Archive for August, 2018

Eric Red’s Top 10 Best Western Movies

Friday, August 31st, 2018

I’ve always loved westerns. It’s my favorite genre. Got a chance to make a western movie in the 90s when my original script THE LAST OUTLAW was produced by HBO. The adventure of being in New Mexico, working outdoors with horses and actors and stuntmen filming shoot-‘em-ups in epic locations was a dream come true.

A few years ago after becoming a novelist, I started a western novel called NOOSE, but thinking there was no market for westerns, put the unfinished manuscript in the drawer. Cut to a few years later talking with my editor Gary Goldstein at Kensington Books, when to my surprise he asked me if I had any western novels. I pulled NOOSE out of the drawer and the rest is history. Gary enlightened me that the western fiction genre is one of the largest growing genres in publishing and Kensington is the biggest publisher of western novels. Out of the blue, got hired to write NOOSE and the sequel HANGING FIRE. NOOSE sold so well it was in its second printing before the date of publication. To my delight, I found myself writing books in my favorite genre.

The western is the one true uniquely American genre—it’s ours, fellow Americans, we own it. Gary, who has been editing western novels for thirty years, puts it beautifully when he calls westerns “The American Arthurian Legend.” Westerns are a heroic mythology intrinsic to our country but universally resonant all around the world, America’s unique contribution to popular culture on the planet. I love how western film and fiction cross-pollinate each other in a grand mythology of good guys and bad guys, strong men and women with guns and hats and horses locked in physical and moral confrontations played out against the rugged Old West landscape that forms the ultimate stage for good and evil stories.

These ten films all influenced the Joe Noose Westerns in one way or another. In reverse order, these are what I consider the ten best western movies ever made:


Most westerns were pretty clear about who the good and bad guys are until UNFORGIVEN came along. The movie presents an upside down moral universe of the Old West where redemption doesn’t exist and every character is flawed, every soul compromised. The wild thing about the popular flick is how involved we become in this world where the good guys are bad and the bad guys are good. The protagonist William Munny played by Clint Eastwood is a reformed alcoholic outlaw killer of women and children who straps his guns on again to chase a bounty where he has to kill a man he doesn’t know so Munny can provide for his motherless children. The villain is a hard-liner law and order Sheriff who prohibits guns in his town and has many heroic traits that would make him a hero in another film, but in this film, the lawman is a retired gunfighter with a dark side of cold-blooded sadism. The line between good and evil gets quickly obscured in the murky moral universe of UNFORGIVEN. The movie’s skill is how invested we get in characters who are all tarnished. Maybe it’s because it’s Clint, but by the end, we find ourselves rooting for Munny to start drinking again, return to his murderous gunslinger ways, then go in there and kill the brutal Sheriff and all his deputy sons of bitches…and when Clint does we cheer him on. While the story keeps us focused on what unfolds, the risky mainstream movie plays with all our assumptions of the conventions of western good guys and bad guys and turns them on its head, so we wind up rooting for a stone killer to clean up the town, even as we fear him when before he rides out of town he warns the survivors to keep their noses clean or he’ll be back to finish them off. UNFORGIVEN has one of the most complex structured and original western screenplays ever written, in my opinion. Yet for all the moral complexity it remains a regular Clint Eastwood film, where he delivers his trademark speech before blowing everyone away just like he did in his Dirty Harry movies. Gene Hackman’s tough s.o.b Sheriff villain is great against-type casting, where Hackman’s usual righteous fortitude is colored through a glass darkly. This is a movie where our emotional reactions watching it make us reflect on our values of good and bad and right and wrong remembering who we were rooting for watching it. It is a hell of an exciting, entertaining classic western.

UNFORGIVEN successfully broke all the rules breaking the western mold, which was exactly what I did not want to do in my novel NOOSE. The book is a clear-cut good guys versus bad guys tale where the hero is good and the villains are bad, a return to the clear moral universe of white hats and black hats in the classic western tradition. Life is confusing enough I say, especially these days, so let the reader enjoy for a few hours a story taking them to a place and time when the choices were simpler and right and wrong was clear, where all your problems can be solved by pulling a trigger, if you’re quick enough. When you finish the book, it’s back to real world problems but from riding with Joe Noose and beating the bad guys with him you feel better, at least for a little while.


