Weirding Wests

30Jun09

Besides a slew of zombie cowboy films, western and horror seem like genres that do not intermix often.  The history of the weird and the western seem to have a limited amount of crossover  with the rpg Deadlands and the DC series Weird Western Tales.  For the latter Jonah Hex and the Riders of the Worm and Such is the only cthulluoid engagement.  The story of the former resolves around a Sioux Shaman who opens a portal to the spirit world in order to bring spirits who feed on fear, to create a hell on earth to punish European invaders.

Given the retributive magic of indian burial grounds and the brutal enlightenment violence of manifest destiny – the western seems an apt genre for a horror/weird hybridization.  It seems Neil Marshall (of The Descent) will be directing a Lovecraftian Western.

The groundwork for has been laid in darker westerns which tend to be darker in their revisionism but more indirectly, in the music and their more desolate imagery.   The west has the voidic landscape (think Carpenter’s and Lovecraft’s Arctic), intensive ungroundings (mining, oil drilling) as well as clashing histories with pagan pantheons and so forth.

It would not be hard at all to imagine the early scenes of There Will Be Blood descending into a Lovecraftian nightmare – with dripping tentacles ascending from a pool of oil.  Some of the more unpleasant imagery from McCarthy’s Blood Meridian would be right at home as well – particularly those of scalping and the infamous tree of dead babies.

The narrative resistance may lie in the trauma bearing, revenge and protection motifs all central to westerns which dont quite line up with the tenets of horror (or at least horror proper).  Western’s too quickly exteriorize desolation and trauma (The Proposition being a glaring exception).  The key lies in placing the trauma onto the gunslingers and the pointless violence onto the the cthulloid monster – where the desolation of the land is the desolation monstrous violence.

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6 Responses to “Weirding Wests”

  1. My favourite Western is the weird and wonderful Dead Man, starring Johnny Depp. It isn’t necessarily weird in the Lovecraftian sense of demons or old ones, but is simply dark and strange. I’d suggest you check it out if you haven’t seen it. The scene at the beginning with Crispin Glover on the train is just so bizarre and awesome, I love it.

  2. 3 Reza

    Dead Man was good but it had a certain active artistic consciousness present throughout the movie that at times caused it to become a bit quirky. I think, in contrast to common intuition, western is indeed an appropriate locus for Lovecraftian / Ligottian scenarios where terror and horror become inextricable parts of a continuum. The built-in elements of western (violence as human pathology in regard to trauma, desolate landscapes / concept-less space, seemingly eventful but essentially mundane world of people) can be employed in the directions Ben is suggesting.

    ‘There Will Be Blood’ started in an excellent way, reached its oily apotheosis and then suddenly degenerated into a gaudy human melodrama (well, perhaps as the effect of the petroseptic eruption on the human nervous system, after all, Oil works in mysterious ways … but even that wasn’t convincing).

    I think genre mixing of this kind needs an element that spontaneously yet subtly dissolves all elements, flatting their difference so as to prevent the transformation of the weird into grotesque. Seems barren landscapes / desolate spaces can be used for this purpose. The Proposition is a brilliant example, it also had certain subtle insiniuations on the mundane life as the traumatic continuum where ‘adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, but the terror / horror extremums are quite distinct’. There were even references to becoming-rabid Dog, traumatic violence, the ancient horror of the land, etc.; in a way, it was the Blood Meridian of Australian outback. Another movie which comes close to this — of course, minus its cheesy emphasis on witchcraft / demons — is Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil which uses the South African deserts and barren towns to dissolve everything back into their concept-less exteriority.

    • 4 Ben Woodard

      You are right about there will be blood – its darkness become psychological over time and less about a situational insanity

      and another great element about The Proposition is its Darwinian themes

      Will check out Dust Devil

  3. 5 Ben

    If you haven’t already Robert E Howard (of course of Conan fame) has some Lovecraftian-style stories set in his own native Texas – ‘The Horror from the Mound’ is probably the best known. Also, McCarthy’s ealier Outer Dark was a kind of Western dry run for The Road.


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