“The Rawhide Terror” – Horror Westerns

February 13, 2010

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.”

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