DC's Weird Western Tales appeared in the early 1970s and the weird Western was further popularized by Joe R. Lansdale who "is best known for his tales of the 'weird west,' a genre mixing splatterpunk with alternate history Western almost entirely defined by the author in the early 1990s. His work reads a little like the sort of folklore in which Mark Twain dabbled (or the Gothic in which Flannery O'Connor was involved), but with zombies and gore."
Examples of these cross-genres include Deadlands (Western/horror), The Wild Wild West and its later film adaptation (Western/steampunk), Jonah Hex (Western/supernatural), BraveStarr (Western/science fiction), The Goodbye Family (Western/macabre comedy), and many others.
When supernatural menaces of horror fiction are injected into a Western setting, it creates the horror Western. Writer G. W. Thomas has described how the two combine: "Unlike many other cross-genre tales, the weird Western uses both elements but with very little loss of distinction. The Western setting is decidedly 'Western' and the horror elements are obviously 'horror.'"
As far as Mariotte is concerned, the potential for Weird West stories is limitless. “The West was a weird place. There are ghost towns and haunted mines and when you bring Native American beliefs into it, then the possibilities are even greater.”
The term is of recent coinage, but the idea of crossing genres goes back to at least the heyday of pulp magazines. There was at least one series character who could be classified as a Weird West character. Lee Winters was a deputy whose adventures often involved ghosts, sorcery and creatures from Greek mythology. The Winters stories were written by Lon Williams and published in the 1950s. Around that same time, one of the oddest of all Western characters, Six-Gun Gorilla, appeared. This was an actual gorilla who strapped on a pair of Colts to avenge the death of the kindly prospector who had raised him. His adventures appeared in the British story paper The Wizard.
There have also been various Weird West novels including Joe R. Lansdale's Dead in the West. In this book an unjustly lynched Indian shaman curses the town of Mud Creek, Texas. After dark the dead rise and not even the Reverend Jebediah Mercer can save the inhabitants.
- "The Horror from the Mound" (by Robert E. Howard, in Weird Tales, 1932)
- "Old Garfield's Heart" (by Robert E. Howard, in Weird Tales, 1933)
- The Circus of Dr. Lao (by Charles G. Finney, 1935)
- "The Dead Remember" (by Robert E. Howard, in Argosy, 1936)
- Outer Dark (by Cormac McCarthy, 1968)
- Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (by Ishmael Reed, 1969, ISBN 1-56478-238-7)
- The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western (by Richard Brautigan, 1974)
- Stephen King's Dark Tower saga (1982–2004)
- The Place of Dead Roads (by William S. Burroughs, 1983, ISBN 0-03-070416-2)
- Dead in the West (by Joe R. Lansdale, 1986, ISBN 0-917053-04-4, 1994, ISBN 1-892300-00-1, 2005, ISBN 1-59780-014-7)
- The Haunted Mesa (by Louis L'Amour, 1987, ISBN 0-553-05182-2)
- Stinger (by Robert R. McCammon, 1988, ISBN 978-0727817167)
- Razored Saddles (anthology, edited by Joe R. Lansdale & Pat Lobrutto, 1989, ISBN 978-0380711680)
- Walking Wolf: A Weird Western (by Nancy A. Collins, 1995, ISBN 0-929480-42-2)
- Mad Amos (by Alan Dean Foster, 1996, ISBN 0-345-39362-7)
- A Fist Full O' Dead Guys (anthology, edited by Shane Lacy Hensley, Pinnacle Entertainment, 1999, ISBN 1-889546-65-8)
- For a Few Dead Guys More (anthology, edited by Shane Lacy Hensley, foreword by Joe R. Lansdale, Pinnacle Entertainment, 1999, ISBN 1-889546-66-6)
- The "Ned the Seal" trilogy (by Joe R. Lansdale, 2001)
- The Sundowners series (by James Swallow, 2001)
- Dead Man's Hand: Five Tales of the Weird West (by Nancy A. Collins, foreword by Joe R. Lansdale, Two Wolf Press, 2004, ISBN 1-58846-875-5)
- The Crossings (by Jack Ketchum, Cemetery Dance Publications, 2004, ISBN 1-58767-067-4)
- The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl (by Tim Pratt, 2005, ISBN 0-553-38338-8)
