Most of the great horror directors of the ’70s and ’80s grew up watching as many Westerns as they did horror pictures, if not more. John Carpenter has been one of the most outspoken about how he had gotten into the film industry to make Westerns. But by the time he had gotten in, they weren’t being made anymore.
Westerns had coincidentally disappeared when horror boomed to mainstream popularity toward the end of the ‘70s. But for many filmmakers, it had proven to be in their blood. And so it’s no surprise that the hybrid genre of western horror was born.
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Surprisingly, western horror hasn’t proven to be one-note and has established itself as a sub-sub-genre that can be more diverse than one would typically think. It’s even continuing to this day. Below are seven such examples.
This sci-fi/horror/western hybrid from Full Moon Entertainment is surprisingly inventive. The picture is set on an alien planet that looks an awful lot like the old west, combining several tropes. It also boasts a script by comic book heavy hitter Peter David, so that’s a major plus.
Grim Prairie Tales
Starring such genre heavy hitters as James Earl Jones and Brad Dourif, this VHS-era anthology remains sadly obscure. Jones is an on-edge bounty hunter and Dourif, a meek attorney. They cross paths, become unlikely travel companions, and wind up swapping stories in order to scare the other. Far and away the best tale involves a very strange pregnancy.
Imagine if Tremors 4: The Legend Begins had a slightly larger budget and a lot more time and effort put into it and that’s basically what The Burrowers is. This is a unique, surprisingly violent and even more surprisingly sincere take on a low budget monster movie. It feels like so much more, even though it technically isn’t.
Eyes of Fire
This is kind of a unique movie because nothing about it should work. It’s clearly made on a minuscule budget. There’s a witch, there’s a cursed forest haunted by spirits, there’s so much going on. It shouldn’t really work. I’m still not totally sure it does, but it’s nonetheless a very interesting and entertaining film.
Ravenous adds a healthy dose of black comedy to this list. While I remember the film being heavily promoted in Fangoria back in the day, it bombed in theaters and still feels like its gaining its audience. It’s basically the story of the Donner party, told with a sinister sense of humor and an eccentric and inspired ensemble cast. Definitely worth checking out for those who still haven’t seen it.
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Bone Tomahawk raised the bar for western/horror mashups. It’s not just a great combination of the western and horror genres, but a great film in general. It starts out as more or less a straight western, introducing the horror elements a bit at a time until it just turns into full-blown Cannibal Holocaust in the second half.
John Carpenter’s Vampires
People tend not to think about it in these terms, but John Carpenter did get to direct his western, finally, with Vampires. The movie is not only a slick action/horror vehicle, it comments on all the overly masculine macho characters that were so central to the biggest westerns in that genre’s heyday.