Tag-line: “Blazing Six Shooters were the only means of smashing this Phantom-like figure!”

“Phantom-like?”  It’s a rider with a skull for a head! (No hat.)

The 1944 Tex Ritter western “Whispering Skull” seemed promising for its horror potential.  I mean, there’s a SKULL in the goddamn title!

And it whispers! How scary is THAT!

Tex’s partner Dave (Dave O’Brien) sums up the mystery right up top: “A skull that rides at night, a horse that makes no noise and leaves no trail…it makes no sense.”  We learn that Whispering Skull has killed ranchers and held up a stagecoach.  He leaves notes for the remaining residents of Piyoute which read, “Leave town or you’re next.”

If you smell a lame plot device, you’re right.  It’s another “crook dresses as phantom to scare off honest folk” movie.

Can I get a Scooby Snack?

The town’s sheriff couldn’t solve this one so he sent for our heroes.  For most of the film, these two lurk around, doing a little investigating and a lot of idle speculating about the identity of the Whispering Skull.

Question: just how did our villain get the “Whispering” part of that moniker?  Was it to distinguish him from “Shouting Skull”, “Bellowing Skull” and the all-too-familiar party buzzkiller “Drunkenly Verbose Skull”.

Horror beats:

1)  the film opens with W. Skull riding around at “night”.

2)  a corpse disappears from a locked room and reappears in the street in front of the saloon.

3)  W. Skull opens a safe!

4)  that’s it.

Is the villain scary?  I couldn’t tell you simply because I couldn’t see him.  Really cruddy Poverty Row production value.  Crap day for night.  Shoddy ADR.

None of which is the worst thing about this film.  Remember the mystery up top?  “A skull that rides at night, a horse that makes no noise and leaves no trail.”  In the final scene, Tex and Dave discover that the skull is a mask and it’s just a guy.  The end.

What?!?!  What about the bit with the noiseless, trackless horse?  Roll credits.

MUSIC: Tex sings two songs which are randomly stuck into the action.  He sings one of them sitting behind a desk in a dark room.

COMEDY: from some idiot named Utah, sort of a dumber thinner Arthur Hunnicutt.  He has one good line: “I want to die with my boots on so I don’t hurt my toe when I kick the bucket.”

STARRETT CONNECTION:  Tex Ritter made a brief appearance in “Cowboy Canteen” with Charlie that same year.

Yep.  He did.

1966 was a big year for the horror western, and William Beaudine and Carl Hittleman were busy, creating “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” and this film.

The concept here is that a vampire, presumably Dracula (though never named) and played by John Carradine, is touring the West, riding in stage coaches at “night”, biting settlers and Indians, and looking for a cave!

Billy is taking a break from being Billy The Kid.  He’s working as a foreman for a ranch.  There’s some tension from the idea of his identity being discovered — but not much.

When Drac hears about an abandoned mine over in Corriganville…er, Billy’s ranch, the two are headed for a showdown.

There is so much wrong with this film that it’s hard to explain why it’s so fun!  Real cruddy day for night.  Terribly fluid set of rules: daylight is deadly to Dracula, but, if he’s in bat-form, the sun is a-okay.

But fun it is!  Mainly because Carradine is so great.  He looks dynamite, dressed head to toe in black (but Western black, you know, city-folk black) except for the red blush of ascot.

You can find this one over at archives.org, where the price is always right.  Check it out.


More Horror B-Westerns

April 5, 2010

"Vanishing Riders" with Bill Cody and Bill Cody Jr.

We’re not alone.  There is a conversation going on about this genre over at B-Movie Gothic Westerns – Poverty Row.

Here are some films in the Horror Western genre which I’ve been watching:

“Billy The Kid vs. Dracula” (1966) – fun

“Jesse James meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” (also 1966, what’s up with that?)

“Godmonster of Indian Flats” (1973) – must be seen

“The Burrowers” (2008) – no

“Desert Phantom” (1936)

“Phantom of the Range” (1936, another big year for ‘scares on mares’)

Anything I’m missing?