The Western is dead. For years, even decades, the Western genre has been a wasteland, with few new films coming out and even fewer hits. Luckily, horror fans know what to do with dead things: make them undead, so they can stand up again and start biting faces and murdering salacious teens. In fact, horror and Westerns have a long, if largely unimpressive, conjoined history dating back to the '50s. Most of those films are forgettable, at best, but across the years there have been a handful of solid contenders as well as a few true classics to emerge from this genre-bending exercise. One of the best of those, Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark, is showing Tuesday, August 6 at Crash 45 as part of Theresa Mercado's Cruel Summer film series. In honor of the event, we've rounded up a few more favorite examples of this mash-up of creature feature and cowboys.
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5) Westworld Before Michael Crichton turned to dinosaurs as the perfect antagonists in his tales of technology run amok, he used robots. Specifically, cowboy robots, which is what earns this film a spot on this list. Westworld gives us a tale of a Disneyland-style theme park populated by robots, where people live out their fantasies. Sounds fun, right? Well it is, right up to the point where the cowboy robots start shooting for real. To modern eyes, Westworld is a little cheesy, but it's still reasonably entertaining and worth a look for fans of Western-themed horror.
4) From Dusk Till Dawn Take a classic Western story like "outlaws on the lam," set it in the modern day, add a shit-ton of vampires and you have From Dusk till Dawn. This love child of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez has become something of a cult classic over the years, and it's easy to see why. A strong cast, headlined by George Clooney and Harvey Keitel, have some fun with a campy story and lots of over-the-top action, with plenty of scenery-chewing performances along the way.
3) The Burrowers Horror is a genre full of off-the-radar gems, and The Burrowers is a prime example. Set in the Dakota Territory during the late 1870s, the movie starts off looking and feeling like a classic Western: a frontier family is the victim of kidnap and murder, and a posse heads off to find the Indians who they believe are responsible. Only, it turns out the perpetrators aren't Indians, but something far stranger and more deadly, and in classic horror-movie fashion the hunters soon become the hunted. Don't let the fact that you've never heard of this one dissuade you -- it's a solid film that mixes the two genres in a way that honors both and works beautifully.
2) Ravenous Cannibalism and comedy collide in the Old West in Ravenous. It's a weird mixture, to be sure, but Ravenous pulls it off, thanks to a strong cast that includes Guy Pearce, Jeffrey Jones, David Arquette and Robert Carlyle. A clever take on one of the true horrors of the Old West -- cannibalism -- doesn't hurt, either. The dark humor and some nifty twists complete the rest of this strong package. The only real question is why this movie is still, almost fifteen years after its release, so obscure.
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1) Near Dark There is no better vampire Western than Near Dark and given the current state of both vampire films and Westerns, it's pretty damn likely there never will be. Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton lead a band of Civil War era vampires who drive around the modern-day West in a beat-up RV, hunting for victims and trying to stay alive (er, undead). Adrian Pasdar plays a handsome hick who gets seduced by the youngest and most impetuous member of the clan, then causes trouble when he refuses the undead lifestyle of his new family. Throw in the best "murderous rampage in a bar" scene ever made and a slam-bang finale, and it's easy to see why this film is considered the best of its kind. If all horror Westerns were this good, the genre would be a lot more popular.