Review- Dracula (1958) *****

Review- Dracula (1958) *****

I have a long history with this film as I seem to remember it being shown on daytime TV here in the UK in the early 80’s. The thinking probably went along the lines of ‘We have such extreme horror movies now and so it will be safe to show this old 1950’s horror film which couldn’t possibly be seen as being scary anymore!’ I then saw the film as part of a double-bill of Hammer Horror films that were shown every Thursday night on Tyne Tees Television. I got to see most of Hammer’s films during this period as every week there was a new double-bill of two more of the studio’s back catalogue.

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This film, to me, is the definitive Dracula. Freddie Francis’ sweeping direction is perfect when paired with the opulent and beautiful set designs that are just as sweeping. The iconography and more gruesome elements of the narrative that made the Dracula myth more explicit, shocking and graphic were also placed centre stage on the screen for the first time- the fangs, the blood (which I would have thought was imperative to the legend but was often excluded at that point in time for obvious reasons) that appears to be redder than red (and because of this reminds me of Dawn of the Dead), the searing burn marks left by a crucifix being used against a vampire, the ending that leaves nothing to the imagination.

The pace at which the film gallops along at leaves the audience with a feeling of there being no filler padding out the film. Every scene feels essential. The film has no flab whatsoever.

But it’s the casting that is the most innovative and interesting thing about this film. Cushing as Van Helsing is amazing but it’s (unsurprisingly) Christopher Lee as Dracula who impresses. He imbues the role with the authority and menace required but also with something that up until that point hadn’t been fully explored on screen before- sexuality. Dracula has always been a sexy character and Lee’s performance fully exploits and utilises this. There is a seduction and intimacy regarding the ritual he employs to bite his victim’s neck. His vampire gains access to his victims because of his brooding good looks and his aura of the exotic and unknown. He oozes sex appeal just as later the blood of his victims will ooze out of their veins. In fact, there is an impression of his female victims preparing for his visit with baited breath as they lie panting and ready on their beds for him to enter their quarters with a swoosh of his cape. He arrives out of nowhere and in secretive fashion a bit like a much more sinister but no less sexual and stylish version of the Milk Tray man.

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The brooding sexuality of Dracula

Add to this the fact that the film just flows effortlessly and an ending that is still one of the finest climaxes to a horror film ever. It contains special effects that have aged very well indeed and are still a thing of beauty.

When all of these components are added together you have the perfect rendering of the Dracula legend and possibly Hammer’s greatest film.

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Now that’s how you open a film!

Top 10 Horror Movies From The 1980’s

Top 10 Horror Movies From The 1980’s

Theres a video for this list here.

10. Monkey Shines

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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.

9. The Stepfather

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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.

8. The Stuff

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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.

7. Intruder

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A supermarket closes and the staff start to restock for the next day. A jealous ex-boyfriend of an employee is making a nuisance of himself and had to be removed from the premises shortly before it closed for the night. The employees then start to be dispatched of by a killer who is locked in the store with them.

What is it about supermarkets and shopping malls that make them so brilliant as locales for horror movies?

This film was directed by Scott Spiegel who was a high school friend of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell who both star here. This was also produced, and indeed stars, Lawrence Bender who was later introduced to Quentin Tarantino by Spiegel and the rest, as they say, is history.

This film is terrific with the darkened and isolated location of the supermarket being perfect for a killer to be running rampant within. The deaths are gory, innovative (my favourite being the head sawn in two by a meat slicer and then put back together but not aligned. One of the best special effects I’ve ever seen) and carried out with real panache.

There are some great directorial flourishes that are also noteworthy and set this head and shoulders above other late 80’s slasher fare. For example, check out the camera shot through the dial of a telephone. Inspired.

Watch out for the unexpected and brilliant ending.

6. Cujo

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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.

5. Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter

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When this was released my friend and I just happened to be in the video shop when it was being put onto the shelves. My friend’s mother as with us and so we asked if she could rent it for us. She said, ‘Yes’ (!)

Yes, this was cut by the BBFC with the brutality of some of the scenes trimmed or excised completely such as the infamous ‘machete slide’ scene. But there was still enough in it to give me sleepless nights. In fact after we had watched it, it was dark and I had to have my friend’s dad walk me home as I was so scared.

