There’s a video for this list here.
10. Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives
Jason was killed in Part 4. But just as that instalment 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 its 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 (there’s 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 that’s 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 were 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 its 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 being 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 she’s 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. There’s 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 reflect an ever-changing audience and not 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 instalments. But, it found its 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 70s and 80s 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 of Cheers fame stars 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 its rural/farmland idyll and one scene taking place in a setting of All-Americana, a bowling alley.
There’s 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 was 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 stopping 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 says 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 the 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, this time 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 its 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 peruse 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 its vision, this could have aged really badly and looked ‘sooo 80’s’. It could also have 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 palette 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 baboon 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 the 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 that 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 its 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 (and 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 about 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 the film by its producer Dino De Laurentiis. The book by Harris was actually Red Dragon after he had produced a film with Dragon in its title that had flopped. He also didn’t want cinemagoers to think the movie was a kung fu vehicle. Two stupid reasons but Manhunter isn’t that bad a title for a movie.
Manhunter is a Michael Mann film 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 its release, Manhunter flopped but was lauded by critics when it opened, to be appreciated more over the years with its 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’. There’s 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 trying 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 what’s 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 they had time to grow to be able to use them 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, 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 viewer 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 she’s hungry and wants something to eat. There’s 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 its 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 brilliantly 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 from 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 its 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 there’s 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 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.