Follow TV Tropes


Film / Curse of the Headless Horseman

Go To

Curse of the Headless Horseman is a 1972 horror film written by Ken Riche and by John Kirkman.

Mark Callahan (played by Marland Proctor), a young physician, was just informed by his family’s attorney that his uncle died, leaving him a ranch. The stipulation of the will is that Mark has to get the ranch to turn a profit in six months or he loses the rights to the property. So Mark, his hippie friends, and his fiancée Brenda (Claudia Reame) head out to the old place to check it out. It turns out that the old ranch is a more of a Wild West theme park, complete with gun-toting re-enactors. The ranch also comes with a creepy old caretaker and semi-professional doomsayer named Solomon (B.G. Fisher) who tells a creepy (yet totally vague) tale about a headless horseman.

One of the hippies gets an idea about how Mark can turn the old ranch into a tourist hotspot by having themselves perform for the entertainment of tourists. No sooner is this plan put into action then a headless horseman shows up terrorizing and bringing about the deaths of some hippies. Who is this mysterious headless messenger of death? Is he a supernatural being from Hades or does this joker just want to scare the Mark and his friends off the property for some other reason?


  • Accidental Murder: The Horseman is attempting to scare Mark's friends off the ranch. This results in two deaths: one girl runs in front of a van while trying to flee from him, and another—who is high on LSD—seems to just drop dead after being splashed with blood (it's possible that she suffered a drug induced heart attack but, like almost everything else in this movie, it is never made explicit).
  • Advertised Extra: Ultra Violet receives top billing. She appears in one scene as a foreign noblewoman looking to buy the ranch: a scene that has no bearing on the plot.
  • Altar the Speed: Mark and Brenda are putting off getting married until he finishes his medical degree. Towards the end of the film, Mark suddenly decides that they should get married immediately and they are married by the local Justice of the Peace in the church at the western theme park.
  • Antagonist Title: The Horseman is a ghost who haunts the ranch that Mark inherited, and seems to be intent on driving Mark and his friends off the land.
  • Blood Is the New Black: The Horseman splashes blood from his severed head on people to frighten them. The girl who is tripping on acid responds by rubbing the blood over her body while writhing orgasmically.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Solomon is the disfigured caretaker who stands to inherit the ranch if Mark cannot make it turn a profit in six months. He skulks around the ranch, spying on people and making cryptic utterances about the Headless Horseman.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: The film is accompanied by a narration that tries to sound profound, but usually just ends up weird, confused and pretentious: not helped by the fact the narration often seems to have little to do with what is happening on the screen. One sample gem:
    “Remember childhood innocence and freedom? Remember it, for it is gone now.”
  • Fright Deathtrap: One of the hippie chicks is spooked by the Horseman and somehow runs in front of a campervan that is the only moving vehicle in the whole carpark. Another one dies, seemingly of heart failure, when she encounters the Horseman while tripping on acid.
  • Gotta Kill Them All: The Horseman is seeking the eight gunmen who caused his death. He may have killed eight stuntmen in the theme park after mistaking them for the gunmen, but this is not made clear and, like so many other plot points, is never mentioned again after it is first brought up.
  • Headless Horseman: A phantom horseman appears every night with a human head tucked under his arm lets it be known that he is searching for eight gunfighters.
  • Hey, Let's Put on a Show: The hippies decide that the best way to save the dude ranch is for them to put on shows for the tourists. As none of them possess anything that could be described as 'talent', it is hard to see exactly how this is going to help the dude ranch.
  • Hippie Van: Most of Mark's hippie friends travel to the ranch in a hippie van.
  • Losing Your Head: The eponymous horseman carries a severed head (possibly his own) with him. At the end of the movie, the Horseman can be heard laughing, so presumably it is still capable of some form of communication.
  • Non-Protagonist Resolver: Insofar as this film even has a protagonist. When Mark suffers his Villainous Breakdown, he grabs a pistol and starts trying to shoot his way out. In doing so, he kills one of the stuntmen who stage the gunfights in the park. After a brief shootout, he is shot and killed by the stuntman's brother.
  • Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon: One of the re-enactors is wounded when a real bullet is placed in the chamber of one of the stage guns and wings him in the arm during the daily shootout.
  • Off with His Head!: The Headless Horseman is a gunfighter who somehow lost his head. Possibly in a botched hanging, but this (like so much else in the movie) is never really explained.
  • On One Condition: There is a codicil to Uncle Callahan's will that says Mark must make the ranch financially successful within six months in order for him to retain possession of it.
  • Pistol-Whipping: John snatches the shotgun off the cowboy guarding him and bashes him on the base as the skull as he attempts to escape.
  • Real After All: After the Horseman has been exposed as a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax, the real Horseman appears on the top of the ridge laughing manically (despite lacking a head).
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The Headless Horseman is revealed to be Mark, attempting to drive everyone off the land so no one discovers the gold deposit. But, at the end of the film, the Horseman turns out to be Real After All.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After being exposed as the Horseman, Mark suffers one and snaps completely. He delivers a brief Motive Rant, then grabs a gun and attempts to shoot his way out through his friends and employees. As he has absolutely no escape plan, and appears to be attempting flee into the desert on foot with no water or supplies, he doesn't get very far.
  • Weapon Specialization: One of the Indian cowhands is an expert with the bullwhip and uses it to take down John when John is posing as the Horseman.
  • Weird West: A dude ranch is haunted by the ghost of a headless gunfighter.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: The Horseman's only aggressive act is to splash people with blood from a severed head. Unpleasant and disturbing certainly, but nowhere near the terrifying atrocity the hippies seem to regard it as.