The muscular recounting of the Jesse James saga can’t be beat with the casting of all the Carradine and Keach actor brothers to play the historical James and Youngers brothers. Their performances are totally convincing as the related outlaw gang and the tough-as-nails physical presence the stars exude in the roles is exciting to watch. David Carradine’s badass sardonic Cole Younger steals the show and gets the best lines. The movie is more about presence as far the drama goes, for better or worse. THE LONG RIDERS is not a perfect flick—it has too many slow, stiff, stagey scenes. But in its best moments the movie is a brilliantly staged and filmed western, the scenes with the James and Youngers photographed and framed with elegant precision in classic group compositions that are a pleasure to watch on screen. Where the movie comes alive are the action sequences that kick major ass, thrilling in the sheer physicality of the shoot-outs. The action highlight is the climactic bank raid in Minnesota where incredible stunts, dynamic action staging and bloody effects combined with heightened reality slow motion cinematography and stylized sound put us right in the saddles with the outlaws as they get shot to pieces shooting their way out of the failed robbery. Despite its flaws, THE LONG RIDERS makes the list for being overall an impressively mounted, beautifully made, very well-shot and edited western…and for its unbeatable cast.

THE LONG RIDERS is a movie of few words about men of few words. One of the things I admire about the flick is how much of the drama is conveyed not through dialogue but instead through looks, expressions, glances and body language, which in purely cinematic terms convey more emotionally than any line of dialogue ever could. In NOOSE, the hero is alone for much of the story, one wounded bounty hunter pursued by a gang of heavily armed bounty killers hunting him for the reward from a murder they framed him for. The narrative required the reader to know what Joe Noose was thinking and feeling without dialogue because he has nobody to talk to, so it is communicated on the page though his physicality.


Sergio Leone’s sprawlingly ambitious, action-packed, highly entertaining saga of a triangle of dangerous gunfighters, Clint Eastwood the Good, Lee Van Cleef the Bad and Eli Wallach the Ugly, searching for a elusive cache of hidden gold in the Old West. On the quest, the men settle scores with each other again and again, fighting to one up and beat each other to the treasure. The simple story is set against an epic visual canvas of Civil War battle tableaus the three rivals journey through on their way to their ultimate reckoning. The picture is staggeringly filmed with stunning Technoscope widescreen compositions creating an immense sense of scale, giving the cowboys gigantic mythical stature on the screen and imparting a bigger-than-life legendary quality to the western vistas filmed in Spain. The famous three-way showdown and quick-draw gunfight is an incredible drawn-out sequence of epic deep focus wide shots of the gunfighters facing down in a steady building of tighter and tighter shots of the combatants intercut with extreme close ups of eyes and hands by guns in holsters extended for tension and excitement straining the suspense of who will draw first to the breaking point for the audience. Ennio Morricone’s unique supercharged symphonic western movie music with its famous “whistle theme” injects intoxicating sensation into this audacious set piece that takes our breath away. THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY was a cinematic game-changer stylistically, giving a whole new look and feel to westerns that has influenced action movies ever since.

The simplicity of the story in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY with its clean linear line of physical action and mano-a-mano confrontation between the good and bad guys is the right way to do a western, I’ve always believed. It was the structural model I used for THE LAST OUTLAW screenplay and also for my new western novel NOOSE, both of which involve a posse chase across the Old West. Can’t think of a western gunfight without thinking of Sergio Leone and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and his other classics A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. In NOOSE there are a plenty of gunfights, shoot-outs I wrote with prose channeling the heightened realism of Sergio Leone mashed up with Sam Peckinpah bloody carnage. When you read the book, you’ll feel like ducking the flying bullets.


