Much-maligned director Albert Pyun has been making films for what seems like forever, although forever is actually 1982 (The Sword and The Sorcerer). Many of his movies are universally loathed, but several of his films (Nemesis, Arcade, Mean Guns) have been the subject of cultish adulation, and I believe he is the only filmmaker to have directed both Jean Claude Van-Damme (Cyborg, 1989) and Steven Seagal (Ticker, 2001), which is quite an accomplishment when you really stop and think about it.
Pyun’s recent opus, the horror/western/soap opera Left for Dead, is an energetic and visually appealing entry in the director’s erratic oeuvre. It’s Mexico in the last 1800s and Clementine, a strong-willed, Gina Gershon-type, hauls a mysterious burlap-enclosed satchel through the woods in pursuit of her free-ballin’ boyfriend, Blake, who knocked up Michelle, the daughter of Mary Black, a notorious cult leader, avowed wack-job, and opium superfan. The whole greasy lot of them hook up in the woods to pursue Blake to the cursed Amnesty Town, which is haunted by Mobius Lockhart, a spectral gunslinger who sold his soul to Lucifer before his demise.
Are you with me so far? Because, admittedly, the first 30 minutes of Left for Dead are simply packed with exposition, but Pyun’s stylish direction churns through screenwriter Chad Leslie’s frequently ponderous dialogue. Pyun introduces characters with a flourish, and the crisp cinematography and rapid-fire editing make the entire film imminently watchable.
Blake flees a few gunslingers to the relative sanctuary of Amnesty Town but the mysterious and apparently bullet-proof Mobius Lockhart makes short work of his pursuers, disemboweling one cowpoke with a mere hand gesture and gut-shooting another before burying him in the ground up to his neck. The group of women finally stumble into Amnesty Town and find Blake, who Mary Black immediately captures and begins to tear apart with a series of rusty hooks and chains. Turns out she wants Blake to marry the pregnant Michelle, and will resort to grisly torture if it means his consent, but Blake is having none of it. Clementine is his soul mate and he only wants to be with her, so he takes the torture like a man and shoots Clementine hot, sultry glances that indicate they might do the nasty a bit later. At the very least getting tortured for a chick should earn you a good lay later on.
I know what you’re thinking, it sounds like a whole lot of Lifetime channel drama buried in an independent horror/western, and perhaps under a less aggressive directorial hand that might be the film’s downfall, but Pyun keeps things interesting with brilliant shot selection and constant visual variation. I should just be up front and say right now that Brian DePalma is one of my all-time favorite directors; I’m a man who will forgo a little substance for the sake of style. Much like some of DePalma’s best early efforts, Left for Dead is over-directed and stylish as hell. The film was shot entirely in Argentina, and Pyun frequently rips his camera through the woods and into some of the coolest location shots this side of a rich Italian giallo. Although the film could benefit from more gunplay and a few additional blood spatters, Left for Dead is a dark, slick, and edgy western streaked with gore and a lean sense of style.