What makes this Friday 13th my favourite instalment? Well, after the high-camp of part 3 (well it was camp compared to the other Fridays at least) it was back to business with this entry. Back to the dark, shadow hued locales (Part 3 was brighter than the other films so that the 3D it was filmed in would work to it’s maximum potential as dark surroundings aren’t conducive to that technique), back to the brutality and cruelty of the earlier films. Who would you call for this feat? Tom Savini, of course. With Savini’s return we get kills that aren’t just more painful but that are amazingly orchestrated, innovative and distinctive. These were generally blunted by the cuts made by the BBFC when the video was released 1987 but the film is now available uncut here in the UK. We get to see Jason taking a hacksaw to a victim’s neck followed by a massive twist of said neck which almost completely beheads the poor man, a woman who is pinned to a wall whilst Jason as good as guts her by inserting a knife in her stomach to pull it upwards, a woman is thrown through an upper floor window to land on the top of a car with all of the windows exploding outwards all at once. Violence and brutality have never been so beautiful.

We get some great characters in this instalment also. When Jason’s body arrives at the local morgue from the end of Part 3, the morgue worker is there to induct him. He is called Axel and is shown to be so inappropriate in his role that it’s untrue. Not only is he eating a cream cake (that he places on down on top of Jason’s corpse whilst he needs to sign the relevant paperwork) but he makes sick jokes about a female corpse in the room who he thinks is good looking. He sits down and is enjoying Aerobicise: The Beautiful Workout  when he receives the hacksaw neck twist from Jason.

We also get the genius of Crispin Glover in this sequel before he starred as Marty McFly’s father or started appearing all unhinged on TV chat shows. His character is worried that he might be seen as a ‘lame fuck’ when he finally gets with a girl (this is later disproved later on in the movie) but also displays quite possibly the quirkiest dance moves ever captures in the annals of horror movie history. On asking where the corkscrew is later on, Jason obliges him by stabbing said implement into his hand and sinking a meat cleaver into his face.

Then we get Tommy Jarvis played by Corey Feldman. He’s a young boy who’s into horror movies and making masks. He would reappear in Parts 5 and 6 after defeating Jason at the end of this epic (thats after he has shaved part of his head to resemble Jason as a young boy to confuse him which, of course, reminds the audience of the kind of deep psychology used by Ginny at the end of Part 2 putting on Pamela Voorhees’ jumper, and hey presto, becoming Jason’s mother to him).

The Final Chapter also feels more than just another film in the Friday the 13th series. It feels like the end of an era not just because this instalment promised Jason’s demise but it also signifies the end of the Friday the 13th series as we know it and the era captured by the first four films. The end of a golden era for horror fans that seemed to start in earnest with the release of Halloween in 1978 with new horror releases appearing more and more. At it’s peak it seemed like there was a new horror release in theaters every other week. This era is also marked by the amazing horror magazine Fangoria which was there to document and celebrate this age. Joseph Zito, the director of this film was the one who suggested the killing of Jason as he could see the slasher phase was going to end soon and so it was better to be ahead of the curve.

After this film was a huge success, of course, there was another sequel. But the Friday the 13th series had started to mutate and change which is understandable. Especially as it wasn’t even Jason who was the killer in the next movie. And, for what it’s worth, whilst I eventually give up on all horror franchises, it’s the Friday the 13th series that has continued to hold my attention the most. Even the missteps (Part 5, The Final Friday) are interesting.

But for me the first four Fridays signified more than just mere slasher movies. They encapsulated a whole brilliant era for horror culture.

4. The Evil Dead

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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.

3. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch

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I saw this on Thorn EMI video when I was 8 years old. I didn’t think about Michael Myers and his no show in the movie but just loved it from the first time I saw it. The plot, when explained, is the most nonsensical load of nonsense you’ve ever heard. An Irish mask and practical joke manufacturer plans to kill all of the children in America via a microchip in the back of each of the masks his company makes coupled with a signal to be transmitted via a TV commercial to be shown on Halloween. Oh, and Stonehenge has made all of this possible.

Sounds ridiculous, right?! But when you watch the film, it works! Add to the mix a great cast (Tom ‘The Man’ Atkins as well as Stacey Nelkin and Dan O’Herlihy as the evil Conal Cochran), amazing cinematography (Dean Cundey’s genius again) and quite possibly one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth outdid themselves with this soundtrack as it sounds almost like the work of Can or Tangerine Dream but better! Everything adds up to such a haunting film full of gorgeous shots, genius music and characters that feel believeable as they’re so well sketched out and flawed. Take for example, the film’s lead Dr Dan Challis who is a great crusading hero but is also an alcoholic and serial womaniser.

