Horror films are ripe with terrible tropes that make audiences groan. Invariably, plucky young adults are pinned against a supernatural or monstrous force. So long as these young adults aren’t idiots (like the morons who decided to go skinny-dipping as people were being slowly picked off), they can survive until the third act — and then they’ll either live or die, depending on whether the hero or the featured monster is more marketable.
The most infuriating tropes, however, happen when the military shows up. In far too many movies, troops and veterans are cast as inherently evil or constantly in search of using the protagonist as a means of starting a world war. In reality, we’d probably be the ones organizing a survival movement against the big bad — but I digress…
We’ll save ripping those films for another time. There are many horror films out there that actually do the military justice and treat us like fully developed characters instead of mindless, B-movie villains — like these classics:
‘Throne of Blood’
Starting off the list is the Akira Kurosawa 1957 classic, Throne of Blood. While his other films (including Roshomon, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo) receive near-universal praise, it was his re-imagining of Shakespeare’s MacBeth that gave him his first inroad to a western audience. And when we say “re-imagining,” we mean that Kurosawa’s version is about samurai who learns of the future from a spider witch — that’s what Shakespeare was really trying to say, right?
Its central plot doesn’t involve many true-horror moments, as modern Western audiences know, but the early moments when General Washizu goes into the Forest of the Spider’s Web heavily influenced later horror films. His reaction to all the spookiness is a stern “listen here, witch” — which perfectly captures how any service member would react in that situation.
Rarely do filmmakers delve into the actual spooky side of Afghanistan. Ask anyone who’s ever pulled a 12-hour night guard duty shift and have them tell you what it’s like to stare out over a place that earned the nickname, “Graveyard of Empires.”
This indie film, made by Daniel Myrick, the same writer and director of The Blair Witch Project, begins like any other war film about the post-9/11 Global War on Terrorism, but then it makes a sharp turn into the paranormal. The troops’ response? Let’s f*cking kill it.
‘Day of the Dead’
It’s remade every so often, but nothing can compare to the original Day of the Dead by George A. Romero. Unlike most films in the military-horror genre, this one actually understand that troops want nothing to do with zombies as a weapon of war. Why on Earth would we risk doing something that stupid? We can’t even go into a combat zone without a shiny, reflective belt, for f*ck’s sake.
But I digress. The film does include nefarious scientists who try to weaponize zombies at the expense of the soldier’s safety, but troops react how you’d actually expect them to if they were test subjects for flesh-eating zombies.
While not outright a military film, it does feature Kurt Russel as a veteran helicopter pilot from the Vietnam War. This vet, R.J. MacReady, naturally assumes a leadership positions and gets to thinking logically to overcome an incredibly elusive, deceptive foe.
While the “Thing” inhabits others’ bodies and everyone starts losing their minds, MacReady’s quick thinking helps him survive the film.
Never has a film bitter mixed action and horror quite like 1987’s Predator. It had everything: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers in their primes, a truckload of firepower, and muscles on top of their muscles — not to mention an antagonist so brutal that he picks off Special Forces soldiers like a hunter taking out deer. It’s so well done that it doesn’t matter to me that, as a commo guy, the group’s radio operator is the first named character killed off — which is another one of my most-hated cinema tropes.
The titular foe uses the military’s tactics against them by being better at hiding (albeit by using technology) than the Green Berets. The only way to stop it, in the end, was to beat it in one of the most brutally awesome hand-to-hand fights in cinema history.
Well, there’s that, and there’s Schwarzenegger’s delivery of his most iconic line — “Get to the choppah!”