The Films of Lone Gunslinger Pictures

Tubi continues to be an almost infinite mine of… Well, let’s just say “stuff” and leave it at that, shall we? But after doing a search there for “Arizona”, I stumbled across the output of Lone Gunslinger Pictures, operating out of Gilbert. I am not affiliated in the slightest with them – in fact, this piece is probably going to come as a bit of a surprise to Lone Gunslinger, as I haven’t even contacted them. So all I know about LGP is what I’ve been able to glean from their various web presences, such as Facebook and Linked In.

Based on the IMDb, it appears they started in 2014, with a horror short, Consider Us Even. Further short films followed, as well as a Western series, Desolate Land, which started in 2017 and ran to nine episodes. In 2018, they came out with their first feature-length production, Unearthed: The Curse of Nephthys, and four more have since followed, as well as a documentary about the Superstition Mountains. Their latest film announced its casting last month, and being titled Snake Resort, seems right in our wheel-house with this synopsis: “An aggressive rattlesnake sets its sights on an Arizona RV Park”. Three further movies have been announced, covering Western, thriller and horror genres.

It seems to be a one-man operation, in that Beau Yotty is the director of all their films, and based on what I’ve seen, typically stars (or has a very significant supporting role) in them as well. According to his IMDb page, Yotty is a descendant of Buffalo Bill, and grew up near Seattle. He had an uncredited part as “FBI Front Desk agent” in an episode of Burn Notice, and was apparently a double for Michael C. Hall in Dexter. He has also written several books, including Thrills of the Unknown: Terror, Suspense, Mystery, and Monsters and Modern Cowboy: Quotes and Poems: Life and Love in Today’s World.

As for the films, these seem to have received little or no coverage, despite being available on a range of platforms, including Amazon, Roku and Vimeo. Big Cat Trail is the only production to have reached even a hundred votes on the IMDb, and that tops out with 120 at the time of writing. Feature For The Reward has a mere twenty. All five of the movies are currently accessible on Tubi, and as an Arizona resident, it felt like it was my duty to watch and review them. To be perfectly blunt, they’re a very mixed bag. But there’s progress too. Not stratospheric, to be sure; more of the “two paces forward, one back” kind. However, if you watch them in order, you can see an overall improvement, and that’s all one can ask for, as experience is built.

Join us, as over the next couple of weeks, we take a stroll through the company’s filmography so far.

Unearthed: The Curse of Nephthys (2018)

Rating: D-

Dir: Beau Yotty
Star: Amanda Michalek, Beau Yotty, Cat Roberts, Wayne Lundy

I’m just glad I’d watched Desert Wolf before this one, because if I’d started here, I’d probably have ended with it too. The best thing I can find to say about it, is that the images were in focus. Everything else? Well… It begins with a particularly questionable concept, that an ancient Egyptian relic, “definitely from the Predynastic Period,” suddenly shows up, casually leaning against a cactus  on an Arizona ranch (above). The land-owner does ask, to his credit, “How did it get to my ranch?” Student archaeologist Jennifer Hicks (Michalek) says, “If the legend is true, it was brought here in the 1920’s.” She then goes on to explain how her great-grandfather found a chamber beneath the Sphinx and… completely fails to explain how it got to the ranch.

This is a good example of the kind of inept plotting we are dealing with here. Similarly, it opens with a woman watching a horror film, who is then attacked by an intruder. This is just a dream experienced by Don Slayer (Yotty). He’d been a character in several short films, where apparently it was established he experienced premonitions. I only know this through reading another review, and the film doesn’t even mention it until a lot later. When the woman in the dream is eventually attacked; Don comes in, hacks the assailant to death with an axe, and the victim merely says, “Thank you.” Like you do. No further questions, or police activity.

In any case, this Egyptian relic, which looks like it came straight out of the gift shop at the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas, appears to contain the spirits of Egyptian deity Nephthys (Roberts) and her hand-maidens. Turns out Jennifer’s blood, being a descendant of the man who opened Nephthys’s shrine, is needed to complete her transformation. Or resurrection. Or something. Jennifer gets knocked out next to the artifact, which is stolen by Gary Newsome (Lundy), a dealer in antiquities. Don somehow immediately knows Gary is in possession of it – must have been one of those plot armour visions again.

