Theres a video for this list here.
10. The Hills Have Eyes Part 2
Yes, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2! I can see some of you sniggering! I have great memories of watching this film on VHS as a kid as it had some great lurid artwork (the video company were probably thinking ‘This movie sucks! We need great artwork to get people to rent this!’) and actually really enjoyed it. At the time the original film wasn’t available on video and so this was the next best thing.
It was great to see the flashbacks to the original film (I love the fact that Beast the dog has a flashback) and it was great to see Bobby, Ruby and Pluto in a follow-up film.
It was also interesting to see Wes Craven make a strictly genre film within those formula constraints.
I love the new member of the cannibal family, Reaper and more examples of their extraordinary wardrobe (check out Pluto’s headband!). I also like the Scooby Doo vibes I get with this sequel with the bike team and their bus.
This was a cash-grab for Craven which, of course, is nowhere near as brilliant as the original film (which I think is Craven’s best film and a true blue masterpiece) but it’s still entertaining whilst it lasts. Theres even a blind psychic character who uses her senses of smell and hearing to help tell when the baddies are approaching. Whats not to like about that?!
The film John Carpenter was due to direct but lost out on as The Thing tanked at the box office.
Andy and Vicky have a 9 year old daughter Charlie who can start fires with her mind and predict the near future. She gained this power after her parents took part in a government experiment which gave Vicky the ability to read minds and Andy the power to completely control people’s thoughts so that they implicitly believe him and do as he says (he gets nosebleeds when he uses his power, however).
The family had always had their suspicions that the government who were responsible for the experiment they had participated in were watching them and want to utilise Charlie’s power for their own uses. These suspicions are then realised for Andy when one day he returns home to find that Vicky has been murdered and Charlie has been snatched.
Andy tracks down his daughter and then goes on the run with the Government in hot pursuit.
This film has two elements I love- gifted people with powers not normally afforded to mere mortals and shadowy government agents who are up to no good. This is also adapted from Stephen King’s novel with the screenwriter employed by Mark Lester to pen the adaptation sticking closely to the source novel (John Carpenter had employed Bill Lancaster who penned an adaptation of The Thing that Carpenter was working on at the time he was asked to direct Firestarter. Apparently Lancaster’s adaptation didn’t stick as closely to King’s novel).
This is very well directed, perfectly cast and with fantastic special effects, especially the fire scenes. This also feels quintessentially 80’s but in a very dignified way. I remember this film being on the shelves of every video shop that I frequented back in the day (and I went to a lot of them!) I’m glad it was so ubiquitous.
8. Night of the Comet
I first caught this film when it was shown on late night BBC2 in the late 80’s. It stayed with me so much that I had to rent it again soon after to see if it really was as good as it was when I watched it first time round. It was.
Three friends find that most people in the outside world have turned into zombies or dust. They didn’t as they have spent the night in a cinema. It turns out that so many people met this fate as it was publicised that the Earth was travelling through the tail of a comet and so they went outside to witness this extremely rare event not knowing that they will either die or become zombiefied because of it.
I love the quirky characters in this film. The shots of the two girls wandering around completed desolate Southern California streets are extraordinary and very eerie and disorientating. The zombies are excellent and these scenes are genuinely unsettling.
This film later became a cult classic and I can see why.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street
It’s a given that film should be in a best of list for 1984, the 80’s and even lists of the greatest horror films of all time.
The teens on Elm Street seem to be dreaming of the same grotesque man in their dreams (or should that be nightmares). When one girl, Tina Grey actually dies horribly during one of her nightmares, it’s presumed her delinquent boyfriend, Rod Lane has done the deed. But plucky and resourceful Nancy Thompson has a feeling that theres more to this and that the man she keeps seeing in her nightmares is somehow responsible.
This film has more plus points than minus aspects. It’s completely unique with the ‘what happens in your dreams happens in real life’ conceit. This means that if you’re killed in your dream then you’re not waking up! The first kill is extremely graphic and very shocking, even by the standards of the more extreme horror films available on home video at that time (it’s worth noting that the Video Nasties brouhaha was going on at that time in the UK. How ANOES wasn’t censored by the BBFC is anyone’s guess. Mary Whitehouse could have also chosen this film and it’s killer as Public Enemy Number 1 as well. Instead, she designated The Evil Dead as her cause celebre and so Craven was spared).
