With Halloween approaching Balladeer’s Blog will be doing its usual holiday-themed posts. This time around I’ll give a brief synopsis of western-flavored horror flicks. In keeping with my blog’s theme of covering out of the way topics I won’t be examining movies that are too well known, like Billy the Kid vs Dracula, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter or The Terror of Tiny Town. Ditto for more recent movies like Sundown and Billy The Kid In Hell. As for West World and Welcome to Blood City, those are more science fiction than horror, so they aren’t included either.
BLACK NOON (1971) – Roy Thinnes stars as an old west preacher who falls in with a coven of witches in the town of Melas (Salem spelled backwards of course). The witches tempt Thinnes into thinking he’s a prophet and healer, then use his vanity against him and his wife during their dark ritual of the Black Noon, which takes place during a mid-day eclipse.
CURSE OF THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN (1974) – A medical student and his hippy friends try to renovate a dude ranch haunted by the Headless Horseman. No, it’s not the figure from the Washington Irving tale, but an old-west gunslinger who was unjustly hanged, losing his head in the process. The Horseman now roams the dude ranch by night looking for victims to frighten. SPOILER: The
film uses the old Scooby Doo solution compounded by a ghostly revelation that the Headless Horseman really does exist, and doesn’t like his persona being adapted by mere mortals.
CURSE OF THE UNDEAD (1959) – Look out! He’s a vampire … and he’s armed! In the 1870’s a gunman for hire comes to the aid of a young woman fending off the usual land-grabbing rancher who wants her property. The gunman turns out to be a vampire whose family owned the young lady’s land when it was still claimed by Spain centuries earlier. In a nice change of pace the movie employs the less-used vampire lore which merely weakens the bloodsucker by daylight and which states vampires are people damned and cursed for committing suicide rather than being a curse spread by the monsters themselves. The Preacher hero of the flick uses a thorn supposedly from Jesus’ Crown of Thorns to kill the gun-toting vampire.
CUT-THROATS NINE (1972) – Many readers of Balladeer’s Blog wondered why I didn’t include this film in my article on the weirdest Spaghetti Westerns ever made. I left it out of that piece because that was a light-hearted bit and this movie is unrelentingly grim. The story involves nine pathologically insane criminals in the old west who escape while being transported to prison. The acts of violence perpetrated by these escaped scumbags have more in common with the bloodiest horror films than any western. Be warned: this film features graphic scenes of rape and of burning people alive and much more.
THE DARK POWER (1985) – Old-time western star Lash Larue plays a 1980’s sheriff out west near the Texas/ Mexico border. A handful of Aztec warriors who were buried alive rise from the dead and begin killing the inhabitants of a housing development erected near their burial site. The warriors, who come out and plaaaa- aaay (bad movie fans will get it), are also tied in with a pack of possessed killer dogs terrorizing the area but the movie never makes it clear how. Lash, still sporting his trademark whip (insert your own Bob Crane joke here) takes on the undead Aztec warriors to once again make his jurisdiction safe for scantily clad women and drunk, horny men.
THE DEVIL AND MISS SARAH (1971) – Gene “Bat Masterson” Barry plays an outlaw nicknamed the Devil. Janice Rule is the titular Sarah and her husband James Drury is a lawman extraditing Barry across the desert to prison. The outlaw has occult powers and preys on Sarah, whose psychic abilities make her especially susceptible to the villain’s influence.
DEVIL RIDER (1989) – An evil old west gunfighter returns from the dead to haunt his former spread, which is being turned into a resort. This is one of those cheap horror flicks like The Newlydeads (qv) that short-circuit their own potential scares by having most of the movie take place in daylight. There’s a flashback to the gunman getting beheaded at one point, too, so I don’t know if it’s homage to Curse of the Headless Horseman or just a coincidence. None of the characters in this bomb make any impression whatsoever, making them more ghostly than our undead title menace who gallavants around in the daytime with giddy abandon. My favorite odd credit line from this laughably bad movie tells us that the Devil Rider is played by Tag Groat.
