Print (Aaron Stielstra) is a middle-aged hired gun with a penchant for the poetic assassination and a fierce loyalty to his long-time boss, Mr. Paul (Brett Halsey, as Montgomery Ford). His latest assignment, killing a brothel owner (Dan Van Husen) who mandates brutal abortions upon his ladies-of-hire, presents a couple major challenges - 1) He is asked by his boss to train a young understudy (Derek Hertig), and 2) He's also been instructed to make the kill a "quick and dirty" one, not exactly an easy task for a man prone to careful planning and a rather artistic approach to the art of assassination.
The Scarlet Worm
is a minor miracle of a film, an incredibly well crafted western created on what was likely the the toilet paper budget for Clint Eastwood's Forgiven
or any number of other recent westerns. Making an independent film is always a challenge, but making a convincing western on a low budget is an even bigger challenge.
With a western, aesthetics are crucial and every detail of production design matters. If you have millions of dollars, you can manage to build sets, acquire costumes and ensure that your design is period appropriate. However, if you're working with a modest budget, estimated at $25,000 here per IMDB, then every little detail can make or break the film.
While all may not be flawless with The Scarlet Worm,
it's pretty close to astounding just how much director Michael Fredianelli and his cast and crew have accomplished on their way to creating one of the better indie westerns of recent years.
The Scarlet Worm
is the kind of independent film that ruins it for other indies, because Fredianelli has proven just how much can be accomplished with hard work, a heck of a lot of talent, inspired creativity, a terrific script courtesy of David Lambert and a strong ensemble cast.
Let's talk about that cast.
Aaron Stielstra is spot-on perfect as Print, the experienced gunman who resembles a cross between Snidely Whiplash and Daniel Plainview. Stielstra nicely captures both the brutality and the artistic essence of his character, a sort of spiritual weaving together of both his external and internal influences. It's a magnificently layered performance made even better within the framework of David Lambert's layered, complex dialogue.
The Scarlet Worm
really blossoms due to the inclusion of a couple of genre vets, Brett Halsey and Dan Van Husen. Halsey, acting here under the name of Montgomery Ford, has been working in Hollywood since the early 1950's and his addition here as the wealthy ranch owner gives the film an extra dramatic heft that pays off big time over the course of the film. The same is true for the inclusion of Van Husen as Heinrich Kley, a seemingly meek man with an almost absurdly brutal way of treating his prostitutes.
D.P. Michael Martinez's camera work has the crystal clarity of HD video, but the production design is so spot on that the film never feels too glossy or shiny. Catherine Roscart earns the kudos for the production design, taking the film's California shooting locales (Some nature shots were done in Alaska) and turning them into a timeless yet period appropriate settings. Stielstra also contributes the film's excellent original music.
After a successful festival run in 2011, The Scarlet Worm
is getting a solid home video distribution courtesy of Unearthed Films and the fine folks at MVD Visuals. The DVD packaging is quite exceptional for an indie release including two audio commentaries, a behind-the-scenes package and a high-def widescreen transfer. The quality of the DVD is top notch.
Fans of westerns and, most certainly, fans of quality indie cinema will want to look at adding The Scarlet Worm
to your collection. For more information, visit the Unearthed Films website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic