Best Western Horror Movies of All Time
When you take the Wild West and merge it perfectly with horror, the end result, in my experience, are some of the best Western horror films. Western horrors are often set in the American West during the 19th century. This means there are plenty of gunslingers and cowboys facing off against cannibal tribes, supernatural entities, and other horrific characters. The clash is where much of the appeal comes from. Below, we take you on a terrifying journey through ten of the best Western horror movies of all time.
What Makes Western Horror Movies Stand Out
Western and horror movies are among the most critically acclaimed genres, which is why fans of both enjoy bone-chilling movies like those discussed in this article. Although there are many similarities between Western horror and other horror subgenres, there are countless unique features that make them stand out.
Most notably, what differentiates Western horrors and other titles within the horror genre is that these movies are set in the American Western era. To my mind, this is the perfect landscape for telling tales of desperation, isolation, and of the best horror film elements. The barren deserts, open spaces, and derelict towns of the West help to create suspicion and unrest, which immerses viewers completely.
Blending elements of Western and horror create a harmonious and compelling genre. The Western genre’s American frontier mentality and individualism make for a natural context for stories involving monsters, ghouls, ghosts, zombies, and psychological torment. It’s the lawlessness of the West that perfectly compliments the unchecked evils contained within the horror genre.
Horror Western movies benefit from unique characteristics that set them apart from others within the wider genre. For example, despite being a terrifying playground for the supernatural, the Western landscape is simply stunning.
Top 10 Western Horror Movies
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Bone Tomahawk is directed by S. Craig Zahler and stars Kurt Russell and Matthew Fox, and I firmly believe it is a truly neo-Western masterpiece. The film’s ability to blend dread, suspense, and gritty realism makes it the prime example of the genre’s power.
The story follows Kurt Russell as Sheriff Hunt, a grizzled lawman in Bright Hope town, rural New Mexico. When his adopted son Sam (Patrick Wilson) and two other men are abducted by a cannibalistic tribe called the Troglodytes, the Sheriff assembles an unlikely crew to venture into the treacherous caverns where the tribe resides.
This movie lands a spot among the best Western horror movies on my list because it portrays an authentic Old West and its ability to merge elements of horror and Western tropes. The Troglodytes are cannibalistic cave dwellers portrayed as relentless savages feasting on human flesh. They represent society’s fear of the unknown and lurking dangers that exist just beyond the watchful eye of civilization.
Bone Tomahawk contains plenty of disturbing themes and graphic violence that may not be suitable for all viewers. However, if you appreciate the darker side of Western and horror movies, like I do, this title is a must-see. The movie’s captivating performances, masterful merging of two genres, and suspenseful plot make this a cinematic experience not to be missed.
Directed by Antonia Bird and starring Guy Pearce, Jeremy Davis, and Robert Carlyle, Ravenous (1999) tells a tale of a haunting legacy, betrayal, and a dash of cannibalism. The plot takes place in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the Mexican-American War. It is an exploration of human desperation that blurs the lines between survival and hunger.
Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) arrives at a chaotic Fort Spencer. Not long after, a stranger named Colquhoun (Robert Carlisle) shows up telling tales of his party leader eating members of their party to survive. To check for survivors, Boyd puts together a rescue party. As the search party uncovers Colquhoun’s story, they discover a dark secret that threatens to consume the inhabitants of a remote military outpost, as well as Boyd’s sanity.
Pearce portrays Boyd’s conflict and determination with a nuanced performance deserving of high praise. Robert Carlyle is equally captivating with his terrifying and enigmatic depiction of F.W Colquhoun. Supporting actor, Jeremy Davies, brings a sense of vulnerability to Sergeant Hobb.
Ravenous perfectly captures the beauty and isolation of the Nevada mountains, and Bird captures the sense of unease and dread through his use of natural lighting and shadows. The senseless violence and gripping story, paired with stellar performances, is why this movie should be on every horror movie fan’s list. It’s certainly why it’s on my list.
Near Dark (1987)
When it comes to Western horror films, Near Dark (1987) is still one of the most captivating titles. Featuring outlaws, rugged landscapes, a touch of romance, and vampire lore, this film easily makes the top ten Western horror films. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, and Lance Henricksen, the film follows a young man’s struggle between his humanity and newfound love.
This film is known for its original take on vampire mythos. Rather than traditional bloodsuckers, these vampires are a group of outcasts who prey on the outskirts of society. Their portrayal as dangerous creatures strengthens realism, while their vulnerability and thirst for connection make them appear almost human.
The expansive landscape, remote town imagery, and neon lighting help make this movie feel mesmerizing and haunting. Alongside the cinematography, the movie’s soundtrack adds a layer of dread with a dash of synth-pop.
The Burrowers (2008)
The American frontier is the perfect stage for The Burrowers (2008). The movie follows the unsettling tale of a ghost town plunged into fear amidst a mysterious disappearance. A group of men, including Clancy Brown as the town’s Sheriff, the town’s doctor, and a tracker, set out to find the missing family. On their journey, they discover a race of subterranean creatures called the Burrowers, which have been stalking the townspeople.
In my opinion, The Burrowers take the vast openness of the Wild West and contrasts it with the claustrophobic feel of the subterranean tunnels. It is one of the many unsettling aspects of this film. I believe director J.T. Petty has captured the true essence of the horror Western genre here.
