There’s a video for this list here.
10. Beware! Children At Play
A Troma movie that pushes the boundaries- even for Troma!
Children are disappearing in a small town in America. Rather than being abducted, they are in fact being recruited to join a religious cult that practices cannibalism.
This is Children of the Corn on steroids. I first learned of this movie when I saw the trailer and my mouth dropped open. Apparently, Lloyd Kaufman said that it was this trailer that was shown before a screening of Tromeo and Juliet at the Cannes Film Festival (!) and caused most of the audience to leave!
This film is so taboo because it depicts children not only carrying out numerous crimes such as murder but also the town’s adults killing them for their actions. Cue numerous scenes of children being shot, killed with pitchforks etc. Remember to repeat to yourself whilst watching this- ‘It’s only a movie! It’s only a movie!…’
Tasteless, irreverent and controversial. But still just a film. Moral guardians and virtue signallers- get over yourselves and go and watch Dumbo for the thousandth time, dullards.
9. The Church
In centuries gone by a group of Satanists are slaughtered, their bodies buried and a huge church built on top of the bodies to try to eradicate the evil.
The film then fast forwards to the present day (well, 1989) as we see Evan a librarian starting at the church on the first day of his job. Weird, seemingly supernatural things start to happen at the church. A first day in a new job is bad enough without a battle between good and evil being thrown in as well.
This film is a Goth’s dream come true (although no self-respecting person would have been a Goth after 1987). A slowly creeping sense of dread, a location sent from Heaven (no pun intended), a great cast and an amazing soundtrack. Also, VERY disturbing kills and horrific-looking demons. The makeup and special effects for this film are amazing.
This was originally intended to be the third entry in the Demons series of films but was then conceived by director Michele Soavi to be a separate entity that would be more sophisticated than Demons 1&2. It is too, although I love the sleazy splendour of those films.
8. The Horror Show
I read about this in Fangoria and Gorezone in the late 80s and it looked so demented and gory that I didn’t know if it would actually be released in the UK. But, quelle horreur, it was released and uncut as House 3, part of the House franchise.
On being fried in the electric chair, serial killer Max aka Meat Cleaver Max promises revenge on the cop who sent him there, Lucas McCarthy. Max means it too after making a pact with the Devil which means that he can wreak havoc from beyond the grave.
Two of cult cinema’s biggest icons Brion James and Lance Hendriksen star as Max and Lucas making this unmissable entertainment. The effects have to be seen to be believed. They pushed the boundaries regarding how far they could go in those days when it came to taste and decency. The effects are gross which is music to the ears of any discerning horrorhound. There’s also a depraved and sick sense of humour at play within the movie which makes it even more likeable.
This film has nothing to do with the House series of movies but was just given that moniker in the UK so that more people would rent the movie. It was actually released as a stand-alone movie in the US called The Horror Show.
A great movie that history has treated very well with the ever-excellent Scream Factory releasing it all spruced up. And it deserves that kind of release.
Wes Craven goes full ‘horror baddie as anti-hero’ which was just what the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels (which ironically he didn’t have anything to do with) had morphed his creation, Freddy Krueger, into. Only this time the film promised to be a lot more graphic and full-on than what Freddy had become hence the tagline ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’.
Horace Pinker is a voodoo studying serial killer who kills the family of the policeman who is pursuing him, Don Parker. Parker’s older foster son feels that he has a connection with Pinker through his dreams. This proves handy as it leads him and his father to Pinker’s rundown TV repair shop (when he’s not a serial killer he’s actually a TV repairman). Pinker aims his sights on Jonathan’s girlfriend as retribution but is then arrested and scheduled to be executed in the electric chair. However, he’s made a pact with the Devil and will become pure electricity after his execution. And this is the next stage of the film as Pinker now has supernatural powers and can use electricity and electrical devices to possess others to do his bidding for him
Whilst this film and its plot devices (all of em!) feel undisciplined and lack any clear boundaries or rules regarding Pinker and what his newly found powers can permit him to do, the film is still great fun. Pinker is a great baddie and a great badass with some of the funniest one-liners and some innovative gruesome kills. Apparently Craven had to submit the film 13 times to the MPAA to get its certificate down from an X rating to an R. And it shows! Some of the gore scenes are still especially close to the knuckle and the film feels grittier and more hardcore because of that.
I also love the messages Craven is making about television, the media and popular culture in general. Shocker was a very crafty way for Craven to make a later phase Nightmare franchise entry that wasn’t a part of the series and without Krueger. Fans of the series were privileged enough for Craven to give them a taste of what a new Nightmare (pun not intended) might have been like if Craven returned to the fold.
A wild ride and Mitch Pileggi is bad-ass.
6. Puppet Master
André Toulon is a puppet maker who happens upon an old Egyptian formula that is able to create life and so he gives life to his puppets. The Nazis seek to use this knowledge and are in hot pursuit which makes Toulon take his own life but not until he has hidden away his puppets for safekeeping in a wall panel. Some years later four psychics investigate the case of Toulon which leads them to his mansion. Along with his widow, they uncover the secrets of the Puppet Master in the worst possible way.
This film belongs to the ‘evil puppets/dolls/toys’ genre with other notable entries such as Dolls, Dolly Dearest, Demonic Toys and Dollman. In fact, it was this movie that crossed over with Demonic Toys for a future franchise entry.
