One of the key factors that makes the horror genre so enthralling to watch is its ability to evolve over time. In the 30’s, classic monsters were all the rage. After this era, the 50’s gave movie-goers atomically mutated creatures and giant bugs, and no one can forget when the 80’s introduced slashers. With such a willingness to adapt and promote unbridled creativity, it feels only natural that horror would explore an introspective approach to filmmaking.
The idea of meta horror has been dabbled with throughout time, but it was heavily established in the 90’s and has found its place in today’s mainstream filmmaking. The self-awareness and eagerness to poke a little fun are attributes to be admired, and this is exactly what this list aims to do. Here are some of the greatest meta horror films to check out!
10. John Dies in the End (2012)
John Dies in the End is a bizarre film that will confuse but wildly amuse audiences. The plot revolves around a new drug that sends its users on a trip across time and space. However, some of the people using the drug return no longer human. It is then up to two slackers, Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes), to save mankind from an otherworldly takeover.
While it may be a detriment to some films, it is the manic storytelling of John Dies in the End that makes it definitely worth a watch. John Dies in the End is a journey of nonsense and surrealism. The film is so fantastically devoid of any structure that is taps into a variety of cinematic genres and motifs. The movie is part stoner comedy, part allegory, part science fiction flick, and part gutbucket horror, and as a result, audiences are given a well-paced and exhilarating thrill ride.
John Dies in the End is a film that can restore anyone’s faith in the joy of absurdity.
9. Zombieland (2009)
Zombieland brings new life to the zombie genre using meta humor. The film focuses on two men, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), living in a world ruled by zombies. As they join forces with Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who also have been living in the zombie carnage, they will need to rely on each other or succumb to the zombies.
Despite the title, Zombieland works well as a movie thanks to its lack of focus on the zombies. It is true zombies appear in the film, but Zombieland takes all the time it wants to flesh out the four main characters for audiences’ benefit. Typically, in zombie films, there may be a standout hero or two, but the rest are just there and waiting to become the zombies next meal.
Zombieland gives each character a distinct personality. Stone and Breslin play crafty characters and are delightfully cynical in their line delivery. Harrelson’s Tallahassee, a man who seemingly kills zombies for both survival and sport, is lively and cool. Eisenberg’s Columbus also propels the story along nicely with his performance and hysterically clever voiceover stating survival rules. Throw a hilarious cameo by Bill Murray in the mix, and the result is a zombie flick that wonderfully satirizes an enduring subgenre of horror.
8. Rubber (2010)
Rubber presents a delightfully strange premise that audiences will either absolutely love or hate. In the movie, a car tire comes to life and goes on a murderous rampage.
Rubber is a difficult and polarizing movie to discuss, which is exactly why it is a great meta horror film. From the beginning, Rubber lets audiences know that the film desires to pay tribute to no reason cinema. The tire has no motive for its deadly actions and the entire plot of the film will have many viewers scratching their heads and thinking why is this a story that needs to be told. The answer is simple. It does not need to be told but that does not mean the film is boring or dull.
Rubber also successfully takes advantage of a bystanders perceptive. The movie cuts back and forth to an actual audience with binoculars and a lot on their minds. While this device could be used poorly and make the film feel choppy, it does the opposite. It allows movie-goers to see themselves in the film and more importantly it never attempts to insult or ridicule viewers’ intelligence. Rather, the movie clearly exists for no deep meaning and audiences find themselves oddly appreciating this transparency.
7. Demons (1985)
Demons is the true definition of a meta popcorn flick. In the film, two university students (Natasha Hovey, Urbano Barberini) along with several other people attend a sneak preview of movie only to find themselves trapped in the theater with ravenous demons.
Demons is a movie with a lack of logic that thrives on pure entertainment, mayhem, and unanswered questions. How does the movie possess people? What is the origin of the evil? Why does possession occur only when someone is bitten or scraped? Audiences do not know and find themselves easily not caring. Instead, Demons is a platform for the amazing visuals presented in the film that will stun spectators. For example, the film is home to one of the most outstanding visuals in horror cinema. The scene in which a large group of demons climbing a staircase against a background of smokey blue light is unforgettable.
In addition to the aforementioned scene, the makeup effects and soundtrack are also elements of Demons that must be discussed. The makeup effects of Rosario Prestopino and Sergio Stivaletti are superb and create some awesome practical creatures. The soundtrack is all the glory of 80’s metal and includes such artists as Motley Crue, Billy Idol, Accept, and Saxon accompanying Claudio Simonetti’s remarkable score.
While Demons is not a profound, deep-thinking film, it luckily never strives to be. It is visual and mindless fun that audiences cannot help but enjoy.
6. Man Bites Dog (1992)
Man Bites Dog follows the life of Ben; a charismatic serial killer. As a film crew (Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel) joins him to record his crimes to use in their upcoming documentary on him, Ben decides to take them to meet his friends and family while nonchalantly murdering random people.
Man Bites Dog is a flawed masterpiece. The presence of a plot or any established story is nonexistent, which can sometimes hurt the film, but it also lets the rawness and messaging of the film shine. The film truly feels like a documentary. The jerky movements and purposely amateurish filmmaking add to the cinema verité feel of the movie. It is also the alarming and spontaneous way that Ben launches into violent outbursts without any warning that makes Man Bites Dog terrifying. For example, Ben is a man that can be playing the piano one minute and then strangling someone the next. The sporadic juxtaposition between the mundane and the violent is extremely effective and keeps audience on the edge of their seats.
Along with the realness of the film, it is also the social commentary that hits viewers hard. Ben, played outstandingly by Benoît Poelvoorde, is made to be a man that for all his evil deeds can still be presented in a quirky and charming manner. By making Ben likable at times, Man Bites Dog offers an intriguing look at a media-obsessed society that can easily turn the worst people into icons and numb humanity to the harsh reality of violence.
Man Bites Dog may be an uncomfortable film but it is a movie that truly makes audiences self-reflect and think.