The finest modern western, in my opinion. The movie successfully brought the classic western into our contemporary era with gunfights that had the violent immediacy and visceral impact of urban street gang shoot-outs; it made westerns relevant for contemporary viewers by making it essentially a gang film. Add to that a great ensemble of characters dominated by Val Kilmer’s unforgettable Doc Holliday and Kurt Russell’s ferocious Wyatt Earp as the heroes and Powers Booth and Michael Beihn heading up the bloodthirsty gang called The Cowboys whose depredations trigger the fateful events in the lawless town of Tombstone. The whole movie is one showdown after another. The penultimate pistol duel between Kilmer and Beihn is simply the best screen gunfight I’ve ever seen. From its opening moments, TOMBSTONE wastes no time getting our adrenaline pumping, delivering a rousing audience vigilante pic, embracing the raw exploitation movie under the big budget star-driven vehicle that really gets the audience’s blood up rooting for the good guys to get the bad guys. The sprawling tapestry of colorful characters is skillfully woven into the complex narrative surrounding the gunfight at the OK Corral and subsequent Vigilante Raid. It’s historically inaccurate but who cares? To paraphrase John Ford, ““When the legend becomes fact, film the legend.”

The way TOMBSTONE successfully modernized the movie western, connecting with audiences through violent action and edgy characters with contemporary sensibilities influenced my approach to NOOSE. I wanted to update the classic western story for modern readers by ramping up the action and violence to contemporary standards while retaining the traditional story and character elements of the classic western genre.


A handful of outnumbered, outgunned, mismatched heroes holed up holding down the fort under siege by bad guys who have them surrounded is a set up and group dynamic that always works and inspired too many movies to count, but was never done better than Howard Hawk’s movie for pure entertainment value. In this flick, the camaraderie of the heroes is catnip for the audience. The characters are incredibly likeable and fun to spend time with…tough reliable and loyal Sheriff John Wayne, drunken but straight-shooting deputy Dean Martin, cocky young gunslinger Ricky Nelson, cantankerous old coot Walter Brennan and sexy dancing girl Angie Dickinson. Wayne’s tough love sobering up his drunken friend Martin and getting him to pull himself together is one of many wonderful human moments in a western all about those personal moments. When they say they don’t make movies like they used to, they mean movies like this one.

RIO BRAVO shows that all movies, no matter the genre, are always about the people. Books are the same, so while there’s lots of action in NOOSE, the book is completely character-driven, because in any story, it’s always all about the people.


The epic quest of two cowboys’ hunt for their niece, a young child captured by a tribe of Comanche Indians who slaughtered her settler family is one of the cinema’s most powerful studies of obsession and determination against hopeless odds. Visually one of the definitive westerns, the movie is magnificently filmed in Monument Valley Arizona, filled with powerful compositions of characters framed against gigantic, jagged rock formations that mirror the cowboys’ rugged inner psyches. Ford’s film took risks with its uncompromised portrayal of Indian atrocities and the murderous anti-Indian racism of its anti-hero protagonist Ethan Edwards played by John Wayne in a pitiless, brutal, compelling performance. As the years pass and the kidnapped niece comes of age, Edwards knows she has had sex with Indians and his all-consuming hatred of Indians makes his search for the girl no longer to rescue but to kill her. The movie’s transcendent ending where Wayne chases his grown niece Natalie Wood down and finally gets his hands on her (I won’t say what happens for those who haven’t seen it) is one of the most stirring scenes in all of cinema, making me cry every time I see it. A study of a loner, the famous final shot of Wayne walking through the doorway by himself out into the lonely desert is a classic iconic shot illustrating the art of making movies is telling stories with pictures.

