Shadows West: Three screenplays by the Lansdales

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsJoe R. Lansdale Shadows WestShadows West by Joe R. and John L. Lansdale

Reading a screenplay is a different experience from a novel or short story. A screenplay strips the story down to dialogue and action, with some visuals. There is no interior monologue or author philosophizing, or at least, not much. It can be refreshing.

Joe R. Lansdale, who has written crime novels, mystery, dark fantasy and horror, provides three screenplays for the interested reader in Shadows West. Two of the trio were written with his brother John Lansdale, who used to write for Tales from the Crypt. All three are Westerns, all three feature the living dead and all three have the scatological analogies and sardonic humor Lansdale does well.

  • In Hell’s Bounty, a hardened bounty hunter dies and is recruited by Lucifer to stop a rebel demon from unleashing the Old Gods in a town where the people have already turned into ghouls.
  • Dead Man’s Road introduces us to a team of demon hunters, the nastiest beekeeper ever, and a haunted road.
  • In Dead in the West, a town faces the consequences of its actions, and a sinning man of God discovers his new role in God’s plan.

Despite the original pairing of Jubil and Terry as demon hunters, and the powerful visuals, Dead Man’s Road was not very successful for me. After a humorous introduction in which Terry and Jubil, squabbling like an old married couple the entire time, kill a werewolf, the actual story unfolds when they stop at a roadhouse. There is a tale of the curmudgeonly beekeeper who sells the sweetest, richest honey in the territory. He kills a child, and the child’s Indian mother takes her revenge by cursing him. This results in a stretch of road that is also cursed. Terry and Jubil decide to investigate, and in short order a deputy who is bringing a murderer in to be hanged, the cowardly brother of the werewolf, and a pretty, larcenous barmaid all decide that taking a shortcut along the cursed road with the demon-hunters is a fine idea. From there, everything unfolds with comforting predictability. I didn’t enjoy Dead Man’s Road that much, but I would like to read more about Terry and Jubil, who are kind of a vulgar, frontiersy Steed-and-Mrs. -Peel, or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser if one of them had been female. And the “secret” of the honey is beautiful and grotesque.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHell’s Bounty has the most outright humor, most of which takes place in the saloon that is the “waiting area” between earth and Hell. In the mining town of Falling Rock, Trumo Quill makes a deal with a thing he finds lurking in the graveyard. As is always the case, he doesn’t read the fine print of the bargain. Meanwhile, Smith, a cold-hearted bounty hunter comes to town. When Quill attacks a woman in the saloon and disfigures her, Smith uses that moment not to rescue the woman but to take his man. In the struggle, Smith is killed and finds himself in Lucifer’s saloon. Lucifer explains that Quill is not what he seems. He has been possessed by a demon who has escaped Hell and plants to open a portal and allow the Old Ones to enter. When Smith returns to Falling Rock, he finds that Quill and the town have undergone a metamorphosis. Quill is a demon and the townsfolk are living dead. Unlike George Romero zombies, these ghouls can still speak after a fashion, even though their bodies are decaying and many have lost tongues, jaws, etc. One ghoul speaks with subtitles. Smith soon connects with the drunken town doctor, the undertaker, and Payday, the disfigured but beautiful woman who now wears black leather and fights ghouls. It is not enough, Smith knows, to stop the ghouls. Quill is advancing the spell to open the portal, and Smith and Payday must stop it. Smith has a couple of gifts from Satan: silver bullets that never run out, and a hand of playing cards he can use to call up a “posse. ”

I can see why this would be too expensive for an independent movie production company to make, because the special effects Lansdale calls for are extravagant, but they read wonderfully. Even though nothing is a surprise, the action sequences and special effects are extraordinary. This script should win some kind of award for best use of silver dust as a weapon, and Payday is not only beautiful and spunky but pretty smart too.

Dead in the West is an adaptation of a Joe Lansdale “weird western” novel. By this time, I felt like I needed the walking-dead checklist:

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Isolated town?
fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Bigoted and cowardly townspeople who committed a great evil?
fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tortured hero who must attain redemption?
fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Beautiful, unattached young woman?
fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Corrupt lawmen?
fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Smart-mouthed boy with a bad home life?
fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Doctor/newspaper editor who reads the Necronomicon for entertainment?

Okay, we’re good to go with the Reverend, a preacher who engaged in an adulterous affair and then killed his lover’s husband. He happens to be a crack shot, which could make him a fairly interesting minister, but Lansdale does not spend any time here developing character. The Reverend comes to a town where the townspeople did a bad thing to some outsiders, and the outsiders are wreaking a terrible supernatural revenge on them. Because the characters are flat and the action so predictable, I don’t have any desire to seek out the novel, which probably has more depth and development. It’s an unfortunate consequence.

If you decide to read Shadows West, I recommend taking a break between each screenplay. Read something completely different as a palate cleanser. I think this book will suit Lansdale completists and would actually be a helpful gift for that film student in your life. For me, I think I’ll just rent the adaptation of Joe Lansdale’s novella, Bubba Ho-tep.

Shadows West — (2012) Publisher: Six guns and zombies, a chicken eating werewolf, deals with the devil, and things that go bump in the night. John Wayne never had to deal with these kind of shenanigans, or these kinds of rowdies. But Joe R. Lansdale and John L. Lansdale aren’t afraid, partner. They make this kind of material their everyday business. Compared to the cowpokes in their stories, John Wayne was a big sissy. We got shoot-em-ups and bite-em-ups and blow em-ups, and the appearance of classic bad guys, like Jesse James, sent straight from hell with a bad attitude. We got a horse black as the pit and fast as the wind. We got things that won’t die even when they’re dead. There are demons and ugly people, both inside and out, giant spiders and unnecessary cursing, and one hot red-head heifer with an eye patch and a bull whip. Who could ask for anything more. So, for your entertainment, pilgrim, here we have it: three screenplays that venture way out west… Way, way, way out west. The Western and the horror film will never be the same.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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