Ever since the Ray Harryhausen skeleton scenes in Jason and the Argonauts, the use of stop motion animation could be used to terrifying ends within fantasy/horror movies. This is one such film. The puppets are the stuff of nightmares, the Nazi background to the narrative is interesting and the locale of Toulon’s mansion is a very creepy setting for the majority of the film’s action.
Michael is living in middle-class suburbia in 1950s America. He has very disturbing dreams and suspects that his parents are cannibals after he finds body parts hanging up in the cellar. Can he convince his school counsellor that he is telling the truth?
Parents is an expertly directed and acted dissection and subversion of the dewy-eyed nostalgia towards 1950s Americana. The reason I saw it was the oh so wholesome artwork of the video artwork that depicted the parents in their perfect kitchen preparing dinner. The image was perfect, pure cheese and very atypical. But there was blood dripping from the movie’s title and the tagline was ‘A new name for terror’ which signified that this was, in fact, a horror movie.
I once read a description of the film that said that this was like an episode of Goosebumps directed by David Lynch. And I couldn’t put it better myself.
There’s a great sense of humour at work within the film. When Michael is served dinner he remarks ‘Who were the left-overs before they became left-overs?!’
Props to the excellent cast that includes Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt and Sandy Dennis- all perfect.
Every so often a film would be featured in Fangoria and Gorezone that looked so genre-expanding when it came to special effects, make-up and general ickiness that I just had to see it when it reached these shores. But, with the BBFC in full swing, this was not always the case. It took me many decades to see Luther The Geek in the UK after first reading about it and poring over the pics in my horror magazines for it to be then banned.
A Beverley Hills youth suspects his wealthy parents may not be what they purport to be.
This is a funny, horrifying and very shocking commentary on the Reagan’s America of the 1980s with its different social strats and inequalities. The film also has some great observations regarding consumerism and those lucky enough to be able to buy into it fully and their insatiable addiction to it.
The director of this opus, Brian Yuzna was the producer of movies as fucked up as Re-animator. His directorial debut shows the same kind of restraint (i.e. none, thankfully) and limitless imagination and vision for this project that is effortlessly translated onto the screen.
The ending has to be seen to be (dis)believed.
I actually saw the sequel to Tetsuo before I saw the first film. I loved it so much that I made it my duty to track down the original and I’m so glad I did.
Shinya Tsukamoto’s film is a black and white gritty looking masterpiece of surrealist visuals, mutation body horror and metal fetishism as we see the lead character eroticising the idea of himself becoming part man, part machine and then finding that it’s actually happening.
The original ads for this film mentioned the ‘two Davids’ Cronenberg and Lynch and their influence permeates this movie. But this isn’t some bad crude cut and paste of the different components and styles that are staples of their films. Tsukamoto has his own vision and it’s this that primarily shines out the brightest from this audacious, brilliant film/experience for the senses. Man Ray can be seen as an influence on this film also.
A disorientating, brilliant experience.
2. Pet Sematary
Louis Creed and his family move into their dream home which is perfect except for the very busy road at the front of their property.
The family cat is killed on the road. Louis is advised by a neighbour of a burial ground behind their property that has the power to reanimate the dead. Louis buries the cat but is shocked to find the cat comes back but as an evil version of itself.
Louis’ young son is then killed on the road. Should Louis bury him in the supernatural burial ground and hope that he comes back to life unscathed or should he take the cat incident as a sign not to?
This excellently directed yarn has much more emotional resonance than similar horror fare probably because the source material was so well written and personal. Stephen King, for many years, refused to talk about his source novel as it was too dark for him to go into. The scene where Louis’ young son Gage is run over and killed is horrific to watch and the lengths his father will go to try to bring him back is completely believable as this character will do anything to turn back time even if it’s been shown to have cataclysmic consequences.
Mary Lambert’s direction also brilliantly ramps up the tension amazingly with the actual horror scenes being especially unnerving and uncomfortable. This film could have been a second rate TV movie with the wrong director on board. Thankfully Lambert proved to be exactly the right woman for the task with the varied events in the film being handled expertly when it comes to either sensitivity or horror.
Horror fans will also be pleased to note that this film features Herman Munster himself Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall the next-door neighbour who tells Louis about the burial ground and its strange powers.
This film has just been given the 4K UHD treatment and this can only be seen as a worthy judgement as to the film’s worth.
A supermarket closes and the staff start to restock for the next day. A jealous ex-boyfriend of an employee is making a nuisance of himself and had to be removed from the premises shortly before it closed for the night. The employees then start to be dispatched by a killer who is locked in the store with them.
What is it about supermarkets and shopping malls that make them so brilliant as locales for horror movies?
This film was directed by Scott Spiegel who was a high school friend of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell who both star here. This was also produced, and indeed stars, Lawrence Bender who was later introduced to Quentin Tarantino by Spiegel and the rest, as they say, is history.
This film is terrific with the darkened and isolated location of the supermarket being perfect for a killer to be running rampant within. The deaths are gory, innovative (my favourite being the head sawn in two by a meat slicer and then put back together but not aligned. One of the best special effects I’ve ever seen) and carried out with real panache.
There are some great directorial flourishes that are also noteworthy and set this head and shoulders above other late 80s slasher fare. For example, check out the camera shot through the dial of a telephone. Inspired.
Watch out for the unexpected and brilliant ending.