I was obsessed with this movie when I first saw it on home video in the mid-80’s. Expert direction, awe-inspiring cinematography and pitch perfect locales that capture the essence of Americana with surburban streets, high school classrooms and corridors. But the sphere of killer Freddy Krueger’s boiler room is also perfect. We find out that Krueger has somehow manifested himself in the teen’s nightmares after he was killed by a lynch mob of the Elm Street parents after he was found to be a local child killer who was set free on a technicality even though he was guilty of his crimes. The parents corned him in his boiler room, doused the building in gasoline and set fire to it with him inside. In their dreams Krueger uses a leather glove that he has fashioned with long sharp blades.
I also love that another ‘dream rule’ is established in the film and that is that if you are holding something in your dream when you are woken up this comes out of the dream with you.
The cast are also perfect with cult favourite John Saxon starring as Nancy’s cop father. We even have a young Johnny Depp as Nancy’s boyfriend. But it’s Heather Langenkamp as Nancy that steals the show. She carries the movie from start to finish and is the brilliant cast’s strongest link. Her performance is one of the best in the whole horror genre as she plays Nancy as extremely strong, very believable and, occasionally, very funny (after she looks at herself in the mirror to see if her recent traumatic experiences have affected her looks she remarks ‘Oh God! I look at least 20 years old!’).
Whilst this is a great movie it is marred by a couple of issues that prevent it in my mind from being the classic some lazily extol it to be. Firstly, I don’t believe that ANOES was only intended as a one-off and not as the start of a franchise. Witness the number of times Freddy’s name is mentioned in the film and is even uttered by him a couple of times! It feels to me like they are trying to establish him as a brand. Certain people had a franchise in mind and I’m sure Craven and Robert Shaye at New Line were amongst them. Not that theres anything wrong in that but please fess up if that was the case!
Also, this is a great movie with a laughably bad ending. It must have been extremely difficult to end the film after Nancy has turned her back on the killer and taken away his power through not giving him that power (a great metaphor for Narcissistic Personality Disorder and how to deal with narcissists). Should the film have ended there? There were many other filmed endings that appear on the many ANOES DVD’s and Blu Rays that have been released over the years. None of them really work. But with a movie to finish quickly it must have been difficult to suddenly come up with a twist. But an obvious doll being yanked through a tiny window in a front door was a terrible choice.
But with the positives significantly outnumbering the negatives this is still a horror film that deserves the recognition it gets. But it’s still not as good as The Hills Have Eyes which I consider to be Craven’s masterpiece.
Teenager Billy receives a creature called a mogwai as a gift but there are strict rules as to how to care for it- don’t feed it after midnight, don’t get him wet and don’t get him into contact with any form of light especially sunlight. After naming him Gizmo, Billy’s friend Pete (played by cult favourite Corey Feldman) accidentally gets him wet meaning that he spawns more creatures but not the cute sort like Gizmo but mischievous, dangerous and also, it has to be said, really entertaining creatures who look like really evil lizards who stand on two legs.
Is Gremlins a horror film? Yep. Check out the scene with Billy’s mother. If this isn’t like a scene from a slasher movie than I’ll eat my hat. Also, check out later scenes like the one in the sports store for more horror or the part of the hilarious bar scene where we see Gizmo nailed to a dartboard whilst other Gremlins are firing darts at him. It’s horror but also gallows humour. It’s also a horror film for kids. But kids with a really sick sense of humour. The microwave and stairlift scenes are also great examples of this.
But it’s also a very dark family film mixed with comedy elements and even qualifies as a Christmas film.
Was Gremlins a metaphor for childhood as the angelic cute little toddler (like Gizmo) enters into the terrible twos and becomes more like Stripe?
A huge hit in 1984 and deservedly so. Another example of perfect casting and only Joe Dante could have directed a film as funny, scary and satisfying as this.
5. The Toxic Avenger
From Troma, of course! I’ll always feel indebted to Troma Studios as not only have they distributed many of my favourite films (Bloodsucking Freaks, Mother’s Day, Rabid Grannies) but have also produced many classics such as Sgt, Kabukiman, Beware Children At Play and, of course, The Toxic Avenger.
Melvin mops floors in a New Jersey health club for a living and is regularly bullied by the customers there. One day they make him dress in a pink tutu and chase him through the building until he throws himself out of a second floor window and lands in a vat of toxic waste. However, this works to his advantage (theres a silver lining to every cloud) as he mutates in size and strength to superhuman proportions. He then starts to rid the streets of Tromaville of it’s criminal elements and becomes a superhero of sorts.
