Poster of the week goes to this gorgeous Italian artwork for the Steve McQueen film Nevada Smith from 1966.
This is rugged, masculine and just a tad homoerotic.
Poster of the week goes to this gorgeous Italian artwork for the Steve McQueen film Nevada Smith from 1966.
This is rugged, masculine and just a tad homoerotic.
Hammer Studios goes full-on late Sixties with this shake-up of how they advertised their films to reflect the radical new era. This was an attempt to get away from their previous image which was in danger of looking and feeling stale and archaic. How did they do this? By using humour!
The result is iconic.
New feature! Every week I’ll be presenting one of my favourite film posters. I actually think of film art as art in it’s own right. I’m sure visitors to this website feel the same way.
This first poster is the iconic UK poster for Brian De Palma’s classic horror movie Carrie from 1976.
The UK quad poster was actually censored as it was felt that the shot of Carrie covered in pigs blood would be too graphic for the general public of the day. And hence why said pic of her was actually presented in negative.
The uncensored poster resplendent with the original pic is shown below.
But there was another poster that was made depicting a note from Carrie that warned people who had seen the film from warning their friends about some of the scares the film held so that the film wouldn’t be ruined by word of mouth.
An iconic film with iconic imagery, Carrie is a classic on every level imaginable.
Every week I’ll be recommending one of my favourite soundtracks and why I like them. Hopefully this will inspire you to investigate more, buy the album or dig it out of your collection if you already have it so that you bask in it’s glory again.
This week is the turn of the Paul Zaza/Carl Zittrer soundtrack for the 1980 Canxploitation slasher movie, Prom Night.
Whilst the film should have been a feeble Halloween/Saturday Night Fever/Carrie hybrid, it proved to be so much more. Great moments of terror, tension and genuine grittiness are punctuated by disco scenes (disco certainly doesn’t suck when it comes to this film!) leading up to the prom, great moments of character development and an introspection that is way too nuanced for other slasher fare of the day.
This is all perfectly manifested in the music on this soundtrack too. Firstly though I have an admission to make- I didn’t even know this soundtrack existed remastered on CD and expanded with extra tracks not included on the original vinyl LP. When I heard that some of the tracks were for pieces of music not used in the original film I thought, ‘Oh no! Filler!’ How wrong I was! The extra songs greatly embellish and expand upon the general vibe of the film.
The tracklisting works very well indeed. Theres the sturm und drang of the music used to underpin the terror scenes (the brilliant piece which accompanies the killer calling each of his future victims is here), the joyous disco songs (my life is better for knowing that there is a song titled ‘Love Me Til I Die’ in a disco inspired slasher movie) that are featured also find their way onto the CD along with others that weren’t used which are just as fantastic.
Just as Synapse’s Blu Ray of the film helped to resurrect the film with a flawless restoration and a whole plethora of extras, this soundtrack contributes to this resurrection with Prom Night ready to rightfully takes it’s place amongst the vanguard of the slasher movement. Yes, it’s not as good as The Undisputed Champion of this subgenre (Halloween, in case you were wondering) but it’s at the forefront of the B+ movies which followed in it’s wake.
Prom Night the soundtrack is available on Perseverance Records.
Theres a video for this list here.
10. Rabid Grannies
A group of relatives meet to celebrate their elderly relations birthday (but have disclosed that they are only there so that they may be left something in the old duck’s inheritances when they pop their clogs). A black-sheep nephew of the octogenarians who practices the black arts has been excluded from proceedings but sends a supernatural gift that turns the lovable grandmas into evil, homicidal maniacs. Fun ensues.
This film is from Troma (of course). Within this Belgian horror film, the gore and blood flow and there is also a delectable sick strain of humour at play that make the film feel like no other movie I think I’ve ever seen.
Demented, wickedly funny and one of a kind.
9. The Blob
A remake of the Steve McQueen classic. A meteorite emits a strange pink goo type substance that is in fact alive, harmful to humans and intent on wreaking havoc. It seems to be completely sentient. This 80’s version determines the slime as in fact, a biological weapon that was sent into space after being concocted by scientists on Earth rather than being an alien entity.
By 1988 when this remake was made, special effects had progressed at such a dizzying pace that it was felt that anything was possible. Director Chuck Russell takes full advantage of this with not only The Blob doing things onscreen that could only have been dreamt of in the original film. Also, the blob itself looks aesthetically beautiful, akin to a huge oozing mass of pink bubble gum.
Kevin Dillon is certainly no Steve McQueen (but, to be fair, no one is) and this remake doesn’t have the amazing theme song that the original had, but as a special effects laden 1980’s remake this film more than accomplishes (and with real panache) what it aims to do.
8. Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood
This film is basically Jason vs Carrie as one of the latest crop of teens has telekinesis. Whats more she’s accidentally awakened Jason who was chained beneath Crystal Lake thanks to Tommy Jarvis in the previous film.
This was the first film with Kane Hodder as Jason. He seems completely at home right off the bat with his first inhabitation of the role displaying a real flare and strutting confidence.
We get some great kills, some great moments of sly humour (but not the amount of meta-humour synonymous with Part 6) and a fantastic final confrontation. We also get some of the finest helmet hair ever captured on film, with ‘do’s’ so severe that they very possibly could be just as bad (if not worse) than any of the atrocities committed by Jason.
There are also some great character archetypes that the film hams up to- the bitch, the evil doctor, the ugly duckling. There’s a shrewdness to proceedings that is really enjoyable and helps pull this entry out of being just a generic late 80’s slasher movie.
But there were also other, more radical ideas being pushed forward when this movie was being mooted. Barbara Sachs, a Paramount producer wanted this movie to be the one Friday that was seen as being ‘arty’ and wanted it to even be in the running when the Academy Awards came around. Seriously! At one point there were even mutterings of trying to attach a director of (previous) high standing to the film with one possible nominee being Fellini. Yes, seriously!!!
This all came to nothing though as John Carl Buechler who had directed Troll was employed instead. He does a great job but the mind still boggles at the idea of Fellini directing proceedings and Jason going up to collect the Palme D’Or.
7. Child’s Play
Another movie that kickstarted a brand new and very profitable horror franchise was Child’s Play.
Catherine Hicks plays a single mother who gives her young son Andy a new toy (named Chucky) akin to the old ‘My Buddy’, the awkwardly large doll for boys (!) from the 80’s.
Very early on this movie steers into dark waters. When Chucky starts killing people beginning with Maggie, Andy’s babysitter, the police make Andy the key suspect. The issue of killer kids is still a taboo and ironically one of the entries in this franchise would be linked to the real life case of the two killer kids who murdered James Bulger in 1993.
The doll scampering around to kill people looks and feels very sinister and uncomfortable as it looks like a child is actually committing all of these atrocities (a child was actually used to act as the killer doll). Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky is amazing as he shows that even when he isn’t on screen he can still light up a role.
A very good start to an inventive, funny and intelligent franchise.
6. Killer Klowns From Outer Space
A film for everyone who finds clowns really sinister and scary (or sexy because of that).
A young couple are busy making out at Make Out Point when they see what looks likes like a falling star and so go to investigate. It’s there that they find, of all things, a circus tent. The alien beings in said tent all look like clowns but they aren’t here to fall over and entertain us. They hate humans and want to harvest us in bright pink cocoons. They also kill humans as witnessed by Deputy Sheriff Mooney who arrests one of them. It slaughters everyone else in the cell along with the deputy.
Fortunately the Sheriff proper realises that the Klowns are a serious threat to the entire town and sets out to stop them. Will he succeed or will they?
This film is by the Chiodo Brothers and is like a really brightly coloured acid trip with this startling vision having darker undertones beneath the surface. This is also one of those movies that has it’s own reality and an amazing vision that is fully and brilliantly conceived and realised by the filmmakers.
This film is now seen as a cult classic and I can fully see why. A sequel has been mooted for years. I hope it comes to fruition.
5. Maniac Cop
A cop has supposedly gone psycho on the streets of New York which causes citywide panic and retribution with cops being shot or steered clear of by scared civilians. The main suspect is a policeman called Jack with another cop called McCrae diving deep into the case and trying to stop the killer as he doesn’t think Jack is responsible.
This is another film by William Lustig who made Maniac and Vigilante. With this movie he again comes up with the goods. Not only is this a cult film fan’s dream cast with Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins and Richard Roundtree (not to mention cameos by Sam Raimi and Jake LaMotta who is Lustig’s uncle) but this is a great concept for a movie. It has plenty of tense night-time scenes on grimy, terrifying New York streets (a Lustig speciality). There’s also the genuine shock scene when Maniac Cop is revealed with the legend Robert Z’Dar and his awesome jaw coming to the fore.
Maniac Cop was cut by 5 secs by the BBFC when it was first released in the UK. This involved the shower scene that involved a stabbing and facial mutilation.
This film was followed by two more Maniac Cop movies.
4. Phantasm 2
It was because of Phantasm 2 that I learnt of the first film. Barry Norman on his regular film review programme reviewed the movie and voiced the opinion that he didn’t even know there was a first Phantasm film. At that point I had to agree.
I rented Phantasm 2 before I got to see the first film and loved it. It was (like the first movie) unlike any other film I had ever seen, with bags of imagination and nothing over-explained. The film had a mysterious aura about it.
This film continued it’s exploration of the sinister and malevolent Tall Man with Mike from the original film (but played by a different actor) leaving the mental institution he was resident in after the events of the first film and returning to Morningside Cemetery where he starts exhuming graves. Just as he suspected, they are empty. This convinces Reggie (also from the original) to help Mike investigate further and try to stop The Tall Man.
A bigger budget, more ambitious visuals and more complex plotlines (there seems to be more of an emphasis on the psychic element that was just hinted at in the original film with the seer and her granddaughter) permeate this sequel. There are also more guns, action and gore with the spheres being given a redux and more murderous implements to kill with.
But theres still mystery, intelligence and innovation. And whats more, it’s still ingrained in this second film as it was in the first. The viewer is free to interpret events in this film and try to decide if they are actual or imagined.
Phantasm 2 is a very worthy sequel to a masterpiece.
Ever since I read about Scarecrows in an old issue of Gorezone I knew I had to see it. When I did finally see it, of course, it was cut by the BBFC. But even in this cut form it still made for a great film.
A plane full of mercenaries have stolen millions of dollars and are flying away to Mexico with their bounty. However, one of them swipes the loot and parachutes from the plane into a cornfield. Two others parachute after him to be joined by the others upon landing the plane. They all meet in a house adjoined to the field. They spot the loot which is in the field but what they don’t know is that they will have major problems retrieving it as the cornfield is home to three paranormal scarecrows who are actually alive and hate those who trespass onto their terrain.
This is a brooding, dark hued film which is perfect for such a dark and gory movie. The horror of the scarecrows is intensified by the way they have been lit with all of the action taking place at night. This lends a very sinister air to proceedings especially with the haunting locale of the nocturnal cornfield.
There’s also great characterisation with the backstory warranting it’s own prequel. The sense of mistrust and paranoia permeates the action and prepares the audience to expect the unexpected. This is no generic 80’s horror movie.
I finally saw the uncut version and it was well worth the wait. As was seeing the film on Blu ray after I first saw it on VHS all those years ago.
2. Dead Ringers
More double crossing now with twins being perfectly suited for this.
This David Cronenberg movie stars Jeremy Irons as twin gynaecologists with one twin, the narcissistic Elliot, seducing and then discarding some of the women who come to their practice with his more submissive and introverted twin Beverly taking over from Elliot in the relationship but without the woman being aware of the substitution.
The twins carry out this abusive practice with actress Claire (Genevieve Bujold). But Beverly seriously falls for her and after beginning a relationship together, refuses to ‘share’ her with Elliot (which causes a serious rift in their relationship) and starts to share her addiction of prescription medication.
After she has lunch with one of her friends she learns that Beverly has a twin brother. This triggers earlier doubts she had had regarding Beverly and how differently he acted after their first dalliance together. She confronts Beverly about this and tells him that she knows what him and his twin have done.
After a reconciliation between Beverly and Claire, there is more drug use between the two before she leaves town to work on another film. With her gone, Beverly becomes depressed, starts taking more drugs and becomes obsessed with mutant women with abnormal genitalia.
Yes, there’s lots going on here! This couldn’t be more different from the plot to Friday the 13th Part 7 if it tried. This film was another example of Cronenberg going from strength to strength. Just as The Fly had been a huge hit without any sign of selling out or compromise (in other words it was just as gross as his earlier films!), Dead Ringers was Cronenberg’s most accomplished film to date. The plot had plenty of scope for his breed of body horror (check out the horrific women’s examination implements that are made for Beverly as he becomes more deranged and drug-addled), but this time it was his most polished film with a stellar and VERY well respected cast. Cronenberg aimed high with this project and asked Robert De Niro to play the twins but was turned down. He also asked William Hurt but he wasn’t comfortable playing twins. Jeremy Irons has a formidable reputation, rises to this challenge and does an amazing job. His mix of equal parts refinement and derangement was perfect for this role. Genevieve Bujold was another actor of undeniable class who was perfectly cast as Claire.
The critics almost universally threw bouquets at Cronenberg’s feet with this film. It was intelligent, perfectly realised and gorgeous to boot with the subject matter being pure Cronenberg. Many critics and fans think this is his best film. They may be right.
1 Monkey Shines
When an athlete (Allan) is hit by a truck and left a quadriplegic, a scientist friend recruits a monkey that has been trained to help assist disabled people to fully carry out their lives. Ella the monkey starts to bond well with Allan but soon this bond becomes a lot darker as he thinks that there might be some kind of telepathic bond with his new companion which then transforms into Ella enacting revenge on anyone who Allen displays anger towards. This escalates quickly.
This was Romero’s first film since the amazing Day of the Dead three years before and was further proof, if it were needed, that Romero continued to make intelligent horror films and that, just like Cronenberg, his directing career continued to flourish and evolve into unexpected avenues.
A film about a psychotic, telepathic monkey reeking havoc in a disabled man’s life was new territory for Romero and (yet again) he knocks it out of the park with deft direction, all round amazing performances and a tension that becomes palpable with every passing scene.
The film still has the ability to shock. I could say more but I’m not going to ruin this film for anyone. This is a noteworthy entry in Romero’s stellar body of work and one of his best films.
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 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 thats not to criticise the latter as it’s a great film) thematically and conceptually. Near Dark is dirtier, grimier and bloodier than it’s teen movie cousin and thats 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, thats 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 by 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 which 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.
Theres 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. I 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 obtaining 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, archeologist Raymond Knowby. The tape involves passages of the fabled Book of the Dead being spoken out loud which unleashes all manner of skullfuckery.
Bigger budget, more ambitious ideas, 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. Theres also a funny episode involving a character swallowing an eyeball which 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 installment 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 hes 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 teenaged 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.
Theres 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.
Theres a video for this list here.
10. Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives
Jason was killed in Part 4. But just as that installment was supposed to be the literal ‘Final Chapter’, it had been such a success that Paramount made another film. Part 5: A New Beginning involved Tommy Jarvis still seeing Jason everywhere, especially as new murders start to happen around him. Instead, it turns out that an ambulance driver has adopted Jason’s hockey mask and chosen to dispatch of all of the teens in the vicinity. His identity was only revealed at the end of the film.
Friday fans weren’t happy. They wanted Jason and not some tribute act. Their disappointment was indicated in the poorer box office returns for Part 5. So Paramount decided to resurrect the big guy. Jason would be back and (hopefully) the studio would profit handsomely from this.
How do you resurrect a supposedly dead horror film character? Easy, especially if the film franchise in question isn’t exactly known for it’s logic or coherent timeline. After all, Jason was supposed to have drowned in Crystal Lake prior to the first film. Tommy Jarvis is suffering from PTSD (never explicitly stated in the film but the flashbacks and hallucinations are symptomatic of this) and goes back to Crystal Lake with a friend to put Jason well and truly to rest. They dig up his coffin and open it so that Tommy can burn the corpse. However, with an iron railing from a nearby fence, Tommy stabs it into Jason’s body out of sudden rage when faced with him again. Lo and behold, a lightning bolt strikes the railing which resurrects the killer like a Frankenstein for the MTV generation (theres a great shot of worms falling off Jason’s face as he gets up). He arises, kills Tommy’s friend and puts back on his hockey mask thats nearby. He’s ready for business. Tommy escapes and spends the rest of the movie trying to convince people that Jason is back and then trying to stop his foe.
The supernatural elements to Jason’s resurrection was something Paramount must have loved. It meant that Jason would never really die, could be brought back to life at any time without a reasonable explanation and still make them money.
But there were still risks being taken with this film. It contained a sly humour that wasn’t present to such a degree in any other of the films. Most daringly, there was a meta humour present whereby the film would gleefully reference and gently poke fun at the conventions of cinema and in most instances, horror cinema and the slasher subgenre.
The title sequence of Jason Lives shows this in all it’s glory as we see Jason’s version of the James Bond gun barrel sequence. Instead of firing a gun, Jason throws a knife at the perpetrator whilst we see the blood then gush down. A knowing homage. The Friday 13th fanbase would instantly be divided into two camps. The ones who love the dark, brutal and more serious films and view The Final Chapter as their favourite and those who liked this less serious, more laid back venture with the kills still bing brutal but the build-up being laden with gentle winks to the camera and those in the know.
There are other humorous asides in the film. The cemetery being called ‘Eternal Peace’, the woman in her car who sees Jason and remarks that shes seen enough horror films to know a man in a mask in the woods is never a good thing, the American Express card drifting by on the top of a puddle after a victim is murdered. Theres also a hilarious scene in which Jason’s woods are swarming with paintballers with one of them thinking Jason is one of the competitors.
But whilst there are jokes and subtle references galore, there are great kills as well. The film also attempts to give the fans something new and to expand the canvas of the series as well. One way the film does this is by introducing bigger spectacles that haven’t been seen in the series previously. The scene involving the bus had never been attempted in any previous films and the shots of Jason on top of the huge vehicle feel like something new and grander in vision. The films were little by little changing as they needed to to reflect an ever-changing audience and not to stagnate and grow lazy by just depending on the formula used during the iconic first four films.
Ironically, Part 6 made less money at the box office than any of the other installments. But, it found it’s audience even more on home video and remains many Friday fans favourite entry in the franchise.
9. Chopping Mall
A shopping mall gets a new state of the art security system consisting of robots that patrol the mall and tackle thieves through the use of lasers whilst also being able to shoot them with tranquillisers. All ways in and out of the mall are also secured with shutters which make it virtually impossible to get in (or out!)
You know what happens next! The system malfunctions due to the mall being struck by lightning and the robots become killing machines as we see after they bump off the system’s technicians and a caretaker in an early scene.
There are four couples in the mall as they stay on after-hours to party, have sex in the beds in the furniture store they are in (three of them work there) and to fall foul of the killer robots.
What is it about malls and horror movies that makes them work so well together? This is certainly no Dawn of the Dead but it’s fun, camp, kitsch and great fun, a true popcorn 80’s film.
But also, it’s a Roger Corman movie so we get Corman royalty such as Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham and Mary Woronov in roles.
I remember seeing this great big hunk of cheese in 1986 and thinking that American malls were so much more fun than the soulless 70’s shopping precincts we had in the UK. Especially as they had killer robots.
A best selling horror author moves into his aunt’s house after she hangs herself in her bedroom. Here he encounters all manner of supernatural shenanigans.
And shenanigans is the right word as this is, and I never thought I’d be uttering these words on my website, a family horror film. The movie is bright and breezy and the monsters fun (but still scary). But this is the kind of horror movie that the whole family can sit through as long as the kids aren’t really young and can see the monsters and ghouls for what they are- grotesque parodies of other people from author Cobb’s life. The ugly female creature is a reverse manifestation of his beautiful actress (soon to be ex) wife, the green and rotting soldier is his buddy from Nam who thinks Cobb left him to perish. These ghouls are one step up from the scarier elements of The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth.
This was directed by Steve Miner who also directed Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3. George Wendt stars of Cheers fame as does William Katt who, of course, was Tommy Ross from Carrie.
This was so much fun when I first saw it with my mates in 1986. And when I watched it again the other day, it was still fun. Arrow’s transfer of this movie is flawless.
A criminal species of aliens are being transferred to a prison planet but in the process they hijack a spaceship and escape. With Earth in their sights they are pursued by two intergalactic bounty hunters.
They land in rural Kansas and start to cause havoc and mayhem.
Whilst this may sound ‘fun’ and a family film like House, Critters is much more aimed at adult horror fans with more ‘horror’ than House and less of a bright and breezy feel to proceedings.
Dee Wallace Stone, E Emmett Walsh and Billy Green Bush all star and bring a lot to the film. This feels like a moderately big budget movie rather than some cheap and corny alien flick.
The critters (of Krites as they’re called earlier in the film) can frenziedly eat rather like piranha (we see them eat a cow in this manner which makes them a threat to animals and humans alike), fire quills from their foreheads and also travel at high speed by rolling away.
I love the depiction of small-town American life that this film captures with it’s rural/farmland idyll and one scene taking place in a setting of All-Americana, a bowling alley.
Theres also a great sense of playfulness and humour to the movie that comes through loud and clear to the viewer.
This film really reminds me of the movie, Tremors released a few years later.
6. The Hitcher
1986 sounds kind of lightweight so far, doesn’t it? Quasi-funny aliens, family-friendly spectres and ghouls. But whilst there were a spate of PG-13 horror films that had as many funny moments as horrifying moments, there was, almost to balance things out, a spate of horror movies that were the complete opposite- unhinged, unrepentant and willing to push the boundaries.
One was The Hitcher starring C. Thomas Howell as a motorist travelling from Chicago to San Diego and stops to pick up a hitcher (Rutger Hauer). This in turn unleashes a shitstorm of epic proportions. The Hitcher reminds me of Spielberg’s Duel but with a seemingly unstoppable psychopath taking the place of the truck.
After John the hitcher pulls out a knife and saying he had cut off the arms and legs of the last person who picked him up, Jim (the driver) notices that the passenger door is unlocked and pushes him out of the car as it’s moving. This starts a series of both people crossing paths (or should be roads) with each other until the film’s climax.
The Hitcher is a very well made and beautifully shot B movie. It’s also close to the edge, has a brutality that was pushing boundaries for movies at that point and remains a fan favourite for just that reason.
It is also open to many readings. One possible reading involves the underlying gay subtext to the film with one scene where the duo have to go through a roadblock due to construction work, implicitly bringing this up and out into the open.
5. Night of the Creeps
It’s always a special year when a movie with Tom Atkins in it makes my Top 10 list.
A fraternity prank involving the thawing of a cryogenically frozen corpse sets into motion a tale involving alien brain parasites (!) that turn humans into zombies.
This film is a fantastic yarn. Not only is it an excellent film but it’s also a brilliant homage to horror of old with several sub-genres being resurrected (pun not intended) and referenced. Also, look out for the character names that name-check others within the genre (Cronenberg, Landis, Corman etc).
This is also a prime Tom Atkins vehicle and, as ever, he shines as ex-cop Ray Cameron. The script is littered with acerbic one-liners for him to utter, which he does with relish.
This film bombed royally when it was first released. But, thankfully, it found it’s feet on home video and became a huge cult classic (just like director Fred Dekker’s next film, The Monster Squad).
An ultra stylised vampire film starring Grace Jones (!) that has aged extremely well.
AJ and Keith want to get their way into a college frat house and so decide to hire a stripper for the evening to seal the deal. They puruse the local strip joints in the seedier parts of town and after entering a bar called After Dark, become set on asking Katrina, a stripper they have seen to come to their frat house. AJ goes backstage to try to convince her but she seduces him and then bites his neck.
So sets in motion a whole chain of events that includes more vampires and, of all things, an albino street gang. It would seem that nearly everyone working at the club is a vampire.
With the stylisation of this film being so central to it’s vision, this could have aged really badly and looked ‘sooo 80’s’ and been all surface and no substance. Thankfully, it’s neither of these and looked even better now than when I first saw it. There has also been a pristine transfer issued on Blu Ray by Arrow which means the film looks better than ever before.
The colour palate for this film is extraordinary and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Grace Jones with red hair!
3. The Fly
Scientist Seth Brundel (Jeff Goldblum) shows Ronnie Quaife (Geena Davis), a journalist, his transportation pods (not a euphemism) and how he can transport anything from one to the other. He still has to work on the idea though as living beings aren’t transporting properly yet (we see what happens when Brundel tries to transport a babboon and it actually gets transported inside out). Brundel promises full publishing rights to Quaife when the idea is perfected.
Brundel does perfect and tweak the idea and transports himself from one transporter to the other to prove it. However, a fly has entered the pod as well and so Brundel is transported but also combines with molecular structure of the fly.
He soon starts to transform and manifest his new Fly component. He becomes markedly stronger, starts craving sugar and starts to sprout thick hairs on his back. And that’s just the start.
The Fly was a huge hit in 1986 and it’s great to see that after years of directing his body horror films, David Cronenberg’s reputation and body of work started to grow in prestige. Could someone as esoteric as Cronenberg ever make a film which would *shock horror* involve a huge studio and maybe even be a huge hit? The answer was Yes. 20th Century Fox was behind The Fly along with Mel Brooks’ production company, Brooksfilm. And all of this happened without any kind of sell out or compromise. The Fly feels through and through like a Cronenberg film with it’s minutiae for procedure, science and what the stomach turning results are. And, boy, these sequences don’t disappoint. The bar-room arm wrestling scene is still as painful to watch as when I first saw this on VHS.
The unexpected also happened- The Fly won an Oscar. It was for Best Make-Up and it was richly deserved. Jeff Goldblum’s transformation into part-man, part-fly is inspired, horrifying and extremely gross (perfect for a horror film).
FBI criminal profiler Will Graham comes out of retirement to try to help apprehend a serial killer known as ‘The Tooth Fairy’. This involves meeting with one of his old nemeses, Dr Hannibal Lecktor who almost killed Graham.
Whilst Silence of the Lambs was the mainstream Hollywood movie that introduced the world to Hannibal Lector (without the middle ‘k’ too) then Manhunter was the arthouse movie in which he first appeared.
Whilst Silence has a lot to like about it, it does have moments that make me roll my eyes. The one-liners (especially the too showy speech abut fava beans and a nice Chianti resplendent with slurping sound effects) and general showiness does feel a bit forced and kind of vulgar to the Lecktor in Manhunter and Thomas Harris’ books.
With Manhunter the only downside is the change of title forced on by the film by it’s producer Dino De Laurentiis. The book by Harris was actually Red Dragon after he had produced a film with Dragon in it’s title that had flopped. He also didn’t want cinema goers to think the move was a kung fu vehicle. Two stupid reasons but Manhunter isn’t that bad a title for a movie.
Manhunter is a Michael Mann so the visual aspect of the movie is of paramount importance. The way every single frame is composed, the colour palate (notice the colours used for intimate scenes and more striking hues used for more disturbing episodes), the surreality of certain scenes (especially the showdown between Graham and Dollarhyde aka The Tooth Fairy) and how they have been filmed to accentuate this.
Whilst Silence was a huge hit on it’s release, Manhunter flopped but was lauded by critics on it’s release, to be appreciated more over the years with it’s release on home media. Which is ironic as Manhunter is the better film.
1 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
I first heard of this film in 1991 when Malcolm McLaren reviewed it on a Channel 4 arts show. I thought Mr McLaren would act all edgy and say that the film was very tame and didn’t affect him at all. How wrong I was! He said that he had seen the film 3 days previously to review it and hadn’t slept since! It had scared the shit out of him and that it was like he had watched a documentary rather than an actual motion picture. As soon as I heard him say this, I knew I had to see this film (although with a title like this I was bound to see it anyway).
The film was released on video in the UK after being massively cut by the BBFC but it still remained a harrowing, powerful piece of work the likes of which hadn’t been seen by film audiences before. It really was like we had fly on the wall access to serial killer Henry and his prison pal Otis (based on the real life Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole who were actually a couple in reality but not within the parameters of this film) as Henry coerces (not that he needs much coercion) Otis into killing and passes down his wisdom to him regarding topics such as Modus Operandi and not getting caught. Henry also outlines some of his philosophy regarding what murder is like (‘It’s always the same and it’s always different’).
