February 13, 2010
I hear the voices in my sleep. They haunt my dreams. “Fiddle-de-fo, fiddle-de-FI, answer my riddles, B-Western guy!”
They continue, in a more measured tone. “So, are there any B-Westerns of the Charles Starrett ilk which qualify as Horror Western?”
Yes, scary voices. At least one. The Rawhide Terror!
This film was initially planned as a serial but hastily cut into a very short (46 minute) feature. The plot follows a tried and true horror path; it’s a revenge scenario. Two brothers witness the brutal murder of their parents out on the plains. The little blonde one is shocked and scared. The bigger dark-haired one goes mad — and I must stress that he goes immediately mad, giggling and shaking and walking off into the brush. This damaged boy emerges years later as the fully-grown “Rawhide Killer” (despite what the title tells us.)
Is he a horror villain? I’d say so. And here’s why. He has a distinctive and hideous disguise. CHECK! He dresses like a freak — with a speckled rawhide band strapped across his nose, under a misshapen black hat. This get-up makes him look like some bizarre and scary bird.
He also has a unique signature method for killing: he ties his victims between four stakes with a wet rawhide rope wrapped around their necks. “Sun will dry the rawhide and then senor will choke, choke!” CHECK!
It turns out (not a very big surprise) that he’s targeting the men who killed his parents. He kills alot of them. Finally, he crosses some hazy ethical line when he kidnaps a gal and is summarily shot dead.
An interesting and surprising ending — his dying words not only reveal his identity but also that of his brother. Until this moment, we had no reason to believe that the cowhand whose arms he dies in was the little blonde kid we met up top.
Poor storytelling = surprising reveal.
Scariest moment: the killer’s stuttering laugh as he strangles a cowboy in a rare interior shot, in a barn, which allows some shadows in this sun-drenched horror film.
Adding to the creepy vibe is the ultra low budget. This is a cheapo, made by the less-than-melodiously-named Security Pictures. There is no music. Dialogue appears to be entirely ADR. The soundtrack to the horseback chase scenes sounds like a skipping record.
It must have been a challenge making a horror film when nearly every shot is in broad daylight. An added hurdle is the Western genre staple of wide shots of open spaces. Not exactly conducive to the dark, claustrophobic style of most horror films.
“Rawhide Terror” succeeds on its clumsy menace and freakish villain.
STARRETT CONNECTION: “The Rawhide Terror” has as co-stars two actors who played small roles in more than a dozen Charles Starrett films each. One is Art Mix who appeared in over 200 Westerns, mainly playing uncredited henchmen. This is a rare co-starring role. The other is Edmund Cobb who appeared in an astounding 600-plus films during his 60-plus year career. He, too, generally played small roles like “Deputy Pete” or “Townsman.”
October 1, 2009
The rumor that “Law of the Northwest” would be playing on TCM this month has turned out to be false. Alas. In place of a review of that “lost” Durango Kid film, I present another mind-bending (time-wasting?) chapter in the saga of my attempt to discover what the other B-Western stars were doing in 1935, the year that Charles Starrett began his cowboy star career.
Tom Tyler was chasing the “Phantom of the Range” in this Victory Pictures production.
The titular character wears a white slicker and pretends to be a ghost, riding around at night to keep snooping eyes from discovering what the bad guys are up to at old Hiram Moore’s place. They are looking for the dead coot’s buried treasure. Moore’s pretty daughter catches Tom’s eye, so he buys the estate and they join the search for the loot. The plot features an auction, a map in an old painting, some fights and some riding. Tom has his own sidekick, a thin gay British Smiley, if you can picture that.
I enjoyed this film, but, boy is it a cheapo. I’ve written before about poverty row, but this is so cheap. A lot of the dialogue is ADR and some scenes are shot in weird panning close-ups, in the style of primitive sit-coms. On the plus-side, it features some great locations in Lone Pine, and the like-able characters are actually very like-able.
I had a realization watching this film that is a testament to how little I knew about the B-Western genre when I began this project. It’s amazing that it has taken this long for me to recognize that Charles, at least stacked up against his contemporaries, was a real cutey pie.
I mean, no one is going to mistake Hoot Gibson or Wild Bill Eliot for eye-candy. Gene Autry has a goofy boy next door sort of look. Tim McCoy and William S. Hart are odd. Tom Mix has a good head of hair, as does Ken Maynard, but you wouldn’t call either of them matinee idols.
In fact, I can’t think of any other cowboy star of Charles’ day who started their career playing pretty boys (“Desirable” and “Royal Family of Broadway“) or hunks (“Fast and Loose” and “Jungle Bride“). Can you imagine any of the others shirtless and being whipped by Myrna Loy as Charles was in “Mask of Fu Manchu“? Johnny Mack Brown? C’mon!
And then there’s Tom Tyler.
Tom Tyler is an adequate cowboy hero in this picture, and he should be. He had been playing variations on this role since 1926. He’s thin and wears a broad black hat. A handsome guy, but surprisingly ethnic for a cowboy star (Tom’s birth-name was Vincent Markowski and he was of Lithuanian descent.) With his jet black, slicked back hair and long face, he seems more suited to playing thugs in organized crime movies.
He reminds me of Henry Silva.