The Toxic Avenger is funny, sick and horrifying all at once. It’s also a film that feels like no other with this kind of horror and sick humour being specific to this film only. It was quite a gamble to make a film that is so idiosyncratic and esoteric. But it works brilliantly and for every target it aims at it hits. It also parodies and lampoons the conventions and tropes of other genres and does so very intelligently and accurately. Theres a real sense of cine-literacy and knowing under the surface anarchy of the movie.
This garnered attention after it became a midnight movie sensation in New York and it’s legend just snowballed from there. And this film is certainly legendary.
4. Children of the Corn
This movie is adapted from 80’s favourite for film adaptations, Stephen King and was one of the short stories in his brilliant book, Night Shift.
***Now, if you haven’t seen this film, please skip this bit as herein lie spoilers***
This movie has one of the most shocking openings for a film I’ve ever seen. A young man goes to a local diner with his father. A very creepy looking young man named Isaac comes to the window, gives a nod to his comrade Malachi in the diner whereby all of the kids in there bring out concealed weapons and commence to annihilate all of the adults. The horror of this scene is completely unexpected and truly disturbing because of it.
The film then skips forward and we find out that all of the town of Gatlin’s adults have been slaughtered so that a huge sacrifice can be made for He Who Walks Behind The Rows, a god that needs such a sacrifice to make sure their corn harvest doesn’t fail like it has in the past. All of the children except young Job and his younger sister Sarah were involved in this action.
A young couple travelling to Seattle drive through Gatlin not knowing that the children in the town are homicidal and that they should have found another route to take!
This is a very taut horror movie that deals with a topic that is still taboo within society- the killer child. In this movie, we have scores of them! Another master stroke by the film is that it’s not actually proven that the god that the children worship is actually real. You begin to think that they have just been gaslighted into believing in him and that he is a figment of the children’s leader’s imagination. But then, lo and behold, it manifests itself, you get to see it’s malevalent power in action (special effects and visuals that have ages really well thankfully) and then the film starts to go down more of a supernatural, occult route. The film also feels more sinister because of this.
It helps that the two outsiders who stumble across the town are played by Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton and that the young actors who play Isaac, Malachi, Job and Sarah are also brilliant in their roles.
This could easily have felt like made for TV fluff. Instead we have a serious, haunting and very affecting horror film that is intelligent and very well made indeed.
3. Silent Night, Deadly Night
The film that outpaced A Nightmare on Elm Street when they were both released the same week. But then some vile mother’s protest group noticed that there was a killer Santa in this film and so pressurised the film’s studio, the general public and the media to have it pulled from theatres. It worked.
But whilst the film was prevented from playing theatres, it was released on video and became a huge cult classic.
It’s easy to see why. After he sees his parents slaughtered by a homicidal maniac dressed as Santa, Billy finds himself growing up in a very strict Catholic orphanage presided over by a vicious Mother Superior. He has an aversion to all things Christmas and even punches out the visiting Father Christmas after said Mother Superior tries to make him sit on his knee.
The film then fast forwards to Billy (now tall, muscled and blond) going to work at a toy shop. As Christmas approaches he feels his old phobia coming back to haunt him. But this time he goes full retard, dresses as Santa and starts killing people.
Like The Toxic Avenger theres a sly sense of humour at work here and also a deep running knowledge of other movie cliches and genre conventions being gently teased and ridiculed. Check out the wholesome montage of Billy working at the toy store- he’s hard working, good with kids and prefers drinking his milk when a co-worker offers him Scotch.
But the film also has a steeliness and grittiness to it that is undeniable. It feels dangerous, forbidden and perfect for horror and cult cinema audiences. Witness the creepy Grandfather who only comes to life when hes alone with the young Billy whereby he can scare the young child to death. Also, the scene with the killer Santa is especially on the edge and tries to push boundaries when it comes to taste and decency and it manages handsomely. It’s almost like the makers of this film knew what an audience of exploitation film fans wanted (sorry One Million Moms). I also love the fact that it isn’t just the psychos and Billy who are shown to be deranged. The Mother Superior is just as empathy-free and vile and I’m glad this wasn’t watered down.
This film joins the ranks of other Yuletide shockers like Black Christmas and Christmas Evil that I watch every Dec, the only concession to the over-hyped season I make.
2. Terror in the Aisles
This compilation of clips of horror films will always have a special place in my heart.
Firstly, it has links within it by Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen who both attack them with real gusto and relish.
Also, it sources such a wide range of horror movies from many different eras that it made me seek out such diverse fare as Alone in the Dark, Night Hawks and The Fury.