The film is peppered with unexpected intervals whereby we’ll suddenly see one of Henry’s victims just after he has killed them- the woman slumped on a toilet, her top pulled down to show her breasts, suspenders and stockings also on view with a broken bottle protruding from her maimed, mutilated bloody mouth. Or the Mom and Pop in a general store both shot dead. Or the dead naked woman’s body floating face down in a lake. These intervals are also accompanied by their respective screams. We also see other clues as to Henry’s crimes. The hitchhiker he picks up who is clutching an acoustic guitar in a case which Henry later brings into the kitchen where Otis and Becky (Otis’ sister who comes to stay with them) are sat. When asked where he got it from he just says he ‘picked it up’. Theres also the scene later on in the film where he offers to take Becky out for a steak dinner as he has a new Visa card he wants to try out. ‘You have a Visa card?!’ Becky laughs to which he responds ‘Who do you think you’re associating with?!’ It’s not explicitly stated where Henry has received this credit card from but it can be reasonably guessed.
We even get to see the stalking of a woman Henry has seen in a shopping mall car park, as he follows her to her suburban home. On seeing that her partner meets her to unpack her shopping, he drives away. But on being instructed to keep the canister of bug spray from his former job by his boss, he uses this prop to go to the woman’s house on a later occasion and finish what he had hoped to do earlier. We don’t see the murder but we get to see the aftermath. As cartoons play on a TV screen, we see her dead on the couch, a length of cord around her throat, cigarette burns on her chest.
And then there are the murders that take place on screen. These include the homosexual guy who stops for Henry and Otis’ (fake) car breakdown, the sleazy and sarcastic (but very funny) TV salesman who finds a TV actually being brought down on his head screen-first (‘Plug it in’ Henry tells Otis, providing the film with a scene of gallows humour. This sick and unintentional comedy peppers the film just like the bloody intervals revealing Henry’s victims do. More on this bleak humour later), the pair of prostitutes they have rented with Henry breaking both of their necks to the astonishment and dismay of Otis.
And then there is the home invasion scene that was and still is the bane of many film classification boards the world over and one of the most notorious scenes in the history of film. Henry and Otis break into a home whilst the family are enjoying an otherwise quiet night in. Otis is seen fondling a woman sat on his lap but whilst she is desperately try to get away, Otis holds her arms behind her back so that she can’t. Henry is seen kicking her male partner who is tied up, has a bag over his head and is on the floor at Henry’s feet. Henry is also filming the whole incident on a camcorder taken from the TV salesman they killed earlier. As all of this is going on, the front door suddenly opens and a ten year old boy walks in, sees whats going on and makes a bolt for the door again to notify someone. He doesn’t make it though as Henry beats him to it, tackles him to the floor and breaks his neck. Otis breaks the neck of the woman on his lap and is just about to sexually abuse her further when Henry tells him not to. We then see that the action is actually being watched by both men on their TV whilst they sit on a couch in their apartment. They are watching the incident for pleasure.
Becky is coming to stay with them as she is running away from her abusive husband. During her stay with her brother and Henry, she will slowly fall for Henry. She will also reveal details of her own backstory over a game of cards with him- the abuse she received at the hands of her father, the fact that she only got into a relationship with her violent husband Leroy so that she could escape her Dad. Otis had previously mentioned to Becky that he had met Henry in the jug and that Henry was there for killing his Mama. He also demands that Becky doesn’t mention it to Henry which, of course, she does. Henry tells her about it, how his mother was a whore, how she’d make him sometimes wear a dress and watch as her and her male friends had sex and then after the deed they would sit and laugh at him. The fact that he gets the method he used to kill his Mama wrong says so much. Henry also details other aspects of his upbringing- his father who was a great man before he lost his legs, the bicycles that his father gave him and his brother that were too big but were sold before he had time to grow to be able to use it properly, the brother who had ‘bone disorder’ and was deformed.
The film isn’t the quagmire of depravity that the film’s reputation suggests. There is some great black comedy within the film with the ‘Plug it in’ scene highlighted earlier being one of them. One such happens when Henry breaks the necks of two prostitutes in quick succession. On seeing Henry killing for the first time and not even knowing that he was capable of something like that, Otis’ face changes to one of disbelief of almost comic proportions with him almost looking into the camera at the audience and breaking the fourth wall. It bizarrely provides a laugh for the audience in the bleakest of situations. In fact, Otis is also a great source of humour in other scenes in the film. On picking Becky up from the airport, she has a huge suitcase and a paper bag with her belongings in them. Otis chooses the paper bag to carry and leaves her to struggle with the suitcase. On driving to his apartment, he asks her about her husband Leroy. When she gets upset and says she doesn’t want to talk about him anymore he agrees and asks if shes hungry and wants something to eat. Theres then a short pause after which Otis asks her if she thinks Leroy is hungry and then wickedly smiles.
Just as there is (very dark) humour in the film, Henry is also depicted as charming and completely human in some scenes. If serial killers looked like the monsters they are on the outside, they wouldn’t get close enough to kill anyone. We see Henry making a waitress blush by saying she has a nice smile. Near the end of the film he meets a woman and her dog in an alleyway and goes on a charm offensive, mentioning how lovely her dog is and asking it’s name. He can use his charm when he wants to get close to a subject to kill them.
A note here about the music used within the film. The score brilliant mirrors Henry’s behaviour and temperament. For the most part it suggests a steady air of impending doom and menace whilst during the murders it curdles into wild explosions of sound complete with stingers when Henry stabs or attacks someone. These sound devices utilised during the murders wouldn’t be out of place in a slasher movie and their use here is very important. Henry feels completely separate to almost every other horror film especially the slasher genre. The use of slasher film type music shows that it can be used to even more terrifying use when utilised by such a realistic film as Henry. The film reappropriates this music and gives it a new meaning. The tagline used for the film was ‘He’s not Freddy. He’s not Jason. He’s real’. This film is so invested in real life that it’s power, rawness, and menace comes from that fact.
The three central performances within the film are amazing as are their characterisations- the wide-eyed naivety and gullibility of Becky, the already corrupted and willing to be further corrupted Otis. And then theres Henry. Michael Rooker’s performance is nothing short of brilliant and is one of the best performances I think I’ve ever seen. He is a walking, talking realistic portrayal of a psychopath and sociopath. He seems to inhabit the character and, as cliched as it is, he is Henry. And with the drawl of Droopy the Dog. Apparently he stayed in character for most of the film’s shoot. A crew member would drive him to the set every day and he would talk about his background, sometimes as Michael, sometimes as Henry. Rooker’s wife found out that she had become pregnant whilst Rooker was working on the film, knew that he was in character whilst he was shooting it and so waited until filming had completely finished before she told him the good news.
I could say more about Henry but to do so would completely ruin the film for new viewers and expose major spoilers. I’ll just say that the film is now recognised as the classic it truly is, is now uncut in the UK (and many other countries) and is available in 4K on Blu Ray (I remember seeing a print before this restoration that was on Netflix here in the UK and it looked dreadful! This new anniversary edition makes up for this with the film looking and sounding the best it ever has).
A truly astonishing piece of work and not for the faint hearted. I could write more about Henry and analyse it in more depth. And I will.
Theres a video for this list here.
10. The Mutilator
Family horror here! Teenager Ed accidentally kills his mother whilst cleaning a rifle for his father (imagine what a headfuck that would be). After his father (Big Ed) discovers his dead wife’s body, he has a breakdown.
Fast forward a few years and Big Ed asks his son to close up their second home which is situated at a beach side location. Ed takes some friends with them so they can spend some time there first during their Fall Break (the original name of the movie). But, Big Ed is already in the property but keeps his presence a secret as he plans to do away with his son as revenge for what he did to his wife.
So begins a killing spree as Big Ed dispatches of the teens one by one and by using different implements for each murder (this inspired the great tagline for the movie ‘By sword, by pick, by axe, bye bye!’). The kills are brutal, the family angle is interesting and theres one murder involving a huge fishing hook being used on a female victim that is extremely unsavoury and really great for a slasher movie.
Nasty and mean spirited- perfect for it’s genre.
9. Fright Night
Part horror film, part boy’s own adventure.
Could Charley Brewster’s very good looking next door neighbour really be a vampire as he suspects? Several women have gone missing and this makes Charley suspect Jerry Dandridge as the culprit. Charley goes to Peter Vincent who was renowned for playing a vampire hunter in a series of films to help him in his quest to put an end to Jerry’s bloodlust after the police don’t believe him.
This is a great movie featuring a genuinely original plot that leaves you guessing until the very end and without it ever feeling stale, tired or stooping to cliche.
On top of this theres a very interesting subplot, that is, if you can detect the signifiers. Jerry doesn’t live alone, he has a ‘housemate’. They curate antiques. When they’re seen together in the film they act protectively towards each other and obviously care deeply about one another. Theres also the scene where Billy cleans Jerry’s wounded hand but does it whilst hes on his knees. In silhouette through the window shade, it looks like something very different.
It’s obvious that they are being portrayed as being a gay couple but without the film explicitly saying it. What would be the perfect alibi for a vampire who is making his way through the local (female) prostitute population to satisfy his bloodlust than to appear to in fact be gay and for your other half to provide alibis for your actions?
And so this was very daring of a mainstream horror film to contain such a subtext. It also raises interesting ideas regarding double lives- the homosexual who isn’t out yet, the vampire who isn’t out yet.
A great vampire movie that is daring, gory and just as charming as Jerry is. It’s also a great love letter to older horror traditions of vampire hunters and conventions also.
8. Silver Bullet
A low-key adaptation of Stephen King novella Cycle of the Werewolf.
A serial killer in a local town is actually found to be a werewolf by wheelchair-bound Marty (Corey Haim) who defends himself against attack with a well aimed firework that is fired into the creatures eye. With this visible wound it is now easy to ascertain who the culprit is when the werewolf has transformed back to being human as the eye injury will be easily noticeable. And then battle commences to stop the creature.
