Weird Westerns


Weird Westerns are Western films that include fantasy, science fiction, or horror elements.


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.

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

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.

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.



1960s

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.

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."



1980s

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.

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.

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 RodrĂ­guez/Quentin Tarantino horror film about a vampire strip club; this film, for some reason, features author Ambrose Bierce as a character.

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.

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.

GALLOWSWALKERS (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.

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.

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