There is a video for this list here.
10. The Video Dead
A demonic television only shows the black and white horror film Zombie Blood Nightmare. The zombies can also escape the TV set to come into real life and kill the film’s viewers.
When I first saw this video on the shelves of my local video store I thought, ‘Whoa! A horror film about home video on home video!’ I also loved the cool sleeve artwork.
This film does what it says on the tin. Grotesque zombies, cool kills…and I love a horror film that has rules as to how to defeat your prey. In this instance, the zombies hate mirrors as it reminds them of how ugly they are and they only attack when they sense fear coming from their would-be targets.
I love the fact that at the end of the movie one of the survivors is in a sanitarium after her ordeal but is brought the demonic TV set by her parents as they feel something familiar from home might help her recovery. If only they knew.
9. Near Dark
A young man called Caleb is bitten by a female vampire and then joins the travelling posse of nomadic vampires who she travels with. As he’s been bitten he’s a vampire himself now (with sunlight adversely affecting him) but refuses to kill people, instead of feeding from the wrist of the girl Mae who bit him in the first place. But whilst Caleb is now with the group, he doesn’t realise that his father is in hot pursuit of him and his new companions.
This is a fantastic film that pays homage to the vampire genre but also updates and subverts it. The effects and make-up are excellent as is the costume design and conceptualisation of the travelling band of vampires. They look like a band who are on the road with Bill Paxton as Severen looking every inch the rockstar with his shades and leathers.
Near Dark came slap back in the middle of a vampire revival with The Lost Boys making a ton of money and making vampires an extension of the John Hughes genre of movies. Near Dark is a long way from The Lost Boys (and that’s not to criticise the latter as it’s a great film) thematically and conceptually. Near Dark is dirtier, grimier and bloodier than its teen movie cousin and that’s exactly why I love it so much.
This film is from Stuart Gordon who made Re-animator so you know it’s going to be great. If you think those old-fashioned porcelain dolls have a real capacity for evil, this isn’t the film for you.
A group of people seek sanctuary from a storm in a mansion owned by a toymaker and his wife. What they don’t know is that the dolls and toys within are all alive and have murderous intent.
This film is so well conceptualised with a vision as unique as the dolls depicted. They really do some damage to their victims too. The scene where a young punk’s skull is used as a battering ram into a skirting board is very painful to watch. The dolls with razorblade teeth taking chunks out of human limbs brings to mind the scene from Barbarella.
This film would unwittingly invent a whole horror sub-genre of killer toy movies with Dolly Dearest, Demonic Toys and The Puppet Master joining the fray and even crossing over at one point.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
The closeted first sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street may not have been the sequel I wanted after the first film but I still really enjoyed it.
With the release of Part 3: The Dream Warriors it felt like the series was back on the right track. Nancy appears again, the plot is interesting and the special effects were innovative, horrifying and sometimes gut-wrenching (veins being used as puppet strings, anyone?!).
The film concerns a group of teens who are experiencing sleep trauma because a certain Mr Freddy Krueger is terrorising their dreams. Thankfully Nancy Thompson who was in a similar position in the original film is employed at the centre as she has now graduated to become a doctor specialising in sleep disorders. Nancy however has a few ideas as to how to try to do battle with Freddy in their dreams though.
Just as we had supervillains with Superman’s powers going up against him in Superman 2, this was a similar idea but translated to the horror genre with ANOES 3. Or, at least, that’s what we thought. Whilst each of the kids in the facility has their own power or special identity in the dream world, they still pretty much get demolished easily by Freddy. But it’s fun to see the patient’s new identities such as Jennifer Rubin’s punk girl resplendent with switchblades, the young geek who has to use a wheelchair in real life being found to be able to walk in his dreams and being a kind of Dungeon Master (this whole film seems to be aimed at Dungeon and Dragon players and anyone else who owns a 20 sided dice) and Joey the mute who finds that he has a voice and uses it to breaks a hall of mirrors in the dream world.
Whilst the second film was closeted and unsure of itself, Part 3 is out, proud and camp as fuck! ANOES 3 lets its freak flag fly.
