The second novel by Eric Red, screenwriter of the horror classics THE HITCHER and NEAR DARK, is THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE, a horrific western, I’ll say this: it reads very much like an Eric Red movie with its fast moving narrative that mixes breakneck action and gory horror in a manner Red practically invented, albeit without the budgetary and censorship issues that tend to mar so many of his films (which in addition to the abovementioned masterworks include lesser efforts like COHEN AND TATE, BODY PARTS and 100 FEET). I wouldn’t call this novel great, although I would say it’s above average.
The setting is old west Mexico, where a pack of werewolves have taken over a small town and its church Santa Sangre (meaning Holy Blood, and a tribute, I assume, to the Alejandro Jodorowsky film of that title). There Pilar, a hot chick who initially masquerades as a man, is desperate for some pure-hearted bandits to show up and take on the werewolves. It seems she’s found her heroes in the form of Tucker, Fix and Bodie, an infernal trio of tough-as-shit Americans. After a period of (entirely understandable) hesitation the three gunslingers, all wanted for murder in the U.S., join Pilar’s cause, leading to a splatterific MAGNIFICENT SEVEN-on-steroids climax.
Structurally the novel is impeccable, showcasing Red’s storytelling instincts at full power. As in so many of Red’s scripts, the emphasis is on horrific action throughout, with the mushy parts kept to a minimum. The western setting is depicted with a great deal of atmospheric grit and grime, while the characterizations are about as you might expect–which is to say the people in this novel are all developed just as much as they need to be and no more.
The unforgiving shape shifters make for fitting antagonists (angsty Anne Rice creations they aren’t), and the whole thing clocks in at an economical 201 pages. Thus, in the category of unpretentious action-horror THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE works without question. Those wanting something more resonant are advised to look elsewhere.
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