DVD Review: 'High Plains Invaders'


Not long ago I caught a very cool Western / Horror mash-up called The Burrowers, and it reminded me that there simply aren't enough horror films that take place in the Old West. Oh sure, there are those Tremors and Ginger Snaps prequels and those two weird Oblivion movies (which are more sci-fi than horror), and Antonia Bird's Ravenous is a special little treat. If you're including neo-westerns then Near Dark makes the list, and probably so would Vampires and From Dusk Till Dawn ... but really, this is a sadly underutilized sub-genre!

But hey, if you're desperately in the mood for a goofy concoction of western and horror, you could probably do worse than Kristoffer Tabori's High Plains Invaders, a low-budget B-level tongue-in-cheek mixture of A) a western setting, B) a sci-fi-style alien invasion, and C) lots of gruesome kills and gory interjections. To call it "one of the best of the RHI / Maneater / SyFy Channel monster movies" is surely damning High Plains Invaders with faint praise ... but hey, while it might be relatively "better," it's still a pretty goofy movie in its own right.

James "Spike" Marsters, best known from Buffy / Angel and flicks like (yikes) Dragonball: Evolution, stars as Sam Danville, a recalcitrant convict who's just about to step up to the noose ... when right down Main Street wanders a really freaky creature. The beast may look like a cross between a Starship Troopers bug and Mike Wazowski, but they're pretty dang aggressive and they have all sorts of nifty weapons. (If their pointy legs or razor-sharp tail don't get you, their freaky little acid globs almost certainly will.) Saved from the noose by this outrageously bizarre occurrence, the salvation-hungry Sam Danville (Marsters) must team up with a brassy bounty huntress (Sanny Van Heteren), a rascally shopkeeper (Angus MacInnes), a nerdly scientist (Sebastian Knapp), and a sexy doctor (Cindy Sampson) to rid the Wild West of these bad-ass monsters.

Screenwriter Richard Beattie seems to enjoy wading in the caricatured side of the genre pool, which means that each character is painted in rather broad brushstrokes. This helps to keep High Plains Invaders from ever becoming too dreary or boring -- but it also means the five main characters are left spouting dialogue that, even if it's "cute," it's still pretty damn familiar. Of the central ensemble, Marsters is solid enough, but his support ranges from adequately pulpy to downright clunky.

The creature effects are certainly more polished than you'd normally find in a production of this ilk, but one can always sense the exceedingly low budget by actually counting the creatures on the screen. (Hint: there aren't many.) On the flip-side, the flick moves at a brisk enough clip, and Tabori seems intent on delivering an ambitious set-piece every 15 minutes. So at least you won't be bored.

It's little more than War of the Worlds meets High Noon, only a whole lot goofier and quite a bit gorier than that description implies. Unlike many of the RHI monster movies, however, High Plains Invaders is broad and goofy without ever becoming head-slappingly stupid. Whereas most of the Maneater Series are "guilty pleasures" at best, this one actually earns a few points in the realm of legitimate low-budget monster-making. It's slight, silly, forgettable, and obvious ... but I'd be lying if I said High Plains Invaders didn't keep me pretty entertained for 80-some minutes.