Bone Tomahawk -- The dissection of Deputy Nick
Let's do this.
For about... let's say 30 years, I was on an artistic quest to expose my eyes & brain to the most vile, grotesque, upsetting images that Cinema had to offer. (This is a craving I won't bother exploring because most of you already understand it in your own intellectual terms.) Once I conquered the initial hurtle of most mainstream Horror, I heightened my awareness of language like "Extreme," "Unrated," "Banned in 80 countries," and other selling points aimed directly at kids like me. And it took me a few decades to finally stomach the terrible truth: that while most of these movies may've succeeded in upsetting me for whatever period of time, a lot of 'em weren't particularly good - or they simply didn't have the stamina to work their way into my 'rewatch' rotation. Every movie has its flaws, but what I think it boiled down to was that the majority of these abusive 'nasties' were mostly empty of fun; not that everything has to be particularly thrilling, or funny even, but if a movie has one or two notorious moments to hang its jacket on, that is, for me, not enough to sustain a love affair; To avoid fainting, just keep repeating, "It's only a coat rack..."
And in those instances, once you've seen the 'horrific acts,' the inital shock tends to fade -- and then so does the movie.
Bone Tomahawk, on the other hand, is a miracle of Art & Science; it is thrilling, and it is funny, and it does feature an act so horrific that it compromises all of its other 'rewatchability' criteria.
That's right folks: I'd seen the movie once, and I was too afraid to watch it a second time. And I can say without hesitation that that is the only instance in my lifetime when that is what kept me from seeing a movie - let alone revisiting one. Conversely, in the past, the promise of such a cathartic roller coaster would have been like a magnet, and I would be steel - but I truly think that's the difference between this film and the ones I'd seen up to that point: it succeeds not only under the heading of "Great Horror," but also as "Extreme Horror"; it's a movie I'd watch all the time, but I can't stomach it.
So maybe we should talk about it.
I have a morbid, apprehensive fascination with cannibals - a phobic interest that I'm not gonna waste time examining. But I will say that, though it's a Horror subgenre that I've clung to, roughly none of the movies I'd seen had ever really explored the properties of its chilling yuckiness in a way that lined up with what I'd always felt in my heart and my bowels. None - until Bone Tomahawk.
If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about, and if you haven't seen it, you must've at least read about it, as it depicts one of the most powerful scenes of shock and gore ever put on screen. It caused me to break into a cold sweat that I wasn't prepared for. Robert Englund has called it "the scariest movie of all time." It's that level of stomach-churning intensity that makes it as upsetting as it does exhilarating.
I don't wanna undermine the A+ performances from the A-list actors, or the traditional-but-enjoyable search-and-rescue Western premise - because it's these elements that contribute to the sting of the left hook that the movie throws at you in the final act.
So what is That Moment that I'm talking about? Well, like I said, if you know the movie, you know the moment - and I'd love it if we could leave it there, because if it hasn't already become apparent, I've been putting it off even in the context of this write-up. That's how deep the cuts are. But I will say that finally, finally, after nearly 5 years, I've watched the film a second time - specifically for the purposes of discussing it for Spooky Pussy - and I gotta say that the top-notch enjoyability of the movie is only very slightly overshadowed by the severity of... that moment.
And that moment is this: the town's deputy has been kidnapped by cannibalistic cave dwellers, and without warning, they drag him out of the cage in which they'd imprisoned him, strip him of his clothing, and thoroughly scalp him. They then force his bloody scalp into his screaming mouth, further advancing it into his throat with the aid of a wooden stake. Next, they hold him upside down by his feet and proceed to wield the dreaded bone tomahawk by chopping him down the middle - from crotch to gut - while simultaneously pulling his legs wider apart like a wishbone, until the entirety of his innards spill onto the ground. The mute monsters don't make a sound during this process, and there's no film score -- just the sounds of screaming, tearing, and organs hitting the floor.
It's a tough scene. And despite its provocative nature, it's successful because it's not gratuitous. The film is a "slow burn" (which is the phrase you can read in every review that's been written about it), and the story periodically reminds us that something uncommonly terrible is awaiting us. And so, the movie actively earns whatever gruesome event you could imagine - except you couldn't have imagined this.
And I earned it too - after years and years of watching native savages castrating foreign devils and eating their eyeballs, I've now finally found something with the serious tone and existential horror that I'd always thought the subgenre deserves.