The video release I saw was censored but a few years after, the film was shown on BBC1 who accidentally transmitted it uncut. The kills are very full-on and pull no punches which makes the film feel even grittier and on the edge. There is a sense of doom that permeates the whole film that really works to it’s advantage.

Halloween 3 had been reappraised over the years as the cult classic that I always thought it was. Even if it doesn’t feature Michael Myers. Halloween 3 never fails to make me feel like the 8 year old who first saw it. It holds the same mystique and power of a campfire tale told to scare and captivate children and adults alike.

2. The Fog

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One of my favourite movie viewing experiences occurred when I was in a shared house at University (studying film incidentally). It was late at night, I was all snug in bed and there was a storm outside, with wind and rain splattering against my window. It was at thing point that The Fog came onto my television. Utter bliss.

And that’s what The Fog is to me. It’s familiar, snug and comforting. It might not be as good as Carpenter’s best (Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13) but it comes pretty darn close. The tale of zombie pirates coming back to right some previously carried out wrongs in an American coastal locale has interesting characters brought to life by brilliant actors resplendent. It also has amazing practical special effects, a brilliant baroque synth score, gorgeous cinematography (take a bow, Dean Cundey- again!) and Carpenter’s genius direction and dialogue (check out the brilliant rapport between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis) and you have a classic film.

It also shows that it’s as nasty as the leading lights in the slasher genre but can accomplish this without gratuitous violence and an over-reliance on gore. Look at the attack on the Seagrass- there aren’t gallons of blood and acres of flesh. Instead theres the pirates with hooks, steel skewers and sound effects of bones breaking and spines being severed. In other words, kills coupled with intelligence and verve.

Apparently close to the film’s release date Carpenter watched the film, realised that it didn’t work and so he inserted new scenes with literally days to spare. It worked. The Fog is a melding of new and old (a traditional ghost story made in the slasher era) just like the narrative is (pirates in an early 80’s locale) and the film’s soundtrack (baroque played on analogue synths).

The lighthouse is another huge character within the film with it’s old, traditional use being brought into the present (another example of the old/new theme present within the film) as it now contains the town’s radio station which proves to be massively beneficial as the fog rolls in as people are without communication with each other but DJ Stevie Wayne’s (Adrienne Barbeau- as brilliant as ever) voice guides, connects and unites the otherwise separated townsfolk. Her presence on the airwaves also helps to save her son (who is about to be attacked by the marauding pirates). The roof of the lighthouse being used as a locale when the pirates descend on Stevie still feels daring and inspired.

All of this is why The Fog is my favourite film of 1980.

1 Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer

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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. 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 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.

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1989

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1989

There’s a video for this list here.

10. Beware! Children At Play

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A Troma movie that pushes the boundaries- even for Troma!

Children are disappearing in a small town in America. Rather than being abducted they are in fact being recruited to join a religious cult which practices cannibalism.

This is Children of the Corn on steroids. I first learnt of this movie when I saw the trailer and my mouth dropped open. Apparently Lloyd Kaufman said that it was this trailer that was shown before a screening of Tromeo and Juliet at the Cannes Film Festival (!) and caused most of the audience to leave!

This film is so taboo because it depicts children not only carrying out numerous crimes such as murder but also the town’s adults killing them for their actions. Cue numerous scenes of children being shot, killed with pitchforks etc. Remember to repeat to yourself whilst watching this- ‘It’s only a movie! It’s only a movie!…’

Tasteless, irreverent and controversial. But still just a film. Moral guardians and virtue signallers- get over yourselves and go and watch Dumbo for the thousandth time, dullards.

9. The Church

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In centuries gone by a group of Satanists are slaughtered, their bodies buried and a huge church built on top of the bodies to try to eradicate the evil.

The film then fast forwards to the present day (well, 1989) as we see Evan a librarian starting at the church on the first day of his job. Weird, seemingly supernatural things start to happen at the church. A first day in a new job is bad enough without a battle between good and evil being thrown in as well.

This film is a Goth’s dream come true (although no self-respecting person would have been a Goth after 1987). A slowly creeping sense of dread, a location sent from Heaven (no pun intended), a great cast and an amazing soundtrack. Also, VERY disturbing kills and horrific looking demons. The makeup and special effects for this film are amazing.

This was originally intended to be the third entry in the Demons series of films but was then conceived by director Michele Soavi to be a separate entity that would be more sophisticated than Demons 1&2. It is too, although I love the sleazy splendour of those films.

