The old West. Bounty hunter Caine (Dale Sheppard) is without a horse, the beast lying dead from unknown circumstances and covered in flies in the film's opening shot. And so, Caine leads his latest quarry over a barren landscape on foot, hoping to bring his prize in alive in return for a handsome reward. Unfortunately his newly-captured prisoner has other ideas and a fight breaks out, resulting in the bearded fugitive slashing his own throat. Infuriated, Caine nevertheless resolves to drag his lifeless bounty for the remainder of the journey and hope for the best.
Alas, the sun beats down brutally and Caine eventually collapses in the heat. All seems lost momentarily, until a silhouetted figure appears above him. Caine passes out; when he next awakes, he's back on his feet and considerably nearer his home town where his loving wife Christina (Maryam Forouhandeh) eagerly awaits his return.
But first, Caine must deliver his cadaver package to employer Loomweather (Gary Shail), who is equally intrigued to know who helped him complete his journey sans horse. Offering payment and the promise of a new horse, Loomweather then swiftly introduces Caine to business acquaintance McGonagal (Richard Rowbotham) - who requires the benefit of his services. Loomweather elaborates, describing this new job as "colossal", possibly promising Caine the prospect of early retirement. He tells of a crew who robbed a large sum of cash from the nearby town of Casket, taking out the sheriff and his men in the process. A poster image of the gang's leader was left behind with a taunting message scrawled across it in blood: "Fool's Rock, Waiting".
McGonagal is willing to pay generously for the man on the poster - a notorious outlaw who assumes various identities - and the stolen money to be brought back to Casket.
Naturally, the rugged self-professed "gun for hire" Caine accepts the job - much to the pretty, pregnant Christina's chagrin. But, as Caine points out, the successful completion of this latest mission could change their lives for the better.
Without further ado, Caine and McGonagal embark on their odyssey over the mountains on horseback. Over a fire-lit night stop, McGonagal regales Caine further with stories of the Stranger (Gary Baxter) he's been pursuing for twenty years.
The following morning, the pair reaches their destination and - sure enough - the Stranger is waiting for them. And this ... this is where DAY OF THE STRANGER begins to take on another form. What started as an enjoyable but rather conventional tale suddenly mutates into a trippy "acid Western", the finer points of which I'm not going to spoil here.
Needless to say, the Stranger is an enigmatic character with seemingly mystical qualities. Is he a magician? "The vast majority of people's lives ain't nothin' but an illusion" he reasons when Caine questions how he was able to make apples fall from a tree by merely pointing at them.
Who is this shadowy, apple-chomping figure, and what will be the consequences of Caine's confrontation with him?
The final third of the film elevates into a state of hallucinatory, surreal madness which all leads to a destiny-changing showdown of epic consequences.
DAY OF THE STRANGER, a film years in the making, is (very) loosely based on Mark Twain's "The Mysterious Stranger". Writer-producer-editor-director Tom Lee Rutter describes his magnum opus as "EL TOPO on a tuppence", filmed on location in the Welsh countryside and the West Midlands in England. Although the low budget is apparent, cult filmmaker Rutter is underselling his hugely enjoyable, ambitious film.
Though short at just 77 minutes and 44 seconds in length, STRANGER relays a compelling tale of one man's journey into the heart of darkness where there's no guarantee of return but every possibility of self-discovery.
There are many aspects to enjoy in this extremely well-considered labour of love. The cinematography is great, making exemplary use of scenic locations such as waterfalls and nature's finest long-shot views. The score, by Craigus Barry and The Stained Glass Whispers, is a pitch-perfect marriage of guitar-led Western motifs and subtle horror-style synth ambience. Rachael Painter's practical effects score points in the splashiest way - highlights including one unfortunate getting shot in the groin, and a gory headshot which is edited to perfection.
Performances are enthusiastic, the British cast having great fun with their fake American accents. Everyone speaks with a dry throaty drawl and it quickly becomes a hugely entertaining quirk of proceedings.
Throw in fake distress added to the digital film (cropped to 2.35:1 for cinematic effect) which for once looks really genuine, a sharp script which frequently contains acerbic yet amusing dialogue, and a violent cameo from fellow filmmaker Bazz Hancher; you have a film ripe for developing a cult following.
Worldwide distribution rights to DAY OF THE STRANGER have been picked up by Darkside Releasing who will be releasing it onto blu-ray later in 2020. Its world premiere was staged at Essex's Horror on Sea Film Fest in January. The filmmakers are presently planning further festival screenings; if you see featured on the bill of a festival you're attending any time soon, I recommend you pop along for a jolly good time.
DAY OF THE STRANGER is a daring project from a filmmaker with few resources but a whole shitload of ambition and creativity. I mean, who's daring to make an acid Western these days?! Rutter has laboured over this film and the end result most certainly justifies the time and effort put in. It's a really fun film, and should be commended for taking the risks that it does.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Tom Lee Rutter|