Like Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July is one of those American holidays that seems to revolve more and more around food. I am not taking anything away from the historical significance of either, mind you; both days celebrate important North American milestones. It’s just that lately most red, white and blue-blooded Horror fans tend to eventually find themselves stuffed and on the couch, watching a movie.
For fans of scary movies, Independence Day may seem to lack the horrors and shocks of other holidays and seasons, but with a little grave-digging, frights can be found. So, turn the barbecue off, stab that steak and settle in. Things are about to get bloody.
Based on the novella Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King, this 1985 film was the first to feature the long-awaited match-up, Werewolf vs Firework. Set in the small town of Tarker’s Mills, Maine, Silver Bullet is pretty tame for a Horror film, but it delivers on that plot-line we adore: small town meets big monster. Although the film sets the firecracker showdown during an October fair, the original Stephen King story set the scene on Independence day. As for the winner of that explosive lycanthrope showdown? Let’s just say that after a little howling, rockets weren’t the only thing with a very red and very pissed-off glare.
Oliver Stone. David Cronenberg. Even Leonardo DiCaprio. All of them were at one time or another connected to what eventually became Director Mary Harron’s interpretation of author Bret Easton Ellis’ blood-spattered mirror to America. Starring Christian Bale well before he became the Dark Night, his portrayal of GQ maniac, Patrick Bateman imagines Capitalism as Killer. In this America, products come before people and both are disposable. Recycle that.
Whether it’s 1962 or 1991, nothing ruins a BBQ like Max Cady. Based on the 1957 pulp novel by John D. MacDonald, Cape Fear brilliantly presents the madman as every-man. Portrayed by Robert Mitchum or Robert DeNiro, Max Cady is the monster you could actually meet. He’s a summertime slayer, endured in the films by lead actors Gregory Peck and Nick Nolte, who confront his madness with simmering helplessness and eventual rage. Abandoned by Steven Speilberg who decided the story was too violent for his taste, Spielberg eventually traded Cape Fear directing duties with Martin Scorsese who took the greatness of both the book and the ’62 film and brought it to a boiling point. The result, like Cady hisses, is “as hot as a firecracker on the Fourth of July”.
Others have said it before, but it bears repeating: Nothing says summertime like sharks. And nothing says sharks like JAWS. Before Steven Spielberg’s classic hit the bicentennial screens of 1976 the only thing that could’ve closed the beaches on the Fourth of July was an oil spill. Thanks to Amity Island’s thoughtful Mayor those beaches stayed open and all of us get to enjoy this monster movie again and again. What you probably know is this mega-hit was based on the 1974 novel by Peter Benchley. What you may not know is the film’s Fourth of July Amity Island beach was actually an overcast Martha’s Vineyard in spring with water temperatures so cold film-extras bailed by the dozens. It seems $2.50 an hour wasn’t worth waiting around for a bigger boat.
NIGHTMARES IN RED WHITE AND BLUE
At times, American history can seem like a Horror movie. After all, if the North American continent was a house, European settlers home-invaded that territory like a slasher film. Hundreds of years later, the atrocities committed in the name of America have for the most part at least been defined and made shameful. If there’s any consolation, America has been psychoanalyzing itself ever since in an art-form known as, the Horror film. Featuring historical discussion and commentary from genre superstars, George Romero, John Carpenter, Mick Garris and others, this 2009 documentary from Director Andrew Monument blazes a trail from Frankenstein to Freddy. Monument and crew lay bare how Horror characters like those and the tales they starred in lent insight into the character of the country itself, and as Horror fans know, sometimes the biggest scares come from the mirror.
Whether the Fourth of July fills you with pride, reflection or both, we hope you have enjoyed this short list of July jump-scares. If America’s Founding Fathers were alive today, there’s no doubt they’d ride at the forefront of the parades with BBQ-stained finger-tips. But at the end of the day, when the firecrackers fade, the sparklers dim and our flag still waves, they’d likely do what we all love to do: sit down and relax with a good scary movie.