8. The Horror Show

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I read about this in Fangoria and Gorezone in the late 80’s and it looked so demented and gory that I didn’t know if it would actually be released in the UK. But, quelle horreur, it was released and uncut as House 3, part of the House franchise.

On being fried in the electric chair, serial killer Max aka Meat Cleaver Max promises revenge on the cop who sent him there, Lucas McCarthy. Max means it too after making a pact with the Devil which means that he can wreak havoc from beyond the grave.

Two of cult cinema’s biggest icons Brion James and Lance Hendriksen star as Max and Lucas making this unmissable entertainment. The effects have to be seen to be believed. They pushed the boundaries regarding how far they could go in those days when it came to taste and decency. The effects are gross which is music to the ears of any discerning horrorhound. There’s also a depraved and sick sense of humour at play within the movie which makes it even more likeable.

This film has nothing to do with the House series of movies but was just given that moniker in the UK so that more people would rent the movie. It was actually released as a stand alone movie in the US called The Horror Show.

A great movie that history has treated very well with the ever excellent Scream Factory releasing it all spruced up. And it deserves that kind of release.

7. Shocker

Shocker

Wes Craven goes full ‘horror baddie as anti-hero’ which was just what the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels (which ironically he didn’t have anything to do with) had morphed his creation Freddy Krueger into. Only this time the film promised to be a lot more graphic and full-on than what Freddy had become hence the tagline ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’.

Horace Pinker is a voodoo studying serial killer who kills the family of the policeman who is pursuing him, Don Parker. Parker’s older foster son feels that he has a connection with Pinker through his dreams. This proves handy as it leads him and his father to Pinker’s rundown TV repair shop (when he’s not a serial killer he’s actually a TV repair man). Pinker aims his sights on Jonathan’s girlfriend as retribution but is then arrested and scheduled to be executed in the electric chair. However, he’s made a pact with the Devil and will become pure electricity after his execution. And this is the next stage of the film as Pinker now has supernatural powers and can use electricity and electrical devices to possess others to do his biding for him

Whilst this film and it’s plot devices (all of em!) feel undisciplined and lacking any clear boundaries or rules regarding Pinker and what his newly found powers can permit him to do, the film is still great fun. Pinker is a great baddie and a great badass with some of the funniest one-liners and some innovative gruesome kills. Apparently Craven had to submit the film 13 times to the MPAA to get it’s certificate down from an X rating to an R. And it shows! Some of the gore scenes are still especially close to the knuckle and the film feels grittier and more hardcore because of that.

I also love the messages Craven is making about television, the media and popular culture in general. Shocker was a very crafty way for Craven to make a later phase Nightmare franchise entry that wasn’t a part of the series and without Krueger. Fans of the series were privileged enough for Craven to give them a taste of what a new Nightmare (pun not intended) might have been like if Craven returned to the fold.

A wild ride and Mitch Pileggi is bad-ass.

6. Puppet Master

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André Toulon is a puppet maker who happens upon an old Egyptian formula which is able to create life and so he gives life to his puppets. The Nazis seek to use this knowledge and are in hot pursuit which makes Toulon take his own life but not until he has hidden away his puppets for safe keeping in a wall panel. Some years later four psychics investigate the case of Toulon which leads them to his mansion. Along with his widow, they uncover the secrets of the Puppet Master in the worst possible way.

This film belongs to the ‘evil puppets/dolls/toys’ genre with other notable entries such as Dolls, Dolly Dearest, Demonic Toys and Dollman. In fact, it was this movie that crossed over with Demonic Toys for a future franchise entry.

Ever since the Ray Harryhausen skeleton scenes in Jason and the Argonauts the use of stop motion animation could be used to terrifying ends within fantasy/horror movies. This is one such film. The puppets are the stuff of nightmares, the Nazi background to the narrative is interesting and the locale of Toulon’s mansion is a very creepy setting for the majority of the film’s action.

Highly recommended.

5. Parents

Parents

Michael is living in middle class suburbia in 1950’s America. He has very disturbing dreams and suspects that his parents are cannibals after he finds body parts hanging up in the cellar. Can he convince his school counsellor that he is telling the truth?

Parents is an expertly directed and acted dissection and subversion of the dewy eyed nostalgia towards 1950’s Americana. The reason I saw it was the oh so wholesome artwork of the video artwork that depicted the parents in their perfect kitchen preparing dinner. The image was perfect, pure cheese and very atypical. But there was blood dripping from the movie’s title and the tagline was ‘A new name for terror’ which signified that this was, in fact, a horror movie.