EL TOPO (1970) – Not quite a horror film, but this arthouse favorite features eerie, haunting visuals that stay with you long after you watch it. Alejandro Jodorowsky crafted this odd masterpiece that uses wild west imagery and spaghetti western violence in a Marxist parable (El Topo means “the Mole” as in Marx’s allegory). Jodorowsky also stars as the black-clad gunslinger whose adventure begins when he finds an entire town wiped out so violently that a literal river of blood has formed. John Lennon openly praised this movie.
GHOST RIDERS (1987) – This is a hilariously bad attempt at a horror film and it wastes a good premise. A gang of outlaws in the 1880s were railroaded to their deaths via vigilante justice orchestrated by a fire and brimstone preacher. One hundred years later a descendant of the preacher and a few of his friends come looking for the lost, overgrown cemetery where the outlaw band was buried.
The gang members rise from their graves to seek revenge on the descendant of their archenemy and those with him. That synopsis and the movie poster are FAR more entertaining than the film itself. We get unappealing characters spouting inane dialogue, lame special effects, too much tedious filler and way too many scenes of the Ghost Riders stalking their victims IN THE DAYTIME! Not exactly scary.
GOD MONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS (1973) – This joyously bad movie is by Fred Hobbs, the man behind Alabama’s Ghost, the notorious film about Nazi vampires from outer space. The man who played the stage magician named Alabama in that movie plays a black-clad cowboy in the 1970s west this time around. Ranches around the countryside are being terrorized by a mutant sheep monster that walks on two legs and looks like Mr Snuffalupagus from Sesame Street. Adding to the laughs is the way the movie can’t make up its mind if the mutant birth was caused by toxic waste or the wrath of a Native American sheep god.
THE HANGED MAN (1974) – Steve Forrest starred in this excellent made for tv movie that was a failed pilot for a series. Forrest portrayed a gunslinger who seemingly meets his end on the gallows early in the film but who supernaturally rises from the dead to atone for his misspent life by combating evil in the 1800’s west. The movie masterfully played with the eeriness of Forrest’s position, from the permanent noose marks on his neck to the cold, corpse-like feel of his flesh to his Jason Voorhees invincibility as he stalked and gunned down evildoers. It’s a shame this didn’t get picked up as a series.
JACK THE RIPPER GOES WEST (1974) – This hilariously lame horror western was also released under the titles Silent Sentence, A Knife in the Dark and A Knife for the Ladies.
Jack the Ripper Goes West is a horror western that plays like a failed pilot episode for a television series given its mere 51 minute running time. When a rash of Jack the Ripper style murders afflict the western town of Mescal their old-fashioned Sheriff Jarrod (Jack Elam) is aggravated to find himself forced to work with an out of town private detective named Burns (Jeff Cooper).
If this was indeed once planned as a tv pilot (and the incredibly fake-looking buildings in the town might support that notion) the premise was apparently going to be the clash of old vs new methods of investigating crimes. Elam’s sheriff is an old-fashioned hip-shooting, hard-drinking, saloon-brawling man of the past. Cooper’s private investigator is a sophisticated big city criminologist intent on using modern methodology.
The two men clash over the approach to bringing the Ripper killer to justice. Jarrod’s habit of just going with his gut instinct and shooting at somebody is at odds with Burns’ cool-headed and clinical approach. Amid the expected bickering the two eventually get in a fist-fight, after which they respect each other but still continue to quibble about how to run down bad guys.
In addition to preying on the prostitutes of Mescal the Ripper killer has also murdered a member of the town’s founding family, deepening the mystery … sort of. It’s more of a Wild West slasher story than a detective story. Long ago some enterprising distributors edited in some gory prostitute murders and sex scenes with no-name actors who were not in the original production.
That editing swelled the running time out to about 70 minutes but it’s not really worth the effort to track those versions down. I regretted making the effort myself.
