Make no mistake, the Wild West was baptized in blood. (Yes, even given the oft-lampooned image of a stricken cowboy clutching a bloodless wound, muttering his dying words to a passerby, before collapsing in the dust.) But with the ’60s, and the nightly carnage of the Vietnam War, the Western reddened like you wouldn’t believe. Here’s a walk through some of the most gore-laden Westerns to date.
10. The Man from Laramie (1955)
If violence makes you squeamish, it’s even harder to see it happen to a good ol’ guy like Jimmy Stewart. The Man From Laramie contains one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in Western history, as it shows Stewart’s cowboy (a stranger in town) getting his hand shot through for supposedly trespassing on a rancher’s property. Far from home and outnumbered, not even Stewart’s good manners can prevent the outcome, which squeaks this one onto the list at number ten.
9. Warlock (1959)
Hand mutilation, take two! This time it’s Richard Widmark getting his hand pinned to a table with a steak knife. The camera lingers off-screen but the tortured look on Widmark’s face as his attacker twists the knife is infinitely more painful than showing the wound could ever be. That said, the humiliation does make his eventual revenge that much sweeter. Of course that’s nothing compared to…
8. The Quick and the Dead (1995)
Throw Evil Dead Director Sam Raimi at a Western, and you’re sure to get some over-the-top on-screen violence. More comic book than realistic, the movie’s got plenty of inventively gruesome images: A pinprick
of sunlight shining through the bullet hole in a gunslinger’s body; the view through the cavernous hole in a shooter’s head.
7. Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)
With pieces purloined from Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, and Django (for starters), Japanese blood-hound Takashi Miike’s hyper-stylized movie develops into a kinetic, Gatling-gun gorefest. In Quick and the Dead style, Miike pictures another tunnel-like orifice blown through a gunslinger’s body. But he one-ups Raimi, by having another character fire an arrow through that hole — doing in another opponent.
6. The Man With No Name Trilogy (1964-66)
The violence may seem tame by Saw standards, but for it’s day, Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western trilogy was pretty sordid stuff. With body counts and carnage unheard of in the ’40s and ’50s, his mercenary West was a bleak place filled with gun-toting sadists and not-so-bad good-guys who’d kill for a dime. Leone brought
Westerns into brand new territory, but he also had a style (helped by the flinty presence of Clint Eastwood) that made the violence not simply shocking but, well, cool.
5. The Proposition (2005)
Heads bear the brunt of injury in this brutal Western set in the badlands of Australia, in which they are pistol-whipped, smashed, and, yes, exploded. Written by singer Nick Cave, The Proposition follows a path as bleak as his music, with bushranger (Guy Pearce) hunting down his outlaw brother. Bodies are speared, backs are whipped to tatters, and skulls are stepped on until they crunch. What else would you expect from a movie whose title sequence features a slideshow of real-life corpses from back in the day?
4. Django (1966)
Other gunfighters might use a Peacemaker to resolve their issues, but for Django six bullets just ain’t enough. With a machine gun as his weapon of choice (toted behind him in a coffin), Django defends the weak by wracking up some of the highest body counts seen in any movie at that time. And if that’s not enough, there’s that scene with a man being fed his own ear…
3. El Topo (1971) Not just bloody but bizarre, Alejandro Jodorowsky took violence into arcane realms in this surreal frontier opus. Castration, suicide, rape and torture create a Wild West that seems more like one of the seven circles of Hell that any region on a map. Nonetheless, Jodorowsky’s visceral dreamscape is one of the more stunning reinterpretations of the Western mythos with the splatter-paint of violence earning him a spot among the top three.
2. Cut-Throats Nine (1972)
Amputations, disembowelment, stabbings, and that’s just the start. This movie’s story of a soldier and his beautiful daughter escorting a group of hardened prisoners across the barren desert is the perfect scenario for any number of violent episodes. (Can you guess what happens to the daughter?) The publicity campaign even offered theater patrons terror masks to cover their eyes and promised, “An adventure in violence that will rip your heart out.” Uh, sign us up?
1. The Wild Bunch (1969) Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch doesn’t just feature explicit violence, it’s explicitly about violence. Its gunfights hew closer to the mechanized carnage of trench warfare than the stately showdowns of High Noon.
Sliced, diced, and slowed down by Peckinpah’s editing, they become near ballets of butchery. The massacre that follows the movie’s orgiastic, Gatling gun standoff scene is likely to outdo any future attempts to take over the number one spot on lists such as this one.