My awareness of J.T. Petty’s work, as writer and director, is pretty well restricted to Mimic: Sentinel (2003) — the third film in the series that originated with Guillermo Del Toro’s Mimic (1997) and one that hasn’t gained much of a profile among horror fans. The film was, however, extremely impressive, taking a completely different tack to its franchise predecessors and to monster films in general. Original, stylish and intelligent, it used its limited budget well by grafting the Mimic mythos onto a Rear Window scenario, thus giving the film a narrow perspective and considerable claustrophobic intensity. I thought it one of the most interesting horror sequels I’d seen for a long time and one that deserved better than it got.
Now Petty has turned his sights on another grafting, with a hybrid horror/western take on the monster movie called The Burrowers. The wild west may not be at the peak of its popularity in contemporary Hollywood, but there have been several horror/western cross-pollinisations in recent times, including the ghostly Dead Birds (2004), zombie-comedy Undead or Alive (2007), and even The Quick and the Undead (2006), which, though set in a post-apocalyptic future, is “western” in tone and appearance. Then of course there was Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, which was a prequel to the classic monster flick Tremors (1990), set in the old west. This latter is particularly relevant to The Burrowers, as both films deal with burrowing, underground monsters preying on the human surface dwellers.
After a family is brutally murdered in their home, a group of ranchers and infantry men embark on a crusade to find the killers. When a mysterious killer attacks their ranks, they discover that carnivorous creatures are hiding beneath the surface of the earth waiting to feed on their flesh. (Bloody-Disgusting.com)
According to initial reports, the film takes a serious approach to its horrors and this differentiates it from its tongue-in-cheek and witty predecessor. Director Petty has expressed some surprise over the seemingly inevitable comparison with Tremors, pointing out that while that film is “an awesome fun monster movie”, The Burrowers has “a completely different tone and a completely different world” and what he wanted to do was “make something more in line with The Thing and Aliens.” By which he means “serious”, I assume.
As in many of the best horror films, the horror of the monsters — as frightful as they are — tends at times to be overshadowed by the inhumanity of the humans toward each other. The Old West was a violent time, with fear ruling much of the relationship between settlers and the native Indians, and this is reflected in the film’s action and its underlying metaphors.
The exact nature of the monster, though, remains unclear. Petty comments that the design of the monsters was something central to the success of the film as he sees it.
“A lot of what I wanted to do with the movie was create a new monster … All of the movies I’m seeing today are 80-percent vampires, 15-percent Frankenstein [retreads] and the rest … werewolves. I love what Guillermo [del Toro] is doing in trying to create new monsters, so with The Burrowers I’m trying to do something new. Part of what I love about Aliens is that they have a good set of rules and how the monster works and part of what’s so scary in watching that movie for the first time is trying to figure out what is happening.” (ShockTillYouDrop interview)
So far the only two visual clues we have regarding the monsters are this piece of conceptual artwork:
… this hole in the ground:
and this shadowy glimpse taken from the trailer.
Are they humanoid? Are they big? It’s hard to say at this stage. Either way, this looks like an exciting project and one I’m looking forward to seeing more of.
You can view the newly released trailer on Twitch here.
- Interview with J.T. Petty
- via Kaiju Search-Robot Avery