Last week, I talked about the genre of Weird Tales (which includes horror, the occult, fantasy and science fiction). That genre includes Weird West. Take the elements of westerns like any spaghetti western, and drop elements of horror and macabre into it, or even fantasy and sci fi. The result is a familiar setting with slight differences in it that make it different. Gun fighters who are magic users, or even fly space craft. There’s already a few recognizable books, movies and television programs out there that include both elements of westerns and another genre. They include Firefly/Serenity, Jonah Hex, MeiLin Miranda’s Scryer’s Gulch, and even my own Adventures of Black Mask & Pale Rider. Even the Daniel Craig movie, Cowboys and Aliens is considered a part of this sub genre of weird west. It could even be argued that Star Wars and Star Trek have their own western elements in the greater aspect of the story (Han didn’t shoot first).
Not all Weird West contains horror elements. But a lot of western tales do include that aspect. Even in song. Ghost Riders in the Sky, made famous by Johnny Cash (and subsequently covered over 90 times) has a story of a cowboy who comes across a posse of ghostly cowboys chasing the Devil’s herd across the sky. The ghosts give the warning to the cowboy to change his ways or he’ll soon join them.
To have a western tale include the elements of horror isn’t new. It’s been done many times before, as we’ve seen zombies, vampires, werewolves, witches and more going toe to toe with gunslingers. The movie, BloodRayne 2, which is based on the video game (great game, horrible movie franchise), depicted Billy the Kid as a vampire, and Pat Garret as one of the vampire killers that helps the half vampire Rayne in stopping the gunslinger. The role playing game Deadlands is a western horror with alternate history (and some steampunk elements) where supernatural beings called The Reckoners are unleashed on the American Mid West in an effort to drive out European settlers. As with all ideas with good intentions, it goes horribly, horribly wrong. The comic published by IDW called Desperadoes (written by Jeff Mariotte) also explores this combination of horror and the wild west. Even my own Black Mask & Pale Rider fits the bill, as the main characters of Shani and Pania (both elves) rider throughout the Union and Confederacy meeting all manner of horrifying creatures. Including a lich in Bloomington, Indiana, zombies in Shreveport, Louisiana, vampires outside of Reading, Pennsylvania and even the Ghost Rider himself in Franklin, West Virginia.
The two elements are actually the best intertwined story aspects in any subgenre. As writer G. W. Thomas of the two element “[u]nlike many other cross-genre tales, the weird Western uses both elements but with very little loss of distinction. The Western setting is decidedly ‘Western’ and the horror elements are obviously ‘horror.'” One of the first examples of this subgenre was a story in Weird Tales called the Horror on the Mound, written by Robert E. Howard and published in 1932. The first appearance of a book with the title Weird West was in 1970, when DC Comics released the monthly series Weird Western Tales.
Movies have used this device many times over, including the afforementioned Serenity, but those that included the horror genre have been prevalent as well. The Quick and the Undead (2006), Left for Dead, Ghost Rider (2007), and the afforementioned BloodRayne II: Deliverance (2007).
This Halloween, add some Weird West to your haunted reading lists. There’s a lot out there.