But this kind of convenient nonsense is very much par for the story, e.g. Jennifer also finds a trunk that apparently belonged to her great-grandfather and contains his journal. Or that the moon of [/checks notes] the Wep-RenPet, the only time the sacrifice can bring Nephthys back, just happens to be tomorrow night. Or that the great-grandfather discovered a way to close the portal. Which – what are the odds! – just happens to be detailed in the journal. You’ll understand that my eyes were rolling like a set of craps dice. Probably at the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas.

Thereafter, it somehow manages to fall apart further. The film is filled with random shots, like multiple ones of a strip-mall under construction, or footage recorded at the side of an Arizona highway. Meanwhile a lot of scenes – in particular, most of the conversations – are edited together in a way which has absolutely no rhythm or pacing. Other ones simply make no sense, such as why Jennifer goes to visit Gary’s shop (which, incidentally, looks like a classroom in a community college), knowing she’s the key to the sacrifice.

Which, incidentally, despite all the chat about the moon of Wep-RenPet, takes place in broad daylight. Maybe prophecies operate on Egyptian time? And, no, just turning the brightness down on your camera doesn’t help, when the shadows are clearly of the mid-afternoon sun variety. Other highlights include the apparent third-place participant of the 2018 Ron Jeremy lookalike contest. I gave up taking notes for the final twenty minutes, except for one fractionally cool moment where Don’s hand, holding the Dagger of Osiris (don’t ask…), bursts through the portal. Otherwise, I just wallowed in the incoherent majesty of it all.

Desert Wolf (2019)

Rating: C-

Dir: Beau Yotty
Star: Beau Yotty, John Carr, Elizabeth Broeder, Dan Weisgerber

After the incomprehensible mess which was Unearthed: The Curse of Nephthys, this is like The Shawshank Redemption in comparison. Sure, Lone Gunslinger Pictures still have a good bit of work to do, to get their product up above the level of B-fodder – or even to it. But you know the old saying, “To make a good movie, first make ten bad ones”? I’m thinking that Nephthys must have counted for at least seven or eight. This takes place in “Junction City”, where sheriff G.W. Garrett (Yoty) is attacked by an animal while investigating the scene of a disturbance. It turns out to be the death of a local man at the claws and teeth of, presumably, the same animal that attacked Garrett.

An autopsy by the local doctor (Weisgerber) indicates a wolf was responsible: not an animal native to the area. By this stage, there have already been several ominous shots of a full moon, so you won’t be surprised to hear where this is going. It’s no shock that it is a werewolf who is responsible. The question is, who is it? We see that Garrett’s senses are beginning to heighten, and the following month another savaged corpse turns up. A local native American shaman, Kai Benally (Broeder) suspects something is up: Garrett dismisses her stores of “skinwalkers”, but accepts a protective talisman from her. As the bodies keep piling up, with three murders in 24 hours, his deputy, Tuttle (Carr), also starts to suspect Garrett may be involved in the sudden rash of attacks… until Tuttle turns up dead.

The main issue here is the traditional bugbear of low-budget cinema: substandard sound. It feels as if every scene is plagued by unnecessary audio artifacts, whether it is a howling gale of wind, a ticking clock, excessive echo or simply an inexplicable hum. Any time the film felt like it was going to pull me in as a viewer, I’d be jarred back to reality by the sound problems. The night scenes are also several notches too dark. As for the werewolf… The film describes itself as “A throwback to the creature features of the 1980’s,” but you have to go back several more decades: An American Werewolf in London this is not. There’s no transformation to speak of, and it’s mostly a hairy glove and yellow contacts, until the end.

Still, I didn’t hate this. There’s a honest simplicity to it, though a dumb subplot about a visiting pop-star should have died a death before shooting, and the question of what the werewolf was doing before it bit Garrett is never answered. But the central performances aren’t bad, and help distract from the almost eerie lack of other people – or even cars! – in the streets of Junction City. It’s unashamedly Arizonan too, wearing its saguaro on its sleeve, as it were. Yost makes good use of the desert landscapes to create an authentically Western atmosphere, with more cowboy hats than you typically see around the streets here. It has no pretensions of being any more than a scary werewolf story, and as such, its lack of ambition is kinda admirable.

