Weird Western Films (Genre)

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Fields of the Nephilim: the 1980s Goth Rock act mixed Spaghetti Western and Apocalyptic imagery with obscure references to black magic, fallen angels, and the Cthulhu Mythos in their version of the Weird West....

Summary

Details


Film List

  • Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948 film) - In this classic adventure film, two rough-and-tumble, down-on-their-luck wanderers meet up with an eccentric veteran prospector in Mexico and head into the Sierra Madre mountains to find gold. Although they discover treasure, they also find danger, death, and madness...
  • Rawhide (1959 series) - A cast of cowhands, including a young Clint Eastwood, meet adventure and danger on their cattle drives; some episodes of the show could get dark, artistic, and even Gothic in tone, including ghost stories, stories about Bigfoot and other monsters, cursed herds of cattle glowing with St. Elmo's Fire during deadly storms, and more....
  • Bonanza (1959 series), episode "Dark Star (S1E31)" - "Little Joe comes upon a gypsy girl who, frightened, runs and falls, knocking herself unconscious; when she wakes, they discover that she believes she is bewitched, due to her birth under the titular "dark star", and so do her people, who have banished her. Little Joe, smitten, must rescue her from this belief, her people, and someone posing as a werewolf."
  • Curse of the Undead (1959 film) - A cow-town preacher shoots a custom bullet at a vampire gunfighter in the Old West.
  • A Fistful of Dollars (1964 film) - The Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood), a wandering gunfighter, plays two rival families against each other in a town torn apart by greed, pride, and revenge.
  • Wild Wild West (1965 series) - Steampunk/Western/Spy show in which two Secret Services agents, equipped with a wide array of gizmos, work for the government in the Old West.
  • For a Few Dollars More (1965 film) - The Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood) and a bounty hunter with the same intentions team up to track down a Western outlaw.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966 film) - A bounty hunting scam joins The Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood) and an outlaw in an uneasy alliance against a corrupt military officer in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.
  • Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966 film) - Exactly what it says on the tin: Bar-B ranch foreman Billy proposes to his blonde boss, unaware her top-hatted uncle (John Carradine) is a vampire. Made together with Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter....
  • Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966 film) - Exactly what it says on the tin: Maria Frankenstein puts a monster's brain in the body of Jesse James' sidekick.
  • Valley of the Gwanji (1969 film) - Everything goes wrong when a Wild West showman and his cowboy adventurers try to capture a stop-motion-animated dinosaur god near a Mexican town, and are placed under a Gypsy curse....
  • Mackenna's Gold: Canyon of Gold (1969 film) - Marshal Sam Mackenna and outlaw John Colorado battle to find a legendary lost city of gold in this spectacular Wild West adventure.
  • El Topo (1970 film) - A black-clad gunfighter embarks on a dream quest through an Old West Sodom and Gomorrah....
  • Red Sun (1971 film) - Bandits rob a train conveying a Japanese gift sword to President Grant, and one of the Samurai escort takes off in pursuit of the thieves.
  • Horror Express (1972 film) In 1906 China and Siberia, a British anthropologist who discovered a frozen prehistoric creature teams up with a physician, a mad monk, and a brutal Cossack officer to stop the monster after it escapes on their train, leaving a trail of death in its wake. (Not an obvious choice of "Western", as a British horror film set in China and Siberia, but it would be only a little less weird if it were reset in a more traditional Western setting....)
  • Kung Fu (1972 series) - A Shaolin monk/martial-artist flees China after his master is killed, and now wanders the American Old West, defending the helpless and beating down bad guys with his skills, all while trying to find his half-brother and evade Chinese bounty hunters.