This is another King adaptation that wasn’t a huge production but found it’s audience on home video. Small town America is captured really well, Haim is on top form but it is his tipsy Uncle Red who steals the show. It’s my favourite Gary Busey performance in any of his films.
The kills are effective, the tension is brilliantly generated and the werewolf is genuinely scary. I love the fact that he looks more like a bear than the result of some multi-million dollar special effects whiz.
Don Coscarelli of Phantasm started directing this but then quit the production half way through.
A made for TV movie directed by Wes Craven that was issued on video in the UK.
A wealthy businessman, Miles Creighton has himself cryogenically frozen after his death. But then the container holding his frozen body starts to make him thaw. His mother asks surgeons to operate on him to resusitate him as this can now be performed because of recent advances in medical science.
But it soon becomes apparent that he has changed and now doesn’t seem to have a soul or conscience. There are suddenly unexplained deaths with all roads leading to Miles. It’s only after the local priest Father Penny (Paul Sorvino) is taken to the hospital in critical condition that Miles’ mother is forced to face up to the fact that Miles is responsible as the priest tells her as much. It’s now up to her to stop her son from killing again.
This is a strange film that I loved as a kid, watched a few years ago, found to be boring and then watched again the other day and really liked. It depends on your mood. If you’re in the mood for something that is suitably restrained, non-flashy and remember that this was made for television then you’ll get the most out of this.
The cast are really good with Michael ‘Swan from The Warriors’ Beck as Miles and Paul Sorvino as Father Penny. It’s an interesting conceit and I’m glad I enjoyed it again when I recently watched it. Some movies are like that. They are dependent on mood and can’t be enjoyed at just any time. Another film like that for me is Driller Killer. Sometimes I think it’s an amazing examination of madness in rundown New York. Other times I find it to be the most tedious and slow movie ever made.
6. Cat’s Eye
Yet another low-key Stephen King adaptation.
This one is an anthology of three vignettes linked by the same cat strolling through. The first story involves the extreme measures employed by a company that smokers can sign up to to quit. The second is about a mob boss finding out that his wife is having an affair, having her lover kidnapped and then forcing him to walk around the outside ledge of his apartment. If he succeeds he will grant his philandering wife a divorce. If not, well, hes dies as he will have fallen to his death. The third story is about a little girl who has to contend with a troll that is trying to kill her with the cat coming to her rescue.
This film is basically Stephen King’s Tales of the Unexpected. Each segment is expertly directed, well acted and full of great twists and turns. It was a nice touch to have the cat as something that links all of the stories together and I love the idea of a cat getting to see and experience some of the most bizarre scenarios imaginable whilst it’s owners are oblivious.
A very young Drew Barrymore, James Woods and Candy Clark from Larry Clark’s brilliant Q are some of the actors that are great in this.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
I saw this when it was first released on video in 1986 after being obsessed with the original. It was…unexpected. It wasn’t the sequel I had wanted but it was still interesting and my Gaydar was going off like crazy!
It was probably the scenes that took place in the S&M bar that made me pick up on the gay subtext the most especially the death of the sadistic gym teacher- naked, from behind and having balls fired at him. What could it all mean?!
The story of effeminate outcast Jesse (perfect name haha) becoming a body for Freddy to be reborn was intriguing but didn’t really make sense. He was shown to be still at work at the dreadful conclusion of the previous film. There was also the scene at the pool party that defied the rules of the first film. Freddy has just appeared to loads of teens. Were they all asleep at the same time then?!
But other than that the film is an interesting experiment, with a look and feel that the first film had even if the events it was portraying were very different.
A sequel that took risks rather than seeking to establish a formula.
Strangers on the streets of Berlin are invited to a mysterious cinema for a free screening. They take their seats, the film starts but then one by one they become froth-mouthed demons. At one point those who haven’t succumbed to a similar fate make it to the exits to find they’ve all been bricked up.
I love the fact that some of the humans start to use promotional props used to advertise other films to fight off the demons. Although I’ve never seen a motorbike used in a cinema foyer to advertise a film before.
This Lamberto Bava shocker is all visual thrills that was originally to be part of an intended anthology film. But Bava took to this story more than the other two being proposed and so decided to develop just this story and make it into a feature length film.
Yes, this isn’t a film that you’d seek out if you wanted nuance and detail. This is a visceral, gory and bloody ride that full of interesting visuals and thrills. One of the women who becomes a demon is wearing spandex. If this doesn’t cause you to investigate this film then nothing will. It’s gory, extreme but also very, very camp which is part of it’s brilliance. Just let this film wash over you and you’ll love it.
3. Day of the Dead
Another film that my opinion flip-flopped over significantly over the years.
The zombie epidemic has now spread to such an extent that zombies are now everywhere and humans are few and far between. The few human survivors live in underground bunkers like the one in which we find the film’s characters. Theres a distinct tension between the head scientist in the group, Dr Logan and Captain Rhodes, the head of the soldiers assigned to protect them.
Logan and his team are desperately trying to find an end to the zombie pandemic but Rhodes seems opposed to him, his team of scientists and the fact that zombies are kept in the bunker with them, harnessed and restrained so that experiments can be carried out to try to find answers. It’s this mistrust between the scientists and the military that is the basis for a lot of Day’s events.
When Rhodes takes charge of the bunker and everyone in it he then says that they have to work under his command and anyone who disobeys will be executed.
Just like in the opening scenes of Dawn of the Dead where the scientist who is trying to use logic to find a way out of this emergency is ridiculed in a TV studio, here the scientists are ridiculed and looked down on with skepticism by the military led by the vile (and possibly psychopathic) Rhodes.
When Logan is asked to show Rhodes what progress he has made, he is shown his pet project. Bub is a zombie who shows signs of remembering his former life, can utter a few human words and has been successfully trained by Logan to use a gun, listen to a Walkman and even salute Rhodes- huge steps when dealing with the undead. Rhodes scoffs at this ‘progress’ and orders all zombies to be killed when one of them isn’t harnessed in properly and kills two soldiers.
Romero viewed the military in the same way within his film The Crazies. He saw them as bloodthirsty, ruthless and adverse to progress or rationality in the midst of a disaster.
When I first saw this movie in the 80’s I loved it, then as a teen I though it was too talky with not enough action (ahh, the folly of youth!) but I reinvestigated it when it was released by Arrow and I love it again now. The gorgeous cinematography, the intellectualism regarding the pandemic, the evolution since Night and Dawn, the zombies who are now actually rotting and looking worse than ever.
It’s a great moment when the zombies are eating Rhodes’ intestines and his dying words are ‘Choke on em!’
I remember going to a midnight screening of this one of my local cinemas. As myself and my friend were too young to go on our own my friend asked his Dad if he would accompany us. He agreed but didn’t know what sort of film this was. Boy, did he get a rude awakening! He even made the audience laugh at one point as when a character on the screen said ‘I can’t belive this is happening!’ he responded very loudly and grandly, ‘You and me both!’
Herbert West is a scientist who has invented a serum that when injected into a dead being can bring them back to life. He conducts experiments to test the serum on first a dead cat and then on dead human subjects. A rival, Dr Hill wants to take credit for the serum and wants West’s notes regarding it so he can take the credit for the discovery and so attempts to blackmail West to get what he wants. After being beheaded by West, Herbert reanimates both the head and body of Hill separately. For the rest of the film we see Hill’s headless body wandering around, sometimes with his now unattached head in it’s hands.
It was the severed head of Hill that caused consternation for the advertising regulators in the UK upon the release of Reanimator. The movie’s poster depicted the severed head with it’s face in the direction of the viewer so that there was absolutely no doubt as to what it was. This was deemed to be too much for the general public. The film’s distributor instead plumped for the head to be turned around as the back of the head would make it more ambiguous for any of the faint of heart.
This movie is so good. The humour is sick (on reanimating his friend Dan’s dead cat he says ‘Remember, it’s got a broken back. Don’t expect it to do the tango!’), on point and the premise wildly entertaining. The scene between Hill’s headless body holding his head and as it tries to have it’s wicked way with the character Megan’s strapped down naked body is something that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
This film being so zany, gross and intelligent was a cinematic blend that was such a great shot in the arm (pun not intended) for the horror genre. This film felt like it was light years ahead of the more generic entries in the slasher subgenre. By 1985, horror was mutating and evolving in interesting new directions and this film was leading the way.
1 The Stuff
A white goo is found to be bubbling out of the ground by workers. It’s found to be edible, sweet and highly addictive. The yoghurt like substance is then branded as The Stuff, sold and marketed. It sells like hot cakes as it’s sweet, highly addictive and, most importantly, has no calories! But, unfortunately, The Stuff is actually a living, toxic and parasitic organism that turns it’s consumers into zombies before eating them from the inside.
Because of The Stuff and it’s success, sales of ice cream are affected to such an extent that former FBI agent David ‘Mo’ Rutherford is hired by confectionary industry insider Charles Hobbs to find out exactly what The Stuff is and how it’s success can be sabotaged. Rutherford also teams up with a young boy called Jason who sees that The Stuff is actually alive and the dangerous addictive effects it can have. I love the part of the film where Jason becomes to a one-man army against The Stuff, attacking displays in local supermarkets and smashing glass freezers that contain the product.
This film is not just a really effective horror film but is also very humorous and also a very perceptive satire on advertising, consumerism and even the military (Paul Sorvino stars as a retired Colonel who leads a squad to battle the zombies and destroy the product using brute force). Its very telling that when the workers discover the goo bubbling up from the ground they instinctively want to taste it.
