October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best action horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
This shouldn’t be news to you, but the world is something of a shitshow right now. I won’t bore you with the particulars as you know them all too well, and instead, we’re going to focus on the positive. The world may be burning, but horror fans are wanting for very little these days as we’ve been gifted with a steady stream of thrills and chills on screens both big and small (along with a wealth of genre-oriented home video releases). One of 2021’s highlights in this regard is James Wan’s Malignant. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying it’s a wild, bonkers ride with some high-energy action sequences.
And that became the prompt for the first entry in this year’s 31 Days of Horror Lists. When I first suggested this idea — why cover just one movie per day, why not do a brand new top ten list every day in October?! — I expected to be shunned for my hubris. Instead, my fellow horror nerds here at FSR eagerly joined up to make it a reality. 2021 marks our fourth year in a row with this grand experiment, and while it continues to get tougher finding new lists to debate and explore, we’ve so far been enjoying the hell out of the challenge.
This brings us back to action horror movies. The subgenre isn’t often discussed as a whole, but as a fan of blending expectations and genres, it’s a mix that’s always spoken to me. Most horror films see characters fighting evil in one way or another, but few elevate those sequences to actual “action.” We’re here to honor those that do it best, so do some stretching, put in your mouth guard, and prepare to be pummeled bloody by the 10 Best Action Horror Movies as chosen by Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Mary Beth McAndrews, Meg Shields, Anna Swanson, Jacob Trussell, and myself.
10. Overlord (2018)
A small band of U.S. soldiers. A mission that takes them behind enemy lines. A slim chance in hell that any of them will live to tell the tale. It’s the setup behind any number of war-set action films, but director Julius Avery and writers Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith have something entirely more unhinged in mind. Fighting Nazis is bad enough, but these World War II heroes are also going face to face with said Nazis’ vile experiments — an army of undead super soldiers.
The film opens guns blazing as paratroopers are lit up before they’ve even jumped leading to a harrowing fall to Earth and fight to survive even the first few minutes. More clashes follow, and the adrenaline-fueled antics don’t let up once the zombified terrors arrive. Big gunfights, hand-to-hand brawls, explosions, and more rip through the screen making this big blast of B-movie fun a must-see for fans of all things awesome. It’s a high-energy affair blending the best of both worlds with terrific creature effects and bloodletting paired with exciting action sequences, and if audiences hadn’t failed it in theaters we could have had another sequel or two by now following this squad through horror-torn Europe. See it and play it loud! (Rob Hunter)
9. The Guest (2014)
Don’t roll your eyes at us for considering The Guest horror! Yes, Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard’s film has all the hallmarks of a schlocky action movie you’d expect to find in the hallowed halls of Cannon Films. However, the meat of The Guest doesn’t come from a buffet of knuckle sandwiches, but from its underlying horror motifs. A mysterious veteran (Dan Stevens) has arrived in a small town unannounced to pay his respects to the family of his best friend who died during the war in Afghanistan. Is he the missing piece the family needs to heal from their son’s death, or is there a far deadlier mystery to who their new houseguest is?
What follows is a parade of headshots, broken bones, and people jumping through windows while shooting guns, but The Guest surrounds itself with a patchwork of horror tropes – like a killer with quasi-supernatural abilities going on a Halloween rampage – that drag it out of pure action and into a hybrid genre of its own. That the film is set during the spookiest time of the year is just the icing on the film’s horror-flavored cake. (Jacob Trussell)
8. Revenge (2017)
Don’t mind me, I’m just snagging an ice pack and a lozenge from hooting and hollering too hard. Revenge attended the Mad Max: Fury Road school of action pacing: a non-stop sprint that sees our uber-competent protagonist enter and return from the desert after racking up a cruelly dispatched body count. Discarded and impaled on a rotting tree after refusing to go quietly in the wake of a sexual assault, no one, us included, expected Jen to be such a badass.
After prying herself from her would-be grave, Jen hits the ground running; less concerned with vengeance than doing what she needs to do to out-wit, out-last, and out-shoot her pursuers. Unrelenting, sweaty, and breath-snatchingly satisfying, then-newcomer Coralie Fargeat directs one of the most heart-pumping entries in a sub-genre that too frequently dehumanizes at the expense of catharsis. Also, and this cannot be overstated, this film has a chase scene in a gore-slicked hallway. Every film should have a blood slip and slide, just saying. (Meg Shields)
7. Attack the Block (2011)
Monstrous aliens have landed in the wrong neighborhood. Some scrappy lads strap the alien female to Moses’ back. With a katana in one hand and a collection of fireworks in the other, Moses darts into the hallway as the outer-space gorilla-wolves nip at his heels. Director Joe Cornish slows everything down. He wants us to see every second of Moses’ steely cool heroism. The time for thrills and scares is over.
Attack the Block merely wants you to marvel in its champion’s majesty. Everything that came before was a race, the action never letting up once the little beasties storm the building. Here, however, we’re salivating with the slo-mo, enjoying the victory we probably thought wasn’t coming. An icon is born when the apartment erupts in fire, and Moses pops out the window hanging on the Union Jack for dear life. Where is this man’s franchise? Surely he’s as mighty as any Rambo or Terminator? Allow it. (Brad Gullickson)
6. Green Room (2015)
While Jeremy Saulnier‘s Blue Ruin is a masterclass in slowburn tension, his follow-up unleashes the floodgates to deliver a far more aggressively tense experience. Green Room is as draining and nerve-racking a film as you’re likely to find, but rather than tease out the suspense it gives viewers a highly effective setup and then simply cuts loose with pure horror, blistering action, and thrills that shred at every turn.
The film sees a young, charismatic punk band caught up in trouble after witnessing a murder at a remote “club” that’s home to white nationalist scum. Hey, a gig’s a gig. It shifts immediately into a siege film that explodes with terror, grim bloodletting, gun fights, and heinous brawls. We get extremely disturbing body horror alongside wrestling holds and blade-induced carnage. No one is safe, and that feeling is a rarity even in genre films making this a film that crawls beneath your skin, takes hold of your heart, and refuses to let go until the end credits roll. (Rob Hunter)