Weird Westerns

Weird Westerns are Western films that include fantasy, science fiction, or horror elements. Here is a helpful taxonomy of Weird Westerns to help you distinguish between haunted mine movies, supernatural revenger films, and stories of frontier cannibals.

See films by rating.


1930s

HAUNTED GOLD (1932)
A John Wayne western from before he was a star, in which he and a wonder horse must battle desperadoes at a haunted mine.

THE RAWHIDE TERROR (1934)
A Poverty Row Western about a weird, revenging figure with a rawhide strap across his face, made by filmmakers who seemed to understand the pleasures of pulp fiction without having any idea how to put it on the screen.

PHANTOM EMPIRE (1935)
Gene Autry discovers a futuristic city underneath his ranch in this enjoyably delirious serial Western.

THE VANISHING RIDERS (1935)
An unusually charming Poverty Row Western with a starling, unique supernatural image: skeletal riders paroling the prairie on skeletal horses.

GHOST PATROL (1936)
A low-budget Western about a device that allows desperadoes to knock airplanes out of the air, but the most fantastical element of the film is star Tim McCoy's enormous hat.

BORDER PHANTOM (1937)
Bob Steele plays a sassy cowboy in this novel film about a murdered entomologist and a Chinese picture bride smuggling ring.

RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING SKULL (1937)
A serial Western about Three Mesquiteers who head off into the desert to find hidden gold protected by a whistling, skull-shaped rock formation and a frankly racist representation of a Native American cult.



1940s

HAUNTED RANCH (1943)
The Three Mesquiteers turned into the Range Busters in a series of films mostly identifiable by their accidental weirdness. In this case, the heroes investigate a haunted ranch house.

GHOST OF HIDDEN VALLEY (1946)
Buster Crabbe plays a dour cowboy helping out an unconvincing Englishman who has inherited a ranch that rustlers claim is haunted.



1950s


BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN (1956)
A rancher learns the hard way that you shouldn't build a ranch by a swamp and a haunted mountain when a T. Rex emerges 10 minutes before the end of the movie.

THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST (1958)
A Western remake of the popular noir film "Kiss of Death," but vicious enough that it was rebranded and released as a horror film.

CURSE OF THE UNDEAD (1959)
An entertaining and well-crafted movie about a vampire gunslinger, and the only Weird Western in which almost everybody seems more interested in the Western storyline than the horror/fantasy storyline, including the vampire.



1960s

LA NAVE DE LOS MONSTRUOS (THE SHIP OF MONSTERS) (1960)
A 1960 Mexican film in which two beauty queen space aliens with a ship full of hideous aliens crash in Mexico and fall in love with a singing cowboy. A weird, weird film that also happens to be incredibly charming.

7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964)
Tony Randall stars in yellowface as an ancient Chinese man who brings a very weird circus to a Western town.

BILLY THE KID VS DRACULA (1966)
The first of two Weird Westerns made back-to-back by William Beaudine in which Western outlaws battle monsters. John Carradine starred as Dracula, and regretted it.

JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (1966)
The second William Beaudine Weird Western, this time featuring a body builder in Western garb converted into a mindless monster by Frankenstein's granddaughter, rather than daughter.

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969)
It's cowboys vs. dinosaurs in a film in which the background characters are often more heroic than the stars.



1970s

BLACK NOON (1971)
A television movie in which a preacher comes into a Western town filled with pagans, mostly interesting because it somehow managed to tell the story of the classic folk horror film "The Wicker Man" two years before "The Wicker Man" was released.

HIS NAME WAS HOLY GHOST (1972)
A knockabout Spaghetti western in which a stranger with a machine gun and vaguely supernatural abilities settles a political feud in a Mexican village.

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973)
Clint Eastwood's tale of supernatural revenge in the Old West is probably the most successful Weird Western even made, in part because critics refuse to admit it is a Weird Western.

WESTWORLD (1973)
Michael Crichton's amoral fable about a Western-themed amusement park populated with gun-slinging robots, which managed to inspire both Crichton's later "Jurrasic Park" and James Cameron's "The Terminator."

THE HANGED MAN (1974)
A television movie about a hanged gunfighter who returns to life to exact Biblical revenge.

WHITE BUFFALO (1977)
Charles Bronson stars as Wild Bill Hickok, accidentally teaming with Indian leader Crazy Horse in a hunt for a mythical bison in a film that (perhaps accidentally) has a lot to say about colonialism.



