Those of you who were reading this blog around Christmas might recall that I mentioned a few previous places where the idea of ranching zombies for one reason or another had surfaced. Well, turns out I missed one, since a group of talented folks down Arizona way have a couple t-shirts regarding a “Zed’s Zombie Ranch”, which are made using manipulations of vintage photographs that the proprietors had lying about. Fun stuff! Also that’s far from the only customized, geektastic merchandise available for purchase on their Etsy site at http://www.vampieoodles.com — we particularly like the “Free Range Zombies” sign.

Kelly and her partners from vampieoodles will be having a booth at the Phoenix Comic-Con the same weekend Dawn and myself will be at the Pasadena convention, but we’ve wished them best of luck and vice-versa. So if anyone’s at the Phoenix show and sees the Zed’s shirt, well, now you know the story there! Just another strange and wonderful case of parallel evolution.

Okay, now, I promised myself I’d get to a movie review in this blog. It’s been an especially long while since I talked about a western, so let’s jaw awhile about The Culpepper Cattle Co. Now one thing I’ll have to admit up front is that I have a chronically terrible memory for recognizing actors from film to film, especially on a name basis… so while some of the cowpokes in this 1972 flick looked powerfully familiar, nothing really clicked, even when I used the power of IMDB to attempt to compensate and find where else I might have seen them.

So it’s entirely possible I just fail, but otherwise the only memorable aspect of the movie up front is that one of the associate producers was Jerry Bruckheimer. In fact, it appears to be the first movie he’s got any sort of producer’s credit for… and for every Bruckheimer-involved movie I hate, there’s others I’m indifferent to and others I love, so I shrugged and settled in to see how things turned out.

How the movie turned out was pretty darned bleak, start to finish. Perhaps “bleak” doesn’t quite cover it. It was as if the filmmakers were driving for “gritty realism”, missed that offramp, passed up “nihilistic” while they were still cussing about the mistake, and ended up plowing through several signs warning “CARTOONISH CARICATURES OF AMORALITY AHEAD” before plunging into the ever-lovin’ ravine of WTF.

Tortured metaphors aside, perhaps I’m being too harsh, but it’s another of those movies you can’t quite figure out if you’re supposed to be taking seriously. I’ll be the first to admit that the Old West wasn’t the nice, squeaky clean place folks like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers wanted to portray, but CCC was so far in the other direction I was having separate but equal trouble sometimes in suspending disbelief. For instance, I hesitate to believe that any given strangers meeting each other in the wilderness will always rob and/or kill each other in cold blood, but this movie takes it as a given. Occasionally? Okay, it’s a rough time and a lawless land. But eventually it gets to be a little much, and certainly desensitizing.

Maybe that’s the point, since this is one of those coming-of-age “fresh faced greenhorn grows up fast” tales with our young, Zeke-esque protagonist joining up with a cattle drive run by the tough, trail-hardened Frank Culpepper and his band of roughnecks. The group gets even rougher when an incident partway through leads to the death and replacement of some of the hands with men I will generously term as “a mite psychotic”.

These are our heroes, who carve a bloody swath across the countryside that is only stifled when they finally run into some people who are even bigger assholes. Then they end up defending some Amish squatters or something from the wrath of the greater assholes. It’s a weird climax, and an even weirder message at the end… the psycho cowpokes all die defending a bunch of religious nuts who won’t take up arms in their own defense (and would have been slaughtered because of this), and somehow this convinces our protagonist, the sole survivor of the armed side, that the proper response is to give up his guns and head back home.

Mind you, this entire movie has been hammering home the point that if you’re not armed and sociopathic, you’re a victim. I gave the kid about ten minutes after the credits rolled before he was robbed, murdered, and possibly sexually assaulted, not necessarily in any particular order. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

Also, there’s no indication of whether or not Frank Culpepper got his cattle to market, since as far as I can tell he doesn’t come back to fight, and everyone else deserts him to do so. Given that the Old West in this movie is a land that Mad Max would be hesitant to wander, I figure the ol’ Cattle Co. doesn’t make it, either.

Now all that said, there are some good lines and interesting scenes in the film, so if you want to have, say, a Netflix gander at it, more power to you. Much more so than even Unforgiven, it represents one end of the western genre spectrum that can provide some perspective when you’re figuring out where on the range you roam.