  • High Plains Drifter (1973 film) - A mysterious gunfighter (Clint Eastwood) comes to the small settlement of Lago and is hired to bring the corrupt townsfolk together in an attempt to hold off three brutal outlaws who are on their way to take vengeance upon the town.
  • The Holy Mountain (1973 film) - In a corrupt, apocalyptic world, a powerful alchemist leads a Christ-like martyr and seven materialistic figures to the Holy Mountain, where they hope to achieve enlightenment from a group of immortal wise men....
  • Get Mean (1975 film) - While escorting a Spanish princess back to her homeland, a wisecracking gunfighter does battle with such foes as Vikings, Moors, barbarians, evil spirits, a raging bull, and a maniacal Shakespeare-quoting hunchback.
  • Mad Max (1979 franchise) - Against the backdrop of decaying law and order in a dystopian future, one of the last lawmen goes rogue when a brutal gang murders his family, leaving him with nothing but his instincts for survival and retribution.... The film series is essentially a cynical Western in the "Spaghetti Western" tradition, reset in a post-apocalyptic future with an emphasis on souped-up cars over the traditional horses and guns....
  • "Preacher Man (1987 short)" - cinematic Music Video for Fields of the Nephilim's "Preacher Man": a post-apocalyptic/occult western involving the showdown between a sheriff and a cult of mutants led by a sinister preacher.... (link)
  • High Desert Kill (1989 film) - Three friends take a hunting trip in the eerie landscape of the New Mexico desert mountains, where they meet a mountaineer who has lost his horses, and a couple of strangely-acting "hippie girls" who soon disappear, leading to a series of increasingly strange events suggesting the influence of something unearthly among them....
  • Grim Prairie Tales (1990 film) - Anthology. An Old West bounty hunter and clerk try to top each other's ghost stories around a campfire.
  • Tremors (1990 franchise) Bored ranch-hands, a concerned seismologist, and an eccentric survivalist couple in the small desert town of Perfection, Nevada happen upon a series of mysterious deaths, and soon find themselves fighting for survival against giant, worm-like monsters hungry for human flesh.
  • Ghost Brigade (1993 film) - A Union patrol is sent out to investigate a series of massacres that seem to have been carried out by a Confederate unit that was destroyed with no survivors.
  • Trigun (1998 series) - an ambitious (as it evolved) sci-fi/western Anime about the most infamous outlaw on the planet Gunsmoke, with a 60 billion double-dollar price on his head, a trail of destruction in his wake, and dark secrets in his mysterious and forgotten past....
  • Ravenous (1999 film) In a remote military outpost in the 19th Century, a U.S. cavalry regiment embark on a rescue mission which takes a dark turn when they are ambushed by a sadistic cannibal.
  • Shanghai Noon (2000 film) - Comedy in which Bumbling Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) works as an Imperial guard in the Forbidden City of China until Princess Pei Pei is taken hostage, and Wang pursues her captors to the wild frontier land of Nevada, where he meets a good-natured thief and occasional cowboy, who Wang convinces him to help recover the princess, and together the two form a curious partnership -- the likes of which the West has never seen. (Appears to have been loosely based on Red Sun (1971 film)....)
  • Dead Birds (2004 film) A group of Confederate soldiers hole up in an abandoned plantation after robbing a bank, and find themselves at the mercy of supernatural forces.
  • The Village (2004 film) Members of a remote pioneer community are threatened by the strange creatures that inhabit the surrounding forest under an uneasy truce when one villager enters the forest and breaks the pact.
  • The Burrowers (2008 film) In the American western Dakota Territories, a rescue party sets out to find a family of settlers that has vanished from their home under mysterious circumstances.
  • Bone Tomahawk (2015 film) - Four men set out in the Wild West to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers.

