John Carpenter once wrote a Western for John Wayne called Blood River, but here’s why it didn’t happen. Carpenter grew up a major fan of Westerns, with Rio Bravo being his favorite; Assault On Precinct 13 was his take on the same concept. By the time he moved into filmmaking, Westerns were all but dead in Hollywood. Instead, he focused on horror and went on to helm genre favorites like Halloween, The Thing and In The Mouth Of Madness. He never quite got to fulfill his Western dreams, however, with 1998’s Vampires being about as close as he came.
Early in his career, Carpenter penned a Western called Blood River. This involved a young gunfighter fleeing the vengeful father of a man he killed, and being helped by an old trapper. During the early ’70s, John Wayne’s – who considered Jet Pilot his worst movie – production company optioned the screenplay, with Carpenter brought on to craft it for the star. Carpenter recalls having a good time developing the project and that he was well-treated by Wayne and his family. However, the project was scrapped, with Wayne’s ill health during his final years cited as the key reason. In fact, part of Blood River’s rewrite involved trimming the more intense action sequences for his character.
It appears Wayne hadn’t entirely given up on Blood River, as Ron Howard later recalled the actor mentioning the project as a potential starring vehicle for the two of them. Howard co-starred with Wayne in what proved to be the latter’s final movie The Shootist and mentioned that Blood River contained two great parts for them. Wayne’s health would continue to worsen following The Shootist, and this period even saw Wayne reject Spielberg’s offer to appear in war comedy 1941. Howard later lamented not getting to work with Wayne again, who passed from stomach cancer in 1979.
Carpenter originally envisioned a director like Howard Hawks helming Blood River. Carpenter also knew he would never get the gig, as he was too inexperienced at the time. Wayne’s passing appeared to mark the end of Blood River, though it was eventually produced as a CBS TV movie in 1991. This cast Ricky Schroder as the gunfighter, while Wilford Brimley played the character earmarked for Wayne. Carpenter’s ex-wife Adrienne Barbeau also played a part, but despite a talented cast, Blood River debuted to mixed reviews and is now largely forgotten.
Outside of Blood River, Carpenter developed an epic Western dubbed El Diablo for himself to direct. This would have been a combination of Wayne’s The Searchers – which has an iconic ending – and Journey To The Center Of The Earth, where a mild-mannered schoolteacher teams with a veteran gunfighter to rescue the former’s kidnapped sister. The movie’s potential budget scared studio’s away, while Carpenter moved on to other projects. Like Blood River, it was eventually made in the ’90s as a TV movie, starring Anthony Edwards and Louis Gossett Jr.