I love the adverts we see for The Stuff as well as it’s logo and packaging. The film is so perceptive and accurate that it feels like this could actually happen! Dollars and pounds are more important to corporations and capitalism over humanity and safety.
A great film from the great Larry Cohen.
There is a video regarding this article here.
10. Twilight Zone: The Movie
An anthology of separate short films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller and John Landis.
This homage to the original Twilight Zone TV series much loved by both television and horror fans works really well as the spirit of the series is kept intact but advanced into the 80’s and given the budget afforded to a big Hollywood film. It means the scope of the ideas is expanded immeasureably.
My favourite segment is undoubtably Dante’s ‘It’s a Good Life’ which blew my mind when I saw it as child and still blows my mind now. It’s akin to taking acid whilst watching Looney Toons cartoons alongside The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I will be forever haunted by the girl with no mouth and the giant eyeball.
All of the segments are amazing but there is an added poignancy to the Landis directed ‘Time Out’ as Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese children who weren’t working under acting rules in California were killed in a scene involving a helicopter.
The sequences that bookend the main segments are just as good as the main content of the film.
This film was such a hit that the old TV series was relaunched.
9. The Keep
Warning- this is a Michael Mann so expect stylisation to be turned up to eleven.
‘Nazis are forced to turn to a Jewish historian for help in battling the ancient demon they have inadvertently freed from it’s prison’ is how the plot for this film is described on IMDB. I was dreading providing a plot summary for this film as, even though I’ve seen it plenty of times, I still don’t know what the fuck is going on during much of it’s running time.
This seems to be a film more concerned with taking the viewer on an incredible journey rather than presenting a linear and clear narrative. And that’s absolutely fine if there is intelligence and substance to proceedings. And The Keep is such a film.
You will never see another film like this again, it truly is a completely unique experience, a feast for the senses and will have your noggin a-joggin’.
This was a very troubled production and apparently a much longer cut exists that would be perfect for a Blu ray release. The film’s detractors would possibly compare this to rolling their eyeballs in grit but I’d love such a release. There are many others who share my view too.
This Canuxploitation flick started as a low-key hidden gem that over the years has come to prominence through word of mouth and more and more fan raves. If it wasn’t for the internet this film may still have remained buried.
Method actress Samantha has herself committed to a local asylum to properly research for the forthcoming role in a film in which her character is mentally unstable. However, when she is committed she is left to rot in the nuthouse by the film’s director Jonathan who decides to audition other actresses for the role whilst shes out of the way.
Samantha realises what has happened, wants to enact revenge and so escapes from the mental facility. Five other hopefuls arrive at Jonathan’s mansion to audition for the role. But then strange, grisly things start to happen.
This film is highly original (the plot for one), has some wonderful twists and turns with a keen eye for skillful and quirky direction. The sequence in which the killer ice skates over to her latest victim is both extremely disturbing (the killer’s mask is something resembling a hagged old woman’s face and is a sure entry into the Horror Mask Hall of Fame). The fact that a scythe is being brandished and that the killer is skating emphasises the surreality and nightmarish quality to it. This scene is also a triumph of skilful direction and editing.
A newly acknowledged classic that deserves it’s place in the very best of the 80’s.
7. Psycho 2
Just like a sequel being made for Halloween, making a follow-up to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho would require balls of steel.
And just like Halloween 2, this movie isn’t as good as the original (naturally) but it’s still a great film. Everyone’s favourite Mother’s Boy and psychologist’s wet dream, Norman Bates is set free from the mental facility he has been a resident of since the end of the previous film. He has been classed as fully rehabilitated and no longer a threat to the people outside the asylum and so is free to go. But Marion Crane’s sister Lila isn’t happy about this and wants Norman to return to his padded cell.
We see Norman take a job as a short-order diner chef after kicking out Dennis Franz’s sleazy creep who has turned The Bates Motel into the kind of place where rooms are rented by the hour and fake names are written in the register.
We then see strange things start to happen like Norman finding notes left by his ‘Mother’ who, of course, has been dead for years. After one of Norman’s colleagues from the diner, Mary moves into the Bates House even stranger and unnerving things start to happen. Is Norman losing his grip on sanity once more or is someone gaslighting him to think he is?
A great cast help this sequel immeasurably, as do great cinematography (Dean Cundey strikes again) and brilliant directorial flourishes care of Tom Holland who took on the job. The film also has a feel to it that feels completely different to the first film but very gritty and claustrophobic.
Theres also one of the most unexpected and brilliant endings I’ve ever seen. Freud would have a field day with this scene and what it represents.
6. The Lift
This Dutch film is about a killer lift. Yes, really.
The lift in question is checked over by a repairman, Felix after it fails to open up when power returns to it after a storm has caused a power failure and people were trapped inside. When the lift still continues to malfunction, Felix starts to dig deeper and sees that a corporation called Rising Sun are connected with the lift company and suspects that they may be up to no good after investigating them in old back copies of local newspapers.
Lifts have always provoked fear in people and this film fully exploits this. We see people trapped in the lift- and worse! One unfortunate person gets his head stuck in the doors of the lift. But this film also has it’s tongue planted in it’s cheek. Watch the sequence where the lift interacts with the little girl and scares her just for the hell of it.
I also love the fact that the hero of this film is a humble, blue collar lift repairman. I also love that they sought to flesh out his character more. His wife thinks hes having an affair as he’s so obsessed with the lift that he spends inordinate amounts of time there. She even leaves him and takes their children with them.
In the second part of the film we see that the lift develops it’s own mind and so won’t be shut down or will try to kill those who try it switch it off. This is very Terminator-esque.
On top of all of this the film gives us a real flavour as to what Dutch life was like in the 1980’s and it’s beautiful and very conducive to being photographed on film.
The lift itself is also coloured beautifully with the inside of the small space being lit to emphasise it’s claustrophobia and demonic intent. Who would have known that a film that sounds like the most whimsical piece of fluff ever would in fact be this entertaining and well made?
Max Renn (James Woods) is the CEO of Civic TV, a production company making base level, rating grabbing programmes. He is then shown a new show called Videodrome, a show that transmits violent S&M sex and murder of it’s participants. Max starts to transmit the show. He then becomes involved with Nicki (Debbie Harry) who gets aroused by the episode of Videodrome that she sees and goes to audition for it. But then she doesn’t return! Max then investigates further as to what has happened to her and tries to know more about the mysterious Videodrome and learns of someone called Brian O’Blivion who knows all about it. Max then goes to meet him when he learns that he is in a local homeless shelter. Max then finds himself falling down a very strange and warped rabbit hole!
It’s almost impossible to make a synopsis of Videodrome’s plot without thinking ‘WTF?!’ It’s not only the narrative that is extreme with this film, but also the visuals and the themes of just how far entertainment is willing to go and how far the audience is willing to go to satisfy their needs.
The visuals have to be seen to be believed with Max beginning to see hallucinations (a side effect of watching too much Videodrome). One hallucination involves him discovering a mouth like wound appearing on his midriff which videotapes can be inserted into like a VCR. That’s only one far out visual within this extrordinary film.
Is the film a knowing prediction of numerous television and cable channels run amok? A pastiche of how some people saw the video boom as only a short distance away from real sex, violence and murder being able to be seen of anyone’s living room?
One thing is for sure and that is that it’s one of Cronenberg’s very best films with the master being at the top of his game. Videodrome was also, ironically, a huge hit on video and is recognised as a masterpiece that it is now part of The Criterion Collection.
Stephen King’s brilliant novel about a possessed Plymouth Fury named Christine, a nerdy teenager and how he changes after the car seemingly takes over his life.
John Carpenter directs one of King’s novels for the first time (he was due to direct Firestarter but lost the gig as The Thing had tanked at the box office. We can only imagine how that film would have differed directed by Carpenter) and does an amazing job. The film fully captures the effects of Arnie buying the car and becoming obsessed with it and how this affects his family, friends and enemies alike. Christine is very possessive of her new owner and seeks to punish those who try to hurt Arnie in any way (and hurt her) and any love interest who might get in-between her and Arnie.
It’s a fascinating conceit and it’s great to see the nuances and details contained in King’s amazing book are brought to the screen brilliantly well by Carpenter.
Theres also a great soundtrack by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Listen carefully and you can hear similarities between the music here and their soundtrack for Halloween 3 that they composed the previous year.
3. The Dead Zone
Another Cronenberg movie adapted from another Stephen King novel. Christopher Walken plays Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who awakens from a five year coma to find that he can tell the future by touching someone. The future isn’t set and so can be changed.
This film showed Cronenberg’s versatility as a director as here he made a simple (for him) film that wasn’t overcomplicated (he even ironed out any overly complex issues such as Johnny’s brain tumour that were evident in the novel) and was very straightforward.
A truly startling quality to the film is it’s poignancy. Johnny uses his gift to save the daughter of a nurse in his hospital when he sees a vision of her young daughter in a fire at their home. He later predicts the death of a boy he is helping to tutor at the request of the boy’s wealthy father. Johnny sees that the boy falls under the ice when he is playing ice hockey as he is too heavy. Johnny persuades the father to prevent his son from going to the game and the disaster is prevented.
The film also displays poignancy within the personal life of it’s lead character. Johnny also goes to see his girlfriend after he awakens from his coma to find that she has moved on with her life and even has a family now.
Johnny also uses his gift for massive issues that could potentially affect huge numbers of the public. He helps to identify a serial killer known as the ‘Castle Rock Killer’. Then he turns his attention to politician Greg Stilson, attends one of his rallies but makes sure to shake his hand thereby predicting what will happen in the future. He sees Stilson launching a nuclear war against the Soviet Union as he’s ‘had a vision!’
