Directed by Michael Su, Night Of The Tommyknockers is a horror-western adventure mash-up. Of course, such things have been done before in Dead Birds, The Burrowers, and The Dead And The Damned, to name a few examples. Do screenwriters Rolfe Kanefsky and Adrian Milnes strike gold, or is their creative mine picked over?
A gang of bank robbers, led by the dashing, level-headed Dirk (Richard Grieco), just got away with another score. But things went slightly pear-shaped, and a few folks were killed along the way. This hardly matters to Betty (Angela Cole), Lucky (Robert LaSardo), Maoma (Bill Victor Arucan), and Clay (Wesley Cannon), who make plans to get to the town of Deer Creek and steal their newly discovered gold.
Unbeknownst to the Dirk Gang, though, is that the discovery of that gold has left the citizens of Deer Creek in a perilous situation. The mine in which the precious mineral was found is home to violent creatures who devour anything with a beating heart. Now locals Julia (Jessica Morris), Fred (BJ Mezek), Pearl (Sheri Davis), and Marshal Steed (Tom Sizemore) have more to worry about than some gunslinging outlaws. The tommyknockers are awake and will not be satisfied until no one is left alive.
The prologue of Night Of The Tommyknockers, which details the discovery of the gold, is the only true horror beat for the next 40 or so minutes. Surprisingly for a low-budget b-picture, the film is strong on characterization, for the leads anyway. Granted, the cast is sizeable, so there are many people to introduce. But Kanefsky and Milnes aren’t rushing through the setup, so everyone’s motivations make sense. This adds decent stakes to the proceedings, as viewers will be invested in who lives and who dies.
“The tommyknockers are awake and will not be satisfied until no one is left alive.”
In that same vein, the actors are all pretty good. Sizemore is a little clunky here and there, but he handles the shootouts very well. Angela Cole’s terrific as the only female in the Dirk Gang. LaSardo gets to stretch his range a bit, as he’s the comedic relief. He’s very funny. Davis makes quite the impression as a lady of the evening. Morris capably goes from unsure to unwavering as her character becomes more steadfast and resolute. Grieco is at his most effortlessly charming, meaning audiences will actively root for the “shoot first, ask questions later” thief over many other people on screen.
See, while the leads are fairly well developed, as are two or three minor characters, the roster is vast. As such, a number of people are there to add to the eventual body count during the action-packed final 30 minutes. This means that some scenes drag a bit, as every person gets a say, even when they have no real dimension. For example, Mr. Wong gets several scenes, but none of his actions have any bearing on the plot, nor does he take down any of the vicious creatures attacking them. Running 86-minutes in length, Night Of The Tommyknockers is lean, but there remains a few bits of fat here and there.
However, that shouldn’t deter folks from enjoying the film. Su delivers where it matters most: the showdown between the humans and the tommyknockers is terrific fun. The editing is fast and furious, while the cinematography captures every last ounce of blood. A few twists give the story, and Julia, some cool final moments that underscore whose story this ensemble piece winds up truly being.
Su’s last film, Bridge Of The Doomed, suffered from a fractured plot but still provided excellent action mayhem. Night Of The Tommyknockers delivers even more so on the action front while providing a much stronger, more character-driven story. It is pure b-movie fun. The cast is game, the make-up is solid, and the whole production is a breeze to watch.
"…pure b-movie fun."