When it comes to horror films centered around the 4th of July, there just aren’t that many of them. It’s surprising that in a world where we have a slasher film for every holiday that I struggled to put this list together. Yes, there are several obvious choices for either Independence Day-centric flicks or political horror fare. Those films, such as Jaws (a surefire classic), I Know What You Did Last Summer (my favorite post-Scream slasher), and The Purge series (I’ve got nothing to say) would fit right in with any BBQ, booze, and movie watching 4th of July party.
Instead, I’ve decided to challenge myself just a little bit. While the four films on this list might not all take place on July the 4th, they have something to say about America and the political climate in which they were made.
Uncle Sam (1996)
Uncle Sam was a video store mainstay in the late 90’s. It also had one of those awful covers that had me avoid renting it like the plague. It wasn’t until my mom made a solo mission to the local Video Xpress and returned with this in hand saying, “This looks scary,” that I finally gave it a chance. As I hung my head low in disappointment, I took the tape and popped it into the VCR. I never finished Uncle Sam…not until today, that is.
The bottom line is Uncle Sam isn’t a great movie, especially considering it comes from the minds of two horror greats (William Lustig and Larry Cohen). Moreso, it bares a lot of similarities to their far superior team-ups on the Maniac Cop films. The movie isn’t a total wash. The cinematography surprisingly belies the low budget (which can now be appreciated on Blu or the high-def version available on Shudder), there’s some fun roles for P.J. Soles and Isaac Hayes, and it’s really the 4th of July slasher flick, through and through. No list of this type would be complete without it.
The Bay (2012)
The Bay is a terribly overlooked found footage flick that will truly crawl under your skin. Director, Barry Levinson, was originally researching the environmental problems surrounding the Chesapeake Bay for a proposed documentary. After learning Frontline covered the same material, he decided to take everything he discovered and funnel it into a horror film.
In the picture, a small bay town is preparing for their 4th celebrations when a couple of researchers uncover a massive threat coursing through the town’s water. Of course, the government wishes to keep things on the hush-hush. That never goes well, does it? What makes this a unique entry in the FF sub-genre is that fact that we’re not locked into one particular point of view. The story plays out amongst various forms of media and different characters’ perspectives. It’s a chilling film based on a lot of facts, which makes it all the more horrific.
Masters of Horror: Homecoming (2005)
Masters of Horror was far too short lived. After two seasons, the show moved to network TV as Fear Itself and died a quick death. Nonetheless, for the two years we had it, multiple hours of awesome horror were gifted to us fans. Joe Dante’s first season segment, Homecoming, was a seething takedown of political news media and the war on Iraq. This is the first of two zombie tales to make this list. That just goes to show the power of the living dead as created by Romero. They’re the perfect stand in for various social and political unrest.
In this story, the undead are all soldiers who were killed at war. They’re not loafing around trying to munch on brains, though. The zombies here are interested in one thing, voting. The episode balances a number of different tones from camp style comedy, satire, drama, tragedy, and ultimately horror. Once the returning soldiers realize their peaceful campaign isn’t getting them anywhere, things take a decidedly more traditional zombie approach.
Land of the Dead (2008)
The truth of the matter is that any one of George Romero’s Dead films probably could have made this list. I honed in on Land of the Dead for a few reasons. First of all, the film was made towards the end of the George W. Bush administration and the world was still dealing with the aftermath of 9/11. This undead opus makes no qualms to try and hide the political subtext…I mean, it’s really just text. Dennis Hopper was supposedly channeling Donald Rumsfeld, but it’s quite clear Romero had the then POTUS in mind when he wrote it.
It’s interesting to watch the film now as it tackles class divides head on, feeling like a prophetic call to the Occupy movement (which is probably an entire article in and of itself). But more than all of that sociopolitical mumbo-jumbo, Land has one quality that truly makes it feel like it belongs on a 4th of July watchlist: it’s got lots and lots of “sky flowers” (fireworks). The heroes continuously rely on blasting fireworks into the sky as a means of distracting the living dead. Again, the metaphor is not lost on me, but it lends to a beautiful final shot in the film and makes for a glorious choice in celebrating our Independence.