Something happened to the horror genre since the 1980s. It became a beloved genre, filled with icons to which fans had an almost familial connection. We didn’t always want our monsters to scare us. We wanted to hang out with them, live in their worlds, or simply prove ourselves better than our nightmares. We wanted to take a stand against the demons in the horror genre and not necessarily die in the end. Gradually, the action-horror subgenre was created, taking the power fantasies of the action world and laying them on top of the supernatural realms of the horror landscape.
The latest example is Dracula Untold, an origin story of history’s most famous monster, set against a historical backdrop full of awesome armies and battle sequences. Time will tell if it’s awesome or lame, but in the meantime, it got us thinking: what’s The Best Action-Horror Movie Ever? And since this is Best Movie Ever, we’re actually going to try to answer that question once and for all.
So join CraveOnline’s film critics William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold, Fred Topel and Brian Formo as they present their picks – no ifs, ands or buts – for the best action-horror movie in history. Then scroll down to the bottom of the page to vote for your own favorites! This is a democracy after all.
I’m think I’m supposed to pick Aliens. I kinda want to pick Blade II. But the correct answer, the best action-horror movie ever made, is an anime classic from 1985. Vampire Hunter D was one of the first Japanese animated films to get a noteworthy release in the United States, and one of the first anime films to cater directly towards a mature audience. It’s also a stunningly stylish post-apocalyptic western horror tale, inventive and gruesome and a total thrill.
It’s the year AD 12,090 and a young rancher with the world’s shortest skirt has been bitten by the vampire Count Magnus Lee, who likes the taste of her blood so much that he intends to make her his bride. She hires a bounty hunter named “D” to protect her, and he is infinitely more than he seems. Half-vampire, half-human, and don’t even get me started about his haunted hand. He faces off against vampire princesses and mutants and corrupt human politicians as everyone starts fighting over his employer and her body and future.
The animation is a little stilted by today’s standards, but the style holds up. Animation simply did not look like this before 1985. This is a gorgeous gothic landscape filled with corruption and monsters. The action is violent and creative and the plot is direct but full of theatrical character motivations and overwhelming secrets. A follow-up, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, looks better and features cooler action, but it doesn’t linger in the memory the way the original film does. It’s groundbreaking, exciting gothic filmmaking, and still my pick for the best action-horror movie ever made.
Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers presents itself as opposite of a horror film. In the future, nationalities are no longer recognized (Johnny Rico, Buenos Aires reporting). Buxom women can work any job without a question of whether their shape can handle such a job (Lieutenant Carmen Ibanez, sir/ma’am). And attractive youthful people are so comfortable with their bodies that they will shower and dress amongst each other without shame or fear of sexual violence. What a utopia! This harmonious society must be protected at all costs! And protected it is, by beautiful rah-rah youngsters who must join the military in order to be granted citizenship.
Action-horror movies hardly ever work. Oh sure, you have plenty of fun action flicks with scary monsters – James Cameron’s much-lauded object of geek affection Aliens comes immediately to mind – but the notions of horror and the notions of action are fundamentally at odds. Horror films are meant – in the best of cases – to invoke, explore, and help exorcize real-life fears. They are about allowing yourself to be afraid and vulnerable. Action films, by contrast, are power fantasies. They are about projecting yourself into a capable and adventurous protagonist. They are about being as un-vulnerable as possible. I posit that most films described as action-horror are, in fact, action films with horror iconography injected. They are never horror movies with chases and fights injected. And usually, the combination results in garbage movies like, oh, Priest. Or Van Helsing. Or any of the Underworld films. Or any of the Resident Evil films. No, those films aren’t good. No, they aren’t.
This is not to say that there aren’t numerous great action movies with horror elements. I would never impugn Sam Raimi’s notorious cult comedy Army of Darkness for instance, and I have a soft spot for the vampire rave superhero flick Blade. Also, who doesn’t love Predator? Or Aliens? To certain men of a certain age, those films are indelible classics.
If I were to name the best film that had me both scared and thrilled, however, I would have to pick the epic, ambitious, and impeccably affectionate 2007 experimental double feature Grindhouse. Released as a 191-minute extravaganza of two ’70s homage pictures (directed, respectively, by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino), and paired with trailers for fake movies (each directed by someone notable), Grindhouse was a reminder of what going to cheap genre movies was really about back in the 1970s, when going to cheap genre movies was a bit more of a radical act. There was something magical about enjoying trash in a theater with a group of like-minded JD ruffians, and the RR/QT team captured it beautifully. The first feature, Planet Terror, was a messy and goofy zombie flick packed with gore and blood. The second, Death Proof, is a slasher-cum-car-chase film about an evil stuntman running down pretty girls for sport. Both run the gamut of scary, tense, gooey, silly, cheap, and fun. It’s the best action-horror film.