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Bone Tomahawk is a 2015 horror western movie, written and directed by S. Craig Zahler. It stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins.

The plot concerns four men who venture on a rescue mission into Injun Country, facing a tribe of primordial, cannibalistic cave-dwellers.


The film uses the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The titular weapon itself. Despite being more like a club, it's still sharp enough to decapitate people with one effortless swipe.
  • Agony of the Feet: Hunt slices off the foot of the caveman leader with his bone tomahawk, before doing the same to his head.
  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: The cavemen in the film are superhumanly strong, ugly, and stupid.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The cavemen are completely mindless rabid animals who have no human form of communication, are so inbred they're basically Humanoid Abominations, and are strictly cannibalistic.
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  • An Axe to Grind: The bone tomahawk, of course.
  • Anyone Can Die: Sheriff Hunt, Brooder, and Nick are all killed.
  • And I Must Scream: The pregnant females in the cave. They are blinded and all their limbs are amputated.
  • As You Know: Arthur O'Dwyer's wife tells him how she's not going to go over again how he broke his leg by slipping off of the roof while trying to mend it. Arthur counters that she just did.
  • Asshole Victim: Purvis and Buddy. It's hard to feel sorry for them when they make a living killing travelers in their sleep. Nick even mentions that Purvis was such a bastard he completely deserved his awful fate.
  • Bad with the Bone: The cannibals use bone weapons, which includes the titular tomahawk.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: John Brooder wears a nice, white, urban suit in contrast to the darker and more rural fashions of Bright Hope.
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  • Badass Mustache: Brooder has a fairly standard mustache, but Sheriff Hunt sports an enormous walrus mustache over a beard.
  • Bald of Evil: Buddy is a ruthless bandit without a hair on his head.
  • Bandito: The rescue party's horses are stolen by an all-Mexican gang of bandits.
  • Berserk Button: Arthur O'Dwyer doesn't tolerate anyone making flirtatious remarks regarding his wife. Especially when it's John Brooder. Justified since she's just been kidnapped by cannibals and Brooder is being particular insensitive, not to mention O'Dwyer is extra-stressed from his injured leg and fully aware he is a burden to the group.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Arthur, Samantha, and Chicory escape from the cavemen, and the remaining troglodytes were most likely killed and thus neutralizing the threat they posed to Bright Hope, but Hunt probably died with them, leaving his wife a widow.
  • Body Horror:
    • The female troglodytes are mutilated.
    • The cavemen themselves are examples of this as well, as they have a tradition of drilling animal bones into their bodies as clothes.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Sheriff Hunt is last seen dying of a gunshot wound to the stomach, preparing to make a Last Stand. In the last scene of the movie, Chicory and the O'Dwyers hear three gunshots, and assume that Hunt got the last of the cavemen. It can be inferred that Hunt finally died after doing so, it just happens offscreen.
  • Breeding Slave / Baby Factory: The cavewomen are literally nothing but baby factories, because all of their limbs are cut off and their eyes are cut out.
  • Briar Patching: Sheriff Hunt and Chicory pretend to try to chug down whiskey before the troglodytes can get it, but in reality, they want their captors to take it and get poisoned.
  • The Cameo:
    • That's Sean Young as the wife of the mayor.
    • B-movie stalwart Sid Haig as the older bandit.
    • Noted character actor James Tolkan as the drunken pianist.
    • Zahn McClarnon as the Professor.
  • Cannibal Tribe: The troglodytes. And seeing how they're all blackout inbred, they also qualify as a Cannibal Clan.
  • Catchphrase: Chicory says, "It is the official opinion of the Backup Deputy Sheriff..."
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Justified as Arthur O'Dwyer is presumably of Irish ancestry.
  • Contemporary Caveman: The troglodytes are heavily implied to be a species of early hominids that somehow managed to survive into the 19th century.
  • Cool Gun: Aside from the standard Western arsenal of Peacemakers, Schofields, and Winchesters, there's O'Dwyer with his fancy nickel-finish Merwin-Hulbert revolver, including the first-ever onscreen depiction of this pistol's unusual reload.
  • Cool Old Guy: While Sheriff Franklin is not exactly in his prime, the title goes to Chicory: apparently in his late sixties, or even early seventies, but can still keep the pace and provide help. He even survives in relatively good shape.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Poor Nick. First he gets his scalp removed which is forced down his throat with a hammer and chisel. He is then held upside-down and takes several hatchet blows to his groin which makes it easier for two of the tribesmen to split him in half by pulling on his legs. It's all but stated that Purvis was killed the exact same way offscreen.
