October 6, 2017
The title is pure grindhouse, but “Brawl in Cell Block 99” reaches some distance beyond simple prison-movie exploitation. For one thing, the buildup is so grippingly patient that we’re more than halfway through before the titular battleground is reached. And for another, this painstakingly paced thriller displays an intensity of purpose that makes it impossible to dismiss as well-executed trash.
Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, the movie stars a revelatory Vince Vaughn as Bradley Thomas, a recovering alcoholic, laid-off mechanic and newly expectant father. A charismatic bruiser with a baby-soft face and piledriver body, Bradley favors a dry turn of phrase — when asked how he’s doing, he responds “South of OK, north of cancer” — and a placid demeanor. This last is blown when, early on, we watch him rip apart his wife’s car with his bare hands.
October 5, 2017
Say "Vince Vaughn," and what's the first image that comes up? His "you're so money" suit-wearing Swingers alpha male? His heroic environmentalist-slash-shutterbug in the first Jurassic Park sequel? Maybe your go-to Vaughn is The Break-Up–era bloated version that graced tabloid covers and Jennifer Aniston's beach pics, or the smarmy comic Casanova of Wedding Crashers? Forget those other Vinces. Whenever someone says the actor's name, you'll now see a glowering, menacing hulk of a man, one with a tattoo of a cross on the back of his shorn skull and balled fists held up in front of his battered face. The role he plays in this ultra-violent, nihilistic slab of a prison flick is enough to wipe the past-persona slate clean. If that misbegotten sophomore season of True Detective gave us anything, it was the notion that Vaughn's mid-to-late-career move would be to edge toward darkness. He's officially made good on that promise. Full-on into-the-abyss mode fits him well.
October 3, 2017
Director S. Craig Zahler is quickly establishing himself as the most exciting pulp-infused voice to come along since Quentin Tarantino. His 2015 western, BONE TOMAHAWK, came out of nowhere, bypassing traditional fests like TIFF to premiere at Fantastic Fest, dropping on VOD soon after, where it became such a breakout critical hit that it walked away with some Independent Spirit Award nominations. His follow-up, BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, is a lean and mean grindhouse tale that offers star Vince Vaughn a career redefining role, casting him in a part far removed from anything he’s ever done before.
His character, Bradley (not Brad, as he constantly corrects people), is a hulking brute of a guy, but not without reason. When he learns his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) has been cheating on him, he wrecks her car with his fists (in a knockout scene) but after calming down, talks things through. He’s good at violence but he’s not prone to it, explaining to another character that he’d rather be “knitting little pink booties than hitting someone who doesn’t deserve it.
October 22, 2015
In “Bone Tomahawk,” an old-timer, an invalid and a gunslinger set out across the blistering desert to rescue three innocents from a band of savage cannibals. Their mission seems beyond futile, but don’t count them out too soon: Their leader is Kurt Russell.
Yet Mr. Russell is far from the only reason to see this unexpected low-budget treat, a witty fusion of western, horror and comedy that gallops to its own beat. That rhythm is dictated entirely by the writer and director, S. Craig Zahler, a novelist and musician who flips genre conventions upside-down and cares more about character than body count. As a result, he has given us a horror movie whose monsters are withheld until the tail end of its 132 minutes, and an action movie whose longest section involves mostly walking and talking. Read the entire article via the New York Times.
February 15, 2016
“Bone Tomahawk is the direct result of this decade of development hell. In 2011, when Zahler sat down to write his fifth western, he did so with the intention of directing it himself. His manager and producer Dallas Sonnier loved the script and committed to getting it made exactly as it was written, telling prospective financiers that no creative notes would be welcome…Despite a small US release, word of mouth meant that it made its money back many times over…Financiers should take note: Bone Tomahawk is gleefully ballsy and cool as hell. Show him the money.”