THE SEARCHERS always impressed me with its uncompromising portrayal of the conflicted anti-hero played by John Wayne who despite his brutality we still identify with as an audience, at least enough to want him to succeed and rescue the girl. The line between good guys and bad guys in westerns is ambiguous when you think about it—Most heroes in westerns are killers, they shoot people just like the bad guys do; the reason we root for or against one or the other is who they kill and why. In my books, bounty hunter hero Joe Noose is a dangerous man capable of tremendous violence, but he is obsessively driven to do the right thing for reasons buried in his past that make him want to rise above his savage nature and better himself. His formidable nemesis, Frank Butler is an amoral unscrupulous killer who believes that there is no right or wrong in the world, just winners and losers, and morality is a weakness. Noose’s confrontation with Butler is about moral character as much as bullets—Joe Noose and Frank Butler are both killers, it’s what makes them alike and matched, but there’s a difference. Noose is a killer with a conscience, and Butler has none.


A fairy tale of the American West. Westerns are American, but visionary Italian director Sergio Leone’s movies reimagined and reinvented the genre stylistically, casting a long shadow over western movies ever since. This poetic “Spaghetti Western” is a western opera of heightened larger-than-life characters, haunting music, sweeping long camera takes, dramatic tight shots of faces, dynamically exaggerated angles and epic deep focus compositions of gunfighters and showdowns extended in the editing to the limit of excitement and tension. The famous opening sequence in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST of three gunfighters killing time waiting in an empty train station for the railroad to arrive carrying the man they’ve come to kill is an audacious sequence of shots composed entirely of looks, glances, expressions and sounds. Henry Fonda’s brilliant against-type casting as the cold-blooded gunfighter, with the hero actor’s blue eyes used for icy, chilling effect was pure genius. When mysterious armed harmonica-playing good guy Charles Bronson comes to down, Fonda knows he and the stranger have a past, which becomes revealed in an extraordinary flashback involving the same harmonica. All of Leone’s western movies are operatic and this is his cowboy grand opera masterwork: a spellbinding integration of storytelling visuals and music by composer Ennio Morricone, whose haunting orchestral themes weave sonic alchemy throughout the action. I love that Morricone wrote and recorded all the scores for Leone’s movies before the movies were made, composing the music after reading the scripts in advance of filming and during shooting the actual recorded score was played constantly on the set, the music infusing the director and actors getting the shots, producing a sublime symbiosis of visuals and music in the Italian western flicks. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is no art flick—it’s filled with crowd-pleasing gunfights and action-packed excitement, but it will forever be the ultimate fever dream of the “Spaghetti Western” genre.

Writing NOOSE, I channeled Sergio Leone stylistically in the final showdown with Joe Noose and Frank Butler, evoking in prose the “Spaghetti Western” language of tight ups of gunfighters eyes, fingers twitching by guns in holsters, and the heightened sounds heard by men facing death…Yes, I was listening to Ennio Morricone while writing the climax.


Westerns are about heroes, good guys versus bad guys, and without heroism a western is not a real western in my humble opinion. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is as heroic a film as they come. There are stories we all deep down want to hear as human beings, narratives that universally speak to our grand consciousness on a deep mythological level. Redemption stories about bad men who become good men using their unique skills for the greater good against forces worse than them is one such story— the lasting popularity of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is how perfectly it tells that tale. A remake of the classic Akira Kurasawa Japanese Samurai film, THE SEVEN SAMURAI, I prefer John Sturgis’ western redo simply because the story is more accessible with cowboys. We all know the tale: Seven unemployed gunfighters, ranging from good to bad, join forces as paid mercenaries to save a poor Mexican village from a band of ruthless killer bandits. It all leads to a big showdown where the gunfighters fight the bandits. By the end, the gunfighters who survive and those who don’t have redeemed themselves by saving the defenseless people, ending up with no money but their honor and pride restored. Who doesn’t love that story? This movie is so stirring, so moving, so exciting, so action-packed and loaded with involving characters it is just everything a western should be. Every one of the gunfighters but the enigmatic leader Yul Brynner has a history and character arc, including Steve (“We deal in lead, friend”) McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Robert Vaughn. The villainous bandit leader Eli Wallach is intelligently portrayed as charismatic and charming, more pragmatic than evil. This western epic has a large gallery of involving characters and great star performances, surprising us with who lives and who dies in a climactic shoot-out that delivers the action goods, plus the famous thrilling symphonic score and rousing theme by composer Elmer Bernstein. My single favorite moment in western movies is at the very end after gunfighter leader Brynner has shot down the head bad guy who looks up at him incredulously and asks, “A man like you…why?” The gunfighter doesn’t answer, doesn’t have to—the formidable man in black just stands there tall and powerful, a statue of implacable moral force, his eyes projecting pure courage and invincibility…He’s a hero, that’s why. Watching THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, the on-screen heroism is inspiring and we feel good inside when the credits roll. That’s entertainment.

