How far does the dial have to move to take a holiday movie from festive to freaky? At least since the events of “Jaws” hit Amity Island, Fourth of July celebrations have served as frightful fodder for satirists. Film has taken the holiday to especially horrifying heights.
The best Fourth of July horror movies make use of both their seasonal setting and thorny subject matter. There’s something innately disturbing about taking a summer holiday that should be celebratory and re-packaging it in that twisted carnival aesthetic, dripping with oversaturated reds, whites, and blues. Plus, exploring the birth of a country currently tearing itself in two bestows an embarrassment of thematic riches onto the writers and directors willing to stew in its spirit.
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Fourth of July horror movies have become a genre category in their own right because they offer opportunities to criticize the U.S. as it currently is and reflect on the darker aspects of our history (and present). Not to mention, fireworks and crowds spell menacing horror movie magic. Toss in a zombified Uncle Sam and you’ve got a slasher worth lighting sparklers.
Roland Emmerich sicced aliens on the world in the aptly titled “Independence Day,” a sci-fi disaster movie starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman among others. Robert De Niro played a freed prisoner hunting down his former attorney, played by Nick Nolte, in Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear.” That’s a remake of the 1962 psychological thriller of the same name, set against the backdrop of a well-to-do North Carolina community also partying on the Fourth. And while “The Purge” creator James DeMonaco may have technically set his fictive blood bath in the spring, it’s no secret that the murder marathon of the title, an annual event canonically “sanctioned by the U.S. government,” incorporates elements similar in tone to the real federal holiday.
Whether you’re rounding out a day of summer fun or sitting out of this year’s festivities, here are the best Fourth of July horror movies. The list has been capped at 13 titles in a star-spangled homage to the original colonies codified by the Declaration of Independence on this doomed day.
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