But, most importantly, it contained clips of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Exorcist that had been removed from UK video shelves by the dreaded BBFC. This was the only way to see these golden nuggets of these fabled depraved masterpieces.
The film also contained interview clips from masters such as Alfred Hitchcock talking about how to ramp up tension within the cinema audience.
Add to that some really cool artwork and you have a GREAT movie! I was so glad when this was released as a special feature on the Blu Ray release of Halloween 2. I thought if one title wouldn’t get a Blu Ray release it would have been this because of rights issues.
1 Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter
When this was released my friend and I just happened to be in the video shop when it was being put onto the shelves. My friend’s mother as with us and so we asked if she could rent it for us. She said, ‘Yes’ (!)
Yes, this was cut by the BBFC with the brutality of some of the scenes trimmed or excised completely such as the infamous ‘machete slide’ scene. But there was still enough in it to give me sleepless nights. In fact after we had watched it, it was dark and I had to have my friend’s dad walk me home as I was so scared.
What makes this Friday 13th my favourite instalment? Well, after the high-camp of part 3 (well it was camp compared to the other Fridays at least) it was back to business with this entry. Back to the dark, shadow hued locales (Part 3 was brighter than the other films so that the 3D it was filmed in would work to it’s maximum potential as dark surroundings aren’t conducive to that technique), back to the brutality and cruelty of the earlier films. Who would you call for this feat? Tom Savini, of course. With Savini’s return we get kills that aren’t just more painful but that are amazingly orchestrated, innovative and distinctive. These were generally blunted by the cuts made by the BBFC when the video was released 1987 but the film is now available uncut here in the UK. We get to see Jason taking a hacksaw to a victim’s neck followed by a massive twist of said neck which almost completely beheads the poor man, a woman who is pinned to a wall whilst Jason as good as guts her by inserting a knife in her stomach to pull it upwards, a woman is thrown through an upper floor window to land on the top of a car with all of the windows exploding outwards all at once. Violence and brutality have never been so beautiful.
We get some great characters in this instalment also. When Jason’s body arrives at the local morgue from the end of Part 3, the morgue worker is there to induct him. He is called Axel and is shown to be so inappropriate in his role that it’s untrue. Not only is he eating a cream cake (that he places on down on top of Jason’s corpse whilst he needs to sign the relevant paperwork) but he makes sick jokes about a female corpse in the room who he thinks is good looking. He sits down and is enjoying Aerobicise: The Beautiful Workout when he receives the hacksaw neck twist from Jason.
We also get the genius of Crispin Glover in this sequel before he starred as Marty McFly’s father or started appearing all unhinged on TV chat shows. His character is worried that he might be seen as a ‘lame fuck’ when he finally gets with a girl (this is later disproved later on in the movie) but also displays quite possibly the quirkiest dance moves ever captures in the annals of horror movie history. On asking where the corkscrew is later on, Jason obliges him by stabbing said implement into his hand and sinking a meat cleaver into his face.
Then we get Tommy Jarvis played by Corey Feldman. He’s a young boy who’s into horror movies and making masks. He would reappear in Parts 5 and 6 after defeating Jason at the end of this epic (thats after he has shaved part of his head to resemble Jason as a young boy to confuse him which, of course, reminds the audience of the kind of deep psychology used by Ginny at the end of Part 2 putting on Pamela Voorhees’ jumper, and hey presto, becoming Jason’s mother to him).
The Final Chapter also feels more than just another film in the Friday the 13th series. It feels like the end of an era not just because this instalment promised Jason’s demise but it also signifies the end of the Friday the 13th series as we know it and the era captured by the first four films. The end of a golden era for horror fans that seemed to start in earnest with the release of Halloween in 1978 with new horror releases appearing more and more. At it’s peak it seemed like there was a new horror release in theaters every other week. This era is also marked by the amazing horror magazine Fangoria which was there to document and celebrate this age. Joseph Zito, the director of this film was the one who suggested the killing of Jason as he could see the slasher phase was going to end soon and so it was better to be ahead of the curve.
After this film was a huge success, of course, there was another sequel. But the Friday the 13th series had started to mutate and change which is understandable. Especially as it wasn’t even Jason who was the killer in the next movie. And, for what it’s worth, whilst I eventually give up on all horror franchises, it’s the Friday the 13th series that has continued to hold my attention the most. Even the missteps (Part 5, The Final Friday) are interesting.
But for me the first four Fridays signified more than just mere slasher movies. They encapsulated a whole brilliant era for horror culture.