My second novel THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE was inspired by THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN but I put horror/western spin on things with three gunfighters hired to protect a poor Mexican village from a pack of werewolves who are bandits in human form—a much bloodier, edgier take on the tale. I felt the story universally resonates but in order to be relevant for today’s unsentimental reader sensibilities, my three gunfighters needed to be real bad men when we meet them, so when the shootists finally choose to do the right thing and become heroes, risking their lives to destroy the werewolves and save the people, their redemption is meaningful. THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE and its sequel THE WOLVES OF EL DIABLO are two of my most popular novels that received rave reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, and were my first westerns.


No western for me matches the heart, humor and moving human values of the great Henry Hathaway John Wayne flick. A portrait of an unlikely friendship between three mismatched characters, a colorfully drunken and deadly U.S. Marshall, an arrogant Texas Ranger and a young girl totally out of her element who join forces to track down a bad guy is unmatched for pure entertainment value and characters you truly root for. Folks who think women have no place in westerns need look no further than Kim Darby’s Mattie Ross, one of my favorite characters in movies. The young woman’s stubborn determination and “true grit” venturing out into a dangerous world of lawless gunfighters to get justice for the killer of her father, her perseverance against overwhelming odds earning the love and respect of the west’s toughest U.S. Marshall and the audience. Watching the Hathaway version now, it’s easy to forget how fresh and edgy the movie was when it came out in 1971, pushing the boundaries of violence in Hollywood westerns and having John Wayne turning his image upside down with his roaring subversive and outrageous performance as the invincible, fearless Rooster Cogburn.

TRUE GRIT was all the reminder necessary to have strong and sympathetic women characters in NOOSE, and there is something of Mattie Ross in Bess Sugarland in the book. She is her U.S. Marshal father’s deputy until he is murdered by a gang of evil bounty hunters who frame Noose for the killing to get the reward. Now wearing the Marshal badge, Bess determinedly joins the chase overcoming youthful fear and inexperience braving it out on the trail until by the end of the book she has earned her badge. TRUE GRIT also inspired me in NOOSE and the sequel to build up the heroes’ humanity because readers can’t root for the good guys enough. The enduring friendship forged between bounty hunter Joe Noose and Marshal Bess Sugarland during their troubles with The Butler Gang infuses the novel with love, warmth and humor that will carry through the book series long into the future. I am happy that a lot of women have been reading and enjoying NOOSE, which has been bringing female readers to the western fiction genre’s traditionally older male readership.


The savage, gritty, dirty, ultra-violent Sam Peckinpah classic is unsurpassed for me as far as westerns go. Redefining cinema’s western mythology by brutally demythologizing it in an epic and elegiac way. The corrosively unsentimental portrait of a gang of aging hardened cowboy killers whose religion is friendship blew the classic Hollywood heroic cowboy stereotype to smithereens; it showed characters don’t have to be “good” for us to care about them. William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates and Ben Johnson give bigger-than-life lived-in performances. The game-changing action sequences showing the body shattering violence of true gunfights are absolutely astonishing, ugly but exciting as hell. The apocalyptic nihilistic final shootout and explosive use of slow motion blood spurting violence may be the single best shot and edited action sequence of all time.

