Jul 4, 2014

13 Patriotic Horror Movies

Article By: Tony Timpone

Today we commemorate our nation’s 238th year of independence with a long weekend filled with barbecues, fireworks and flag-waving parades. But horror leaves no stone unturned, and July 4th has also witnessed it share of nightmarish scenarios. This holiday of pure Americana calls forth patriotic yearnings and a nationalistic look back, which horror films have also commented on in various ways. So for this edition of The Friday 13, Chiller declares Our Most Patriotic Horror Films! (Titles arranged according to year of release.)

1. Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

There’s nothing civil (or pleasant) about the ghosts inhabiting the sleepy Southern town of Pleasant Valley. In splatter auteur Herschell Gordon Lewis Confederate revenge fantasy, the victims of a Yankee massacre return on the 100th anniversary of their deaths to settle the gore score by waylaying a group of unsuspecting road-tripping Northerners. There will be blood, barrels of it (literally), as the South rises again!

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2. Werewolf of Washington (1973)

This obscure ’70s curio attempts to skewer both classic monster movies and the Watergate-era Nixon White House. The President’s press secretary (Quantum Leap’s Dean Stockwell in a due’s paying assignment) returns from Hungary with the curse of lycanthropy, and before long, the fur’s flying on Capitol Hill. If you can overcome the film’s non-existent budget and sloppy direction, you may appreciate Werewolf of Washington’s black comedy and subversive peek at American politics (including a possible jab at our oil dependence!). 

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3. Jaws (1975)

In this summer blockbuster, the July 4th holiday means picnic time for a Great White shark! Novice director Steven Spielberg cut his (serrated) teeth on the movie that kept us out of the water. After the remains of a young girl wash ashore, the mayor of Amity refuses to close the beaches for the Fourth festivities, leading to a feeding frenzy for an oversized shark. Only a trio of mismatched heroes (Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw) can stop the ongoing maritime massacre. Endlessly imitated, movies don’t get more exciting than Jaws.

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4. The Omen (1976)

As far as we know, career politician Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) puts God and Country first as the US Ambassador to Great Britain. But he makes a huge mistake when his wife miscarries and he unknowingly substitutes the son of Satan as his child. Thus begins a horrifying chain of events (precipitated by gruesome “accidents”) foretold in the Bible that will lead the Antichrist to the ultimate seat of destructive power: the presidency of the United States. The Devil and politics? It’s American as apple pie!

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5. Body Snatchers (1993)

Considered the weakest of the films inspired by Jack Finney’s classic sci-fi novel (at least until 2007’s The Invasion came along), this quasi-remake/sequel to the 1978 remake (confused yet?) offers much to recommend. Chief among the film’s pluses is its military base setting, where loss of human individuality and emotion (the aliens’ MO) can easily go unnoticed. Hello, boot camp. Indie provocateur Abel Ferrara sees extreme patriotism as another tool of the pod people and even cast R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket’s typecast drill sergeant) as a general. The movie also includes one of the best lines in any Body Snatchers film when duplicate Meg Tilly tells her stepdaughter, “There’s no one like you left!” 

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6. Independence Day (1996)

Sci-fi and horror frequently cross over (see entry #5), and there’s plenty to get scared about in this megahit. First off, you’ve got the White House being blasted to smithereens right at the top, as well as most of the civilized world. The squidlike aliens also have a nasty way of possessing humans (including Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Brent Spiner). But what we celebrate here is Independence Day’s rah-rah jingoism that rallies everyday Americans, whipped into a patriotic fervor by President Bill Pullman’s inspiring pep talk, to defeat the extraterrestrial threat. Also see Mars Attacks!, Starship Troopers and Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers for more examples of US might vanquishing all enemies, human or otherwise.

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7. Uncle Sam (1996)

In this franchise non-starter from the creators of the Maniac Cop trilogy, a deceased Gulf War veteran comes back to life on the Fourth of July after some punks burn an American flag on his grave. In short order—and in true slasher fashion—the reanimated soldier (dressed up as, you guessed it, a rotting Uncle Sam) goes after unpatriotic citizens during his hometown’s Independence Day celebration. If the cookout gets rained out this weekend, Uncle Sam’s the perfect potboiler for you, with a B-movie cast to die for (William Smith, Bo Hopkins, Robert Forster, etc.).

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8. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Kids should not drink and drive—especially on the Fourth of July. That’s when a quartet of young friends accidentally runs over a man during a late night joy ride. After the kids cover up the crime, they go off to college and life. But a year later, mysterious letters show up with the titular warning and a hook-handed fisherman begins stalking them, even crashing the town’s Independence Day procession. Scream creator Kevin Williamson scripted this slick teen horror flick, populated with a photogenic CW-style cast (including future couple Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar) and one creepy stalker (Muse Watson).

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9. Masters of Horror: The Washingtonians (2007)

Our history books have sometimes glossed over the shadier aspects of our Founding Fathers, like the fact that many of them owned slaves. But did you know that George Washington and a few of his fellow patriots were also clandestine cannibals? That’s the meaty premise of this campy installment of the Showtime anthology series, helmed by Peter (The Changeling) Medak and starring Johnathon Schaech as a modern man who uncovers the shocking secret you won’t read about on Wikipedia.

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10. The Revenant (2009)

In this humorous horror sleeper from first-time writer/director D. Kerry Prior, a fallen Iraq vet (David Anders of Once Upon a Time) sits up in his coffin much to the shock and awe of his slacker buddy (Chris Wylde). The soldier now requires blood to live, and the two friends become inadvertent local vigilantes to feed his supernatural need. Our military hero only kills society’s miscreants, but personal complications soon ensue. The Revenant represents the flipside of 1972’s Deathdream, where an undead Vietnam combatant’s hometown reunion leads to a new war of terror.

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11. Red White & Blue (2010

From British director Simon Rumley comes this searing portrait of the dark side of the American dream. Set in a dusty Texan burg, the film follows the sad travails of a trio of the walking wounded: a frustrated musician (Marc Senter) with a violent streak, a promiscuous woman (Amanda Fuller) wantonly spreading HIV and a revenge-minded Army vet (Game of Thrones’ Noah Taylor). All collide in a disturbing and uncompromising story where nobody lives happily ever after. 

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12. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012)

Would you believe that the 16th president of the United States also moonlighted as an adept monster slayer? That’s the premise revealed in this exciting, entertaining and underrated horror actioner by Russian director Timur (Wanted) Bekmambetov. The filmmakers wisely take an earnest approach to the outlandish subject matter and avoid the pitfalls of camp, while the movie’s ax-swinging Honest Abe (well played by Broadway star Benjamin Walker) commands our attention and respect.

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13. The Purge (2013)

In this surprise hit (sequel arrives later this month), Americans are asked to do their patriotic duty and “purge.” We’re not talking about upchucking here; in this futuristic setting, all crime becomes legal during an annual 12-hour period and citizens can take part without recrimination. And in this liberal nightmare, the program works, as felonies go down dramatically the rest of the year! But pity the unfortunate family of Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, whose home is invaded by a gang of neighborhood sadists. Writer/director James DeMonaco raises some intriguing questions of misplaced civic responsibility and government intervention, but The Purge’s message takes a backseat to well-calibrated horror and suspense.

On this July 4th, let freedom scream with a good and scary horror movie. And share your summer holiday frights on our Facebook page or go on Twitter using #Friday13.

This month Tony Timpone heads to Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, where he serves as co-director of international programming.

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