I took some time with a good book this weekend – Undead in the West, that with the subtitle Vampires, Zombies, Mummies, and Ghosts on the Cinematic Frontier is exactly what the doctor ordered to lighten up my current black mood.
Published in 2012 by Scarecrow Press, the 300+ pages volume edited by Cynthia J. Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper is a collection of essays on supernatural horror movies and TV series set in the West, and/or using western movie elements or tropes such as John Carpenter’s Vampire$. Indeed, the films set in modern times covered in the book are just as many as those set in classical western age.
The book is articulated in three sections – the first about how the supernatural can revitalise classic western elements; the second about how the supernatural threatens western integrity; the third covers themes of revenge and retribution from beyond the grave.
As a fan of John Carpenter, I found the coverage of his work quite satisfying, just as it was fun reading about John Coscarelli’s adaptation of Joe Lansdale’s Bubba Ho-Tep.
Possibly the only thing I found less than interesting was the part on The Walking Dead, basically because I do not care for the TV series. On the other hand, the piece on Supernatural was quite a positive surprise.
And yet to me nothing beats the great piece about that weird specimen of low-budget 1960s drive-in oriented schlock, Billy the Kid versus Dracula, helmed by the legendary William “One Shot” Beaudine (a western nickname if ever there was one) that for this critical outing gets bundled – as it is right to do – with the equally unmissable Jesse James meets Frankenstein’s Daughter.
The ideal weird western double (ehm) bill.
All in all a very nice selection of critical works, with a lot of food for thought, and a good excuse to go and re-watch a few good old movies – and a few good new ones, courtesy of six pages of suggested viewing list.
My only complaint?
By focusing on the undead, the book leaves out other monsters – it would have been good to see movies like The Valley of Gwangi or the classic Tremors series with the same insight, intelligence and keen eye for detail demonstrated in the chapters of this fine collection.