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By James Teitelbaum | January 3, 2009

So bad it’s good.

I suspect that many Film Threat readers are familiar with this concept. Being a teenager and seeing “Killer Klowns From Outer Space” for the first time can start a person on a path both strange and dangerous. This path is filled with cheap beer, giggling buddies, and stacks of Roger Corman films. Ed Wood becomes a deity. A certain connoisseurship of proudly incompetent film making may develop. Demand from kindred spirits has inspired certain production companies to cater to this insatiable need for self-conscious schlock, making good-bad films on purpose.
Hence: Troma.

Eventually, the novelty may (or may not) wear off, adulthood may rear it’s ugly head, and the idea of watching bad films on purpose may begin to lose its luster. After all, there are so many good movies out there to watch (really, I mean it – there are!). But for those of you who are still in the “so bad it’s good” phase of your movie viewing life, I present to you: “Cowboy Killer”.

This film is miserable on every level. Fortunately for us, writer/director Jason Baustin and his crew must have been completely cognizant of this fact. “Cowboy Killer” is so self-satisfied in it’s inanity that it emerges as a triumph of fetid schlock, a massive stinking pile of dung that revels proudly in its own noxious stench. However, it is clear that “Cowboy Killer” loves being awful, and the film can even occasionally be slightly endearing in its awfulness. It hits all of the precise notes of camp that teenage stoners all over this great land will adore.

The story here is simple: a guy dressed as a cowboy rolls into a small town, and begins killing people. A motley crew of locals hunt him down.

As titular gunslinger Roy Thompson, Paul Bailey stalks around in his Stetson, duster, bolo tie, sideburns, and spurs. His creepy grin and his fake John Wayne-inspired cadence complete the character. The very few bits of this movie that transcend gleeful amateurishness are all handled by Bailey. When a nightclub bouncer calls him “old”, the cowboy pauses in front of a mirror, examines his face, and wonders (with some sincerity) “when did that happen”? Even as Roy Thompson contemplates how it happened that he has grown up, the rest of the cast are firmly rooted in infantile behavior, no matter what their apparent age. Thus, as the alleged heroes of the film, the entire cast (aside from Bailey) refuse to behave or act as adults, and are therefore people whom this film’s target audience can relate to. Only Roy Thompson is an outsider – he is a villain less for his brutal killings and more for his acknowledgment of having matured.

Roy Thompson is no Auric Goldfinger, no Darth Vader, and no Hannibal Lecter. He will never rank among the great movie villains. But I was surprised to find the character sticking with me for a short time after the film ended. Let us not take things too seriously however (the film makers certainly didn’t). Although Bailey does inject just a few moments of gravitas into the role, things like the flashback scene keep us firmly rooted in goofiness. In that scene, a young Roy Thompson is at the dinner table with his family. The eight-year-old kid’s voice has been overdubbed with the adult Bailey’s. The effect is alternately unsettling and hilarious. The result is so absolutely wrong that it is absolutely right, so seriously silly that it is seriously great.

If you’re seventeen and stoned.

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