- Territory (by Emma Bull, 2007, ISBN 0-312-85735-7)
- Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter (by Edward M. Erdelac, 2009, ISBN 978-1615720606)
- Me'ma and the Great Mountain (by Lorin Morgan-Richards, with foreword by Corine Fairbanks, 2012, ISBN 0985044799)
- Jack the Bastard: A Novella (by Micah Nathan, One Peace Books, 2012, ISBN 1935548220)
- The Arrivals (by Melissa Marr, William Morrow, 2013)
- Dead Man's Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West (Edited by John Joseph Adams, Titan Books, 2014, ISBN 1781164509)
In the 1960s, the television series The Wild Wild West brought elements of pulp espionage and science fiction stories to the Old West. The cartoon adventures of the Lone Ranger followed suit by pitting the famous Western hero against mad scientists and other villains not often found in the Western genre, while Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, a supernatural anthology series, featured a handful of Western episodes including "Showdown with Rance McGrew" and "Mr. Denton on Doomsday". Kung Fu, which followed the adventures of a fugitive Shaolin monk armed only with the show title's eponymous martial art skill, is another famous example of an unorthodox Western. Perhaps one of the earliest minor examples on the small screen was the anachronistic appearance of the 1946 Willys Jeep "Nellybelle" in the supposedly 19th-century adventures of Roy Rogers during his eponymous 1950s television series.
- Bonanza: "Hoss and the Leprechauns" (1963)
- The Wild Wild West (1965–1969)
- Black Noon (1971)
- The Hanged Man (1974 Telefilm)
- Cliffhangers: "The Secret Empire" (1979)
- Into the Badlands (1991)
- Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa (1992–1994)
- The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (1993–1994)
- Legend (1995)
- The Lazarus Man (1996)
- Dead Man's Gun (1997–1999)
- Purgatory (1999)
- Firefly mix Scifi and western
- Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004)
- Justice League Unlimited: "The Once and Future Thing, Part 1: Weird Western Tales" (2005)
- Supernatural: "Frontierland" (2011)
- Wynonna Earp (2016)
- Westworld (2016)
In comic books a number of heroes had adventures involving monsters, aliens, and costumed supervillains. Marvel Comics characters such as Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, and Two-Gun Kid all had such adventures. Where Marvel went in for supervillains, DC Comics added more of a horror element to their stories such as Jonah Hex, pushed further in three mini-series from Vertigo written by Joe R. Lansdale. The DC character Tomahawk could also be termed a hero of the Weird West, though his adventures were set in the colonies during the time of the American Revolution.
While the origin of the Saint of Killers in the Old West is the only true western element in the comic book Preacher, the series has been described as a "Splatterpunk Western" or a mix of the Western with the Gothic.
- American Gothic, by Ian Edginton and Mike Collins
- The Big Book of the Weird Wild West: How the West Was Really Won!, anthology from Paradox Press
- Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities, by Eric Powell and Kyle Hotz (Dark Horse Comics, 2006, ISBN 1-59307-448-4)
- Cowboys & Aliens
- "Daisy Kutter: The Last Train", by Kazu Kibuishi
- El Diablo
- Dead Irons
- Djustine by Enrico Teodorani
- Doc Frankenstein
- East of West
- Gunplay by Jorge Vega, with art by Dominic Vivona, Platinum Studios
- High Moon a werewolf Western webcomic by zuda / DC Comics. Created by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis
- Iron West, by Doug TenNapel
- Jonah Hex
- Justice Riders (DC Comics Elseworlds) by Chuck Dixon and J.H. Williams III
- "Last Shot" (Image Comics Studio XD) by Locke and Long Vo
- Lobo Annual #2: "A Fistful of Bastiches"
- Phantom Rider
- Preacher Special: Saint of Killers (4-issue mini-series, Preacher spin off, by Garth Ennis)
- Pretty Deadly
- The Rawhide Kid
- The Sixth Gun
- "Steel Ball Run
- Strangeways, solicited by Speakeasy Comics before they closed. Will appear as a graphic novel.
