BOOK REVIEW: “TWISTERN: 50 TWISTED WESTERN MOVIE REVIEWS”

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.

One thought on “BOOK REVIEW: “TWISTERN: 50 TWISTED WESTERN MOVIE REVIEWS””

  1. Thank you for your review of my book. I believe you made several valid points, which I’d like to address.

    The book’s purpose is ultimately to interest viewers in off-beat, off-kilter movies of a certain movie sub-genre that until now has not been clearly defined in this manner, at least to my knowledge. Thus the inclusion of mainstream movies and rarities. I don’t believe the parameters could be established without the two extremes.

    The title is misleading, I’ll give you that. I was informed by several sources that without the word “Review”, the book wouldn’t sell. Who knows if it would have sold better without it. Regardless, it is in fact NOT a book of reviews. Instead, it is a book for and written by an enthusiast who find the sub-genre interesting. Maybe that makes it only enjoyable to me, as you state. But instead of doing my best to persuade readers to my way of thinking as a review would, I focused on the details and trivia of each production. Just as you would when telling a friend about a movie you enjoyed and think they’d like, for whatever reasons. Whether a movie of this type is “good” or “bad” is irrelevant because the context of the viewer varies widely.

    When I’m at a book signing or other event promoting the book, folks I think would enjoy my book often surprise me with a response similar to yours. Dismissive would be an accurate word for it. They don’t seem pleased that there are movies that they haven’t seen in it and they don’t like that the movies that they have are. They never even give it a chance. Often they talk my ear off for an hour then walk away without buying a copy (it’s $15 bucks!). Yet, a person that I wouldn’t have thought would be at all interested buys a copy and are hugely entertained by it.

    As an author, it’s an odd experience to write a book for a specific demographic who turn out to be so hyper-critical that they can’t enjoy it and then discover that a completely different group of people who love it. If I had to classify who the book appeals to is a person who loves movies, but hasn’t been exposed to the wide world of B-movies. They aren’t comparing it to any sort of internal criteria that they’ve developed over the years. Instead, they are open to reading about the wacky and wonderful world of the Twistern. There is no “this is better than that” or “how dare they leave such and such movie out”.

    The 50 were chosen to establish parameters. There are future volumes in the works, up to four more at this point in time. I’m just getting started! Besides, that was a publishing decision that I made. I didn’t want to produce a book that was $50, not $15. Talk about a tough sell. Though it doesn’t sound as if you will be reading them anyway. No problem.

    But, at least you read it! You get karma points for that. I appreciate your review and hope that it doesn’t turn off readers to the point where they won’t give it a try themselves. After all, that’s the spirit of my book in the first place. See the movie (or read the book) and make up your own mind!

    Thanks again, Kelly Knight

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