Wednesday, October 26, 2016

THE WEIRD WEST GENRE: Soul of the Weird Western

   I love the Weird Western for the same way I enjoy a good ol' fashioned 'regular' western. They pit man against the land, against himself. An unknown land full of the unknown, makes a fine combination.
   I can damn near convince myself maybe the Old West had spooks and whatnot back then. Not like we have what you'd call real complete records of the time.
   Sure, we know how it went and what we get wrong with our TV and movies and all that but it's not a time I would say is documented end to end. Not like we have today. I enjoy the thought that a few things mighta slipped through the cracks.
   These days, you see the videos and the so-called 'evidence' of a ghost or creature, some picture someone doctored and a quick Google takes you plain to a site pointing out how they screwed themselves. How the picture didn't quite come out right or the video shows the strings or whatever to make that creature dance.
   The Old West though, it just might've had a few strange things in it. Things we'll never know because that was a big land and there was nothing but room to get lost in.
   So, writing about that, I feel like I'm telling some secret. Being all clever and showing folks a glimpse straight through this peach of a world, this Old West, right into its weird, unknown heart.
Shame then, the Weird West genre has become this catchall anyone can throw an idea into. Just having something weird go on in your story or movie you decide to set in the Old West don't make it a Weird Western.
   It's the difference between Weird Western and Weird 'in the West'. The latter is just some idea someone has they want married to the Old West. You could set it anywhere, but they have it in a cowboy town. Most zombie "weird westerns" you read are like this. Werewolves, Magicians, Vampires, all could be anywhere else but they chose the Old West. That's fine but we need a name for that stuff before it dilutes what scarce credibility the Weird Western genre still has.
   And it lacks the heft of a "real" genre for that sole reason. Because it's a shitbox, now. The redheaded stepchild of speculative literature. You need to spice up your terrible monster story? Throw it in the Old West. Makes it "gritty" makes it "real" makes it "distinct". Makes it goddamn annoying, is what it does. Now, if you say Weird West, where do people's minds go because of that shitboxing? To zombie cowboys. That image of the undead gunslinger, every time.
   We got him attached to this very post.
   It's compelling imagery, sure. But I took it in its true spirit. For what it symbolizes. The unknown. The mysterious and supernatural. I ain't saying zombies don't exist in a Weird Western, or can't. Hell, no, that's foolish. Course they can. And do. So can vampires and werewolves. But I'm talking about the nature of menace, that defines a Weird Western. Where that Unknown and Mysterious Evil comes from.
   The Weird West starts in the middle. When a Weird Western story begins, it's already weird. The world don't 'become' weird. It's already a place where your weird thing can happen. This weird thing is just another weird thing in a bushel full of 'em. No one fully understands it or believes their world went and turned "normal" after it was gone.
   Look to the Acid Western for a true idea of the nature of Weird Western-ness. The Shooting. Greaser's Palace. Those films give us weird with both hands and never look back. Spaghetti Westerns like Django Kill and Get Mean. Weird damn films. Real ethereal menace.
   See, of course a Weird Western has to have the Old West in it, that's a given. But the thing folks miss, the most important thing, is the 'unknown' or 'unsettling' quality of that menace. Ever see High Plains Drifter? Man strolls into town, might be a dead guy, might not be. Rallies the town against some very real bad guys but his means and methods are left to the imagination. You never really know where he came from or where he ends up. That's a Weird Western.
   Weird Westerns ooze a sense of otherworldliness through the seams. Their heroes are born out of mist and distance. Their goals are murky, their allegiances shift. When they blow into town, the town ain't blown. It knew he was coming all along. They just didn't know it was today.
   You never can quite get your head around the real villainy of a Weird Western. It might come from a magical item or another planet but what drives it, you don't know. The 'why' of it's unknown. Its heroes are unknown. Good and Evil for the sake of themselves.
   And when the Good heads out, will he be back? Does he sense when someone needs help or did everyone just catch him on the right day? And sure, that Evil is rid of, but it lingers. In a Weird Western, the West itself makes you wonder if it just might bring that Evil back.
   For spite, if nothing else.