Pandora Cinematheque: The Backwater Gospel


If you enjoy frontier-western style ambiance, gratuitous mob violence and old-timey religious revivalism, then this film is for you.

The Undertaker is coming to town, but whose corpse does he intend to claim? Yours? Mine? Or everyone’s.

(A warning – this little gem is extremely violent – which isn’t a bad thing)

A delightfully creepy offering from director Bo Mathorne, this film includes everything I adore about the ‘Old West’ – depravity, religious fervour and spiritual symbolism. It has a superb soundtrack, a succinct and disturbing plot-line and the gritty animation is spot-on.

backwatergospel_misc_27014_420x296pxThe plot is simple: a cadaverous populace, riddled by poverty and hard-living out in the unspecified desolation of turn-of-the-19th-century bush, ekes out a living beneath the shadow of a church ran by The Minister. He’s a preacher of the old revivalism styling; broad sweeping gestures, rising angry delivery and warnings of sin and damnation. His flavor of evangelism certainly has the townsfolk in his thrall – all that is except one.

The Cripple is the thorn in The Minister’s side. Jovial, musical, spiritually un-inclined, he plays out his cheerful coffin-melodies at the foot of the hill, challenging the mindless indoctrination and dogma perpetuated by The Minister. His signature song was written and performed by the Sons of Perdition, an excellent southern gothic band, as was the rest of the soundtrack.

“Some falsely say that whippoorwills are the harbingers of death.
It’s the Undertaker’s murder of crows that’ll seize your living breath.
You’ll see him riding into town all dressed up like a tomb.
When you see him that eve on the outbound street, you know some poor soul met their doom.”

bo_mathorne_tramp_003The Minister won’t tolerate this mockery for long, and with The Undertaker in town, he capitalizes on the fear of the townspeople by whipping them into a murderous fervor that results in the death of The Cripple, head crushed and arms spread out a la Christ on the Cross – until the violence of the mob backfires and the Minister becomes a victim to his own religious rantings.

As the mob erupts into furious murder, wiping themselves out to a man, The Undertaker watches impassively, not without amusement I might imagine, raising not a finger himself until the red mist has settled and he begins his grisly work – no matter what, the industry of death is always a booming business…
maxresdefaultThe film is perfect – timing and humor, animated expressions of the zombie-like populace, almost wooden in their complexion, the music echoing the depictions.

Some personal observations:

  • The use of crows that follow and represent The Undertaker – in spasms of vision we see his wings behind him, and yet he rides a creepy rickety bicycle from place to place.
  • I also adore the fight scene, the storm, the choice of farm equipment/weapons that cleave and hack at who would be otherwise friends, fear dividing them into enemies. Blood is black as tar and eyes are wide and frightened, staring up at the sky for deliverance from themselves…
  • The Minister and his Bible opened to reveal an embedded revolver – this really emphasizes his contradictions and hypocrisy, something The Cripple was eager to point out:

MINISTER: “Submit to the Lord!”

CRIPPLE: “Why don’t you try it?”

This short is a great source of inspiration for Western/Frontier style Steampunk characters, and with the Madison convention Teslacon – The Wild Wild West just around the corner, this is what you might have been looking for…

Find Sons Of Perdition on Spotify.


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