This isn’t body horror, there is no blood, engorged bodily organs or weird phallic creatures transmitted from body to body in this film. In fact, you’d be mistake for this being directed by someone else but Cronenberg. If any of his films show what a master auteur he is, it’s The Dead Zone. It showed he can stray away from his usual brilliant territory and still make a brilliant piece of work. And not only is this one of Cronenberg’s best films, it’s also one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel that has ever graced the screen.
2. Sleepaway Camp
Shit starts to get weird at a summer camp where some of the campers meet very violent and grisly deaths.
Whilst this could have been the most generic premise for a slasher movie ever, instead we get something off the wall, VERY left field and completely unexpected.
This movie pushes the boundaries and provides something that then and especially now could be seen as extremely un-PC. One of the characters is the camp chef, Artie who is also a pedophile. Whilst his colleagues joke about his vile tendencies I found myself thinking ‘WTF!’ But it would appear that this has been done as a build up to what happens next. After Artie has tried to creep on the young lead character of Angela, he finds his instant karma by falling into a large pan of boiling water after someone knocks over the chair hes standing on.
There are other kills that are extremely well executed and painful to watch- an arrow through the throat of the camp owner, a boy locked into a toilet cubicle and a hive of bees thrown into it with said character (who had pelted Angela with water balloons) getting stung to death, a girl called Meg getting stabbed in death in the shower, four children hatcheted to death in their sleeping bags and the camp bitch, Judy having a red hot curling tong inserted into her vagina whilst she is suffocated with a pillow over her face.
Whilst the kills are extreme, so is Angela’s backstory. She was on a boating trip with her father and his boyfriend (her father comes out as gay after getting divorced) and her brother, Peter when they were run into by another boat after theirs has capsized. Her father and brother are killed instantly.
When another camper kisses Angela she instantly has a flashback to when her and her brother secretly watched her father and his boyfriend having sex. This prompts Angela to run away from him and from the situation. I’m loving that the film asserts that seeing an incident such as two men in bed together could so massively damaging to someone’s psyche. If thats the case, I’m fucked. Whilst some watching the movie at this point will scream ‘That’s homophobic!’ just take a look at the kind of film you’re watching and when it was made. This is a prime slice of exploitation cinema made in 1983. The film doesn’t hold back with any of the topics it covers. It’s reality is heightened, exaggerated massively and if it offends some people then the filmmakers have succeeded.
Which leads us to one of the most shocking scenes in not just horror history, but in film history. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve seen lists within highly respected film magazines, journals and websites name this final scene as being in the same league as Salo and Irreversible. Yes, it’s that shocking and yes, it’s that unexpected. Oh, and no, I won’t be telling you what it is.
Yet another adaptation of a Stephen King with 1983 being a bumper year for great films made from his work.
A young mother and her child pull into a mechanic’s as her car is spluttering it’s last breaths of life. What she doesn’t realise is that the area is being terrorised by a giant St Bernard dog called Cujo that is actually rabid. What happens is that they are now stranded with the dog attempting to attack them if they try to leave the car.
The main ‘siege’ segment of this film is like a very intense play with just three players. The clastrophobia is ramped up as Donna tries everything she can to somehow get out of the car to get to the adjacent house and call for help as her son’s health is deteriorating swiftly. The humid weather is also conveyed effortlessly with the viewing experience being just as uncomfortable for the audience as it is for Donna and Tad.
But its also the build up to this scene that is so interesting. Donna is shown not to be the smiling unreal mother from the world of more pedestrian films and advertising. Her marriage is on the rocks and she has been having an affair behind her husband’s back.
There is also interesting characterisation regarding Cujo’s owners with the mother Charity taking their young son to stay with her sister and get him away from her alcoholic husband, Joe.
It’s this characterisation which expands the canvas regarding the film massively and prevents the movie being just a mildly interesting B-movie.
Another plus point is that there are unformly great performances from all of the cast but especially from the ever-brilliant Dee Wallace who rises to the challenge of depicting the trapped mother whose maternal instincts come to the fore as she must escape to save her son and herself. The siege scenes are a masterclass of brilliant acting, fantastic staging and how tension is evoked, heightened and sustained expertly. These scenes are some of the most nerve-racking I’ve ever experienced watching a film.
When I saw Cujo for the first time I felt it was greatly overlooked. Recent times have been kinder to the film with a stunning new Blu Ray release that gives the film the loving treatment it so richly deserves.
Theres a video of my choices on YouTube here.
10. The Burning
One of the most notorious films involved in the Video Nasties debacle, (but not the most notorious. That honour is reserved for another movie on this list) this was severely cut by the BBFC for cinema and video release. However, Thorn EMI Home Video accidentally released the film uncut before this version was recalled.
The film was so contentious for the BBFC due to the infamous raft scene which is still an outstanding piece of film. It’s strangely beautiful, like a savage, painful and bloodspattered ballet due to it’s choreography and editing. It also involved Tom Savini who was responsible for all of the make-up effects for this film so you just knew this movie would be extra special. The prostitute being dispatched with a pair of scissors also, ironically, met with the censor’s scissors also.
This should have been an anaemic Friday the 13th rip-off which instead is as good as many of the entries in that franchise. A great backstory involving a prank on a summer camp caretaker gone horribly wrong, the deformed killer making his way back to the summer camp with revenge on his mind via an eventful visit to a prostitute resplendent with 42nd Street sleazy locale, a problematic Final Girl who is in fact a guy (and a voyeuristic perv), bloody kills and early roles for Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter. The characters are well written which obviously puts this head and shoulders above such fare.
This was also the first film by production company Miramax and it’s co-owner Harvey Weinstein. And another reign of terror of a very different kind began.
9. Burial Ground
A film that had been on my radar for a while when I first saw the poster for it in a book about extreme horror movies. When I eventually saw it (not easy as it wasn’t readily available in the UK due to it’s graphic nature) it was worth the wait. Craggy faced Italian zombies who seemed to really hate the living as displayed in the gory death scenes.
But I didn’t expect the whole sleazy subplot regarding Peter Bark’s character and his mother. No, I won’t reveal all as it would ruin a huge surprise for those who haven’t seen this film yet. Suffice to say, my jaw hit the floor when I saw it for the first time.
When this film eventually surfaced on UK video it had been cut by 3m 11s (ouch!). It’s now uncut on YouTube.
8. Just Before Dawn
Jeff Lieberman is a legend and has made many films that I hold dear (Squirm and Blue Sunshine being two of them). Just Before Dawn is his very original take on the town folk vs hillbillies subgenre and also on the slasher movie genre and is utterly brilliant.
Quirky characters, twists galore and an ending that is both funny and surreal. Chris Lemmon and George Kennedy star in this movie that was unavailable for many years but is now (rightfully) on Blu Ray. Look for the deluxe edition on Code Red.
Expect the unexpected.
7. The Howling
Werewolf movies were like buses in 1981. Wait long enough and three came along at once. One such movie was Joe Dante’s The Howling that skillfully blends horror and comedy to tell the story of Dee Wallace’s Karen, a plucky TV reporter who agrees to meet serial murderer Eddie Quist who seems infatuated with her. Things turn bloody as Quist is shot by the police with Karen having to escape to a resort at the recommendation of her therapist (played by the ever brilliant Patrick McNee) to try to come to terms with what happened. Things then get really weird.
Whilst this film is very funny and there are lots of references to the werewolf genre and it’s legend for the eagle-eyed, this isn’t some vile horror comedy in the vein of the appalling Scream. This film does the horror brilliantly and the sequence in which Karen goes to meet Eddie in a cubicle in the back of an adult bookshop is one of the most unnerving sequences I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.
I remember reading the Gary Brandner book after seeing this movie and it’s very different but just as fantastic.
Look out for legend Roger Corman’s cameo waiting for Karen to finish her call in a phone booth, entering after she leaves and then checking for spare change. Fantastic.
6. Friday the 13th Part 2
Yes, Jason being alive after drowning in Crystal Lake doesn’t make sense. Do you watch Friday the 13th movies for realism or a coherent timeline?! Do you?!!
Alice, the Final Girl from Part 1 returns but is quickly dispatched by Jason in the first few minutes of this sequel (loving the fact that Jason then takes the whistling kettle off the stove after killing Alice with an ice pick through the temple. He’s a good boy after all! He also doesn’t mind that a little cat has joined him. He’s good with animals!) Adrienne King who played Alice doesn’t really even remember starring in this sequel as she had her own shit going on in real life- she was being stalked before the phenomenon of stalking was more widely talked about. He even broke into her apartment whilst she was in it so with her scenes in this film it really was the boundaries between life and art being blurred.
But I digress. This entry into the franchise sees Jason before he acquired his iconic hockey mask, instead donning a cloth sack over his head with one eye hole cut out of it. It’s reminiscent of the killer in The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
We have some iconic kills too- machete to the face of a guy in a wheelchair before he goes down a large outdoor staircase backwards (Jason believe in equal opportunities when it comes to killing), a spear impaling two people at once as they have sex (ripped off from the Bava Giallo movie Twitch of the Death Nerve which a member of the Friday Part 2 crew helped to distribute in the U.S.), someone being killed after falling into a rope trap that leaves them suspended upside down prior to their gruesome fate.
This film also has the distinction of granting the viewers to see inside Chez Jason, a makeshift shack that our hero has made in the woods. He knows a thing or two about decor! It’s within here that we see a shrine to his dead mother. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you all but I love the fact that the film makes sure to establish that the Final Girl, Ginny (Amy Steel, one of the series best characters) has previously studied psychology because her plan at fooling Jason is so intricate that it would require a psych major (!) The ending is unexpectedly slapstick in places but this emphasises the comic book type dimensions to this entry.