6. The Gate
This film depicts three kids who are left alone for three days and the carnage that can happen when such an event happens.
When these three kids are left alone for the weekend they see that an uprooted tree has left in its place a gateway for demons previously buried beneath to enter the outside world.
This is a great horror film that seems more to be aimed at kids or the inner child of adult viewers. I saw this film when I was about 12 and still love it possibly because I first saw it at such an early age.
There are some great instances of stop motion animation and some very cool visual effects which have aged incredibly well indeed.
This film features a very young Stephen Dorff, years before he became Cecil B Demented. This is a low-key delight that has garnered a cult following as the years have gone by.
When the diva of a daring production of Verdi’s Macbeth directed by Marco has an accident, the young opera singer Betty successfully replaces her. Soon a psychopath obsessed with Betty kills all who are close to her. Who might be the killer?
This is one of Dario Argento’s best films in my opinion. It contains his usual stylishly depicted murders, scenarios and kills so ingeniously that they beggar belief.
Take one which shows a woman looking through a peephole only to be shot through it. We see in slow motion the bullet travelling down the barrel of the gun used, through the peephole and through the back of the victim’s head after it has entered her eye.
Also, there is another sequence in which the killer breaks into protagonist Betty’s boyfriend’s apartment, uses duct tape to gag her after tying her up, places a strip of duct tape with needles sticking up from it under each of her eyes so that she can’t close them (her eyelids will be pierced by the needles if she tries to) so that she is forced to watch what happens next. She then witnesses her boyfriend being killed in front of her.
The locale of the opera world is also inspired with the story revolving around a production of Macbeth which is a nice nod to another tale of horror.
4. Angel Heart
A New York private investigator Harry Angel is hired to look into a singer called Johnny Favourite by a shadowy figure called Louis Cyphre. The search begins in New York with all of the usual noir and hard-boiled ingredients in place- murders, beatings and blood.
Soon his research takes him to New Orleans. This setting lends a lot to the movie with religion, voodoo and the supernatural becoming imbued with the narrative. Tropes of the film noir genre seem to go hand in hand with those of horror which makes for a cracking movie that is much more than just a simple genre piece.
This film is amazingly directed by Alan Parker with the look of the movie lending itself to the themes of the film and the genres it’s straddling. Angel Heart doesn’t feel a triumph of style over substance either as it has enough substance to avoid this. The plot is all-consuming and engaging from start to finish. We feel fully in the thrall of Harry Angel with Mickey Rourke being perfectly cast as the hard as nails PI and certainly looking the part with his stubble, shabby long coat and long greased hair brushed back.
Robert De Niro as the enigmatic Cyphre is, of course, as brilliant as ever. The ponytail, piercing black eyes, the sharpened pointed fingernails, the cane and pentagrammed ring on his finger are all perfect. The scene where he eats an egg is something to behold. He tells Angel that in some cultures an egg represents the soul. No shit.
Lisa Bonet proves herself fantastically as being much more than ‘the girl from The Cosby Show’. Her chicken dance is one of the film’s highlights.
Charlotte Rampling rounds off the uniformly impressive cast.
The film had to be trimmed by 10 seconds to get an R rating from the MPAA.
Angel Heart was a case of a horror/noir-tinged film that had the budget, innovation, originality and cast to garner applause from the critics. It’s easy to see why. It’s also easy to see why it’s one of the best films of 1987.
A paramilitary rescue team on a mission to save hostages in Central America cross paths with a murderous space alien known as The Predator who sets out to kill them one by one.
There’s so much to love about this film. First of all, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and is a film from his Imperial Phase. At that time it seemed that every film he was making was amazing, reaping serious takings at the cinema box office before doing the same on home video. Every Arnie release in these days was a real event. His brand of action movies were perfect for video and Arnie can be seen as one of the actors whose rise to fame was intertwined with many people’s rose spectacled reminiscences regarding home video.
