Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Shadow of Chikara (1977)

          A low-budget adventure/horror flick set in the American South right after the Civil War, The Shadow of Chikara is pleasant enough to watch for fans of ’70s drive-in junk, because it features a handful of familiar actors as well as a slew of wild narrative concepts. Like so many films of the same type, however, The Shadow of Chikara illustrates the gulf between conception and execution. On paper, the plot sounds creepy and eventful, but on film, the storyline is pointless and vapid. For much of the running time, nothing really happens, and the ending is so inconsequential that even calling the finale a disappointment requires exaggeration. That said, the movie avoids some obvious traps in that it’s neither punishingly stupid nor punishingly ugly. If you dig the notion of folks grimacing and growling while sporting period costumes and trudging through dirty forests, then you’ll have an acceptable experience watching this picture. If you expect more, this one’s not for you.
          During the final days of the Civil War, Confederate soldier Wishbone Cutter (Joe Don Baker) consoles a dying comrade, Virgil Caine (Slim Pickens), who shares the location of a cave in which a cache of diamonds is hidden. After returning home to discover that his wife left him for a Yankee, Wishbone becomes a nomad determined to find the diamonds, so he assembles a crew including a geologist (Ted Neeley), an Indian guide (John N. Houck Jr.), and a woman (Sondra Locke), the latter of whom Wishbone rescues from rapists. The group heads to an Arkansas mountain supposedly guarded by the spirit of a giant demon bird, and, predictably, bad things happen—causing Wishbone and his people to question whether they’re bedeviled by locals protecting a treasure or beset by supernatural forces.
          The mild allure of this piece is likely apparent in the preceding description. For instance, if hearing that Joe Don Baker plays a dude named Wishbone Cutter doesn’t pique your interest, then you and I don’t groove on the same things. Hell, Baker even plays the role with mutton-chop sideburns. Baker is best during moments of macho posturing, though the picture allows him to clumsily express sensitivity now and then. Pickens lends kitsch value, though he’s only in the movie very briefly, and it’s novel to see Neeley in his first sizable nonmusical role after scoring in the stage and screen versions of Jesus Christ Superstar.

The Shadow of Chikara: FUNKY


twbrxdx said...

This is the best review of this junky, but just-short-of-haunting little oddity I’ve yet read. One of many of the strange things about it is its use of the Band’s “The Night They Drove old Dixie Down” on the soundtrack. How in the world did this drive-in bottom of the bill little movie license that song? I’m told by people who know these things that the version here is apparently some sort of outlaw cut never released anywhere else. The film has never gotten a legitimate video release. The licensing fees to use that song are probably be the culprit too.

Bill said...

I've waited YEARS for this film to find a proper release on blu-ray (or even just dvd). Why? I like how it builds up the horror through little moments, subtle enough so that you can see why the characters never grasp what's actually going on until it's too late. The period feels authentically-evoked by the filmmakers (which helps sell the story tremendously) and the cast couldn't be better. What's not to like? If you find enjoyment in quiet, low-budget, period-horror films such as Eyes Of Fire, The Witch, Dead Birds, The Burrowers or dark-historical films like Black Robe, then I'd suspect you'd find something worthwhile in The Shadow of Chikara.