November 1, 2016
“What was the last film that properly terrified you? For me, it was Bone Tomahawk, specifically the the third act. It is utterly nerve-wracking in the way few horror films manage — which is all the more impressive considering that, for the majority of the film, it doesn’t really feel like a horror film at all…The directorial debut of screenwriter, author, cinematographer and musician S. Craig Zahler, Bone Tomahawk is a strange beast of a film. It contains the kind of stomach-churning gore that would typically mark a film as pure midnight movie fodder, yet for its first three-quarters it unfolds as a pure Western of the old-fashioned, slow-burning variant…”
January 21, 2017
" I was committed to this story and couldn’t put it down. Time slowed or didn’t exist at all when I read this novel."
December 21, 2016
"S. Craig Zahler has a knack for telling a perfect—and perfectly horrifying—revenge tale. He worships at the altar of blood and vicious, pain inducing violence, and there are scenarios here that would scare the hell out of Barker or King, so brutal and horrifying that my skin crawls even long after I’ve completed the act of reading the book. It’s a story that will embed itself in your psyche and scramble your brain with its unapologetic, unwavering look into the heart of human cruelty and the extents that evil men will go to for the sake of retribution.
If you’ve not read Zahler’s groundbreaking fiction before, go grab a copy of this book and find a comfortable place to get your mind blown by this incredible, un-putdownable read."
September 24, 2010
"A Congregation of Jackals is a mature and thoughtful Western that can stand up alongside anything that Cormac McCarthy or Larry McMurtry have written. At the same time, its unrepentant violence, intensity, and dark worldview could easily appeal to fans of hardboiled crime fiction, as well as current envelope-pushing Western authors like Peter Brandvold, Max McCoy, and J. Lee Butts.
I especially liked Zahler's choice to tell the backstory of Oswell's bank-robbing past through the letters he writes home to his wife during his long journey to Trailspur. Not only is it an improvement over the traditional flashback, but in telling the story through Oswell's own words, it gives the reader a chance to get to know him, and his feelings about his past, before all hell breaks loose."
June 11, 2013
"The first thing that stands out in this book is Zahler's prose. The writing, at once elegant and smelling of authenticity, is electric, always moving forward at breakneck speed even when the scenes are as mellow as a father playing guitar and singing a song to her daughter in bed way past midnight. Also, the dialogue crackles with electricity and the mysticism that comes from a healthy dose of Spanglish.
The second thing that makes this a great tome is Zahler's attention to detail, superb descriptions, and the fact that he made sure all his characters were multilayered. When you take those characters and place them in a typical setting, the result is a narrative rich in imagery that can only be described as cinematic...
Wraiths of the Broken Land is a classic Western that's been twisted into the shape of a snarling monster, shot full of violence, anger, and pain, and dipped in horror. With its combination of gunshots, anger, messages burned into flesh, and death, it will please fans of crime, horror, dark fantasy, and literary fiction alike. It's a brutal and wonderfully gritty tale full of darkness and superb writing. However, you should read it simply because it delivers on its promise of being unlike any Western you've ever read before."
August 13, 2013
"Zahler is...adept at writing razor sharp dialog, as well as creating varied and memorable characters. He seamlessly injects backstories into the majority of our players that make them incredibly well-rounded and developed. Many times in tales such as this, the characters tend to be one dimensional and stereotypical, but not here...
Zahler does everything right with Wraiths of the Broken Land. The book pulls you under and never lets you up, the cruelty he dishes out throughout the novel – to both our heroes and villains – is vicious at best, and the ending is so powerful that it's debatable as to who the victors really are in this bloodbath of a book."
April 30, 2014
"Zahler tries his hand this time at science fiction and succeeds brilliantly. The story instantly hooked me and never let go."
"As the story builds to a literally explosive conclusion, we fall completely under Zahler’s spell, buying into his near-future world and becoming so involved in his characters’ lives that, when the book ends, we are loathe to leave these people and their world. A bravura literary performance." --Dave Pitt, Booklist, Starred Review
"CORPUS CHROME, Inc describes one of the weirder post-singularity futures. The characters are very much alive. I was entertained throughout." --Larry Niven, Hugo & Nebula award winning author
"Zahler draws us in with a wealth of visceral, visual detail until the reader’s experience is multidimensional, as if experiencing a fully realized movie coming off the page."