The Predator himself rocked. Stan Winston realised the creature and it felt like he was impossible to beat, even with Arnie battling against him. The Predator exhibited the best of both worlds- the feral and natural characteristics of some wild beast and the technological components of an advanced being unseen on Earth before. We even get to see the jungle terrain from the alien’s POV- a form of thermal imaging due to the body temperature of his prey. Arnie uses this to his advantage near the film’s climax when he covers himself in mud so as not to be detected by the alien.
The action sequences within the film are amazing and whilst this film may be seen by many as not being specifically horror (the film straddles action, horror and sci-fi) there was gore galore. From the scene in which Dillon (played by Carl Weathers) is firing at the beast but then has the arm taken off his body with said appendage seen still firing his gun after it’s left his body, to the character of Mac having his head explode after the Predator’s three red sight lights have appeared on him, the film certainly wasn’t prudish when it depicted it’s horror allegiances.
There was also the homoerotic subtext of the film which I wrote about here. From the greeting between Arnie and Dillon which consists of a grasping of hands with the camera oogling on each man’s bulging and glistening biceps to the bromance between two of the men (and there were only men on the crew), the subtext, like so much, is there is you know what to look for and recognise the signifiers. And there were plenty of signifiers. How many 80’s action/horror fans have watched this film countless times and not twigged. Or they’ve had something awakened inside them.
2. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
Sam Raimi makes a sequel to the most notorious Video Nasty of all time. Balls. Of. Steel. Christian busybody and professional puritan Mary Whitehouse wanted to have the film buried and crucified in the media (even though she admitted to having never actually seen it) in the midst of the Video Nasties moral panic but instead, Raimi gets funding to make a bigger, budget sequel. Thanks, Mary.
Actually, Stephen King was responsible for helping obtain financing for this sequel. When King found out that Raimi wanted to make a sequel he personally called Dino De Laurentiis who funded the movie.
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is really a more expansive remake of the first film with a proper crew rather than a bunch of friends making a (genius) labour of love. The plot suggests that the events of the first film didn’t happen at all. The basic outline of the start of the film is very similar to that of the first except there are only two characters who venture to the cabin. They are joined by others later.
Ash takes his girlfriend Linda to said cabin in the woods where they find a tape belonging to the guy who was there before, archaeologist Raymond Knowby. The tape involves passages of the fabled Book of the Dead being spoken out loud which unleashes all manner of skullfuckery.
A bigger budget, more ambitious ideas, and more gruesome horror but the same sick sense of humour are present in this second film. Highlights include Ash’s hand wanting to kill him after it becomes possessed and so he removes it with a chainsaw. There’s also a funny episode involving a character swallowing an eyeball that has shot from another character’s head. We even get to see what Ash would look like as a demon. If these scenes don’t make you want to see this opus then nothing will.
The ending lays the foundations for the next film which Raimi actually wanted to make as the basis for this instalment but producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted a movie more resembling the first film.
1 The Stepfather
Henry Morrison is a chameleon-like serial killer who assumes an identity, invades a chosen family and then decimates it. We see him change his identity, leave the family home within which he’s killed all of the family members (their bodies are still strewn around) and go off to repeat the whole process again.
He picks a widow with a teenage daughter and worms his way in again.
The Stepfather felt like it was part of a new trend in horror- films that were polished, brilliantly made but very, very violent. It feels so raw and brutal that it makes for uncomfortable viewing especially when you find out that the film is based on a true story. John List had killed his family, cleaned up the murder scene (their house), told neighbours that his family were going away for a while and then vanished. He had even cut himself out of all of the family photographs. Brian Garfield based The Stepfather on this true-life case.
There is deft direction, great performances all round but especially from Terry O’Quinn as the central character. And what a performance! It’s one of the most unnerved, deranged and fucked up turns I’ve ever seen in a movie. Yes, it’s up there with Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees and Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry. It’s that crazy! Also, watch for all of the nuances to his performance and his OCD obsession with everything being ordered and regimented.
There’s also something deeply disturbing about seeing these violent acts being carried out in a home that is so perfect that it looks like it’s from the world of advertising.
This relatively low-key film’s reputation has snowballed over the years and is now regarded as a cult classic.
The Stepfather’s director went on to make a film even more controversial- The Good Son starring Macaulay Culkin.