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“Wanna hear a story… city boy?”: The Ten Best Horror Westerns

“Wanna hear a story… city boy?”: The Ten Best Horror Westerns (photo)

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Westerns. Horror films. Two great genres that go great together? You would think so. Westerns and horror films are, more than any American film genres I can think of, viscerally grounded in mortality, the vulnerability of human flesh and the primal drive of survival instinct. Whether facing wild animals or bloodthirsty monsters, cold-blooded gunfighters or psychotic madmen, roving bands of raiders or packs of zombies, the heroes of these films fight to live. “It feels like a natural connection. They’re two of the most cinematic experiences that you have watching a movie,” notes director J.T. Petty. He should know — his film “The Burrowers,” which was released on DVD yesterday, is the most recent and one of the most creative approaches to the horror western hybrid, a unsettling monster movie by way of “The Searchers.”

Despite seeming ripe territory, there are relatively few horror westerns to speak of, but a healthy resurgence appears to be in the works. The horror western comic book “Jonah Hex” is coming to the screen with Josh Brolin as the lead. The indie film “Death Keeps Coming,” about a gunfighter and a gypsy curse, is due out later this year. And last year, “The Descent”‘s Neil Marshall announced “Sacrilege,” which he describes as a “pitch-black, gritty, period horror movie… ‘Unforgiven’ by way of H.P. Lovecraft.” Here’s a countdown of the best, most creative and most distinctive examples (so far) of the horror western:

10. “Curse of the Undead” (1959)
Directed by Edward Dein

From Universal Pictures, home of the great golden age horror movies and the increasingly cheap monster movie team-ups, comes this clever genre mash-up: a gunslinging vampire in a frontier town. Clad in de rigueur black, Drake Robey (Michael Pate) isn’t the fastest draw in the West, but when you’re already dead, you don’t need to fire the first shot, merely the last. The production is strictly B-movie, from the stilted dialogue and sanctimonious stiff of a hero (Eric Fleming) to the generic-looking frontier set, but the bland township of the daytime becomes stark and eerie at night and the vaguely Spanish architecture provides some old world flourish. Director Edward Dein (who also made the minor 1955 cult noir “Shack Out in 101”) floats a little fog in for added atmospherics and throws an eerie ambiance into the otherwise conventional soundtrack with otherworldly theremin sounds signaling Robey’s appearance. And it offers what may be the first cinematic vampire who can endure (painfully) the daylight, a concept that was revived a few decades later for 1990’s “Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat.”

04232009_Westworld.jpg9. “Westworld” (1973)
Directed by Michael Crichton

Not exactly a horror film, and a meta-western at best, the terror of “Westworld” is not supernatural but technological: a Wild West frontier town amusement park gone out of control. The place is less a historical evocation than a rollicking movie fantasy come to life, with robots playing the roles of sheriff, gunfighters and dance hall floozies. Yul Brynner plays off his “Magnificent Seven” role as a bionic villain who dies at the hand of every guest who draws on him. When the master control program (an earthbound cousin to HAL 9000?) malfunctions (or rebels?), the gunfighting machine is no longer programmed to lose, and he’s out for revenge, a Frankenstein cyborg in black hat and cowboy boots on mission to gun down the greenhorn (Richard Benjamin, a suburban guy playing dress-up) who last killed him. It’s as much science fiction as western or horror, but Brynner’s relentless pursuit of the thoroughly outclassed Benjamin is unnerving even in the high noon of dusty Western streets.

04232009_GrimPrairieTales.jpg8. “Grim Prairie Tales: Hit the Trail to…Terror” (1990)
Directed by Wayne Coe

“Wanna hear a story?” This sagebrush twist on the horror anthology draws its title from a play on words with Grimm fairy tales, but these campfire yarns are more conceptual than blood curdling. James Earl Jones and Brad Dourif play travelers and uneasy campmates who swap scary stories over a long prairie night. Dourif is an Eastern intellectual who likes to deconstruct the tales, while Jones is a robust bounty hunter at first confused and then inspired by his companion’s commentary, a streak of meta-storytelling that runs through the film. Writer/director Wayne Coe gives a starkly surreal quality to the piece, but the tales themselves are more inspired anecdotes than full-blooded sagas, weird but not particularly compelling. Much more interesting is the way these strangers bond over a shared love of stories and storytelling. What starts off as a sparring match — with Jones doing his best to intimidate and unnerve this city boy — develops into mutual respect and genuine, if fleeting, friendship. The unusual, ineffable chemistry between the actors makes it all work.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.