Step right up! Step right up! For thrilling excitement, the most frightening monsters the world has ever seen, and hours of fun…here are the best action-horror films.
As an amalgamation of two genres action-horror unsurprisingly draws inspiration from a variety of avenues – be it comedy (Mr Vampire), fantasy (Big Trouble In Little China), science-fiction (Aliens), the western (Vampires) or even romance. You can make a case for The Terminator being an astute and thoughtfully conceived sci-fi while calling it a straight-forward, raw and violent monster movie. That’s perhaps what makes it so appealing. For me, the film is one of the most terrifying cinematic experiences of my life – both for writer-director James Cameron’s brilliant, unnerving concept and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer-without-conscience robot who stalks the innocent.
James Cameron is the master of action-horror in the modern arena. Aliens set the benchmark for countless imitations to copy it with varying results. Some are really good. Predator came out the following year, leading the pretenders by example, as Arnold Schwarzenegger once again delivered the action in a horror-science-fiction setting. Others including Resident Evil, Dog Soldiers, and Deep Rising are also enjoyable entries in the military-against-the-supernatural world of film.
It is a sub-genre I admire for its diversity as well as its inherent excitement built on the qualities of two historically trashy types of cinema. Here are ten examples I feel sell action-horror perfectly.
10. Mr Vampire (Lau, Hong Kong, 1985)
Honk Kong cinema is commonly known in the west for its martial arts movies. It saw a boom period in the 1980s and 1990s when special-effects complemented technically refined action sequences across an array of genres. That Hong Kong cinema of the 1980s often produced films featuring a mixture of high-concept ideas meant action and horror, along with comedy, made for crowd-pleasing entertainment. For Mr Vampire, the premise is in the title, as a priest specialising in the supernatural goes to battle with a rampaging vampire with the help of his Taoist students. Featuring gore, slapstick humour, fast-paced Kung-fu action and even romance, Mr Vampire brings a whole new interpretation to the iconic gothic monster, making for a fascinating watch not suited for the faint-hearted.
9. Duel (Spielberg, USA, 1971)
Steven Spielberg’s ace thriller was originally made-for-TV. It was so good it got a theatrical run. The film features some nail-biting action as a rogue truck begins following a lonely traveller through desolate Californian desert roads. The mysterious truck, operated by an unseen driver, takes on monstrous characteristics through its almost supernatural ability to outsmart lonesome salesman David Mann.
8. Resident Evil (Anderson, Germany/UK/France, 2002)
Like Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers, the granddaddies of the genre Predator and Aliens hugely influence Resident Evil in its depiction of well-trained, well-armed soldiers against a monstrous, supernatural foe. Based on the critically-acclaimed and widely adored computer games, the film is one of the better works by director Paul W.S. Anderson whose filmography is plagued by mediocrity.
7. The Host (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 2006)
South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho brings his own unique sense of humour to the monster-adventure-horror genre in The Host. Here, quite unsubtly, the American military is blamed for a complete lack of health and safety protocol leading to the birth of a monstrous creature that enjoys feeding on human foe.
6. From Dusk Till Dawn (Rodriguez, USA, 1996)
If we are talking about mixing genres like James Cameron does with his science-fiction-action-horror Aliens then Robert Rodriguez takes the prize for the most memorable concoction. From Dusk Till Dawn begins with the sun-kissed kidnap of a family by two gangsters running from the law. Forcing the family to stop at a Texan strip-club where the gangsters are to meet their associate, all hell breaks loose when they discover the venue – called the Titty Twister – is a haven for a bunch of bloodthirsty vampires. Thus the crime-thriller transforms into an all-out action extravaganza as the bad guys and the good guys have to band together to survive.
5. The Terminator (Cameron, USA, 1981)
If you want a great action-horror film just ask James Cameron to make it. The man is the a master of the genre. In this science-fiction action film Arnie plays the “monster” in the form of a robot sent from the future to murder a woman in the past. Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese is the human who follows the robot back to the past as a protector for its target Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). The claustrophobic shoot-out in the police station is one of the quintessential sequences of action-horror.
4. Dog Soldiers (Marshall, UK, 2002)
Neil Marshall’s high-energy werewolf movie sees a bunch of British soldiers face-off against a family of man-hungry werewolves in the Scottish Highlands. Dog Soldiers puts its own unique spin on the werewolf genre while celebrating the great exponents of action-horror Aliens and Predator.
3. King Kong (Cooper/Schoedsack, USA, 1933)
An early example of the action-horror as a giant ape terrorises New York City in search of his “love” – Fay Wray’s Ann Darrow. King Kong is also a great example of stop-motion special effects as directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack depict the huge ape rampaging through the city streets of New York and, in the iconic finale, climbing to the top of the Empire State Building. The film inspired a number of filmmakers to experiment with stop-motion, an early technique which allowed cinema to depict fantastical elements in-camera, and was especially useful for monster films. Ray Harryhausen and Japanese Kaiju filmmakers such as Ishirō Honda in Godzilla are great exponents of the art.
2. Predator (McTiernan, USA, 1987)
John McTiernan loves a good action film, his name is synonymous with them. From Die Hard and The Hunt for the Red October to later films The Last Action Hero and Die Hard with a Vengeance, McTiernan knows how to make the genre tick. In Predator, he lets battle commence when an alien monster armed to the teeth faces off against the Austrian muscle of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Set in a Central American jungle, Arnie and his elite team of commandos get more than they bargained for when the alien creature, which has the ability to make itself appear invisible, begins stalking them.
1. Aliens (Cameron, USA, 1986)
James Cameron made this cooking pot of genres – science-fiction, action, and horror – his own and Aliens is the best exponent of it. A lone survivor from a space-expedition-gone-wrong is sent back to the planet (and the monster) she escaped from with a bunch of well-armed marines. A battle of life and death ensues when the group find not one alien creature but hundreds.
Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.
Your turn – what are your favourite action-horror films?
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