Loaded Monday (2021)

Rating: C-

Dir: Beau Yotty
Star: Beau Yotty, Katrina F. Kelly, Dan Weisgerber, Lisa Barnes

There are eleven reviews with ratings for this on the IMDb at the time of rating. All of them are either a “1” or a “10”. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before. The former hold a 7-4 edge, but as is almost always the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. This is not Manos: The Hands of Fate, and nor is it Die Hard. Yotty is, however, still looking to recreate the spirit of the eighties, but has moved on from the horror genre, and is now in the “buddy cop” genre, with Lethal Weapon the most obvious touchstone, perhaps even informing the title (although it sounds suspiciously like a restaurant promotion, immediately preceding “Taco Tuesday”). The problem is, Yotty is not exactly Mel Gibson.

It also operates in an awkward spot where it’s try to depict an 80’s attitude without the expense or effort needed for a period setting. It begins with loose cannon cop Detective Mike Roberts (Yotty) storming in to the home of the Mayor of Goldwater, Willy Campbell (Weisgerber), arresting him despite a near-total lack of evidence. This would be dubious in the eighties. Now, the best he could hope for would be a suspension with pay, while Internal Affairs carry out an investigation, regardless of how long-suffering your boss might be. There’s absolutely no sense of the story taking place in the real world, and this persists for the rest of the movie.

Mike’s partner is shot while investigating a burglary, but leaves behind a convenient briefcase of evidence incriminating Mayor Campbell. It’s all utterly inadmissible, but propels Mike, with new, relatively cautious partner Detective Evans (Kelly), on a relentless investigation of Campbell and his wife Anna. In contemporary reality, this would be considered police harassment, and that’s before we see Mike pointing his service revolver at the head of a suspect in his partner’s murder (top), in a police interview room. In the film’s defense, it all unfolds over the course of a single day – Mike’s final line refers to the title: “It’s been one hell of a loaded Monday.” So maybe there wasn’t enough time for any formal objections, though Campbell’s lawyer shows up at the drop of a cease-and-desist.

A bigger problem is Yotty’s complete unsuitability for the role. He just can’t project the necessary sense of being on the edge. When he threatens the suspect, for example, I just wanted to give him a cookie and some orange slices. He’d have been better as the cautious partner, and having a woman as the loose cannon would have been a bit more original too. It doesn’t help that the action scenes are terrible. Probably the only thing worse than the fight between Evans and a minion, is the one shortly after between Roberts and Campbell’s knife-wielding lieutenant. The ending does offer a twist I didn’t see coming, and in a significant improvement, most of the audio here is okay. I think being mostly filmed inside helped. It’s still a long way short of the films which inspired it.

Big Cat Trail (2021)

Rating: D

Dir: Beau Yotty
Star: Beau Yotty, Lisa Barnes, Katrina F. Kelly, Stew Jetson

Oh, dear. After some improvement over the past couple of movies, this is a painful step back for Lone Gunslinger Pictures. Not quite Unearthed: The Curse of Nephthys bad, but definitely getting down there. It is basically a film about three couples, led by Jack (Yotty) and Dana (Barnes), who head out into the Superstition Wilderness for a weekend of camping, hiking and eating of Gus’s REALLY GOOD Fresh Jerky™ [The film did remind me I had some jerky in the cupboard, though mine is actually Daniel’s Really Good Fresh Jerky. I’m eating their Jalapeno Garlic Beef variety as I write, and can confirm, it is tasty. I have not been compensated for this statement] Their truck is stolen, one of their party disappears, and sounds indicate a very hungry mountain lion is on the prowl nearby.