Ruth Roman, John Kellogg and NFL star Fred Biletnikoff of all people appear in supporting roles. All the thespians seem to be playing for simpletons, strengthening my notion that this was originally meant as mindless, harmless Prime Time television fodder.
METEOR MONSTER (1958) – AKA Teenage Monster. A simple-minded farm boy in the old west stumbles across a freshly downed meteor and soon finds himself transforming into a hairy, werewolf-type creature. The boy’s mother tries to hide her son’s secret when the townspeople start seeking the beast terrorizing the area.
RESURRECTION OF THE LIVING SKELETON (1959) – The hero of this flick set in the Mexican west is called the Scarlet Fox. He’s not a masked wrestler, which is a pleasant change of pace in a Mexican horror film, but is a western hero in a red Zorro outfit with a skull imprinted on the chest. The Scarlet Fox is out to stop a mad scientist who is kidnapping local ladies to use in his attempts to restore life to his lost love, currently a living skeleton just waiting for flesh and organs from the unwilling donors the mad doctor uses. The ladies are snatched by the living skeleton’s son, who has been transformed into a fanged, hulking, big-headed monster by the scientist.
SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER (1957) – Hilariously bad Mexican flick that has an odd “Larry Buchanan meets K Gordon Murray” feel for us bad movie geeks. A swamp creature who is like a poor man’s version of Octa-Man and the Gill-Man in Creature from the Black Lagoon, is terrorizing a Mexican community. A singing Vaquero sheriff and his south-of-the -border Barney Fife look into the goings-on. The lawman is played by real-life bullfighter Gaston Santos so he’s a deserving target of all the ridicule you and your friends can heap on the jerk. Gaston is a much poorer actor than his wonder-horse, Moonlight, who combines the best features of Roy Rogers’ Trigger and Brisco County’s Comet. There’s also a crazed old woman as a red herring when Gaston tries to track down the swamp monster.
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976) – Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine and Dawn “Mary Ann” Wells star in this flick based on a true story of mass murder. Drive-In horror icon Charles B Pierce’s masterful blend of documentary and dramatic reenactments should probably be credited with anticipating the countless “found footage” horror films which by now have become a crowded sub-genre. The story involves the real-life killing spree of a hooded killer in 1946 Texarkana and the efforts of the Texas Rangers to bring the murderer to justice.
This flick is better than it has any right to be if you know Pierce’s other work, but the movie’s depiction of a fresh horror descending on a post-World War 2 American hamlet is unforgettable. With hindsight you can’t help but feel the movie is saying “Get used to this type of crazed and random homicidal violence, folks. You’ll be seeing a LOT more of it in the decades to come.”
THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) – It’s cowboys versus dinosaurs in this fun monster movie that was always a staple on movie host shows like Son of Svengoolie, The Texas 27 Film Vault and others. In Mexico in the year 1900 a circus run by female entrepreneur TJ Breckenridge discovers their star attraction, a cute little miniature horse, is really a throwback to prehistoric times. Even better, the little guy comes from a place called the Forbidden Valley, which houses all manner of prehistoric beasts. James “Jimbo” Franciscus stars as one of the cowboys that Breckenridge employs to enter the valley and round up some dinosaurs to make her circus an even bigger hit (Aim high, TJ!). Everyone always remembers the “roping the dinosaurs” bit and the rampage of the main dinosaur, Gwangi, when it escapes from the circus.
FOR MY LOOK AT BLAXPLOITATION HORROR FILMS: https://glitternight.com/2011/10/26/a-very-blaxploitation-halloween/
FOR MY LIST OF THE TOP ELEVEN BAD MOVIES FOR HALLOWEEN: https://glitternight.com/2011/10/24/the-eleven-most-neglected-bad-movie-classics-for-halloween/
FOR MY LOOK AT MEXICAN HORROR FILMS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2011/10/31/a-halloween-mexi-monster-bestiary/
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