There’s a video for this list here.
10. A Stranger Is Watching
After reading Mary Higgins Clark’s book in the late 80s, I was intrigued to learn that it had been made into a film previously.
We had a huge video store near us at the time called Barker’s which was cavernous and full of quite obscure titles, including a lot of Made For TV titles that were released onto video in the UK (I saw the two tape edition of The Deliberate Stranger in which Mark Harmon plays Ted Bundy after renting it from there).
On seeing the film I felt they had done a really good job! This was a low-key, understated film and all the better for it. A young girl and her father’s girlfriend are kidnapped and held ransom by a psychotic nutjob in the tunnels under Grand Central station. Rip Torn makes for a terrific baddie and Sean S Cunningham (Mr Friday the 13th) does a very good job directing. Gritty, dirty and underrated. Oh, and a great New York movie.
9. Visiting Hours
I love hospital-based horror movies. The pinnacle of this subgenre was, of course, Halloween 2 but Canuxploitation flick Visiting Hours released the year after is also a treat. In fact, Visiting Hours also had the honour of being decried in the press after it was judged to be ‘misogynistic’ by oversensitive feminists (maybe the fact that the lead woman is playing a feminist provoked her fellow real-life sisters into action).
Michael Ironside stars as the psycho here named Colt Hawker (!) and attacks Lee Grant’s feminist activist after she riles him on a TV chat show. He attacks her viciously but after surviving she is taken to the local hospital. But he isn’t finished with her yet.
This film feels sleazy, dark and is as fucked up as its psycho lead. This film came in for a hard time with The British Board of Film Classification (they seem to be an unwelcome guest in so many of my reviews) with a minute of footage excised from both the theatrical and video version. The film was also dragged into the Video Nasty moral panic.
Yes, the film is disturbing. Yes, women are treated appallingly and are the focus for the ire of Ironside’s character (an explanation for this is given when we see him visit his father who was disfigured by his mother and has caused him to foster a hatred for women ever since) but there are really characters like this in real life with women being the target for their twisted actions. Maybe this film not being censored would bring attention to this and act as a reflection of society. Or maybe I’m just trying to substantiate my twisted tastes in films…(I suddenly thought of porn theatre owner Elmer Fishpaw in John Waters’ Polyester- ‘my theatre helps stop rape!’)
Have a shower after watching this. But watch it!
I didn’t see this for the longest time even though I had seen it mentioned in books and had seen the great poster for it. When I was living in Sydney I rented it out from the incredible Dr What video with Madman (another film I had always meant to get around to watching).
What can I say?! Cult classic! Lynda Day George screaming ‘Bastard!’ isn’t just cinematic gold but my message to the world!
The king fu professor scene, Paul Smith polishing his chainsaw, the tennis scenes, the clawed crotch scene, the opening backstory with the jigsaw…all utterly brilliant. And I haven’t even mentioned the kills! How brilliant they are, how deliciously gory and aesthetically pleasing each one is. It’s like this film was made by a team of horror fans who had a roundtable discussion regarding what would be cool ways to kill people in a horror film. A girl on rollerskates going through a glass pane being carried by two guys who cross her path? That’d be cool! A girl in a lift is joined by a nutjob hiding a chainsaw behind his back? Let’s do it!
If a film is brilliant enough it won’t just sink into obscurity. Eventually, it will be rediscovered and treated like the great work it really is. That’s the Pieces story. I’ll never understand the massive cult status given to a film like The Room. It should be given to Pieces instead. And it’s already started.
A horror classic. And remember- ‘There’s nothing better than smoking grass and fucking on a waterbed!’
7. The Forest
I didn’t even know of the existence of this film until its restoration for DVD was announced in the 2000s. I happened to see an original copy of it on the shelves of the aforementioned Dr What video store in Bondi Junction and so rented it. I’m glad I did. It’s a cracking film.
A bunch of hikers find themselves the target of a madman whilst being warned about him and if he’s close or not by the ghosts of two dead children (back story- the two children used to be his but were mistreated by their mother. Their father killed her when he found she has been having numerous affairs behind his back. He runs off to live in the woods with them but after the onset of malnutrition, they commit suicide together. This makes their father go mad and live in the woods as a cannibalistic hermit. Shit happens). As they tell the hapless city folk, ‘Daddy’s gone a-huntin!’, what the hikers don’t realise is that it’s the kids who are the ones who let their father know when there is fresh meat to be had nearby. Damn those double-crossing ghost children!
This film is a low-key, frenetic joy. Check out the fight scene between the killer and one of the campers. It’s one of the most high-octane and off-the-wall bouts I’ve ever seen in a film and a triumph of kinetic direction and editing.