  • Dead Star Walking: David Arquette.
  • Death by Pragmatism: Buddy and Purvis hear horsemen en route to where they just robbed and killed three men, and decide to hide out in a nearby canyon. A sensible decision, but unfortunately for them, their hiding place is inhabited by violent, inhuman cannibals who don't like trespassers.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Brooder proudly, and openly, brags to the others in the posse that he's "killed more Indians than anyone else here put together."
  • The Determinator: Arthur O'Dwyer, who insists on participating in the rescue party in spite of a broken and eventually gangrenous leg.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: We don't actually see the troglodytes until two thirds of the way into the film's runtime. Fortunately, the characters we follow up until then are well written, well acted, and interesting.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Done in subtly disturbing fashion with the way the troglodytes feed. Whenever the cannibals eat someone, they react in a manner that's as casual as...well, a normal human would be with a regular meal. The chief troglodyte looks almost bored while he's absent-mindedly chewing on Nick's severed leg like it's a turkey sandwich.
  • Distressed Damsel: While two men were also captured, the focus of the film is on Mrs. O'Dwyer.
  • Doomed Hurt Guy: Subverted. Arthur O'Dwyer is one of three survivors at the end.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Purvis comes across as less intelligent than his partner Buddy, yet he keeps pointing out that things are not right in the valley they're hiding out in.
  • Establishing Movie Moment: The first shot of the movie is a prolonged, grisly throat-slitting.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Brooder, the Token Evil Teammate, tears up when he has to put his loyal horse out of its misery.
  • Evil Weapon: The bone tomahawk is one gnarly-looking and brutal weapon.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Sheriff Hunt, Brooder, and Nick all come to terms with their impending deaths rather quickly.
  • Fingore: When Hunt tries to break out of his cell to save Nick, a cannibal casually slashes at his hand to make him stop.
  • Flaying Alive: The cavemen scalp poor Nick.
  • For the Evulz: The cavemen's brutality has nothing to do with tradition. They are pure evil, plain and simple.
  • Foreshadowing: The Professor wasn't lying when he said the troglodytes would "rape and eat their own mothers."
  • Frazetta Man: The troglodytes are Ambiguously Human, have no spoken language or identifiable culture or society, and are explicitly described as being distinct from American Indians.
  • Freudian Excuse: Brooder's parents were murdered by Natives when he was ten, and this led him to become the racist, cynical jerkass Indian hunter that he is.
  • From Bad to Worse: The rescue party was already on a suicide trip, but getting their horses stolen was the final nail in the coffin.
  • Genre Mashup: A horror movie with a Western skin.
  • The Ghost: Bright Hope's drunken doc, who could not see patients and therefore forced Mrs. O'Dwyer into the mix.
  • Gorn: Hoo boy, this one really puts the "horror" in horror/western. Don't watch this one while eating heavily. Gentlemen, don't watch this one at all.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: However, most of the violence is either off-screen or downplayed heavily, except near the end.
  • The Gunslinger: Brooder is the quickest draw of the rescue party.
  • Groin Attack: The cavemen tear open Nick's junk and try to shoot Hunt in the dick with a repeater. Thankfully, they don't understand cocking.
  • Handicapped Badass:
    • Arthur O'Dwyer insists on coming along despite his broken leg. He is largely a burden to the group but is actually the most effective of them in the end, managing to kill 4 of the cavemen entirely by himself.
    • Sheriff Hunt kills the final three cavemen offscreen, as we hear three gunshots at the very end, despite bleeding out and dying.
  • Happily Married: The O'Dwyers, despite snarking at each other, are quite clearly in a loving and happy marriage.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The only form of communication the cavemen have are an absolutely inhuman roaring sound that can echo for miles. It turns out they make this by forcing an animal's trachea into their throat. It becomes a plot point when several characters are alerted to their presence by this call, and when Arthur rips out one of the trachea to use as a whistle lure.
  • Heroic BSoD: While Mrs. O'Dwyer and Chicory are screaming and bawling as Nick's brutal death unfolds before their eyes, all Sheriff Hunt can do is stare with a speechless but fuming expression.
