The Western is one well-worn genre and a couple of Texas filmmakers were able to put their own nifty (and nasty) twist on it

It’s pretty hard to bring something new to a movie genre that has been done pretty much since the beginning of motion pictures in general, and even harder to do it if you’re on a limited budget.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Kill or Be Killed': What's offing these outlaws?
Justin Meeks co-wrote, co-directed and starred as Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbee in Kill or Be Killed. (Screen capture from DVD by reviewer Ben Nagy)

So I have to give about 12 bags of loot stolen from a train’s worth of credit to Texas filmmakers Duane Graves and Justin Meeks for their cajones in making the Western outlaw flick Kill or Be Killed.

What you have here are some supernatural elements and an Agatha Christie pick-em-off vibe mixed with a little Leone and a mite of Morricone. No white hats vs. black hats here.

We start out with this gang, led by a guy named Tom Nixon, that robbed a train in Texas of some gold, but Jack (Paul M. Boyington), the guy who was in charge of getting away with the money, felt the heat and stashed it in Galveston. Jack’s instincts were right. He got arrested and thrown on a chain gang in Pecos in far western Texas.

The gang finds Jack and busts him loose and that’s where we’re at as the flick opens, but now the Nixon Gang has to ride 600-some miles back east to the state’s coast to get their plunder and retire comfortably. But funds and supplies are low for the gang’s members, and they have to rob and shoot their way back across the state to find where they stashed the gold according to Jack’s map.

Both outlaw and civilian blood get shed in the church robbery that follows in Junction, Texas, and the gang seeks medical help at the house of a guy named Rudy (Pepe Serna), who makes really crappy soup, likes to scissor off people’s fingers and bashes his wife’s head in on the kitchen table before throwing her dead body in the basement with the kids he keeps in there.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Kill or Be Killed': What's offing these outlaws?
Rudy (Pepe Serna) has a calm, rational conversation with his wife about his culinary skills in Kill or Be Killed. This is a key scene, folks, so pay attention. (Screen capture from DVD by reviewer Ben Nagy)

The gang partakes in said crappy soup and escapes Rudy (but not before Jack loses his finger), but every night the outlaws camp out, they hear a bell and then somebody ends up dead with a weird mark on their body. Gang leader Tom is first. It looks to be a heart attack. Then other deaths follow.

Whodunnit? Is it a Native American savage with wildfire coming from his eyes that new gang leader Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbe (Meeks) keeps seeing in his sleep? Is it this bearded bounty hunter guy who’s trailing them and is keen on collecting the reward? Is it the pissed-off preacher seeking righteous vengeance after his fellow pastors got killed in a church robbery? Is it a demon or animal of some kind? Why can’t any of these outlaws manage to pull an all-nighter to stop it?

A few things end up sadly being underdeveloped and would have made for a richer film, but this isn’t a detraction, just the reality of working with a limited budget. It would have been interesting to see what Meeks and Graves could have done with more resources for more of a final showdown as the posse closed in and the gang got smaller.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Kill or Be Killed': What's offing these outlaws?
This p.o.ed preacher has a score to settle with the Nixon Gang after his church gets robbed and his fellow preachers get killed, but he never really gets the chance to duke it out with them. (Screen capture from DVD by reviewer Ben Nagy)

The out-for-vengeance preacher who was toting a gun after his church got robbed looked like he was going to be a player later, but he never showed up again, either. Those flaws aside, the flick has an ultra-mean ending more than a little reminiscent of the conclusion of the original Mad Max and enough gruesomeness to offset some of the too-neat dispatches via a gunshot to the forehead. It features the three B’s (though you have to wait a while for the single garbonza to be revealed). And speaking of three B’s…

Ben Nagy reviews 'Kill or Be Killed': What's offing these outlaws?
Ben Nagy reviews 'Kill or Be Killed': What's offing these outlaws?
Friend of the Last Drive-In Michael Berryman prepares to amputate the infected foot of outlaw Jack, but doesn’t get to finish the job after hearing too much of the gang’s plan. (Screen capture from DVD by reviewer Ben Nagy)

Kill or Be Killed also was known as Red on Yella, Kill a Fella, for a period, but no matter the title, we have another four-star flick here.

Just remember, it’s not to be confused with the 1976 martial arts flick or the comic book series of the same name.

Check it out streaming on TubiTV or snag it on DVD. Visit the official website here.

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Ben Nagy

Ben Nagy has written and edited stuff for newspapers, magazines and websites and randomly showed up on the doorstep of Joe Bob’s booth one day after a commute from Cleveburg. After watching Joe Bob present “Motel Hell” on “Monstervision” in college in 1996, Ben knew he’d make it through. You can follow him on Twitter @BJ_Nagy, and he’s at most of the usual Joe Bob-related social media haunts if you want to say hi.