Another sign that you need to see this film is that there’s an actor in it called Corky Pigeon. True fact.
One of the many great things that the early 80’s video boom did was introduce movie viewers to the delights of Italian horror movies commonly known as Giallo. One of the leading directors of this genre was (and still is) Dario Argento. 1982 saw the release of his masterpiece Tenebrae. This time not only did horror fans get the usual exquisitely directed and staged bloodshed that Argento fans came to expect but they got a bona fide Hollywood cult star as one of the leads, John Saxon!
Peter Neal is an author of violent horror fiction and it would seem he has inspired a murderer to undertake a killing spree in his name.
Innovative murders, double and triple crossings, red herrings and an ending that has to be seen to be believed! I’d love to elaborate but I’m giving nothing away! I’d also love to explore the themes and meanings within this film but I’m reserving that for a future essay. I don’t want this list to become a thesis-length dissertation.
In Italy, Giallo directors were treated like royalty. In Britain, their movies were banned and lionised (as we’ll see in a much more extreme example later in this list!) See this film to find out why Italy has such high regard for Giallo and its filmmakers. In fact, see any of Argento’s films to see why.
5. Friday the 13th Part 3D
I still remember seeing the poster for the video release of this film and feeling so excited. Let me provide you with some backstory. This film was made in 1982 and gained a cinema release in the UK but then when it came to the video release it was the era of the Nazi video banning and burning that was the Video Nasty furore. CIC Video who distributed the Friday the 13th films on video released a press release that basically said that in the current climate, they would hold back the release of Friday Part 3 and the forthcoming Part 4 until things had calmed down a bit. A wise move. Imagine Mary Whitehouse if she ever saw a picture of Jason in his hockey mask. He would have quickly become Public Enemy Number 1 with regard to this moral panic.
When I saw the poster for this release in the window of a small supermarket/off-licence near my house in 1987 it meant that their release was imminent (there were doubts as to if CIC would release them at all).
I then got to see the film in all of its 3D glory quite a few times in the late 90s at the NFT in London.
Why do I love this film so much? The 3D is stunning and not just the technique they used to ensure that it could be the best possible presentation for audiences but also the many different ways it’s used in the plot and in what contexts. We get fun scenarios that utilise the 3D and so we have popcorn shooting out of a pan into our faces, a yo-yo being spun at us, a baseball bat being poked into the camera and even a spliff being passed over. But the 3D is also used for, thankfully, many disgusting uses. And so we get an old man clutching an eyeball which is poked into our faces, a hot poker used by Jason to stab a character in the stomach being pointed at us first, a victim whose head is being squeezed by Jason with a bit too much vigour resulting in one of his eyeballs shooting out of his head at us. That’s the kind of shit you need from a horror film shot in 3D.
This was also the first Friday in which we see Jason in his trademark hockey mask after he has ‘acquired’ it from one of his victims (after slashing said victim’s throat first). Jason’s first kill wearing this new fashion accessory is to fire a harpoon gun into a victim’s eye via the audience first of course. Jason then dispassionately throws down said harpoon and walks away. Killing is just functional to him.
The climax in the barn is worth the price of admission alone. At one point we have Jason with an axe protruding from his head coming towards us with his arms outstretched as if he’s trying to grab us. Now that’s genius.
A gimmick used well. The spirit of William Castle lives on. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Shoot a film in 3D and watch the money roll in. Not quite. I also saw Jaws 3D at the NFT and it was dreadful!
Friday the 13th Part 3 in 2D highlights one weak chink in the film’s armour, however- the final girl. She’s unbelievable, lacking in spunk and a dreadful actress to boot. Spoiler alert- after ‘killing’ Jason she is meant to show that she’s gone mad in the process. Honey, you have a longgg way to get to the levels of insanity that Marilyn Burns achieved in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
But other than that, Part 3 is a hoot.
4. Basket Case
When we first got our new video machine (a top-loader from Granada Rentals) my family rented two films with it. One was Captain America and was intended as safe enough for 7-year-old me. But the other film was Basket Case which interested me a lot more. I remember watching and loving both.
Watching Basket Case years later, it’s so on-point that it’s incredible. It seems to contain everything that an exploitation film fan would salivate over. In fact, it reminds me of another masterpiece that also hits every exploitation/cult film target it aims at, Bloodsucking Freaks (R.I.P. Joel M. Reed).
Duane books into the flophouse Hotel Broslin with a large wicker basket. Whilst the contents of the basket arouses the curiosity of almost everyone who comes into contact with Duane as he’s always carrying it around (we even see him take it to a 42nd Street grindhouse cinema and with wild results!) Duane seems backwards in coming forwards about the secrets contained within. The audience sees that it actually contains Duane’s previously conjoined deformed twin called Belial. The twins didn’t want to be separated and so seek revenge against the doctors and surgeons who performed this operation.