  • Hidden Depths: In spite of being a rather scatterbrained and socially ignorant old man, Chicory turns out to be a former soldier with quite a bit of medical knowledge.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: The cavemen are a Western twist on the traditional heavily inbred Cannibal Clan.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • The only reason Arthur is able to slaughter the cavemen is because he lures them out of hiding with a throat whistle he cut out of one of their corpses.
    • Hunt also uses a bone tomahawk to kill the caveman leader.
  • Hospital Hottie: The lovely Mrs. O'Dwyer is the town nurse and back-up doctor.
  • Human Subspecies: The cavemen are inbred to such an extent that they qualify as a separate species, if they were ever human in the first place.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The troglodytes live in a place that the Natives call "the Valley of the Starving Men", which is an appropriately scary name for the abode of a monstrous Cannibal Clan.
  • Impossibly Cool Weapon: Aside from having a badass name, the bone tomahawk is both an extremely effective club, and an extremely effective hatchet all in one.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: Buddy is shot in the throat with an arrow.
  • Inbred and Evil: The cavemen are as evil and as inbred as you can get.
  • Indian Burial Ground: The film's plot is kicked off when two bandits, Buddy and Purvis, stumble across the troglodytes' burial site and accidentally desecrate while trying to cross it. Buddy is killed immediately while Purvis manages to escape, leading the troglodytes to Bright Hope.
  • Injun Country: Caveman and Mexican country, it turns out.
  • It Can Think: The cavemen are such savages they aren't even regarded as human, but the leader actually does learn very quickly how to use a gun in the climax, unfortunately for Sheriff Hunt.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: Both subverted and played straight. O'Dwyer insist on marching with his pards even though he is crippled, while Brooder stays behind with his repeater after he is wounded.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Brooder is explicitly treated as the bad guy when he guns down the two travelers in cold-blood, but even Hunt agrees that they must pack up on the off-chance they were bandit scouts. Then it turns out they were all along.
  • Killed Offscreen: Purvis is killed by the cavemen long before the posse arrive.
  • Last Stand: Brooder and Sheriff Hunt each stage one.
  • Let Them Die Happy: When Deputy Nick is brutally executed by the troglodytes, Sheriff Hunt tells him that cavalry troops are on their way to wipe out the entire tribe. He is lying, but as he later confesses to Chicory, he wanted Nick to die believing that his death will be avenged.
  • Love Triangle: Brooder is still in love with Mrs. O'Dwyer. He proposed to her before she married Mr. O'Dwyer.
  • Made of Iron: As part of their mutations, the cavemen can tank through almost any attack unless it's directly to the skull. One even survives getting shot square in the throat.
  • Man Behind the Man: It's implied that the mayor's wife is the one who is actually running the town.
  • Mauve Shirt: Nick receives some basic characterization in the beginning of the film, but doesn't really have an impact on the plot other than being one of the kidnapping victims. He ends up providing the film's most memorable and gruesome death scene.
  • Meaningful Name: Brooder is certainly one to brood.
  • Monster Misogyny: All cavewomen are blinded and quadruple-amputated, seen as nothing but Breeding Slaves by their inbred sons.
  • Mutual Kill: Brooder is killed by a troglodyte's tomahawk, but manages to shoot his attacker in return before dying.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: The antagonists are 1, cavemen, 2, Indians, 3, cannibal natives, 4, mutants, and 5, zombies (See Our Zombies Are Different).
  • Noble Bigot: Brooder might be a racist Jerkass, but he's A Lighter Shade of Black when pit up against the villains of the movie.
  • Off with His Head!: Hunt decapitates the caveman leader with his own bone tomahawk.
  • One Last Smoke: Brooder lights a cigar before making his Last Stand.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: While the most grievous injuries receive appropriate attention, many other injuries seem to cause almost no damage. Brooder is stuck in the shoulder with a knife and seems to instantly forget about it. Chicory is also shot with an arrow through the wrist, pinning it to his thigh, which receives no attention thereafter.
  • Politically Correct History: The film strikes a balance between this and Deliberate Values Dissonance, acknowledging the antiquated values while still presenting a remarkably progressive Old West:
    • The town's resident Native American is called "the Professor." He's well-dressed, fluent in English, articulate and seems to command some respect in the community. Even still, he must contend with Brooder being a renowned killer of Indians.
    • It's implied that the Mayor's wife is the real authority in the town, but she must act through her husband, who has the official position. Hunt addresses her when he needs something done, but she insists that he make his request to the Mayor.
