10 Wildest Horror Westerns

Death rides alongside manifest destiny.

Days Horror Westerns

Few subgenres are as hard to pull off as the Horror Western. They seem like a natural fit. The frontier is a terrifying wilderness nearly impossible for our modern sensibilities to comprehend. Maybe the reason they rarely work together is that starvation was certainly more of a reliable threat than some vampire or werewolf stalking the prairie. Who has time to worry about the dark when your ranch hands keep dying during childbirth? It may be easy to blame supernatural forces, but the reality to Western horrors usually originates in our own bravado. Death rides alongside manifest destiny. Still, the filmmaker who can succeed in a glorious blend of these particular genres is a hero to us at FSR. We’re celebrating the classic frontier era as well as the modern manipulation of the Western. Cowboys ride cars as much as horses these days. Slap on your chaps and spurs, rev your engines, and giddy up. Keep reading for a look at the 10 best horror Westerns as voted on by Chris Coffel, Kieran Fisher, Rob Hunter, Meg Shields, Jacob Trussell, and myself.

Red Dots

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10. Silent Tongue (1993)

Silent Tongue

A man goes mad in the wake of his wife’s death, and a father attempts to aid his son by stealing the wife’s sister from the Western sideshow where he purchased the first bride. The owner and his son ride into hate-fueled pursuit, the wife’s spirit haunts the proceedings, and only tragedy can be the outcome. Writer/director Sam Shepard instills Silent Tongue with necessary, justifiable dread. River Phoenix is utterly heartbreaking as the grieving madman, deteriorating under the barbs of the raging specter of vengeance. Here is American pain and misery as Western poetry. – Brad Gullickson


9. Westworld (1973)

Westworld The Man In Black

You know the drill. Bored socialites pay out the nose to partake in a Western theme park inhabited by robot performers with a habit for malfunction. Michael Crichton’s original film is crammed with prescience, but I’d be lying if I said I was here for anything other than Yul Brynner’s glitching automaton, The Man in Black. He has the chiseled expression of a hero, but that cloud of smoke emanating from his circuitry says, “It’s time to inquire about a refund.” Hope you’ve been practicing your quick draw. – Brad Gullickson


8. Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989)

Sundown The Vampire In Retreat

Vampires living in a small desert town survive by wearing plenty of sunscreen and drinking synthetic blood. It’s a pretty quiet, unexciting lifestyle but it beats the coffin life. Things start to spiral out of control when a group of vampires band together in an effort to return the species to their predatory ways. This gets further complicated when a descendant to the famous vampire slayer Van Helsing arrives looking to finally destroy Dracula. As a civil war between vampires breaks out, Van Helsing finally gets his chance but it turns out he’s a bumbling idiot. Did I mention Van Helsing is played by peak Bruce Campbell? Well, he is and this movie rules. – Chris Coffel


7. Vampires (1998)

Vampires

James Woods blocked me on Twitter recently because I asked how the Infowars milkshakes tasted in response to one of his conspiracy theories. Our politics don’t align, but I’ll always love him as an actor. Performances like his turn in Vampires are special. He clearly had a blast paying homage to the gunslingers of the Old West and calling people “padre.” This movie is also the closest John Carpenter ever got to directing a pure western. Vampires is arguably his last great movie [Rob the Editor’s note: Ha!] and time will prove me right in holding that opinion. Furthermore, it’s also one of the Horror Master’s most visually stunning films thanks to awe-inspiring landscapes, the open road, and Gary Kibbe’s luscious cinematography. – Kieran Fisher


6. The Valley of the Gwangi (1969)

The Valley Of The Gwangi

A struggling Mexican rodeo attempts to boost attendance on the backs of a miniature horse known as El Diablo. The horse turns out to be a prehistoric creature from the Forbidden Valley. A gypsy claims the horse is cursed and must be returned to the valley so she rallies up a posse to steal the horse and bring it back. This leads to a journey into the Forbidden Valley and the discovery of Gwangi, a monstrous allosaurus. With the new development, the rodeo determines Gwangi would be much better than a dumb horse. The Valley of Gwangi hit at the tail end of the monster craze and as a result, has slid under the radar in comparison to the bigger names but it’s every bit as worthy of the same love. The stop-motion from Ray Harryhausen, in his last dinosaur film, is fantastic, and fans of Jurassic Park will recognize one sequence. A must watch for stop-motion connoisseurs. – Chris Coffel


5. The Burrowers (2008)

The Burrowers

Westward expansion came with myriad complications and dangers, but few compare to the threat of humanoid creatures living beneath the earthy floor. The beings drag settlers to their grave to be eaten later, and while all of that is enough to make J.T. Petty’s feature a solid slice of prairie horror it finds real weight — and more tangible terror — in its observations on the ravages of carnivorous culture. The beasts are forced to target humans because the “invaders” are killing off their food supply (buffalo). Worse, the only ones who know how to defeat the creatures are an ancient tribe of Native Americans, but they’re also being decimated by marauding American soldiers. As is too often the case, we are the authors of our own demise. – Rob Hunter


4. High Plains Drifter (1973)

High Plains Drifter

I’m of the opinion that Clint Eastwood’s second feature as director and star is under-appreciated both as a western and as a horror film. He’s played numerous unnamed strangers, but here it’s strongly suggested he’s a stranger even to the living and may very well be an undead avenger from beyond the grave. He brutalizes the townspeople without them even realizing it and plays them for fools, and while the bastards deserve his vengeance they become so pitiable by the end that his cruelty lands even harder. The film works beautifully as a tale of bloody revenge, an incredibly grim black comedy, and a devilish slice of western horror. – Rob Hunter


3. Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Bone Tomahawk

The glossy technicolor cowboys of the past make it easy to forget that really, all Westerns ought to be horror flicks. Bone Tomahawk tries to have it both ways by marrying extreme gratuity and tried (and tired) genre tropes (a white women being captured by two-dimensional indigenous caricatures). The result isn’t entirely comfortable, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. These men who represent progress have elected to answer brutality with brutality and the film takes no joy in their fool’s errand. Civilization is relative, donchya know — and all the joy is reserved for Richard Jenkins. – Meg Shields


2. Ravenous (1999)

Ravenous

The Wendigo myth states that anyone who’s willing to consume the flesh of human being will inherit their strength and energy. But they’ll also be cursed with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. This theory, along with the real stories of the Donner Party and Alfred Packer, inspired this pitch-black horror/comedy directed by Antonia Bird. The story follows a cowardly soldier in the 1840s whose taste buds are changed forever after an unfortunate meeting with a madman that’s hungry for soldiers. Cannibalism has never been tasty in a movie, but few films are as delicious as Ravenous. – Kieran Fisher


1. Near Dark (1987)

Near Dark

I’m not well versed in Westerns, despite my growing up in central Texas. But my life experience does give me a keen eye when I do watch westerns, as there’s something relatable about the isolation that makes up key elements of the genre. And isolation is at the core to the moody melancholy of Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire neo-western Near Dark. Following a young cowboy who gets mixed up with a gang of renegade vampires cutting a bloody trail through America’s southwest, what Near Dark lacks in complexity it makes up for in an emotionally electrified atmosphere. While the vampires, especially Bill Paxton’s Severen, seem to be living up their undead existence, the stark realities of their condition cast a dark shadow across the film. And while Bigelow and screenwriter Eric Red’s choices may buck some of the more well-known vampire tropes, it creates its own unique mythos that defiantly sets it apart from the other popular vampire films of the late 1980s. – Jacob Trussell Red Dots

Saddle up and read more entries in our 31 Days of Horror Lists!

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.