BONE TOMAHAWK (2015): Wild-West Horror Featuring Kurt Russell

In 2015, Kurt Russell came back in a big way to major motion pictures (Furious 7 and The Hateful Eight). With the release of writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s BONE TOMAHAWK (USA: NR, RLJ Entertainment, 2015), he also made a significant return to smaller budget films in the horror genre.

In the role of Sheriff Franklin Hunt, he leads a small and isolated group of people that is confronted by a mysterious, possibly supernatural, and definitely malevolent threat to their existence. Although this character sounds like the part he played in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), there are significant differences between the two roles — as well as between the two films.

As the character poster image above gives away, Russell plays an authority figure in BONE TOMAHAWK. His R.J. MacReady in The Thing is much more of a rebel figure. While MacReady lives with — and grates on — a small group of co-workers on hardship duty at a contemporary scientific station in Antarctica, Sheriff Hunt is the glue that holds together the inhabitants of the ironically-named settlement of Bright Hope, circa 1890. This contrast brings up the genre difference: The Thing is a horror sci-fi movie, while BONE TOMAHAWK is a horror western.

Background and Credits

BONE TOMAHAWK is an independent (but, with an estimated budget of $1.8M, not “indie”) film — funded through The Fyzz Facility, a London-based film financing and production company that offers “bespoke financing solutions for independent feature films,” according to its website. Its production company is Caliber Media Company; its producers are Jack Heller and Dallas Sonnier.

The film marks writer-cinematographer S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut. Zahler also wrote the screenplay. Besides Russell, the cast also features Patrick Wilson (Insidious, 2010; The Conjuring, 2013), Matthew Fox (the Lost TV series, 2010), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods, 2012), Lili Simmons (Geek Charming, 2011), Evan Jonigkeit (X-Men: Days of Future Past, 2014), David Arquette (Scream, 1996), and Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects, 2005).

BONE TOMAHAWK won two awards at the 2015 Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival: Best Director (Zahler) and the José Luis Guarner Critic’s Award. It was also nominated for Best Motion Picture at Sitges.

Story Summary

From IMDB: “Four men set out in the Wild West to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers.” The four are:

  • Sheriff Hunt (Russell), the town’s lawman;
  • Arthur O’Dwyer (Wilson), a religious cowboy who has been confined to home (with his wife, a fate which has its benefits) due to a broken leg;
  • John Brooder (Fox), an “armed gentleman”;
  • and Chicory (Jenkins), the Sheriff’s “back-up deputy”.



The main captive is Samantha O’Dwyer (Simmons), the unofficial town doctor and wife of Arthur. While attending to the surgical needs of a prisoner, Purvis (Arquette), at the town jail, both are abducted by a Troglodyte raiding party. Purvis’ recent contact with the Troglodytes — while in the company of partner-in-crime Buddy (Haig) — in the film’s opening sequence has led to their incursion into the town. The Troglodytes also take Deputy Sheriff Nick (Jonigkeit) with them.



The cannibalistic cave dwellers — according to the resident Native American expert, “the Professor” (Zahn McClarnon) — are an ancient splinter race of Native Americans called the Troglodytes. He tells the four would-be rescuers that they will certainly be killed if they pursue their intention to ride on the Troglodytes’ lair, which is just beyond the western edge of civilization as they know it. The four ignore his advice, of course — this is a horror film, after all. In all seriousness, though, each one has a compelling reason to go, even if the mission is suicidal.


The film has a strong opening — literally a killer — involving Purvis and Buddy. The Troglodytes soon emerge. But the horror elements emerge only gradually until they take over in the third act. Grueheads will have to wait for it, but the film does pay off here in the gore and depravity departments. What’s commendable is the build-up — the film allows increasingly clear glimpses of the Troglodytes’ primitive brutality along the way.

It’s “along the way” — during the posse of four’s journey — that the characters develop and grab hold of viewers. Prior to leaving town, they seem almost like stock Western characters of the dramedy variety. Once they leave the last vestiges of civilization behind, however, they eventually become vividly three-dimensional. The complex relations between the four are convincingly portrayed, especially by Russell and Fox.

The high quality of the visuals in this film is not surprising, given its writer-director’s experience in cinematography. Zahler’s writing is at its best in his dialogue, which is snappy. His overall story arc is less impressive, due to the need for almost superhuman feats on the part of one of the characters in the third act. However, if the viewer buys into a world that includes Troglodytes, he or she shouldn’t have any problem accepting these improbabilities as well, especially once the third act has started.


BONE TOMAHAWK is the horror sleeper of 2015. See it if you haven’t already!

TFK’s Rating (on IMDb): 8 out of 10 stars