    • Mrs. O'Dwyer is allowed to see patients in lieu of the resident male doctor, though she must still be escorted through the street when her husband is not available.
    • The two black residents of Bright Hope have lowly positions, but no one displays any racism toward them. When the stable boy is killed, one of the white residents laments his brutal death (although his employer seems more concerned about the missing horses).
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: As if being cannibals wasn't enough reason for us to enjoy them being slaughtered, the cavemen propagate their tribe by keeping their women as baby factories with their limbs cut off and their eyes cut out so they can't escape or fight back.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: Most of the film has no music, except for a few scenes.
  • Reconstruction: An interesting one for The Savage Indian, by setting them as clearly distinct from the actual, nauseated Native Americans, making them literally a different species and giving them traits from the Hillbilly Horrors.
  • Red Herring: The dynamite is a fake Chekhov's Gun. They bring it. Brooder is left behind to use it in a last stand. Yet it was never used.
  • Red Right Hand: The cavemen's horrific mutations stemmed from generations of inbreeding.
  • R-Rated Opening: Despite a gory discretion shot, there are gruesome deaths within the first five minutes, making it clear this is not your typical Western.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Brooder is the first of the posse to be killed.
  • Sadist: The cavemen aren't just dumb animals, they're straight up sadistic psychopaths. They are as needlessly brutal and torturous as possible.
  • Sanity Slippage: Heavily implied to have happened to Purvis, who is visibly nervous and irritable when he arrives in Bright Hope and thus rouses the suspicion of Hunt and Chicory.
  • The Savage Indian: A twist on the standard trope. The tribe is actually a family of in-bred cavemen. A Native American man explicitly states that Native Americans do not consider them kin, instead calling them "troglodytes." Southwestern (Paiute) Native American legends tell of giant, ogre-like cannibal humanoids who lived in caves.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Chicory is a lovable ol' coot.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Near the end, when things are looking hopeless, Hunt, Chicory, and Samantha discuss a flea circus that came to Bright Hope, and whether or not they used real fleas.
  • Skewed Priorities: Wallington is more concerned about his stolen horses than the fact that three people were kidnapped and another was murdered.
  • Speech-Centric Work: The bulk of the film is dialogue between the characters.
  • The Speechless: The troglodytes seem to be incapable of human speech, but can communicate over long distances with loud howls and shrieks. It is eventually revealed that they produce these inhuman sounds by embedding hollow pieces of bone in their throats.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Burrowers, as a horror/Western Genre Mashup dealing with the conflict between a search party posse and a group of non-human man-eating monsters.
  • Swiss Army Weapon: The bone tomahawk has a blunt end that makes it double as a club.
  • Tap on the Head: Chicory and Sheriff Hunt are both knocked unconscious for at least several minutes. They seem none the worse for wear.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Brooder is the most unlikable and ruthless member of the posse. He has a reputation as a merciless killer of Native Americans, including women and children. He also proves quick on the trigger when he suspects people to be threats, which might help the posse out when he kills a bunch of likely bandits.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The two bandits really should have known better than to step upon what is obviously an indigenous place of worship surrounded by all sorts of human and animal skulls left there as a clear warning to outsiders, especially after they've already heard the troglodytes' inhuman roars echoing across the valley. To his credit, Purvis tries to convince Buddy that it's probably not a good idea, and runs away immediately once his friend is shot in the throat with an arrow.
  • Splatter Horror: The film contains numerous extremely brutal and drawn-out scenes of violence, with Nick's scalping and bisection being the standout sequence.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Chicory and Sheriff Hunt have no idea what kind of mess they have gotten into by jailing Purvis.
  • Villain Opening Scene: We're introduced to the villains attacking Purvis and Buddy before we're introduced to the heroes.
  • The Western: It's got a sheriff, a posse, Mexican bandits, a (never seen) drunken doc, and savage Indian-like people.
  • The World's Expert on Getting Killed: Brooder, an accomplished Indian hunter, is the first of the group to die.
  • Weird West: Inbred cannibalistic cavemen aren't your usual Western villains.
  • Would Hit a Girl / Would Hurt a Child: Discussed. Brooder admits to killing Indian women as well as men, reasoning that women can also fight. He goes out of his way to mention that children can fight too... It shows how thoroughly Brooder hates them.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl / Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Chicory rather blithely comments on how he couldn't fathom harming a woman or a child immediately after Brooder admits that he has. Sheriff Hunt tells him to shut up.

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