Halloween is fast approaching and for anyone stuck in the barracks or waiting to hand out candy, it’s a good time to put on a spooky movie. There are the classics, the Universal Monster movies or the original Halloween, but there’s also a surprisingly deep amount of horror films set within the military. Maybe soldiers as protagonists require the monsters and killers to be tougher. Maybe it adds to the sense of dread in each movie. Maybe it’s a good reason to involve Nazis as expendable bad guys in supernatural or sci-fi settings. Whatever the reason, this Halloween it’s a good time to put on a military horror film and enjoy the thrills.
This is not an exhaustive list, but a few places to start if you’re looking for military menace and spooky war films.
The beach landings on D-Day were terrifying enough — thanks Saving Private Ryan — but what if it turned out that just beyond the beaches of Normandy the Nazis were doing secret experiments to create monsters? That’s the premise of Overlord, the often overlooked but effective 2018 World War II film. Lost paratroopers stumble upon a Nazi base that contains more evil than they suspect. It has some familiar tropes, but uses them effectively, creating a taut, pulpy actioner filled with body horror, gore and an unexpectedly thrilling final set piece.
In most slasher films, the heroes go to a remote location where the phones don’t work and they’re alone. In Dog Soldiers, from cult horror director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday), it’s members of the British Army heading to a remote part of Scotland for a training exercise. A sudden attack from some kind of beast leaves them trapped in a house, under siege from the kind of creature that only comes out under the full moon: a werewolf. Marshall keeps the tension high and the squad dynamics strong.
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Nazi zombies have become a subgenre of their own in horror films. There’s a fair chance you’ve seen them in movies or Call of Duty games. But the gold standard for Nazi zombie films remains the Norwegian horror-comedy Dead Snow. Friends taking a holiday in a remote cabin encounter the classic horror movie signs: no cell service, a spooky drifter and then a monster. In this case it’s Nazis who were zombified after fleeing the scene of their crimes. It’s extremely bloody and extremely hilarious. What other film can you watch this Halloween that features Nazi zombies being defeated while a jaunty tune plays? However, several of the protagonists are veterans of the Norwegian military, and their training gets referenced several times, both for survival and combat. And some of the vets get very creative with their zombie killing — yes, putting a machine gun onto a snowmobile makes it a technical.
28 Days Later
Who’s more terrifying, the monsters or the people responding to the monsters? That’s the question at the heart of this modern classic. Cillian Murphy wakes up in a near-abandoned London to find most people have died or fled after a viral outbreak. Although the film never calls them zombies — they’re “infected” with a monkey rage virus, thank you very much — the shockingly fast monsters make for scary enemies under Danny Boyle’s direction. But the film’s most suspenseful and bloody scenes come in the third act after the protagonists come across a remnant of the British armed forces and learn just what they’ll do to maintain order and readiness.
The team behind You’re Next took on the struggles of military families in The Guest, with a healthy dose of action along the way. A family is grieving their son who died in Afghanistan when they’re visited by David (Dan Stevens), who served with their son. But something isn’t quite right with David, and there’s more to his story than he lets on. Wrapped up in ‘80s-style synths and slasher scares, The Guest isn’t subtle with David’s intent, but it is a masterfully made action-thriller.
One could argue that Predator is just an action movie, or a sci-fi film where Arnold Schwarzenegger fights an alien. One could even argue it’s an adaptation of Beowulf (and some scholars have). But for much of Predator’s run time it’s a horror film. An elite mercenary rescue team (led by Arnold but featuring a who’s who of 1980s tough guys) finds itself hunted through the jungle by an unseen enemy, picking them off one by one and collecting trophies. Part of what makes Predator so effective is that it takes the quintessential 1980s action heroes and makes them scared.
All Quiet on the Western Front
On one hand, the 2022 adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel isn’t a horror film in the traditional sense. But it’s also a terrifying depiction of the horrors of war. The third adaptation of the book leans into the brutality of combat and the suspense of preparing to go over the top. Never before on film has a tank assault been so scary, or an artillery bombardment as gripping. The martial, industrial score only adds to that terror. It’s also just a fantastic movie in its own right, with excellent performances and great pacing. Come and See probably remains the most brutal war film ever made, but All Quiet on the Western Front uses the tools of horror. Fair warning though, the film is as equally depressing as it is scary.
Do you have a favorite military horror film that didn’t make the list? Let us know.