- Tex Arcana by John Findley
- Tex Willer (in some stories)
- The Goodbye Family
- The Transformers: Evolutions
- Weird Western Tales
- The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Iron Tyrants, #1–4 by Mark Ellis and Darryl Banks, Millennium Publications.
- The Wicked West
- Wynonna Earp by Beau Smith. Published by Image Comics / IDW Publishing
- Zagor (in many stories)
In movies, notable Weird West stories include The Valley of Gwangi (1969) which used special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen's talents to pit cowboys against dinosaurs. Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966) saw the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid fighting against the notorious vampire. The same year, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter paired another famous outlaw with another famous horror character. The Ghoul Goes West was an unproduced Ed Wood film to star Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the Old West.
- The Phantom Empire (serial, 1935)
- Riders of the Whistling Skull (1937)
- The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
- The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)
- Teenage Monster (1958)
- Curse of the Undead (1959)
- 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)
- Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)
- Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)
- The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
- Mackenna's Gold (1969)
- El Topo (1970)
- High Plains Drifter (1973)
- The White Buffalo (1977)
- Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982)
- Tex and the Lord of the Deep (1985)
- Near Dark (1987)
- Ghost Town (1988)
- Back to the Future Part III (1990)
- Grim Prairie Tales (1990)
- Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1991)
- Mad at the Moon (1992)
- Grey Knight (1993)
- Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
- Silent Tongue (1994)
- Blood Trail (1997)
- Purgatory (1999)
- Ravenous (1999)
- Wild Wild West (1999)
- From Dusk till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (2000)
- Dead Birds (2004)
- Blueberry (aka Renegade) (2004)
- Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004)
- Dynamite Warrior (2006)
- Undead or Alive (2007)
- Left for Dead (2007)
- Sukiyaki Western: Django (2007)
- BloodRayne 2: Deliverance (2007)
- Copperhead (2008)
- The Burrowers (2009)
- High Plains Invaders (2009)
- Bunraku (2010)
- Jonah Hex (2010)
- Gallowwalker (2010)
- The Warrior's Way (2010)
- Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
- Rango (2011)
- The Lone Ranger (2013)
- Devil's Deal (2013)
- Bone Tomahawk (2015)
- Logan (film) (2017)
An example of the pen-and-paper variety is the horror-hybrid, Deadlands. Set in an alternate 1870s America, the game draws heavily on gothic horror conventions and old Native American lore to derive its sense of the supernatural. Characters can get involved in situations ranging from banks heists to shoot-outs involving vampires and zombies over the course of their adventures.
Video games also use this same motif, one of the earliest horror-Western games being SilverLoad for the PlayStation. The game has a variety of classic horror tropes in it, ranging from werewolves and vampires, to Satanic cults, that the player must contend with nothing more than a trusty six-gun at his hip. In this same vein is the modern PS2/Xbox first-person shooter, Darkwatch, in which the protagonist is himself a vampire, fighting through the west for either his own redemption, or furthering his own damnation.
The PC adventure/puzzle game Alone in the Dark 3 takes place in a western setting, albeit in the 1920s, and features a number of "weird west" staples, with magic, monsters, the undead, and some anachronistic sci-fi elements such as references to nuclear weaponry.
The PC first-person shooter title, Blood, is an occult-horror-comedy hybrid, and sets the player avatar "Caleb" in approximately 1920 (retroactively dated as 1928 in the game's sequel) as an un-dead gunslinger anti-hero from the late 19th century, who rises from his grave to battle a widespread cult by which he was betrayed and killed when he was a member. Gun play, the undead, horror, the occult, and the underworld are strong elements of the game. The game spawned a sequel, Blood II: The Chosen, although it was much less influenced by the main character's western back-story. One level of its expansion pack, however, is set in a western frontier town.
Another weird western is the Wild ARMs series – video games that mix together high-fantasy magic and science-fiction technology with Old-West-style gunslinging. Each game changes leads and alters settings (though the world's name, Filgaia, remains throughout), but always at the core are the ideas of "drifting" and of one's personalized sense of justice among outlaws.