1980s

PALE RIDER (1985)
Clint Eastwood's second film about a ghostly revenger, benefiting from Eastwood's increased maturity as a filmmaker and from a script that cribs heavily from the cowboy classic "Shane." 

ALIEN OUTLAW (1985)
A low-budget North Carolina film about space aliens stealing guns from a trick shooter to hunt humans, featuring the unexpected appearance of actual Western stars Lash LaRue and Sunset Carson.

HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY (1987)
An in-name-only sequel to a likeable haunted house movie from the previous year, this time telling the story of a young man, his mummy-like cowboy ancestor, and a magic skull.

SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT (1989)
An enjoyably New Wave Weird Western, featuring a Western town full of vampires trying to survive on artificial blood, and not doing a very good job of it.



1990s

GRIM PRAIRIE TALES (1990)
A middling Weird Western anthology that benefits greatly from its wraparound story, in which James Earl Jones and Brad Dourif, playing two craggy frontier types, tell each other stories.

BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III (1990)
The third part of Robert Zemeckis's trilogy about a time-traveling teenager, played by Michael J. Fox, here thrust into an enjoyably shallow version of the Old West.

PET SHOP (1994)
Aliens come to earth dressed as cowboys and open a pet store in a complicated scheme to kidnap children.

OBLIVION (1994)
A satiric mash-up between Westerns and science fiction films, this is directed and acted so broadly as to become genuinely bizarre. 

RAVENOUS (1999)
A genuinely superb Western horror story in which frontier cannibalism becomes a satiric metaphor for manifest destiny.

WILD WILD WEST (1999)
A failed attempt to revive the steampunk television series about a Secret Service agent on the American Frontier, starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline, who are still apologetic about the film.



2000s

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3: THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER (2000)
A chaotic but terrific-looking sequel to the Robert Rodríguez/Quentin Tarantino horror film about a vampire strip club; this film, for some reason, features author Ambrose Bierce as a character.

THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001)
A gorgeous black and white musical film that takes the idea of space as the final frontier very seriously.

BUBBA HO-TEP (2002)
A marvelously odd horror film in which an ancient Elvis finds himself battling a cowboy hat-wearing mummy in an East Texas retirement home. 

TREMORS 4: THE LEGEND BEGINS (2004)
The popular giant worm franchise relocates to the Old West with an admirably diverse cast, a healthy sense of humor, and a much lower budget.

THE BURROWERS (2008)
A posse goes after pioneers they believe have been kidnapped by Indians, and instead discover predatory monsters and a terrifying metaphor for genocide.

BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE (2009)
Director Ewe Boll follows up his critically pilloried Vampire movie "BloodRayne" with a critically ignored sequel, which, for some reason, has decided that Billy the Kid was actually Dracula.

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009)
George Romero's oddest zombie film, in which an island full of Irish cowboys and fisherman battle over what to do with the undead.



2010s

JONAH HEX (2010)
The original Weird Western cowboy, a horrifically scarred comic book bounty hunter, gets a big screen treatment and a terrific actor to play him in the person of the Josh Brolin. It's too bad nothing else in the film does the character justice.

COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011)
A failed blockbuster about alien strip miners and the coalition of Western types that battle them, benefiting enormously from a big budget and an enviable cast.

GALLOWWALKERS (2012)
A notoriously troubled Wesley Snipes Western about a gunfighter who returns from the dead, along with everyone he killed. The story is hard to follow but the art direction is, at times, almost hallucinogenic.

THE LONE RANGER (2013)
Johnny Depp plays a highly questionable Tonto in Gore Verbinski's huge-budget adaption of the once-popular radio serial character.

DEAD IN TOMBSTONE (2013)
Danny Trejo stars as a bandit who makes a deal with the devil to return to earth in order to kill the men who murdered him.

BLOOD MOON (2014)
A cowboy film shot in Kent, England, with a cast of UK actors shooting it out with each other and with a werewolf.

BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)
A superb story of a kidnapping, a search party, and subhuman cannibals that nonetheless has troubling subtext.

KILL OR BE KILLED (2015)
The story of a gang of Texas desperadoes stalked by some sort of murderous evil, but who mostly spend their time irritating each other.

THE DARK TOWER (2017)
The big-screen adaption of Stephen King's magnum opus about a Western gunslinger in a fantasy wasteland, made by an entire group of people who seem like they thought the film was a chore they did not want to do.

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017)
The sequel to the 2014 film about English spies relocates to America and to a group of cowboy-themed agents who manufacture bourbon on the side.

Popular Posts