Zombie movies are big again, and a sub-genre that’s emerged in recent years is the zombie Western. “The Quick and the Undead” may have kick-started the trend back in 2006, because a number of zombie Westerns followed: “Undead or Alive” (2007), “Devil’s Crossing” (2011), “The Dead and the Damned” (2011), and “Gallowwalkers” (2012), with “Revelation Trail”appearing in 2013 and another zombie Western, “Bullets for the Dead,” reportedly now in development.
What they’ve shared, apart from zombies and cowboys, unfortunately, is a low-budget mediocrity. In a post announcing the release of “Revelation Trail” I wondered aloud if this would be the one to put it all together—the zombie Western to beat (or eat?) all other zombie Westerns, despite it’s limited resources. And while I’m sure there will be people who find “Revelation Trail” entertaining, I thought it was only marginally better than the others.
The filmmakers make no attempt to explain where that first zombie may have come from, and this Old West zombie Armageddon unfolds with predictability in the early going. To its credit, though, the screenplay also gives us the space to get to know the main characters: The Preacher (Daniel Van Thomas) and Marshal Edwards (Daniel Britt).
The problem is, while the acting is competent, neither actor interprets his character with any originality, and when we get them alone by a campfire it can start to feel as dull as a one-note harmonica tune. The other problem is the audio, which sounds a bit like a foreign film that’s been studio dubbed—so much so that it’s almost startling to see that the lips actually synch up with the words. Meanwhile, the exterior shots—crowd scenes, especially—have the look of an old run-of-the-mill Hammer production, partly because of the blocking. And plot twists? The filmmakers apparently took their cue from that famous line in “Blazing Saddles”: “We don’ need no stinking plot twists.
Those are my chief complaints, and when you put them together you end up with . . . well, a movie that, like the others in this sub-genre, has zombies and cowboys and a low-budget mediocrity.
So what elevates the film? The zombie action itself is pretty good, with decent make-up and special effects—especially if you consider that this film was so low-budget that it raised money through a Kickstarter campaign and used all contemporary clothing, modified or “aged” to look period. And though “Revelation Trail” sags big-time in the second act, the first act sets up a credible tension, while the third act tosses in enough action—the finale, especially—to satisfy most zombie-lovers.
Aside from that, there really isn’t that much more to say, because the plot itself is pretty simple. Something wicked this way comes . . . into the life of The Preacher, who is forced to give a group of suspicious strangers a place to sleep for the night. Before long, people start getting attacked, not just here, but elsewhere, and not far into the film we know that The Preacher’s wife and child aren’t going to make it and rather than running bad guys out of town the Marshal gets run out by the zombies—which is everyone but the two of them. The “revelations” come as the two men learn about themselves and each other in the process.
Tonally, director John P. Gibson treats this as a serious drama, and that decision feels right. But in the end, the film’s shortcomings outweigh the positives.
“Revelation Trail” has a 108-minute runtime and is rated R for bloody horror violence, language, and a sexual assault.
“Revelation Trail” was shot using Canon 60D, 7D, and T2i cameras and is presented in 16×9 widescreen. It’s an above-average video presentation that does a nice job of handling standard def detail in numerous dark scenes. But don’t look for bright colors. Everything is slightly desaturated, deliberately yellow-toned, or a little on the drab side to give it a period look.
The audio is an industry-standard Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, with English SDH subtitles. But as I said, there’s this strange sense of disconnect between the images and the audio, as if we were watching a foreign film that had been looped in the studio. Even the ambient sound seems added. I thought it was one of the weakest parts of the film.
There’s a surprising amount of extras here that may make you feel a little more generous toward the film, starting with a spirited (at times) commentary from the director and his two stars. In addition, there’s four behind-the-scenes/on-location featurettes, a “My Beloved” music video by Angry Johnny and the Killbillies, and a blooper reel.
I love the idea of mixing the zombie and Western genres, but I haven’t found a film that’s knocked it out of the park . . . to mix metaphors. “Revelation Trail” might be one of the best zombie Westerns I’ve seen. But so far, that’s not saying very much.