Released direct-to-DVD in 2014, Cowboys vs. Zombies (The Devil’s Crossing) sounds like one hell of a movie, and it is made even more so by the slick DVD cover art that depicts a cowboy on horseback in the background taking down a zombie in the foreground. However, the movie is a bait-and-switch, as the plotline takes place in a post-apocalyptic world set in what amounts to an anachronistic western-styled society. Making matters worse is that the movie it a complete turkey, from its threadbare and clichéd plotline and overacting performers to its boring action scenes and lackluster special effects.
Cowboys vs. Zombies takes place after the world has experienced a devastating nuclear war. Riffing off the Dark Tower world of Stephen King, the “cowboys” in the movie are modern men reverting back to the days of the Old West, although they still have modern conveniences. The story concerns on Shadroch (Michael Sharpe), who at the beginning the movie is seen burying his wife and kids. He makes a deal with the devil’s minion to become a death collector so that he can avenge his family (the setup, sans the devil, is right out of Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales). Once he attains his revenge, Shadroch finds that he cannot escape the devil’s minion, and he must now kill whomever the minion decrees.
Shadroch is sent to the town of Celestial, where he must slay a bully who has the town in his killer grip. He waits for the bully the Wail of the Banshee saloon, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Drinking milk as his poison, Shadroch eventually has a showdown with a bully, but rather than kill him he merely wounds him. This indiscretion brings out the devil’s minion, riding a pale horse into town. Following this strange little man is a horde of flesh-eating zombies. The minion is here to collect his debt from Shadroch. When Shadroch refuses to kill the bully, all hell breaks loose.
Written and directed by James Ryan Gary (with writing partner Donald Wells), Cowboys vs. Zombies is a terrible movie. Yes, the movie is shot on a shoestring budget, but the lackluster special effects are not really a problem. The principal problem with this movie is its shotgun scattering, cliché-ridden script, which offers up terrible dialogue—and plenty of it—with a threadbare story that contradicts itself every chance it gets. Making matters worse is a cast that overacts consistently (I attribute this to the director), at times yelling out the dialogue for emphasis. This overacting extends to the zombie extras, which are hilarious in their movements and come off as laughable rather than scary.
The bulk of the movie is one extended action sequence, but the action is boring and hard to sit through. Shadroch and his band of townsfolk (including the obligatory hookers with hearts of gold) use firearms and basic martial arts to take out the zombies, who stand their ground moaning and groaning. There is little blood and no overt gore, so gorehounds will be disappointed.
Cowboys vs. Zombies (The Devil’s Crossing) is a missed opportunity. There are flashes of what could have been, but in the end there just was not much imagination exercised in making this movie. The movie does suffer from a low budget, but this is really incidental, as zombies and cowboys don’t cost too much and are easy to create (look at Romero for the zombies and the spaghettis from Italy). Don’t bother with this one, as it’s not worth adding to your zombie collection.