THE WILD BUNCH influenced my new novel NOOSE by how it made the brutal environment of the Old West visceral, gritty and real. In my book, I wanted to put the reader in the saddle, to see, feel and taste the place and action, vicariously experiencing the dust, dirt, gunfire, horse riding, bullet wounds. And I made the many gunfights in NOOSE as bloody and brutal as the classic Peckinpah film so after you read the book, you’ll check to see if you’ve been shot.

I hope my western novels are to Louis L’Amour what Sam Peckinpah’s western movies were to John Ford-hard-nosed, violent, bloody, visceral and gritty.

Those ten western films are my favorites. I love writing western books and plan to write Joe Noose westerns forever, so check out the first book NOOSE, and saddle up for his adventures.

NOOSE is available in Mass Market Paperback and Kindle editions from Kensington Books at

The second book in the Joe Noose Western series, HANGING FIRE, will be out in February and the Mass Market Paperback edition is available from Kensington Books at:

Six-guns and silver bullets! My popular action-packed Werewolf Western book series, THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE and THE WOLVES OF EL DIABLO, is available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions from SST Publications at:

If you enjoy the books, please feel free to drop me a line through my website at as I love to hear from readers!

1800s Wyoming Comes Alive in New Western Book Series Entirely Set In Jackson Hole, By Filmmaker & Novelist Eric Red

Monday, August 20th, 2018


NOOSE, the first in a series of Western novels set entirely in Jackson Hole by acclaimed author and horror filmmaker Eric Red, has been released by Kensington Publishing in Mass Market Paperback and Kindle editions. Due to high reader demand from advance orders, NOOSE was already in its second printing before its official publication date.

An action-packed chase set along the Snake River from Hoback to Jackson in the last years of the old west, NOOSE is the story of Joe Noose, a bounty hunter, who is framed by a violent gang as the killer of the U.S. Marshal in Hoback. He sets out to clear his name and is chasing the gang as is new U.S. Marshal Bess Sugarland, determined to bring her father’s murderer to justice.

“Jackson’s history of women in positions of influence led me to have compelling women characters like Marshal Bess who is a key player throughout the series,” said Red, a part-time resident of Wilson, Wy. He noted that Jackson’s first all female city council is featured in NOOSE. “The balance of strong women characters with men in the book is drawing many more women readers than the typical Western novel,” he added.

Kensington describes the book as “Louis L’ Amour meets Pulp Fiction ” with Red bringing his trademark volatile action and bloody violence to the popular genre. Early reviews have termed it a fresh take on the classic Western and a fast-moving, gritty tale.

Said Net Galley review: “This book was a fresh, new look into Westerns. Today’s westerns have become very stale, and pretty much the same across the board. It was so very refreshing to read a story that brings a brand new perspective to this genre. I absolutely LOVED Joe Noose. The way he turns the tables on those who tried to wrong him was a fascinating and exciting ride. I hope there are more books to come with this MC! Anyone who has become bored with the Western genre, give this one a try!”

Red is the writer of such blockbuster films as The Hitcher, Near Dark, and Blue Steel, and writer/director of Cohen & Tate, Body Parts and 100 Feet. This is his sixth novel and first Western but has contracted with Kensington for at least three Joe Noose Westerns, all of which will be set in Wyoming.

NOOSE is available from Kensington Books at your favorite bookseller or on Amazon at

For review copies, please contact: Vida Engstrand 212.407.1573 [email protected]

Beautiful full-page inside cover ad in the August issue of Roundup Magazine featuring NOOSE in the Kensington Books western line.

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

NOOSE is available in Mass Market Paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon at

Publication day for NOOSE.

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018


In the cutthroat world of bounty hunters, Joe Noose is as honest as they come. Which isn’t saying much. Just look at his less-than-honest colleagues. They framed Joe for a murder they committed. They made sure Joe’s face wound up on a wanted poster. Now they’re gonna hunt Joe down and collect the reward money. There’s just one problem: Joe Noose thinks it’s his bounty. It’s his reward. And it’s their funeral.

Available from Kensington Books at your favorite bookseller or on Amazon at