A great sequel and one of the best in the series.
5. An American Werewolf in London
Another of the trio of excellent werewolf movies that was released in 1981 (the third was Mike Woodleigh’s Wolfen that didn’t make it into my Top 10 but missed out by a whisker. It’s a very different beast (pun not intended) to the other two films but is still amazing and well worth finding).
Spookily, this film has also mixes horror and humour but whilst making sure that the funnies don’t dilute the horror just like The Howling. A couple of American chums are hitchhiking across the North Yorkshire Moors and come across a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb (a huge red flag!) where the drinkers inside (Rik Mayall and Brian Glover feature among them) aren’t too friendly but send the boys on their way after a few drinks and warn them ‘to stay on the road!’ They don’t and one of them is brutally attacked by some kind of wild animal. The other wakes up in a hospital in London and…
This film is a treat. Gorgeous characters (including fantastic characters that feature in only a small way but make such an impression that they win the audience over- an example is the uncooperative little boy who is a patient of Alex the nurse played by the gorgeous Jenny Agutter).
This film also acts as a time capsule as we get to see Piccadilly Circus when it was a sleazy den of inequity as David meets his dead and decomposing chum Jack (who appears as a ghost) in the porno cinemas of the area.
We also have quite possibly the best transformation scene in film history, a very scary sequence in an underground station and lots more besides . With all of this you have a genuine masterpiece. I remember this film when it was released when I was 6 years old. It featured in every newspaper and magazine we had knocking around the house and I remember posters and billboards on the street for it. It worked too. It was a huge hit and deservedly so.
4. Halloween 2
How do you follow up a film as great as Halloween? A sequel would seem like it was doomed to failure, especially with John Carpenter deciding not to direct it.
But Halloween 2 still succeeds admirably. Yes, it’s not as good as Halloween and if the original is an A+++ movie, then it’s sequel is a B+ film.
The decision to carry on straight after the events of the first film still seems audacious and original. Laurie is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to recover from the injuries she endures at the hands of Michael Myers. But Myers follows her there and picks up where he left off.
Cue some very disturbing sequences involving the disturbing sight of Michael Myers walking inhumanly up and down quiet nocturnal hospital corridors and being seen doing so on CCTV monitors which is very unsettling. It takes a while for Myers to catch up with Laurie but when it happens it’s well worth the wait. Props to the director Rick Rosenthal for making her POV shots slightly blurred to convey that she is sedated and groggy. The chase scene through the hospital is amazing with Laurie having to climb through a tiny window, fall onto and then walk through broken glass with bare feet and then wait for a lift door to close as she sees Michael approaching. One of the tensest and best chase scenes I’ve ever seen.
Theres also a revelation as to possibly explain why Myers wants the same fate to become of Laurie as he meted out on Judith years before this.
I remember the first time I saw this was on Thorn EMI video which was cut to take out the hypodermic needle through the eye effect and severely reduce the brutality of the therapeutic pool scene. They’re all restored now though and show Halloween 2 to be a classy film which still packs a punch.
3. The Pit
File this film under ‘Quirky’. This movie still isn’t as well known as it deserves to be. Hopefully the recent Kino Lorber Blu Ray will help more people discover this gem.
Jamie is a rather misunderstood 12 year old. But he has a secret discovery- a pit full of creatures called Tra-la-logs who are hungry for human flesh. The movie sees Jamie lure those who tease and ridicule him to the pit and then feed to the creatures who live within. ‘They don’t eat chocolate’ Jamie says at one point to illustrate their carnivorous tendencies (plothole nicely sewn up!)
There are so many great idiosyncratic aspects to this movie- the fact that Jamie confides everything to his teddy bear (the working title of this movie was Teddy. As filming went over schedule, the novelisation for the film came out with the title of Teddy- except the film was now to be called The Pit. Oops. The novelisation apparently also differs quite a lot from the final movie).
I love the humour within the film too, some of which is so quick that you might miss it. The entire town seems to be mean to Jamie but it’s great for the audience. Those who are mean to him are like characters lifted by a John Waters movie. In fact, The Pit at times feels like an especially edgy after school special directed by Waters.
Something else about the film I love is that Jamie is really dirty and inapproropriate in his actions and deeds. He’s 12 years old in the film (9 in the book apparently) and so on the cusp of puberty. He doesn’t realise that sneaking into the bathroom whilst his babysitter is in the shower to write on the mirror ‘I love you!’ in her lipstick is wrong.
Later in the film he also takes pictures of the mean little girl and her mother as they do aerobics dressed in leotards. This is also, obviously, massively inappropriate. In real life, he’d be arrested. For audiences of exploitation cinema, Jamie is a boon. And an instantly entertaining character.
Ahh the glory days of video. This was one of the first videos I ever saw on the great Guild Home Video label, resplendent with the minimalist electronic Guild intro which brings back so many memories for me.
This feels like a genre movie completely subverted by David Cronenberg with a down and out man shown to have the power to destroy adversaries just by thinking about it. Whilst this is happening we see a conference into these thought powers taking place with a smartly dressed person in front of the audience asking for a volunteer so that he can demonstrate his powers. He doesn’t realise that the person who volunteers also possesses similar powers but to a higher level and not with malevalent aims. Cue quite possibly the best practical special effect in film history and a sequence that would instantly give Scanners cult classic status.
But this film has a lot more going for it then just one perfectly executed (pun not intended) special effect.
Not only are we introduced to the concept and capabilities of scanning and scanners but we also get to see scanner vs scanner as the newly cleaned up Cameron Vale from earlier is told of a very powerful and utterly ruthless scanner named Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside in an example of perfect casting) and his dastardly plans. It’s a race against time for Vale to stop Revok and his team of scanner assassins. Who knows what Revok and his followers could accomplish if they aren’t stopped. The previous conference and Revok’s display of power there was only a potential taster of what might be to come.
The locales Cronenberg uses within the film are extraordinary with the glass and metal world of downtown Canada, the shadowy concrete organisations such as ConSec (a staple of Cronenberg’s work) and the extraordinary lair of fellow scanner Benjamin Pierce who explains that his art keeps him sane. We get to see a whole range of very disturbing and fascinating pieces of art and how he sees the work because of his ability to scan. Witness the giant plastercast head that Vale and Pierce walk into to discuss Revok.
When Vale and Revok finally meet it doesn’t disappoint. There are revelations, plans proposed by Revok to team up and then a duel to the death- with surprising results!
Scanners based it’s publicity around the extraordinary special effect that it showed within the first few minutes of it’s playtime. It also gave it’s audience a movie that was a rollercoaster ride that was just as brilliant, visceral and intelligent. Cronenberg reeled em in and gave em a film that most horror fans would never have normally seen. Now that’s subversive and brilliant. Cronenberg would do the same with the amazing Crash which proved so controversial with the BBFC years later.
1. The Evil Dead
Young friends persevere to make a horror film, get it finished and then get it distributed. Their new distributor has a hand in the new Cannes Film Festival and shows the film there. Stephen King just happens to see the film, raves about it and suddenly the movie starts to garner press and accolades. King’s endorsement was used in the film’s advertising and helped to get the film distributed worldwide.
But whilst everything was going well, a moral panic in the UK deems the film as ‘obscene’ (even though lead protestor and busybody Mary Whitehouse admits to never having seen the film (!) as she ‘didn’t need to’) which led to it being banned. The fact that it received an X rating in the US (the kiss of death of most cinemas now wouldn’t show it and most newspapers wouldn’t carry ads for the film) didn’t help matters either.
So, is The Evil Dead the most depraved, ugly and vile film ever made? Of course not. I first saw the film quite by chance. The film had been banned on video in the UK but one of my older brother’s friends was the daughter of the owner of one of our local video shops. During the ‘Video Nasties’ furore video shop owners were sent lists of films that had just been banned and instructed where to send these films back to. My friend’s father knew that a lot of business owners weren’t complying with this and more importantly, this wilful non compliance wasn’t being followed up on or leading to more serious repercussions later on. So, he didn’t send the films back and instead she brought The Evil Dead to our house when I was about 9 years old. And look at me! It did me no harm whatsoever…
The thing that struck me the most about the film was it’s comic book humour, cine literacy and the sheer innovation to make things work even though the filmmakers had a tiny budget.
Yes the film is still scary and brutal (the woods rape scene is very close to the edge still and feels out of place in the film. Sam Raimi the director said he wouldn’t include it if he was making the film today). But it’s also very funny and surreal in equal part. An example- when one of the characters is stabbed in the ankle with a pencil, the blood doesn’t splatter or gush out as would happen in real life. It pours out like a tap has been switched on resplendent with a sound effect of water being poured for good measure. The film disorientates and leaves the audience feeling dazed and confused but in a very novel way. This is especially evident in the latter part of the film which finds the last man standing, Ash on his own, his mind playing tricks on him through fear and disbelief. But the situation he finds himself in is also to blame with the ancient evil that has been unleashed completely changing the logic of his known world and making it a dark and lethal place. Check out the surreal sequence in which blood starts pouring out of every place it can pour out of within the cabin, including into the inside of lightbulbs! As Stephen King said when he sang the film’s praises, The Evil Dead made him look at films and what a film can convey in a completely different way.
If this was a comic (and theres plenty of comic-book devices within the movie) it would most probably be an EC Comic- fantastical, exaggerated and ghoulish all at once.
Originality, innovation and subversion are why The Evil Dead is my favourite movie of 1981.