused 90 minutes I will never have back along with that dollar.
West of Hell has a lot of good elements that ultimately do nothing. And not because they are not used well but rather they are used in a poor and unfocused script. I had some adequate expectations for this film given the cast and what I could read from the case of it but it failed to deliver. Skip this and use the 90 minutes you would have wasted here for something better.