With Brightburn coming out later this month, I thought it was high time that I wrote a blog post looking at a specific trend in superhero movies. And as Brightburn basically seems to be a movie that asks the question: what if Superman wasn’t raised in such a good home and turned out to be a person with good morals and great intentions. Instead, what if he was a more troubled child and used his powers to become more or less a horror movie villain. And while superhero horror isn’t a widely expansive genre within superhero movies, there are actually quite a few different superhero movies that could be considered horror, or at least have several horror elements within them. Some of the best ones are more within the action/horror genre or they play more like a monster movie, the few that fall more towards the thriller side of horror tend to be very light on the superhero element and the film itself focuses more on the circumstances rather than the super powers. Also, I will be steering clear of comic book based horror movies since they have nothing that restricts them in terms of story and can be as horror as they want to be.
Of course, when you think about some of the most iconic horror movies with a central antagonist, you could argue that they have several elements of a super villain, only without a superhero to combat them. Freddy from the Nightmare on Elm Street series especially, and of course there is a comic book villain that has similar powers as him called Nightmare that shows up in the animated superhero horror Hulk: Where Monsters Dwell. Even the unkillable monsters like Jason or Michael Myers could more or less be a henchmen along the likes of Solomon Grundy or Doomsday. Although it’s generally very rare for a superhero villain to be treated like a horror movie villain. There are only a few cases like the killer in Unbreakable that give off a slight horror vibe to the fight rather than having it be an action brawl.
The most common version of superhero horror is the violent action horror that’s exemplified by the Blade movies, especially the second movie. We have our action hero Blade who is fighting against horror movie vampires. But it’s rare for them to actually include much in the way of horror movie elements. There are occasional victims, but the main focus of the movie is Blade fighting against the vampires. There’s plenty of blood and violence, but there’s not that sense of dread or foreboding. That same action horror that’s filled with the horror movie blood and gore is present in several other superhero movies like the Toxic Avenger series and more recently Officer Downe. Even a more classic horror superhero movie that was actually from the iconic horror director Wes Craven Swamp Thing still ends up with two horror-ish creatures fighting each other. I would say that the most horror-like of these types of movies would be the bizarre Faust: Love of the Damned which was a little light on the superheroics but did have some in there along with plenty of body horror, sex, and violence. Another popular series that combines an action movie with plenty of horror elements would be the Hellboy movies which vary in terms of how much horror they have in them, from light horror creature elements in the first couple live action movies, to massive horror bloody violence in the Hellboy reboot this year, while the movie that actually creates the best feeling of dread would be the Blood + Iron animated movie.
And while it’s not as common, there’s also the movies that go the extra mile in terms of genres with the superhero horror comedy. And while it’s not always easy to tell if the humor is intentional or not, there’s the very horror inspired League of Superheroes that was previously titled the ABCs of Superheroes after the ABCs of Horror. Besides that, there was also the animated Haunted World of El Superbeasto that tossed in nearly every horror movie reference they could think of, typically as background Easter eggs though the story was barely horror related at all.
Another element that shows up here and there in superhero movies are brief moments of horror inspired scenes within a generally typical superhero movie. This seems to be more common with the big studios giving superhero properties to directors more well known for horror movies like James Wan and David Sandberg. Both of their superhero movies had significant horror elements like the Trench in Aquaman and the Seven Deadly Sins attacking the board room in Shazam! Even in Batman v Superman, there was a horror-esque element with the scene involving Batman’s nightmare about the Parademons. Another great example would be the very creepy, Pinocchio-esque reveal of Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron. And while it was panned in general, there are definitely some body horror inspired moments in Josh Trank’s Fant4stic.
And finally, we get to the most rare, but also the most horror-like superhero movies. That’s the movies that are basically horror movies, but have a slight superhero element to them. There tends to be a strong psychological element to these movies and they also generally focus much more on the villain rather than the hero. Or at the very least, the hero is an anti-hero. These are films like Split where there’s only a touch of a superhero or more likely a supervillain element at the very end. The same goes for Chronicle that gets a bit deeper into the psychology of the villain in the making Andrew. The most recent of these types of movies is actually the surprise hit Venom with Tom Hardy that took the Spider-Man villain-turned-anti-hero with plenty of horror elements but ultimately felt like a weird buddy comedy. One of my favorites and most unique combination of horror and super powers is a low budget Australian movie The Subjects. It really helps capture that tense feeling of dread in several places without the use of a superhero or really a supervillain. Instead, it’s the characters against their circumstances almost like a haunted house movie except that instead of being haunted by a supernatural presence, they’re haunted by a drug that gave them all super powers.
When I initially thought about writing this post, I figured I’d list off a small handful of superhero horror movies, but as I started writing and looking through the list, superheroes and horror are a lot more common than I initially thought. Whether it’s the supernatural action movies like Constantine and Blade, or superheroes fighting horror-esque monsters that would easily be found in creature features like Super Inframan or the Guyver. There’s even plenty of superhero movies that just toss in a horror element to make things darker in general. And of course, there’s plenty of superhero films that just add horror inspired blood and gore with none of the suspense or dread of a horror movie. Occasionally, it works well and often it doesn’t. Although I’m very much looking forward to what Brightburn will bring as it seems to really capture the sense of dread and tension present in a good horror movie like Split only with a much stronger connection to superheroes. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights. Also, if you like posts like these and would like early access to them, consider contributing just $1 a month over at my Patreon.