Cowboy stories abound with classic tropes: from drunken bar fights to silent bounty hunters and shootouts at noon. However, when the tropes of science fiction, fantasy and horror mix, they create a new setting that fans and authors call the Strange West.
The archetypal nature of westerns is not an exclusive feature of this genre, but it forms the character of each episode in it. Every modern western has to decide whether it follows the rules or adds some non-standard element. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a more accurate look at the story, but sometimes the author wants to add ghosts, vampires and aliens.
Simply put, the Strange West is any narrative about the Old West with additional supernatural elements that radically change the setting. In an ordinary western, you can see how a staunch lawyer is sent to a sleepy mining town to bring a criminal dead or alive. A strange western might see the same cop enter the same town, only to discover that his renegade ward is actually a vampire. Or that the city was built on the burial ground of the natives, leaving it lousy with spirits. Or UFOs may start appearing overhead, leading to an alien invasion. Whenever supernatural, science fiction, or fantasy elements appear in an archetypal Western narrative, this work is added to the canon of the weird western.
One of the first examples of the Weird West subgenre appeared in Weird Tales magazine with the appropriate title. The basis of the horror of the 20s is best known for the works of Howard Lovecraft, but it also contains many great works by famous authors. Writer Robert E. Howard, best known for his “Conan the Barbarian” franchise, created “The Horror from the Mound” in 1932. It tells the story of a cowboy who gave up his cattle rustling career for a modest life on a farm. Unfortunately, the harsh conditions of Texas left him without means of livelihood. In desperation, he tries to dig up a grave mound on his land, hoping to find buried treasures. His Mexican friend warns him of unimaginable consequences, but the old cowboy persists. Unfortunately, his greed leads him to release the vampire, which leads to the death of all participants. It’s more horror than western, but it’s a strong beginning to the world of Weird Western fiction.
Strange Western stories became commonplace and widely loved in the early 20th century. It took decades for a single publication to take over the name of the subgenre. DC Comics published various Western narratives along with their popular superhero stories. In 1972, he released a series of anthologies called Weird Western Tales, which helped define the subgenre. The flagship character of this franchise was Jonah Hex, although in those days his stories were relatively simple. Hex was a cross between Batman and the Man with No Name, a superhero of the Strange West. In the late 70s, he continued his own solo project of the same name, replacing it with characters such as Scalphunter. Weird Western Tales featured zombies, spirits, and sometimes creepy horror, and all this in the classic “Cowboys and Indians” setting.
The film has always been an unusual partner of the Strange West. In cinema, it is present much less often than in literature or comics. In the cinema of the 50s and 60s, films such as “The Curse of the Undead” and “Gwangi Valley” were presented. In 1966, “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” and “Jesse James meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” were held. Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the film “Pale Rider” as the Old West in the image of the Grim Reaper in 1985. Unfortunately, the most famous modern examples are “Wild, Wild West” and the film adaptation of the aforementioned John Hex. It’s hard to find good films about the Strange West, but they are more common in other environments.
TV and video games love supernatural elements in their cowboy stories. On television there is “The Preacher,” a modern western filled with angels, vampires and religious chaos. He also introduced Winonna Earp, in which a descendant of a famous lawyer fights undead criminals in a funny creepy western. A lot of long-running Western TV shows like “Bonanza” and “The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr.” have delved into strange elements from time to time. On the other hand, video games have a great time with this format. The subgenre was claimed by a game called Weird West with a well-received adventure about supernatural bounty hunters. He is closely followed by the Evil West, which will mine many of the same trails from a different perspective.
The Weird West subgenre is a simple concept with infinite development vectors. It’s not always possible to combine the two genres, but this simple duet inspired years of solid ideas. The idea of mixing the horrors of monsters, ghosts and aliens with long-rooted images of the Old West has been around for almost a century, and it’s not going anywhere.