I've been watching westerns almost as long as I've been watching horror. My Mom introduced me to the scary stuff, but my Dad is responsible for westerns. We spent many a family night snacking on potato chips and watching John Wayne conquer the great unknown.
Westerns offer a grand cinematic escape into a world filled with adventure, danger, justice and hope. They are uniquely American, and present an idealized culture unlike any other genre. Danger and violence are in an important part of the western formula, but much of it is diluted. When the black hat gets shot, or hung, it's largely quick and bloodless.
It doesn't happen often, but when the western genre is given the freedom to indulge in truly horrific and violent storytelling, something interesting happens.
In the rare instances where horror and western cross paths, there is always potential for something new and possibly more meaningful.
This list is shorter than most, largely due the fact that horror westerns are still somewhat uncharted territory. This genre has the potential to become one of my favorites, and I look forward to seeing what comes from this particular mashup in years to come.
The Twilight Zone - The Grave
The Twilight Zone is a national treasure. It was ahead of it's time, and has left a lasting mark on pop culture. There are many beloved episodes, but one of my favorites is The Grave.
We all know you can draw fast, Conny, but out in that graveyard your gun ain't worth a copper cent."
In classic Twilight Zone fashion, the plot is pretty simple. A gunslinger decides to visit the grave of an old adversary and gets more than he bargained for. There's a great bar room scene in the beginning that sets it all up, and the story slowly turns from classic western into spooky ghost story. You can watch the entire episode (Season 3, Episode 7) on Netflix now!
Favorite Scene: Johnny Rob challenges Conny.
Many are familiar the popular HBO series, but most don't know much about the original film from 1973. I had never heard of it until earlier this year, and decided to check it out before I watched the show.
Two friends visit an expensive amusement park for an immersive experience with life-like robots and, you guessed it, the robots take over.
"We are sure you will enjoy your stay in Westworld...Do not be afraid of hurting anything or of hurting yourself. Nothing can go wrong."
Westworld is more science fiction than horror but there is some crossover, as is often the case with dark science fiction. Written and directed by Michael Crichton, this film was an influence on future genre classics including Predator, Jurassic Park and Ex Machina. It's a little slow at times, but definitely worth a watch for any genre fan.
Favorite Scene: John is shot.
Ravenous was released in 1999, but I had somehow never even heard of it until earlier this year. I had it on my list for months, and when I finally watched it I was blown away.
Set during the Mexican-American war, a military captain is given a new assignment at a remote outpost. The little team of outcasts that live there encounter a stranger that has a dark secret, and chaos ensues. I don't really want to say too much more about the plot. I suggest you go into this one as I did, with as little information as possible.
Ravenous has a unique tone, and is unlike anything else I've ever seen. It's charming, weird, and will stick with you long after you've seen it. Also, that soundtrack. Wow. If you are interested in hearing more, watch my video review.
Favorite Scene: The ridiculous mountain pursuit of Colqhoun.
When a nurse and deputy are abducted by a tribe of cave dwelling cannibals, the town sheriff (Kurt Freaking Russell) assembles a team of unlikely heroes to rescue them.
The first three quarters of this movie are slow burn, classic western. The last quarter is straight up bloody horror. Bone Tomahawk is one of those rare gems that blends two genres in a perfectly beautiful way. It's a simple story precisely and brutally executed.
Favorite Scene: Arriving at the cannibal cave.
But wait, there's more...
If you do much research on horror westerns, you'll come across Near Dark several times. I've honestly only seen it once and don't remember much about it. I was going to watch it again in preparation for this list, but it's not currently available to stream or buy in the US.
From Dusk Till Dawn
I somehow have never seen this. And it isn't very diplomatic of me, but I'm really not interested in seeing it. Maybe I'll get around to watching it one of these days, maybe not. Either way, you might want to check it out because it is often regarded as a horror western and has generally good reviews.
Like many horror fans, I'm a Stephen King nerd. The Stand is one of his most popular novels, and is a pretty decent movie considering it was made for TV in the 90s. While certainly not strictly a western, it does share some themes. The wandering journey, the showdown between good and evil, and the denim clad "Walkin' Dude" are elements that give this one a little bit of that old west magic.