Our top UAMC selections for the best action/horror flicks plus where to find them!
The 1980s gave rise to the most well-known and commercially successful action and horror films of all time. The merging of the two genres was a guaranteed success. Action-horror exploded onto the big screen and produced franchises that lumber on to this day.
From ruthless monsters like Aliens, Predators, and Terminators to cops battling the forces of evil like Marion Cobretti, Sheriff Dan Stevens, and Roger Mortis, these foundational action-horror hybrids continue to influence neo-exploitation filmmakers to this day. The ultimate movie mash-up took it a bit slower in the 1990s as the two genres started to evolve in different ways. The following five films fueled the action-horror fire that audiences burned for then as they still do now.
Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
Matt Cordell has a beyond-the-grave backlog of cases to investigate using his supernaturally-tuned intuition, but he mostly uses murderous violence to serve his own brand of justice. Oddly enough, the Maniac Cop teams up with a noted serial killer while occasionally seeking revenge on those who framed him from the first movie. Robert Davi and his trusty fedora tag team with a police counselor to solve the murders and dig up clues to the identity of the mysterious overpowered ghoul in blue.
Maniac Cop 2 is an even mix of horror and action that has gained a cult following over the last 30 years. The characters are charming, the horror elements are sufficiently creepy, and the action is executed surprisingly well, even impressive at times. There’s an extended sequence of a stuntman on fire carrying out a fight scene where other stuntmen are also set on fire that somehow never feels gratuitous. From fiery fights to car chases that catch some serious air, Maniac Cop 2 propelled high octane 80s action-horror into the 90s and beyond.
Split Second (1992)
Rutger Hauer enjoyed a successful career as a B-movie action star throughout the 80s and 90s with cult classics such as Nighthawks, Beyond Justice, and Blind Fury. His contribution to 90s action-horror is Split Second, where he plays a jaded cop who’s determined to find his partner’s killer and solve a related series of brutal murders in a flooded future London. He’s always one step behind the enigmatic killer who rips out hearts according to a very specific astrological schedule.
The sci-fi-action-horror-thriller features an interesting cast of characters including Kim Cattrall who was hot off of her role as Lt. Valeris in Star Trek VI, evidenced by her Vulcan hair style. Hauer and his newly acquired Ivy League partner slog and slush their way through grimy streets to catch up with the other-worldly killer, which culminates in a showdown using crazily overpowered and over-designed assault weapons. Split Second is a slow burner with enough blood, guts, and gunfire to keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.
Full Eclipse (1993)
This HBO Original may be hard to come by but it’s worth a watch for its graphic vigilante justice with a werewolf twist. Mario Van Peebles is a hotshot LA detective who lost a partner and a wife within a few days, which make him a perfect candidate to join “the pack.” Clearly, the pack’s team leader has been recruiting burned out officers to turn into super cops with his very own werewolf serum. The team rips into and blasts their way through various baddies that threaten public safety throughout the city.
The filmmakers ask the critical ethical question: could mauling drug dealers to death with wolverine claws and razor-sharp teeth really be such a bad thing? They also throw in some drug abuse subtext in there for social relevance but the real focus is on rogue werewolf justice, which is definitely where it should be. Rika from Lethal Weapon 2 plays a ferocious femme fatale that lures Mario Van Peebles into the fold with a renewed purpose and scratch-tastically rough sex. Watch for the canine kink and stay for the numerous bloody gun battles; this title deserves to see the light of day on your home movie shelf.
Walmart has DVD copies for sale online for a reasonable price.
Admittedly the worst of the 90s action-horror movies, Hellbound deserves recognition as the last Cannon movie ever released. An aging, but still be-mulleted Chuck Norris faces off against a biblical demon who’s hell-bent on destroying mankind because of Satan, or whatever. The demon has survived an epic duel with Richard the Lionheart but Chuck Norris’ roundhouse kicks prove too powerful to overcome in the modern era.
Christopher Neame, as the devil’s emissary Lockley, steals the show in this otherwise lackluster fantasy-horror, buddy cop flick. We needed much more of Lockley’s murderous depravity and so much less of Chuck Norris’ annoying sidekick Calvin Jackson. The attempts at comedy fell flatter than Ricardo Montalban at the end of Naked Gun and Neame’s hammy performance was as underutilized as Idris Elba’s Heimdall in the Thor franchise. It’s a complete mess but the opening crusades sequence and the third act’s final throw down save this from being a total Golan-Globus disaster.
Rent it on Prime Video for $1.99.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
What happens when you combine Robert Rodriguez’s flair for no-nonsense action, Quentin Tarantino’s unique storytelling structure, and a heavy influence from 70s exploitation schlock? From Dusk Till Dawn decisively broke down barriers that delivered one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the 90s.
An uncharacteristically straight-laced Harvey Keitel is just trying to go on vacation with his kids when he meets up with sadistic bank robbing fugitives who hijack his RV and family to escape justice south of the border. Everything goes to absolute hell at the Titty Twister Bar when secret vampires come out to feed on their unsuspecting prey.
With the help of screen legends Tom Savini and Fred Williamson, Keitel and his kids have a fighting chance to make it out of the nightmare alive. Savini’s revolver codpiece blowing away vampire Danny Trejo epitomized the film’s over-the-top gore, innovative action, and gonzo premise, which have endeared us to this seminal work over the past 25 years.
Find it in the $3.74 bin at Walmart or buy the whole Dusk Till Dawn set (they made two sequels and a TV show) for a few bucks more. Robert Rodriguez teased a remastered 4K UHD release coming soon!
Special shout-out to The Crow (1994) and Spawn (1997), which took superhero movies down a darker path while delivering admirable action sequences that reinforced their tales of vengeance and conquering death. Given the themes, style, and characters, I consider these movies outside the scope of the type of action-horror I discuss in this brief cinematic survey.
So, what’s the difference between action and horror movies and how exactly can you define action-horror as a fusion genre? How did the 2000s and 2010s keep heads rolling and demons in check? Find out in my next action-horror round up that will have you howling and ready to plunge an axe into the skull of a drug-addled mutant cultist.