By Linc Leifeste | February 27, 2012
Director: Michael Fredianelli
Writer: David Lambert
Starring: Aaron Stielstra, Dan van Husen, Bretty Halsey (as Montgomery Ford), Derek Hertig, Kevin Giffin, Rita Rey, Eric Zaldivar, Mike Malloy
While not completely abandoned as a genre, the western limps along more than strides the streets of Hollywood these days. But when it comes to independent low-budget releases (and when I say low-budget, I mean low…with IMDb estimating the budget to be around $25K) you really don’t expect to come across a western release, much less one that has been executed with any level of expertise and creativity. But in The Scarlet Worm that’s exactly what you get. Sure, there are some leaden performances to be found and the film doesn’t always manage to get the look and feel it needs to be a complete success (much of the film just looks too bright for the content and style), but if you factor in the tiny budget there’s no doubt that Director Michael Fredianelli and crew managed quite a feat.
Set in 1909, The Scarlet Worm tells the story of Print (Aaron Stielstra), an assassin/hired gun who believes the method is just as important as the end result…if you’re not going to do something with style you might as well not do it. So Print not only murders, he murders with artistic flair, finding creative ways to stage his executions and/or their aftermath. Currently in the hire of ruthless cattle baron Mr. Paul (Brett Halsey as Montgomery Ford), Print is given the job of murdering brothel owner Heinrich Klay (Dave van Husen), a German immigrant who regularly performs abortions on his girls when their work leaves them in a family way. How many westerns have you seen that feature abortion as a main topic? I’m betting this is the first. To its credit, the film’s discussion of abortion is nuanced and multifaceted and never easily categorized.
Complicating the job, Mr. Paul has insisted that Print train younger hired gun Lee (Derek Hertig), just as Print had once been trained by his elder, Hank (Kevin Giffin), also in the employ of Mr. Paul. Of course the job is also complicated by Klay’s well-armed gun-hands and a prior history between Klay and Paul that is revealed late in the game. Without giving too much away, in generally well-shot sequences, the bullets fly and the body count grows as the storyline plays out.
The inclusion of veteran actors such as Halsey and van Husen, with their confident experienced performances, accentuate perfectly the solid turn by the younger unknown lead Stielstra, who manages to deliver post-modern dialogue that at times reminds one of Pulp Fiction as much as Deadwood in a believable way. I think the success of the film really hinges on whether you believe the character of Print, with his combination of old fashioned morals and nihilistic murderous ways and his constant shade-tree philosophizing. For me, it works more often than it doesn’t, guaranteeing that its failings (and don’t get me wrong, despite overachieving this still looks and feels like a film made on a shoestring budget) are overshadowed. I was left longing to see what Fredianelli, Lambert, Stielstra, etc. could do with a bigger budget.