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Ben Nagy reviews ‘Kill or Be Killed’: What’s offing these outlaws?

Texas filmmakers Duane Graves and Justin Meeks deserve about 12 bags of loot stolen from a train’s worth of credit in making their nasty Western outlaw flick Kill or Be Killed.

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? 3
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? 4
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? 5
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? 6
  • For all those people who get ticked off about how people with guns in the movies don’t aim for the head, the members of the Nixon/Barbee gang have no problem capping people. They totally would have survived the Old West Zombie Apocalypse on marksmanship alone.
Ben Nagy reviews 'Kill or Be Killed': What's offing these outlaws? 7
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)
  • Friend of the Last Drive-In Michael Berryman shows up in a scene as a sawbones who sticks his finger all the way through a bullet wound in Jack’s foot, then hears a bit too much and gets his world rocked.
  • Gang member Blockey (Greg Kelly) has a real problem with B.M.s. He (I think it was him) turns an outhouse into an abattoir and announces “When I return, my stench will rise in these fields.” As George Carlin said, there’s just no polite way to announce “a dump,” even though Blockey tried.
  • Meanwhile, Jack takes some punishment. He gets shot in the foot, loses a digit, gets gangrene, gets shot in the shoulder and survives a Colombian necktie before getting put out of his misery. He also is critical of the food available on the journey, complaining “Why can’t we ambush some Italian and get some of that damn tortellini, boss?”
  • Barbee takes over the gang, shoots a marionette in the head, masquerades as a bellhop, gets a girlfriend (“That Pearl might be a leg-spreading thief, but she sure as hell ain’t no murderer”) and can’t spell in his note taunting the sheriff. I guess there’s a reason he was an outlaw and not an author.

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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