Red Dead Redemption, a Western-themed video game, enters into the genre of Weird West with its Undead Nightmare add-on. The story revolves around an undead outbreak that has spread across the frontier. Other fantasy elements are new weapons such as holy water, and new mythical mounts, which include a unicorn and the Four Horses of the Apocalypse.
Fallout: New Vegas, a post-apocalyptic game set in the Mojave Desert has an additional perk at the beginning of the game named "Wild Wasteland" that adds various strange occurrences to the game. The game itself could also be considered a Weird West game due to its mixing of Western, Horror, Survival, and Science Fiction styles.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II includes a map for its Zombies mode called Buried. The map takes place in a subterranean ghost town complete with saloon and general store that is located in Angola due to tectonic plate shifting. Naturally the zombies are the reanimated town folk, dressed in period attire.
Hard West, turn-based tactical game. Game follows standards of the Western genre, like bank robberies, lynching and the gold rush, but with the addition of supernatural elements, such as demons, shamans, satanic cults.
Ghoultown are a Texan psychobilly band with Spaghetti Western influences. They have released albums like 2001's Tales from the Dead West with songs like "Death of Jonah Hex". In turn they produced their own eponymous "vampire-cowboy" comic book, through Bad Moon Studios, which saw an eight-page preview in Texasylum and the first two issues of a planned four-issue miniseries, before the publisher left the comic field.
The 2015 music video for the Brandon Flowers song "Can't Deny My Love" transposes Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1835 story Young Goodman Brown to a Western frontier setting. Flowers plays an unnamed protagonist who leaves his young wife (played by Evan Rachel Wood) for some unknown errand in the desert, despite her pleas that he stay with her "tonight of all nights." On his journey he meets a man with a black staff (played by Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs), and later he discovers a group of townspeople carrying out witchcraft-like ceremonies — his wife among them. The protagonist tries to flee when the townspeople notice him, but as they approach the scene instantly vanishes and the man awakes uncertain whether the previous night's events were real or a dream.
- Acid Western, often strange counter-cultural Westerns from the 1960s onwards
- Cross-genre, of which Weird West is a key example
- List of steampunk works, as a number of the examples veer into this area
- Science fiction Western, a Weird West subgenre with science-fiction themes in an Old West setting
- Space Western, the application of Western themes to a science-fiction frontier setting
- Western genre in other media
- "An essential taster of ...The Weird West". Metro. 2 June 2008.
- Bubba Ho-Tep review
- Of Men & Monsters
- Crossing Horror: Using Horror in Other Genres, by G.W. Thomas
- How the West was Weird: Mariotte talks “Desperadoes” Return, Comic Book Resources, October 30, 2006
- The Horror from the Mound
- Fantastic Fiction entry
- Thorpe, Valarie (2003). "Hanging Out in the Weird West with Jack Ketchum". Studies in Modern Horror. 1 (1): 22–31.
- Kitson, Niall (2007). "Rebel Yells: Genre Hybridity and Irishness in Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon's Preacher" (subscription required). Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies. 2. Retrieved 2007-05-28.
- Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities TPB, Dark Horse Comics
- CowboysAndAliens at DrunkDuck
- Cowboys and Aliens, Comics2Film.com
- Cowboys & Aliens on IMDb
- Jorge Vega: Learning To Play With Guns, Comics Bulletin, March 10, 2008
- TenNapel Strikes Gold in "Iron West", Comic Book Resources, May 17, 2006
- Meeting at the Strangeways, Newsarama, October 13, 2005
- Matt Maxwell on Strangeways: Murder Moon, Newsarama, April 4, 2008
- Tex Arcana
- Welcome to the Wicked West
- Riders of the Whistling Skull on IMDb
- Teenage Monster on IMDb
- Curse of the Undead on IMDb
- The Old West Gets Scary: High Plains Invaders
- Really Scary: Interview with Ghoultown
- Ghoultown Comic Book
- Green, Paul (October 2009). Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns: Supernatural and Science Fiction Elements in Novels, Pulps, Comics, Films, Television and Games. McFarland. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-7864-4390-1.