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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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.