I hear the voices in my sleep.  They haunt my dreams.  “Fiddle-de-fo, fiddle-de-FI, answer my riddles, B-Western guy!”

They continue, in a more measured tone.  “So, are there any B-Westerns of the Charles Starrett ilk which qualify as Horror Western?”

Yes, scary voices.  At least one.  The Rawhide Terror!

This film was initially planned as a serial but hastily cut into a very short (46 minute) feature.  The plot follows a tried and true horror path; it’s a revenge scenario.  Two brothers witness the brutal murder of their parents out on the plains.  The little blonde one is shocked and scared.  The bigger dark-haired one goes mad — and I must stress that he goes immediately mad, giggling and shaking and walking off into the brush.  This damaged boy emerges years later as the fully-grown “Rawhide Killer” (despite what the title tells us.)

Is he a horror villain?  I’d say so.  And here’s why.  He has a distinctive and hideous disguise.  CHECK!  He dresses like a freak — with a speckled rawhide band strapped across his nose, under a misshapen black hat.  This get-up makes him look like some bizarre and scary bird.

He also has a unique signature method for killing: he ties his victims between four stakes with a wet rawhide rope wrapped around their necks.  “Sun will dry the rawhide and then senor will choke, choke!” CHECK!

It turns out (not a very big surprise) that he’s targeting the men who killed his parents.  He kills alot of them.  Finally, he crosses some hazy ethical line when he kidnaps a gal and is summarily shot dead.

An interesting and surprising ending — his dying words not only reveal his identity but also that of his brother.  Until this moment, we had no reason to believe that the cowhand whose arms he dies in was the little blonde kid we met up top.

Poor storytelling = surprising reveal.

Scariest moment: the killer’s stuttering laugh as he strangles a cowboy in a rare interior shot, in a barn, which allows some shadows in this sun-drenched horror film.

Adding to the creepy vibe is the ultra low budget.  This is a cheapo, made by the less-than-melodiously-named Security Pictures.  There is no music.  Dialogue appears to be entirely ADR.  The soundtrack to the horseback chase scenes sounds like a skipping record.

It must have been a challenge making a horror film when nearly every shot is in broad daylight.  An added hurdle is the Western genre staple of wide shots of open spaces.  Not exactly conducive to the dark, claustrophobic style of most horror films.

“Rawhide Terror” succeeds on its clumsy menace and freakish villain.

Courtesy of the Lone Pine Museum

STARRETT CONNECTION:  “The Rawhide Terror” has as co-stars two actors who played small roles in more than a dozen Charles Starrett films each.  One is Art Mix who appeared in over 200 Westerns, mainly playing uncredited henchmen.  This is a rare co-starring role. The other is Edmund Cobb who appeared in an astounding 600-plus films during his 60-plus year career.  He, too, generally played small roles like “Deputy Pete” or “Townsman.”

Horror Westerns

February 7, 2010

After I found that quote of Starrett talking about his neighbor Boris Karloff, I got to thinking about Horror and Westerns and wondering about a genre of “Horror Westerns.”

You know.  BOO! plus Giddy-up!

Off the top of my head, I could only think of a very few titles that fit this description.  2001’s “Frailty” features a supernatural horror plot set in a modern Western setting.  Klaus Kinksi’s character in “A Few Dollars More” would feel at home in a horror film, with his hump and his ego. And, of course, I consider most scenes in any film featuring Smiley Burnette to be horrific.

So I consulted our resident horror experts.  Nick reminded me of 1999’s “Ravenous” about cannibalism in a pre-Civil War fort.   Josh chimed in with “The Burrowers” from 2007, a twisted version of “The Searchers” where instead of Indians we have Monsters.  Rodney broadened the definition of the genre with these titles: “The Killer Inside Me”, “From Dusk Til Dawn” and “Night Of The Hunter”.

On-line sources site such early sixties films as “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” and “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter”.  Apparently Ed Wood had a script for something called “The Ghoul Goes West” which he hoped to make with Bela Lugosi playing Dracula in the Old West.

Are there any B-Westerns that fit this description?

Ah ha!  There is a DVD called “Creepy Cowboys”. This collection touts four Westerns, dubbed by the folks at Image Entertainment as “Horror Westerns”.

And this DVD is what I’m going to talk about for the rest of this post.

Unfortunately, two of the films are of the “bad guy dresses as a phantom to scare off settlers” ilk.  This is a familiar plot for B-Western fans.  And fans of morning cartoons.

“Desert Phantom” is a good example of this type of film — long on the Western, short on the horror.  A crooked jerk from town has discovered gold on the ranch of unsuspecting homesteaders.   He’s killing cowhands to scare the folk off.  He’s considered a “phantom” because he shoots from the hills and no one has ever seen him (pretty weak) and shot one guy inside a locked house and just disappeared (through a trap door we later discover — weaker yet!)

Horror-beat-wise, “Desert Phantom” has Johnny Mack Brown following some footprints through a creepy abandoned mine and that’s about it for horror.

The next two films in the “Creepy Cowboys” collection are “Vanishing Riders” and “Tombstone Canyon”.  Trust me, I was doing everything I could to find horror in these two films.  These are NOT horror films.

However, the fourth film in the collection fits the bill.  “The Rawhide Terror” has a legitimate claim to the genre.

Tune in soon for the NEXT POST on “The Rawhide Terror.”  It’s creepy, it has cowboys in it, it’s part of the “Creepy Cowboy” DVD collection, it’s not very scary, but it’s definitely a Horror Western…

Starrett on Frankenstein

February 2, 2010

“I’ll never forget.  Before we worked together in “Mask of Fu Manchu”, during the summer we had a terrible drought.  Boris was making “Frankenstein”.  I lived above him in Coldwater Canyon.  One evening, I was driving home when I nearly drove my car into a ditch!  There in a beautiful garden was the Monster itself, tenderly watering the roses.  Boris was such a dedicated gardener that he was afraid he’d lose the roses to the heat, so had rushed home without taking off his makeup to catch them at sundown – the best time for watering…  It was quite a sight.”

— Charles Starrett

This anecdote from the website, Peeping Tom.  Please forgive any errors in my translation.