Breaking into the indie horror scene in 2018 with their over-the-top horror comedy Bus Party to Hell (Tara Reid, Sadie Katz), Mahal Empire has not let off the gas, and they’ve been killing it ever since. Tackling everything from cursed art and an alien invasion to sadistic games and zombies, this filmmaking team has produced and executed a wide variety of creative indie flicks. This time they take their indie horror ingenuity to the wild wild west with Night of the Tommyknockers.
Not to be confused with Stephen King’s monstrous novel, Mahal Empire’s latest feature is based on western folklore that speaks of gold loving leprechaun-esque creatures that are far more ruthless than their greedy green cousins. This deadly fable becomes all too real when it’s unleashed on a small mining community after a band of gold seeking men uncover more than precious shiny metals.
Following this brutal opening, we’re introduced to The Dirt Gang. Lead by Dirk (Richard Grieco, 21 Jump Street TV series), these outlaws ride into Deer Creek after their most recent heist only to discover the town to be seemingly deserted. This makes for an easy next target … or so the outlaws think. When the morbidly mutated cave dwelling Tommyknockers emerge from the shadows, the merry band of bandits discover this robbery is anything but a stroll in the park. Rushed into the town’s saloon by a group of survivors, these would-be perpetrators assess the situation and consider their options.
As the outlaws and townspeople hold up in the tavern, Night of the Tommyknockers almost begins to take on vibes from the outrageous and wildly entertaining creature feature Feast (2005). Although there’s some subtle humor lightly seasoned throughout the film, Tommyknockers unfortunately doesn’t go nearly as off the rails as the aforementioned horror comedy. Favoring more drama than laughs, Mahal Empire’s latest feature does earn a few notable jump scare moments sure to delight most indie horror lovers.
Night of the Tommyknockers marks the third time in the Mahal Empire director’s seat for frequent collaborator Michael Su (Death Count, Bridge of the Doomed) bringing to life this fun creature feature with a western spin penned by Sonny Mahal, Michael Mahal, and Rolfe Kanefsky. Although character and plot development were lacking, there’s no shortage of action in this gun slinging flick with some strong performances, outstanding practical effects, and excellent detail bringing the grotesque monsters to life.
While some supporting cast member performances and their characters fall flat, Grieco was born to play this type of cool-headed outlaw leader who never loses his composure under extreme conditions. Giving equally notable performances are Robert LaSardo (Waterworld) as the comical loose cannon named Lucky and Angela Cole as the deceitful badass outlaw named Betsy. Other recognizable names giving excellent performances include Jessica Morris (The 6th Friend, Art of the Dead) and Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan).
Of course, Night of the Tommyknockers wouldn’t be a worthy creature feature without the appearance of the showcased monsters. Hats off to wardrobe and makeup for making these hideous man-eaters fit for nightmares rivaling the likes of the cave dwellers from The Descent (2005).
Despite some shortcomings, Night of the Tommyknockers is a unique western creature feature mashup based on lesser known folklore of the 1800s. Indie horror monster lovers looking for a gem and don’t mind that it’s rough around the edges will not want to pass on this Mahal Empire flick.