Dead Birds (2004)
A group of AWOL Confederate American soldiers in the American Civil War, led by Henry Thomas as William, stage a robbery at a bank holding a cache of rebel gold. Needing a place to lie low, the gang heads to a house overlooking an abandoned plantation. As the evening goes on, the former Confederate officers turn on each other. It soon becomes clear that the house is haunted when they come face-to-face with the true nature of supernatural forces at work.
Dead Birds is Alex Turner’s first feature film. It takes the classic elements of the horror genre, including cornfields, a group of victims, and a supernatural presence. Despite a modest budget, Turner rose to the challenge and released a masterpiece thanks to his handy camera work.
If you’re a fan of horror films like Scarecrows, Reeker, and The Hills Run Red, as I am, then you’ll enjoy the frightening journey of Dead Birds.
Gallowwalkers (2012) brings Blade alumni Wesley Snipes into the world of horror Westerns. Directed by Andrew Goth, this film follows cursed gunman Aman (Snipes) as he wrestles with the past and confronts a relentless horde of undead of his own making. For every life Aman takes, they rise and join the undead masses of the Gallowwalkers.
To get to the bottom of the curse and break the endless cycle of violence, Aman teams up with a warrior named Fabulos (Kieron Richardson). Along the way, they face the Gallowwalkers and the harsh reality of the West.
The cinematography in Gallowwalkers makes use of close-ups and contrasts to create a sense of grit, while the Western town and landscape make for an eerie setting for the fantastic horror story to unfold.
The Wind (2018)
Set in the 19th Century American West, Emma Tammi’s “The Wind” introduces us to Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard). Lizzie is a young woman who has recently settled in New Mexico with her husband. Their fresh start isn’t without turbulence, as Lizzy struggles to adjust to the realities of isolation and their harsh new environment.
As time drags on and Lizzy’s mental state deteriorates, she becomes convinced that she’s being stalked by a malevolent entity. In attempts to establish order, Lizzy puts her faith in motherhood, but life simply continues to push her closer to the edge.
The Wind turns away from slasher violence and sadistic cannibal tribes and instead relies on slow narrative and psychological suspense. By focusing on Lizzy’s journey alone, viewers are left questioning their reality, which is everything a horror fan could ask for. I found this movie extremely chilling.
High Plains Drifter (1973)
This is one of my all-time favorite movies. If you’re looking for a Western horror movie to fill your evening, look no further than High Plains Drifter (1973). Directed by renowned Western movie director/actor Clint Eastwood, also starring as the title character, the movie tells the story of a mysterious stranger showing up at a small frontier town seeking justice.
When The Stranger rolls into town, he instantly becomes the target of the corrupt local sheriff and his posse. Amidst the tension and violence of the film, it’s eventually revealed that a brutal attack on The Stranger’s family is the reason for his thirst for vengeance. It’s a timeless classic that never fails to captivate.
Tremors (1990) is a cult classic monster movie that contains elements of comedy, horror, and Western movie tropes. Directed by Ron Underwood and starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and Finn Carter, this film follows a group of unlikely heroes as they battle against a deadly subterranean threat.
The movie is set in the small town of Perfection, Nevada. Val McKee (Bacon) and Earl Basset (Ward) are struggling handymen looking to escape their mundane existence when they stumble upon a series of mysterious deaths. When the monsters emerge, it’s up to a band of misfits to deal with them once and for all.
The witty dialogue, suspense, and gruesome scenes are enough to keep any film buff hooked from start to finish. Additionally, Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward deliver enjoyable portrayals of the leading characters.
Curse of the Undead (1959)
Set in the Old West town of Harmony, Curse of the Undead tells the story of Preacher Dan Young (Eric Fleming), a man of faith with a strong moral compass. When people start dying in mysterious circumstances, Preacher Dan finds himself dragged into the investigation. Gunslinger Drake Robey (Michael Pate) is suspect number one, and a horrific secret is uncovered.
With gradual revelations and visually stunning scenes, for its time, Curse of the Undead has cemented itself as a reputable cult classic in my opinion. Any fan of horror westerns will be gripping the edge of their seat all the way through.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Western horror movies have the most captivating and original storylines?
There are many horror Western movies with captivating and original storylines, but my top picks are:
- Ravenous (1999)
- Bone Tomahawk (2015)
- Near Dark (1987)
All of these movies explore dark themes, have memorable characters, and continue to inspire fans of Western film and horror alike.
Are there any Western horror movies that successfully blend horror with supernatural or paranormal elements?
Aside from Gallowwalkers, there are many horror Westerns that blend horror with supernatural or paranormal elements. For example, Pale Rider (1985) depicts the story of a mysterious preacher arriving in a small town to defend the community against a ruthless mining company. The narrative is slow and the end is ambiguous, which only adds to its cult classic status.
What are some Western horror movies that feature iconic or memorable villains?
Classic horror villains like Jason Voorhees and Freddie Krueger stick in everyone’s memory, but what about villains in horror Western movies? Leading the pack is The Stranger from High Plains Drifter (1973), but other memorable villains include The Firefly family from The Devil’s Rejects (2005).
What Western horror movies are suitable for both horror movie enthusiasts and fans of westerns?
Any movie that crosses the Western and horror genres steals elements from both, but I believe the most relevant for enthusiasts of both genres are:
- Dead Birds (2004)
- The Wind (2018)
- High Plains Drifter (1973)