"Lovecraftian" Analysis

The Western genre was one of America's most distinctive literary inventions and one of the first and most successful incarnations of what would become known as "pulp" fiction, often blurring the lines between tales of epic conflicts between good and evil boiled down to a gunfight in the center of town, often mixed with ghost stories and other strange adventures into the unknown. The Western story cast a long shadow over pulp fiction, with a significant part of even pulp science fiction being infamous for taking the form of recycled western stories with ray-guns, rocket ships, and ferocious aliens taking the place of six-guns, horses, and "savage Indians".

Ambrose Bierce and Robert E. Howard (dubbed "Six-Gun Bob" by his friend, H.P. Lovecraft) would perhaps be some obvious places to look for a modern mix of Western and Mythos fiction, and Lovecraft's own "Beast in the Cave (fiction)" and other stories certainly fall under the description, but strange tales of strange creatures, lost civilizations, weird peoples with weirder legends, magic and sorcery, UFOs, bizarre and terrifying spirits, and other standard tropes of modern weird fiction centering around the unexplored regions of the New World are perhaps older than Columbus' voyages, with the imaginations of sailors and other explorers even into ancient times no doubt fired by the excitement and terror of the unknown regions before them.

The Weird Western can be a versatile vehicle for telling weird fiction stories in a variety of settings beyond the American West: elements of this distinctively American genre has been borrowed by other cultures and adapted into other forms as varied as:

  • the "Easterns" set in Eastern Europe and Asia and elsewhere, where the cowboy's figurative "white hat" might be worn by brave communist workers or honorable samurai;
  • tales of exploration and adventure in Australia, Siberia, Africa, Asia, South America, and beyond (see Indiana Jones as just one of the most famous examples);
  • the recycled plots for science fiction alluded to earlier (as seen in science fiction everywhere from the rocket-ships-and-rayguns of the pulp era, to the "Wagon Train to the Stars" of Star Trek and the space-settlers of Lost in Space to the Cyberpunk era and beyond);
  • the "Spaghetti" Western, an avant-garde and often highly cynical and very dark re-examination of the traditional American Western of the type most famously and stylishly produced by European (especially Spanish and Italian) film-makers;
  • similarly recycled plots for fantasy settings (where swords-and-sorcery and orcs stand in for six-guns and "savage Indians");
  • horror stories that use the western setting as a backdrop for Gothic tales of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, mummies and zombies, Big Foot, and more;
  • "Steampunk", alternate-history, and other such tales of science-fiction technology, in the form of either wondrous and helpful inventions, or dangerous mad science gone terribly wrong....
  • the "rogue cop" film genre, which, inspired by the "Spaghetti" Western's cynicism, often set the "cowboy cop" archetype against savage gangs and corrupt cities in a modern era where the old-fashioned cowboy's unhealthy relationship with big guns, black-and-white morality, and tendency toward action, autonomy, and freedom typically cause more problems than they actually solve by the film's end;
  • the post-apocalyptic science fiction genre (beginning with the Mad Max films, where nameless wanderers, souped-up cars and crazed wastelands gangsters and mutants can be directly compared to the "Spaghetti" Western's sheriffs and gunslingers, horses and revolvers, and desperadoes and savages....)

Consider that adaptability when brainstorming ideas for your weird fiction story or Call of Cthulhu adventure:

  • The way that Western-inspired elements are used in a "Rogue Cop" story can be used in a very similar way when dealing with "Rogue Cop" investigators facing down both moral and mythos corruption as well as gangsters, cultists and the city bureaucracy in 1960s Arkham.
  • The way that the Western inspired the likes of Indiana Jones in stories set in the pulp 1930s can be used in a very similar way when dealing with a party of investigators exploring alien tombs on distant worlds in the far future.
  • A plot about Western drifters, outlaws, and prospectors looking for gold in the American West can be easily adapted to a plot about a mis-fit group of dangerous and desperate characters looking for treasure in lost pre-human tombs in Asia or Africa or Atlantis, or looking for water after a space disaster leaves them stranded on a Mythos-haunted Mars....


Associated Mythos Elements


Keeper Notes

  • Something strange is going down at the old Corbitt mine, closed under mysterious circumstances during the American Civil War. A group of intrepid Civil War veterans, prospectors, bandits, gunslingers, drifters, and/or other Western adventurers are hired to find out what is happening, and fix it, so the mine can be re-opened.... ("The Haunting" scenario)
  • It might be a fun scenario to see what happens if Western outlaws were to meet Herbert West's reanimated horrors.... (Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter)
  • A Wild West showman hires the investigators (a group of aging cowboys, actors, eccentric scientists, bounty hunters, and other adventurers to seek the origin of a strange creature discovered in an uncharted corner of the Western desert, for use in his show, but the gang find more than they bargain for in the form of a "Lost World", terrifying monsters, and a mysterious "Gypsy" cult led by a spell-casting mystic.... (Valley of the Gwanji)
  • As the end of an age draws near and the stars become right, a prophet's instructions guide a group of imperfect initiates on a dangerous path through a surreal post-apocalyptic Dreamland to the holy mountain where they hope to gain enlightenment from the undying leaders of the Cthulhu cult.... (The Holy Mountain)
  • A rough band of adventurers, outlaws, and eccentrics assembles to mine for gold or find a lost city of gold in the remote countryside, encountering bandits, "savage" tribes, the deadly dangers of nature, the weird threats of the mythos, and their own dark sides and madness as their greed and lust for treasure increases the closer they get to their goal.... (Treasure of Sierra Madre, Mckenna's Gold)

General Notes

Comments, Trivia, Dedication

Reviews

Synopses (SPOILERS)