In honor of this weekend's Kentucky Derby, let's take a moment to honor a few genre films with terrifying, tragic, or just plain neat references to the horrors hiding in every equine eye.
The First Power
A rather unnotable entry into the temporary possession subgenre of horror, and while any film that makes Shocker look good has its issues, this Lou Diamond Philips/Melanie Griffith's younger sister starring thriller does boast a rather terrifying death scene via loose horse stompage. That's gotta hurt! (Seriously; it kills the guy, so I'm sure it does.)
28 Days Later
No infected Mr. Eds here (thankfully, because I don't see any of us surviving that), but Danny Boyle's hard working survivors do take a surprisingly poignant moment to observe a pack of wild stallions peacefully making their way across the English countryside in the face of not-zombie mayhem. A quiet reminder that human problems are never the sole concern of the world they live in.
So the apocalypse has hit and you've been raised in a crowded quarantined zone for the last 30 years. Naturally, when sent over the wall to a Mad Max-meets-King Arthur's court anarchy, you'll easily be able to hop on a passing horse and race through Sherwood-y Forests better than Calamity Jane. The future is indeed a wonderful place.
Dripping in Dali references and gooey imagery, Tarsem's 2000 thriller is a visual feast that may boast a helping or two of equine meat. From the opeinng desert ride with a dreamy J-Lo to a spliced but preserved colt decorating a corner inside the mind of serial killer Vincent D'Onofrio, The Cell includes several horse heavy references of, as the mayor of Emerald City might say, a different color. Ethereal or evil, natural or bat shit crazy, it's an intriguing ride for jockeys with vision.
Cannibal! The Musical
A story of love, lunchmeat, and a little lady named Liane (who just happens to be something of a nag). Actually, rumor has it Trey Parker named his lead character's pet horse after a former fiancee caught with another man, so it's fitting that in the case of this Troma songfest set during the fateful Donnor Party's travels, the action kicks off with the faithless Liane galloping away from our hero to start a more exciting life with some vertically challenged trappers. She may be cruel, but at least Liane can graze happily knowing she inspired one of the film's musical highlights, "When I Was On Top of You."
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Not a horror movie you say? When was the last time you tested your endurance with a 24 hour (minus a few 10 minute naps) dance marathon in Depression era America? This 1969 Syndney Pollack film disturbs on a different level than something like The Ring, but it's hard to walk away from the no-exit squalor Jane Fonda sleepwalks inside without feeling as though your heart has been stomped on by a 1000+ pound thoroughbred. Oh, and while there are no actual horses in the film, the point--plus race aspect--coincides just fine with Kentucky Derby inspired nightmares.
The Neverending Story
Also not your typical genre film, but what child of the '80s wasn't permanently scarred watching Atreyu's loyal companion Artax drown a slow (and assumedly painful) death in a patch of surprise quicksand? An early reminder to a young audience that life can sometimes be unforgiving. They don't just shoot horses; they also pull them underground to suffocate while you sit back with tears in your eyes.