Problem #1. The only mountain lion actually seen here, is a stuffed one in a sporting goods store before they hit the trail. The rest of the time, the only evidence of its presence are its growls. Now, to be fair, there is an explanation for this. But it’s entirely ludicrous, to the point where “they’re being stalked by an invisible cougar” would have been a considerable improvement. If the true perpetrator had been set up as the threat from the beginning, this very likely would have worked considerably better, as a basic story of outdoor survival against an unstoppable threat. There was really no need to throw on all of the convoluted trappings, which make as much logical sense as a psychotic, bullet-proof furry.

Problem #2. Far too much of the film is spent waiting around for something, anything to happen. We get a (non-)attack at the start, and for the next fifty minutes, the highlight is probably the sporting goods store owner breaking out his flamethrower in the parking lot. Because ‘Murica.  The six-pack of hikers are, by cinematic standards, less irritating than some. It helps they’re a little more mature than is typical for this kind of wilderness horror, and their chit-chat has a vaguely authentic feel to it. They’re people I wouldn’t hate to spend time with. However, there is a vast difference between that, and them being good characters in a movie.

At least their behaviour in the first two-thirds is logical, if only because there’s nothing much happening which requires them to do anything. However, the moment one of their number is apparently dismembered and dragged out of their tent in the middle of the night – without the other people in the tent hearing anything! – then all common sense goes out of the window. The film thereafter staggers from one scene to the next, each more nonsensical than its predecessor. Though I did laugh at the final shot, which has the survivors back at the sporting goods store – this time, buying and leaving with the flame-thrower. Maybe that’ll show up in a sequel: Big Cat Trail II: Revenge Served Well-Done.

For The Reward (2022)

Rating: C

Dir: Beau Yotty
Star: Beau Yotty, Lisa Barnes, John Marrs, Sky Donovan

I’m kinda surprised it took Yotty five movies before he got round to making a fully-fledged Western. After all, this is a man who wrote a book called Modern Cowboy, and apparently is a descendant of Buffalo Bill Cody. You’d think it would be right in his wheel-house, rather than only deciding to do this after making several features more in the horror and action genres. Here we are though, and after the pot-hole in his development which was Big Cat Trail, it’s clear that Yotty has a great deal of affection for the field. That certainly helps, though it’s fair to say this can only take a movie so far.

Events take place in 1873, and tell the story of two bounty-hunters, Belle MacLure (Barnes) and William Cole (Yotty). They initially tussle gently over outlaws and the ensuing reward in the mining boom town of Black Rock. However, Cole’s actions in particular bring him the enmity of local cattle baron and all-around lowlife, Clayton (Marrs). He tries to hire MacLure to capture Cole and bring him back so an example can be made. However, she is actually after the bounty on the head of his newly-arrived hired gun, a man known only as the Easterner (Donovan). Cole also has an interest in the Easterner, though it’s considerably more personal and less financial. Naturally, a team-up is on the cards, though with the local sheriff entirely useless, they quickly discover they’re on their own.

The main positive here, is that the actors mostly seem well cast for their roles. Yotty has the look of a heroic bounty-hunter, more concerned about righting wrongs than collecting rewards. On the other end, Donovan is genuinely creepy, looking as much like a Victorian funeral director as a killer for hire, and draws the eye whenever he’s on screen. Barnes is a little less assured, and probably needs a harder edge to her character, given the era in which she was operating. Belle sometimes feels closer to a schoolma’am than a bounty-hunter. But you know me: I’m a sucker for an action heroine, so am prepared to cut her the necessary slack. [Five films in, it’s also kinda fun to realize I’m recognizing members of the Yotty Repertory Company!]

Filmed mostly at Gammons Gulch Movie Set in Benson, this does feel too clean-cut to be 19th-century Arizona. The saloon, for example, would likely receive an “A” grade from health inspectors, and everyone seems to be in possession of their own teeth. The main problem though, is action which is blandly uninteresting, and sometimes downright laughable. At one point, our pair of bounty-hunters stand still in the middle of the street and just blaze away at their target. This will feel familiar to any eight-year-old kids in the audience, as will the deaths: clap a hand to your chest, and fall slowly to the floor, without any blood in sight. There’s not much tension or excitement to be found here, yet it’s definitely not as aggressively incompetent as Big Cat Trail, and I’ve seen far worse Westerns.