Basket Case is extreme, depraved, gory and very very funny. It’s also a very lurid time capsule to a time when 42nd Street was awash with cinemas showing horror, kung-fu, action and porn. In other words, the good old days.
3. The Thing
In 1982 American audiences wanted only one alien. He wasn’t the shape-shifting evil alien in John Carpenter’s The Thing, he was the cute alien who wanted to ‘phone home’ in Steven Spielberg’s E.T.
A dog who is being shot at by the crew of a helicopter flying overhead is taken in by an American compound of researchers situated in Antarctica. When the helicopter is accidentally blown up by one of the men aboard, the crew try to find out why. But then the dog who is now in the same pound as the camp’s own dogs starts to act strangely. And then things start to change very rapidly indeed!
There’s a lot to love about The Thing. Rob Bottin’s bar-raising special effects, the perfect casting of the all-male cast (unthinkable nowadays with the current emphasis on ‘diversity’ whether it’s necessary or not), the frozen, isolated locale, the colour palette that compliments this setting perfectly.
Ennio Morricone’s score is as intricate, complex and multi-layered as the rest of the movie. It’s been out of print for a long time and is well overdue to be re-released.
The film is also able to be read in a number of different ways. It can be seen as a study of masculinity and a metaphor for a new disease being reported in news reports called AIDS. The movie also doesn’t definitively answer vital questions but leaves it up to the audience to decide for themselves questions like who might be human and who might be an alien at the end of the movie. A film that grants the audience with a modicum of intelligence, another reason to love The Thing.
The Thing tanked at the box office. But it then found its audience when it was released on home video. Hooray for video!
2. The New York Ripper
If this film was a stick of rock it would have the word ‘Exploitation’ running through it. This film is the Giallo Citizen Kane, the Gone With The Wind of sleaze. This is my favourite Lucio Fulci movie and I love his work.
A killer is on the loose in New York. Oh, and he has the voice of Donald Duck. He slaughters his female victims in the most disgusting ways possible using razor blades on intimate areas of their naked bodies. One attack on a female victim involves a broken bottle being thrust and ground into a very vulnerable part of her body. Really! And this sequence is featured in the film’s trailer!
This was banned outright by the BBFC and it was rumoured that they were so outraged by the film’s content that they actually escorted the copy of the printout of the country! This story was later proven to be untrue by the BBFC, who said that instead they just didn’t return the print to the distributor after they had banned it.
Right from the film’s start, it’s a grimy and slimy excursion into New York’s underbelly. We see an old man throw a stick for his dog to go and fetch. Instead, the dog brings back a severed hand it has found. From then on in it never lets up with murders and deviant sex galore (check out the scene in the dockside diner involving a woman we had seen in a sex cinema earlier). And the film never flags and is just as disgusting and brilliant with every single scene.
Whilst this film still isn’t legal in the UK, it can be seen uncut on YouTube.
1 Halloween 3: Season of the Witch
I saw this on Thorn EMI video when I was 8 years old. I didn’t think about Michael Myers and his no-show in the movie but just loved it from the first time I saw it. The plot, when explained, is the most nonsensical load of nonsense you’ve ever heard. An Irish mask and practical joke manufacturer plans to kill all of the children in America via a microchip in the back of each of the masks his company makes coupled with a signal to be transmitted via a TV commercial to be shown on Halloween. Oh, and Stonehenge has made all of this possible.
Sounds ridiculous, right?! But when you watch the film, it works! Add to the mix a great cast (Tom ‘The Man’ Atkins as well as Stacey Nelkin and Dan O’Herlihy as the evil Conal Cochran), amazing cinematography (Dean Cundey’s genius again) and quite possibly one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth outdid themselves with this soundtrack as it sounds almost like the work of Can or Tangerine Dream but better! Everything adds up to such a haunting film full of gorgeous shots, genius music and characters that feel believable as they’re so well sketched out and flawed. Take, for example, the film’s lead Dr Dan Challis who is a great crusading hero but is also an alcoholic and serial womaniser.
The video release I saw was censored but a few years after, the film was shown on BBC1 who accidentally transmitted it uncut. The kills are very full-on and pull no punches which makes the film feel even grittier and on the edge. There is a sense of doom that permeates the whole film that really works to its advantage.
Halloween 3 had been reappraised over the years as the cult classic that I always thought it was. Even if it doesn’t feature Michael Myers. Halloween 3 never fails to make me feel like the 8-year-old who first saw it. It holds the same mystique and power of a campfire tale told to scare and captivate children and adults alike.
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