When a place like Cinemageddon declares something to be the “World’s Weirdest Western” they have a lot of credit to back them up—and gain even more when their movie is The Rider of the Skulls. An enigmatic western/monster movie, Rider faces rather limp competition for the triple-W title, but then again, one can only dream of better—for any western better than The Rider of the Skulls must be the greatest western of all time.
In a format which seems to suggest this may have originally been a TV series, the Rider of the Skulls—a Prince of Space-style crimefighter in what seems to be Old Mexico (though there are cars)—fights a werewolf, who is the stepfather of a boy who idolizes him. The Rider tries to protect the boy’s mother, but she is killed by the werewolf. Seeking revenge, the Rider and the boy go into a fistfight with the werewolf (!) in which the werewolf falls off a cliff and dies. The boy decides to become the Rider’s sidekick, as does the family butler, a cowardly Santa-bearded loser named Cleofas. But, minutes later, in the “next episode” (I guess) the boy is gone and replaced with another kid! The Rider and his trusty pals go up against a monkey/vampire-thing (trust me, it’s weird) and kill it by impaling it on a blunt-ended stick (!) after it kidnaps a girl so she can be its bride. Finally, the Rider fights a headless horseman who uses a cardboard sword. The horseman is aided by two skeletons and his head is a creepy rubber hand-puppet that moans. The horseman is stabbed by the Rider’s machete, while God Himself shoots lightning to kill the skeletons. Then they all ride off into the sunset—or moon-set, given the sheer number of night-for-day shots. Hoo boy.
It may seem daunting for me to try to describe this movie further, just because it is indeed quite weird. Well, there’s a gap-toothed witch who shows up during the werewolf segment, and she seems to be evil, since she is apparently commanding the werewolf, and summons a latex-mask zombie to give some pointless exposition about the werewolf. After this, she tells the Rider who the werewolf is, leaves, and is never seen again; thus we also never figure out what happened to the zombie. There’s also the factor of why the vampire looks like a leper version of George Bush, and the sheer hilarity that emerges when we first see the hideous horseman head, who moans, “Please return me to my body”. There’s some grainy stock footage along the way of an owl, and some lightning that is supposed to be God. And of course, there’s the matter of why the movie is in segments to begin with. I like the TV theory, but there’s also the chance that they just made three too-short movies and sewed them together. The result doesn’t exactly flow (especially with Cleofas providing some “comic relief”), but it does seem to fit together. The segments could be set months or even years apart—which could explain the new sidekick and the new mask the Rider picks up along the way.
There’s very little I can do to “review” this sort of movie. It’s casually weird, and by that it means that it’s the rough equivalent of going into work and seeing that your cubicle neighbor is suddenly a mentally retarded hunchback named Skippy. There’s not much you can do about it, and if you’ve got a good sense of humor, you accept it gleefully. That’s what I did; if I went about this any different, I wouldn’t have loved in the strange, possibly perverse way that I do. I’m watching it again in a few weeks, I know that much. It makes me feel content.
Shambling along like a Frankenstein’s monster (and made from just as many parts) The Rider of the Skulls may be the World’s Weirdest Western, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. If every Lone Ranger episode had a little bit of this movie in it, I’d watch a lot more of the Lone Ranger. Though, to be honest, there was this one episode that I did see once, featuring two clumsy miners who almost remind me of Cleofas. They find some gold and are intent on not having it stolen before they cash it in. Remarkably, it gets stolen. The entire sequence introduced me to a word that I love: “tenderfeet”. I try to use the word “tenderfeet” on a regular basis, and now that The Rider of the Skulls has reminded me of its existence, I’m sure I’ll use it a lot more. Even though it doesn’t feature the word. But that’s cool. It’s got the worst looking “vampire” I’ve ever seen. No, seriously. Check it out. That’s a really weird-looking vampire.