Stars ranging from John Wayne to Wesley Snipes are ready to haunt your dreams.
If spooky campfire tales aren’t sufficiently unsettling to get you in the Halloween spirit, here are 13 offbeat westerns readily available for screaming, er, streaming from various online sites. But be forewarned: Not all of these titles are suitable for family viewing.
John Wayne ain’t afraid of no ghosts. And he’s certainly not a-feared of no phantom, or whatever it is that’s supposedly haunting an abandoned mine in director Mack V. Wright’s 1932 remake of The Phantom City, a 1928 vehicle for silent-movie cowboy star Ken Maynard. By the way: If you’ve ever wanted to see Wayne in a movie where he rides Duke the Miracle Horse, well, this is one of them.
The Riders of the Whistling Skull
Arguably the weirdest of the enduringly popular B-westerns starring Bob Livingston, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, and Max Terhune as the straight-shooting Three Mesquiteers, this 1937 opus has our heroes dealing with devil-worshiping Indians while searching for a missing archaeologist who disappeared while seeking the lost city of Lukachukai. (No, really.) Look closely, and you'll see the great Yakima Canutt as Otah, a Native American guide traveling with the Mesquiteers.
Billy the Kid vs. Dracula
While searching for fresh blood in America, Count Dracula (John Carradine) takes aim at the lovely neck of ranch owner Betty Bentley (Melinda Plowman). Before he can transform her into his vampire bride, however, he must deal with her faithful foreman, a temporarily reformed Billy the Kid (Chuck Courtney). Director William Beaudine’s notoriously campy 1966 horror western — produced back-to-back, and released on a double bill, with the equally infamous Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter — is worth seeing if only to appreciate Carradine’s deliciously hambone performance as the character he played decades earlier in the appreciably less disreputable House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter
Actually, the legendary outlaw (John Lupton) runs afoul of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster-making granddaughter (Narda Onyx) while seeking medical attention for his seriously wounded partner in crime (Cal Bolder). Good for a few laughs, but consider: This one (also directed by William Beaudine) played on the bottom half of the double bill back in the day.
Valley of the Gwangi
A cowboy turned Wild West Show performer (James Franciscus) and a cowgirl turned rodeo owner (Gila Golan) make the mistake of venturing into a forbidden valley — no kidding, the locals actually call it Forbidden Valley, but our heroes don’t take the hint — and wind up tangling with prehistorical creatures. Master movie magician Ray Harryhausen handled the special effects for this G-rated 1969 fantasy western.
High Plains Drifter
Clint Eastwood’s bizarre 1973 drama has the iconic actor-director portraying a vengeful stranger who may (or may not) be the ghost of a lawman who was whipped to death by outlaws while the other residents of his small town watched helplessly. After he returns to the scene of the crime, the surviving townspeople discover they’ve only just begun to learn what fear really is.
Western legends Wild Bill Hickok (Sam Shepard), Doc Holliday (Randy Quaid), and Billy the Kid (Donnie Wahlberg) are among the residents of the title town, a place where dead outlaws can earn a place in heaven if they behave for a decade or so. But when some live bad guys drop by, there’s hell to pay in director Uli Edel’s audaciously entertaining 1999 made-for-cable flick.
Elements of dark comedy and grisly horror simmer in the mix of Antonia Bird’s cult-fave 1999 drama, which none-too-subtly references the infamous Donner Party episode while spinning a gripping tale of terror at a remote Army fort in the Sierra Nevadas, where a Mexican-American War veteran (Guy Pearce) discovers the horrible truth behind ancient legends about the benefits of devouring human flesh.
Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs
No, this isn’t the sequel to the criminally under-rated Cowboys and Aliens. Rather, it’s an amusingly gonzo 2015 sci-fi action-adventure (which is all the funnier for being played reasonably straight) about a faded rodeo star (Rib Hillis) who returns to his Montana hometown just in time to help defend the community from prehistorical creatures inadvertently released by the greedy corporate types at a nearby mining operation. It's the kind of film where you expect Eric Roberts to show up at any moment. And, rest assured, he does.
C&I reader favorite Kurt Russell looms large in S. Craig Zahler’s 2015 horror western as a grizzled lawman leading a rescue party to save folks abducted by (no joke) a tribe of cannibalistic troglodytes. It’s definitely not for the squeamish — the violence often is shockingly graphic — but the actors (including Richard Jenkins and Matthew Fox) are first-rate, and the movie as a whole abounds in eccentric twists, unexpected situations, intriguingly complex characters and splendidly colorful dialogue.
Dead in Tombstone
It’s never a good idea to anger any movie character played by Danny Trejo, especially when that character is Guerrero De La Cruz, a badass outlaw who doesn’t let anything, not even his own demise, interfere with his plans for violent revenge. After being betrayed and exterminated by his treacherous confederates, Guerrero quite literally makes a deal with the devil (Mickey Rourke — yes, that Mickey Rourke) to return from hell and settle scores.
Critics were unkind to this 2010 adaptation of the DC Comics series, and not without some justification: The narrative is borderline incoherent, suggesting there was much second-guessing and drastic re-cutting (probably to avoid an R rating) during an extended post-production period. But Josh Brolin makes a potent impression as the title character, a hideously scarred bounty hunter who occasionally converses with the dead. And John Malkovich is fun to watch as he dials it up to 11 as the villain of the piece.
They say you can’t keep a good man down. Trouble is, as Wesley Snipes finds out in this singularly strange 2013 oddity, you can’t keep the bad ones down either. Snipes plays Aman, a cowboy who kills the outlaws who raped and murdered his lover, and is fatally wounded in the process. Thanks to the intervention of Dark Forces, he is able to rise from the dead. Unfortunately, the outlaws he executed get the same second chance. This trailer will give you a good idea of the bad things that happen next.