Written by Kelly Knight; 149pp, ISBN 978-0-615-62472-3; Ronin Productions, Inc.
What, exactly, is a “Twistern”? Well, as the foreword explains, it’s basically one of two things. Either it’s a western which in some way resembles another genre, or vice versa. As the author puts it: “Like peanut butter and chocolate, the mixture of science fiction, horror, comedy and psychedelic genres with classic Western results in a delicious concoction.” Leaving aside the bizarre peanut butter and chocolate analogy, this is potentially the basis for an extremely interesting study of how the most prolific of all classic movie genres has, during its long evolution, spawned many strange mutant offspring.
Sadly, this book isn’t it. It does exactly what it says on the cover: reviews 50 movies which more or less fit this extremely broad category, but are otherwise apparently chosen at random, irrespective of quality, obscurity, or degree of “twistedness.” If you read the title carefully, it doesn’t claim these are the 50 best, worst, or weirdest twisted westerns—they’re just 50 twisted westerns. Which is disarmingly honest, and perfectly true. Of course, you have to accept the author’s personal definition of “twisted.” The foreword explains that spaghetti westerns have been left out because they all have plots very similar to ordinary westerns, or are too “well known and beloved” to merit inclusion, but Django il Bastardo gets in because the hero is a ghost, and that’s “twisted.” The Proposition is ”twisted” because it’s set in Australia. The Apple Dumpling Gang (mass-produced Disney pap from 1975) is “twisted” because it’s a comedy, and the protagonists are children. The North Star is “twisted” because there’s snow on the ground throughout the film, and the author wants an excuse to mock Christopher Lambert’s miscasting as a half-breed Eskimo. And so on.
Since only 50 films are covered, it’s literally a waste of space to discuss huge, mainstream blockbusters like Back to the Future Part III or Cowboys & Aliens, especially when the author justifies leaving out all but one spaghetti western on the grounds that readers will be familiar with them already. They might also have heard of Westworld, Blazing Saddles, Outland, Serenity, Wild Wild West, and many others. In a book this slim, there shouldn’t be anything like this much dead wood. Even the weirder films are in some cases the usual suspects that have been wearily popping up in every book that laughs ironically at bad movies since the Medved brothers originated the fad in 1979. Do we really need to hear yet again about Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, or The Terror of Tiny Town?
This is not a book for those seriously interested in cinema. It’s very lightweight indeed, and written throughout with such breathless enthusiasm that sometimes it’s hard to tell whether or not the author actually likes the film. A few interesting and/or unjustly neglected movies are discussed: for example, the rather weird and strangely compelling The Tears of the Black Tiger, or the non-weird but pretty good Australian thriller Red Hill. But most of those you haven’t heard of are obscure for a very good reason—Cowboys & Zombies, for example, about which the book says: “So, here’s another extremely low budget Twistern for all you dudes and dudettes. If you’re in the spirit, you could do a lot worse. Slide on your armoured chaps, strap on two bandoliers, and aim for those zombie heads!”
I haven’t seen this film, and judging by every other review I can find, I don’t want to. Other reviews of films that were new to me suffer from the same problem – the author is so enthusiastic about what sounds like a terrible movie that you have to look it up elsewhere because you don’t believe him. Which completely defeats the object of a book of film reviews. As for the “twistern” concept tying it all together, it’s stretched so thin that it becomes a meaningless and counterproductive gimmick that forces him to include predictable, over-familiar movies. In short, this book is obviously a labor of love, but I can’t imagine anyone but its author loving it.