Skull Full of Spurs

Sunday , 3, March 2019 3 Comments

A few weeks back, I mentioned that I had the anthology, Skull Full of Spurs on the way. It was the last of the weird western anthologies for me to read. I read it in a week which is a good speed with my schedule these days.

Details: Published by Dark Highway Press in 2000. A small press outfit that put out two books. Hardback, 245 pages, originally sold for $29.95. The editors are Jason Bovberg and Kirk Whitham. Thirteen stories, introduction by Norman Partridge and afterword by Bovberg and Whitham. I was able to pick up a new copy for $10.00 on E-bay.

The authors contained therein for the most part were horror writers active in the 1990s.

Norman Partridge’s introduction attempts a faux tall tale tone:

“Skin that bandanna off your face, I’ll bet that you’re smiling real mean, too. Because you recognize this landscape, and you like what you see. That saloon over there, the one where they serve up tequila with a strychnine chaser. . . “

The introduction mentions the obligatory movies including Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. Joe Lansdale gets mentioned for Dead in the West. Ambrose Bierce, Chad Oliver, and Richard Sale are mentioned. I would like to know what weird westerns Oliver and Sale wrote. Sale was a prolific pulp writer who appeared in the general fiction and detective pulp magazines in the 1930s and early 1940s. An interesting addition to this book is an author bibliography at the end of each entry including books, short stories, comics, and nonfiction.

“Pages Stuck By a Bowie Knife to a Cheyenne Gallows” by Brian Hodge is a first person narrative of a Missouri bushwhacker who is cursed along the way.

Jack Ketchum’s “Luck” has dark humor underlying it of down and out outlaws contemplating their misfortune.

“Mister Shade” by Richard Lee Byers was one of my favorite stories in the book. A supernatural being commands a group of dead desperadoes who attack Fort Smith, Arkansas. This is what a weird western should be.

Ryan Cooper’s “The Deviltry of Elemental Valence” has a modern-day setting start and ending sandwiching a tale. There is a Lovecraft tie-in. The story is rather scatological with some graphic sex going on in addition.

Yvonne Navarro is another of those prolific horror writers of the small press in the 1990s. “Divine Justice” has an interesting plot of two travelling menagerie owners finding an angel with a broken wing and what happens when greed takes over.

I did not care for the premise of Adam-Troy Castro’s “The Magic Bullet Theory” of a bullet suspended in almost complete suspended animation in a western town.

I have read some short fiction from the late Rick Hautala before. I remember him as a writer of novels for Zebra Books. “The Screaming Head” has a modern day setting with a connection to a past homicidal gang of psychopaths.

M. Christian’s “Medicine Man” is one of those short horror stories with a twist that would not be out of place in a comic book like The House of Mystery.

“The Devil’s Crapper” by Lawrence Walsh is a tale of a gateway to Hell in an outhouse in the New Mexico wilds. Men who have done bad things do a spell of warning people away as a form of penance.

Nancy Collins was in the Robert E. Howard United Press Association once upon a time  before I was a member (and Official Editor for a spell). She hits the right note in “Calaverada” about bounty hunters in Mexico hunting down a gang of outlaws. This was a real traditional weird western that hit the right notes. I liked it enough to get her weird western collection Dead Man’s Hand that includes this story. Stay tuned.

Richard Laymon was a writer who went back to the early 1970s. He had a run of horror novels for Warner, Headline, and Leisure. He seemed primed for bigger things but died in 2001. “The Hangman” is the tale of the ghost of a psychopath who hunts by might.

“Ain’t” by Michael Heck is a story that I just did not quite get. A guy in jail with a midget sheriff.

“Showdown at Stinking Springs” is humorous of an interview of an old guy who is the sole survivor of a fire that destroyed the town of Stinking Springs in 1882. Turns out a titanic orgasm blasted the town.

There you have it. A book of stories written by late 20th Century horror writers. It reads like it with the graphic sex going in some of the stories.

Thoughts– the supernatural element was weak in many of the stories. Homicidal maniacs are a factor, very 1990s. I have mentioned before that my gripe with weird western anthology is a western element. At least there were no steam powered robots.

So, this was not the worst weird western anthology I have read but it did not rock my world. I at least read the whole thing. The stories, for the most part, were written in a straight forward manner. I am glad I got the book at 2/3 off the original price of $29.95. The book is well made and designed but the contents not so much at the original asking price.

It just seems something is missing in these weird western anthologies I keep reading. I will throw down the challenge for someone to put together an anthology with consistent good background, no snark, no smirk, no irony, no steampunk, no cuteness, no corn pone narration. I want a book that is filled with dark, grim stories of Aztec mummies, monsters, Indian demons, 10 foot tall giants, and some big reptiles with historically accurate details (and especially guns). I have mentioned before that getting western writers to try it from their end might be the way to go. It is difficult as you master not one but two genres. I think that is why I probably like Great Ghost Stories of the Old West the most as the contents are by western and not s-f/horror/fantasy writers.

  • Weird westerns are hard to do right, much like comedies. And like a good comedy, a good weird western is unforgettable.

  • Bob Vardeman’s PUNISHED trilogy, written under the name Jackson Lowry, is a good Weird Western series. No smirk, no snark, plenty of grim.

  • You’d probably like Peter Brandvold’s DUST OF THE DAMNED and CANYON OF A THOUSAND EYES, too. Like the Vardeman books, these are novels, not short stories.

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