During the 1990s, there was a brief moment when directors everywhere collectively decided that they were going to make Westerns popular again. From Tombstone to Unforgiven, nostalgic filmmakers pined for the days of operatic shootouts and sweaty protagonists, but that doesn’t mean audiences agreed with them. With a few exceptions, it seemed like the world had in fact moved on from the glory days of Leone and Ford.
The biggest shame is that there were some legitimately thrilling cowboy movies made back then that would have been insanely successful had they been released in another time. My personal favorite of these misfires was Sam Raimi’s tragically underseen Western The Quick and the Dead, a 1995 Sharon Stone vehicle that deserves to be reappraised not only as a satirical pastiche but as a genuinely great example of a classic Western.
In the four years since Total Recall, Stone had established herself as a Hollywood titan and even began influencing the behind the scenes decisions on some of her movies. Among these more personal projects was Sony’s The Quick and the Dead, a spec script by Simon Moore inspired by the Westerns of Sergio Leone. Telling the story of The Lady (Stone), the film follows a mysterious female gunslinger who arrives in the town of Redemption and participates in a shooting competition that pits her against deadly killers. As the competition goes on, it becomes clear that the cash prize isn’t the only thing The Lady is after.
One of twelve other Westerns that filmed in ’94, production on The Quick and the Dead didn’t exactly go smoothly. The crew had to deal with costume shortages and cut corners on all fronts, which resulted in the movie feeling a bit less “epic” than intended. Sony even demanded that Moore’s original script be rewritten during shooting in order to achieve a more palpable runtime, further sabotaging the film.
Of course, the real tragedy here is how the finished movie ended up releasing to a lukewarm response despite all of the behind the scenes challenges. While it’s commonly believed that Raimi’s near-cartoony levels of exaggerated action likely alienated general audiences, I think it’s pretty clear that a general sense of genre fatigue and the fact that the lead character was a woman also had something to do with the film’s reception.
SO WHY IS IT WORTH WATCHING?
Sharon Stone was instrumental in getting the film made in the first place, signing on as co-producer and personally approving Raimi as the director due to his successful genre mashup in Army of Darkness. She also insisted on the casting of both Russell Crowe and Leonardo Dicaprio, going so far as to pay for the latter’s salary out of her own pocket.
This commitment to having the best possible team both in front of and behind the cameras meant that the film ended up with one of the most recognizable ensemble casts of the 90s and some serious talent in the visual department to back them up. Uniquely talented thespians like Gene Hackman and Mark Boone Junior share the screen as memorable cowboy archetypes while frequent Michael Mann collaborator Dante Spinotti frames the action beautifully – all accompanied by one of Alan Silvestri’s most exciting scores.
Of course, the real star of the show here is Raimi himself, with his penchant for creative camera setups making this one of the most stylish Westerns of all time. The frequent gun fights give the director a stage to show off some of the most impressive visual trickery of his career, with a sizable effects budget allowing for insanely creative shootouts. Sure, none of it is very realistic, but Raimi fans aren’t here for realism, they’re here to watch a gunshot from the bullet’s point of view!
WHAT MAKES IT HORROR ADJACENT?
With a cast featuring the always memorable Keith David (who you may recognize from John Carpenter’s They Live, or even the recent Nope), Lance Henriksen (Aliens and Pumpkinhead) and a pre-Saw Tobin Bell, Raimi makes it pretty clear that you can take a director out of the horror genre, but you can’t take the horror out of the director. Hell, even Bruce Campbell shot a scene for the film, though it ultimately didn’t make it into the final cut.
However, it’s not the mere presence genre royalty that makes The Quick and the Dead a horror-adjacent picture, but how the film chooses to dispose of them. Raimi choreographs some of the most incredibly violent shoot-outs since the days of Sam Peckinpah, with bullets finding their targets in creative ways and leaving behind see-through wounds in a menagerie of blood and gunpowder.
From Sgt. Cantrell’s shocking demise to that explosive finale, a lot of people die in a lot of horrible ways in this movie. Things never quite reach Evil Dead levels of schlocky gore, but Raimi still made the most of his R-rating here, elevating the film’s homicidal tendencies to near comedic levels of absurdity. That being said, Evil Dead fans are sure to appreciate Raimi’s inimitable brand of dark humor during the film’s comedic moments, with the director perfecting the same kind of three-stooges-like physical comedy that originally turned Bruce Campbell into an icon.
Like the other Westerns of its time, Raimi and Stone’s bold little experiment didn’t exactly succeed in resurrecting the genre for a new generation, but it’s still an undeniably fun throwback with plenty of exaggerated kills that I think will be appreciated by horror fans. After all, what’s more horrific than having to live in the time of sweaty horses and outhouses?
There’s no understating the importance of a balanced media diet, and since bloody and disgusting entertainment isn’t exclusive to the horror genre, we’ve come up with Horror Adjacent – a recurring column where we recommend non-horror movies that horror fans might enjoy.
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