Skinwalker (not to be confused with Skiwalkers or Skinwalker Ranch) opens in the Arizona High Country in 1883. Two travellers Benny (Nathaniel Burns, Battlefield 2025) and Hugo (Robert Conway, the film’s writer/director) come across a Native American burial site. Benny wants to loot it for items he can sell to collectors. Hugo warns him against it, but Benny grabs a Death Totem anyway. Big mistake, shortly after Hugo is bit by a snake and becomes possessed by the spirit removing the totem freed.
Elsewhere Marshall Bascom (Dan Higgins, Exit to Hell) and Deputy Riggs (Cameron Kotecki, Eminence Hill) have tracked down a pair of outlaws. They kill Elmer (Chris Beeman) and capture Maisie (Eva Hamilton, Death Kiss, Cabal) who happens to be married to the gang’s leader, Dalton. He and his men, all two of them, set out to rescue her.
Apart from the opening, the first part of Skinwalker plays out like a conventional Western tale of lawmen and outlaws. The nearest town has been wiped out by cholera so the sheriff has to cross the mountains to the next one to deliver his prisoners. Dalton and his men aim to literally head em off at the pass. Instead, they end up at the cabin of Willard (Daniel Link, Krampus Origins, Watch Over Us) a Mormon with three wives and what’s left of Benny in the shed.
Usually, the term skinwalker refers to a werewolf or some other shapeshifter. In Skinwalker, however, the demon moves from body to body possessing people and turning them into zombie-like creatures. That’s good news for the budget department but not so good for anyone hoping for Dog Soldiers in the Old West. We do briefly see the creature near the end played by Kelli Jo Richardson in a CGI-enhanced costume, but that’s it.
What we get instead is something closer to one of those films where a group of people summon something up with a ouija board and get possessed one by one. Despite the eventual presence of Storm Talker (Victorio Pope, Run for the High Country) and Proud Fist (Jeff Yazzie, Dead Men) Skinwalker doesn’t do anything with Native American traditions except use them to dress up a fairly generic demon.
As such things go, Skinwalker isn’t that bad. It did hold my interest and there are a few good scares. It’s all familiar material, but it’s competently enough told that it isn’t boring. Some of the makeup for the possessed and for various wounds are well done, but a CGI decapitation is pretty bad.
One thing about Skinwalker that did get on my nerves at times was the dialogue. A lot of it is very overwritten to the point where it’s almost funny. At times the lines are so melodramatic and full of fancy words it’s like Conway was trying to write a Shakespearean Western. The script is much better when it keeps the dialogue short and to the point. There’s also the occasional phrase, such as “Fuck you all the way to Hell!” that sounds a bit too modern for the film’s setting.
Perhaps the most puzzling thing about Skinwalker is, who played Dalton? There’s no credit for him either in the film or on IMDB. Was the actor so unhappy with the film he had his name removed? Or did he piss off the filmmakers so badly that they erased him? Or was it just an accident that he wasn’t listed? That may remain one of the unsolved mysteries of the West.
Skinwalker will premiere on DVD and Digital on July 13th from Uncork’d Entertainment. You can check their Facebook page for more information.