Weird Western

Contributed by Gary Robbe

The Weird Western is a subgenre that combines elements of the Western genre (fiction set “primarily” in the latter half of the 19th century in the Western United States) with another genre, usually horror, fantasy, or science fiction. Combining the Western genre with other genres has been happening since the 1930s, appearing in pulp magazines, comic books, games, movies, and television. The term “Weird Western” is believed to have originated in the 1972 DC Comics anthology Weird Western Tales.   

A Horror Western is when western themes such as iconography, settings and conventions (think Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, Larry McMurtry, to name a few iconic Western authors) are mixed with elements of horror (supernatural, monsters, psychological, splatterpunk, etc.)

Early Weird/Horror Western stories include “Old Garfield’s Heart” by Robert E. Howard (Weird Tales, 1933), The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney (1935), and The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western by Richard Brautigan (1974).

A long list of more recent Weird/ Horror Western novels and anthologies include The Place of Dead Roads by William S. Burroughs (1983), Dead in the West by Joe R. Lansdale (1984), Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985), The Haunted Mesa by Louis L’Amour (1987), Wolf in Shadow by David Gemmell (1987), Razored Saddles (an anthology edited by Joe R. Lansdale and Pat Lobrutto, 1989), Savage by Richard Laymon (1993), Walking Wolf: A Weird Western by Nancy A. Collins (1995), Mad Amos by Alan Dean Foster (1996), Stephen King’s Dark Tower Saga (1982-2004), The Crossings by Jack Ketchum (2004), Wraiths of the Broken Land by S. Craig Zahler (2013), A Bloody Bloody Mess in the Wild Wild West by Justin Bienvenue (2013), Skull Moon by Tim Curran (2013), The Magic Wagon by Joe R. Lansdale (2018) and Straight Outta Tombstone (anthology edited by David Boop, 2017).

There have been many Western Weird/Horror films made over the years. Here is a partial list –   Mystery Ranch (1932), Riders of the Whistling Skull (1937), The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956), Curse of the Undead (1959), Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966), The Valley of Gwangi (1969), High Plains Drifter (1973), Near Dark (1987), Ghost Town (1988), Vampires (John Carpenter, 1998), Ravenous (1999), Dead Birds (2004), The Burrowers (2008), and Bone Tomahawk (2015).