I once read a description of the film that said that this was like an episode of Goosebumps directed by David Lynch. And I couldn’t put it better myself.

Theres a great sense of humour at work within the film. When Michael is served dinner he remarks ‘Who were the left-overs before they became left-overs?!’

Props to the excellent cast that includes Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt and Sandy Dennis- all perfect.

4. Society

Society

Every so often a film would be featured in Fangoria and Gorezone that looked so genre expanding when it came to special effects, make-up and general ickiness that I just had to see it when it reached these shores. But, with the BBFC in full swing this was not always the case. It took me many decades to see Luther The Geek in the UK after first reading about it and poring over the pics in my horror magazines for it to be then banned.

A Beverley Hills youth suspects his wealthy parents may not be what they proport to be.

This is a funny, horrifying and very shocking commentary on the Reagan’s America of the 1980’s with it’s different social strats and inequalities. The film also has some great observations regarding consumerism and those lucky enough to be able to buy into it fully and their insatiable addiction to it.

The director of this opus, Brian Yuzna was the producer of movies as fucked up as Re-animator. His directorial debut shows the same kind of restraint (i.e. none, thankfully) and limitless imagination and vision for this project that is effortlessly translated onto the screen.

The ending has to be seen to be (dis)believed.

3. Tetsuo

Tetsuo

I actually saw the sequel to Tetsuo before I saw the first film. I loved it so much I made it my duty to track down the original and I’m so glad I did.

Shinya Tsukamoto’s film is a black and white gritty looking masterpiece of surrealist visuals, mutation body horror and metal fetishism as we see the lead character eroticising the idea of himself becoming part man, part machine and then finding that it’s actually happening.

The original ads for this film mentioned the ‘two Davids’ Cronenberg and Lynch and their influence permeates this movie. But this isn’t some bad crude cut and paste of the different components and styles that are staples of their films. Tsukamoto has his own vision and it’s this that primarily shines out the brightest from this audacious, brilliant film/experience for the senses. Man Ray can be seen as an influence on this film also.

A disorientating, brilliant experience.

2. Pet Sematary

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Louis Creed and his family move into their dream home which is perfect except for the very busy road at the front of their property.

The family cat is killed on the road. Louis is advised by a neighbour of a burial ground behind their property which has the power to reanimate the dead. Louis buries the cat but is shocked to find the cat comes back but as an evil version of itself.

Louis’ young son is then killed on the road. Should Louis bury him in the supernatural burial ground and hope that he comes back to life unscathed or should he take the cat incident as a sign not to?

This excellently directed yarn has much more emotional resonance than similar horror fare probably because the source material was so well written and personal. Stephen King, for many years, refused to talk about his source novel as it was too dark for him to go into. The scene where Louis’ young son Gage is run over and killed is horrific to watch and the lengths his father will go to try to bring him back is completely believable as this character will do anything to turn back time even if it’s been shown to have cataclysmic consequences.

Mary Lambert’s direction also brilliantly ramps up the tension amazingly with the actual horror scenes being especially unnerving and uncomfortable. This film could have been a second rate TV movie with the wrong director on board. Thankfully Lambert proved to be exactly the right woman for the task with the varied events in the film being handled expertly when it comes to either sensitivity or horror.

Horror fans will also be pleased to note that this film features Herman Munster himself Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall the next door neighbour who tells Louis about the burial ground and it’s strange powers.

This film has just been given the 4K UHD treatment and this can only be seen as a worthy  judgement as to the film’s worth.

1 Intruder

Intruder

A supermarket closes and the staff start to restock for the next day. A jealous ex-boyfriend of an employee is making a nuisance of himself and had to be removed from the premises shortly before it closed for the night. The employees then start to be dispatched of by a killer who is locked in the store with them.

What is it about supermarkets and shopping malls that make them so brilliant as locales for horror movies?

This film was directed by Scott Spiegel who was a high school friend of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell who both star here. This was also produced, and indeed stars, Lawrence Bender who was later introduced to Quentin Tarantino by Spiegel and the rest, as they say, is history.

This film is terrific with the darkened and isolated location of the supermarket being perfect for a killer to be running rampant within. The deaths are gory, innovative (my favourite being the head sawn in two by a meat slicer and then put back together but not aligned. One of the best special effects I’ve ever seen) and carried out with real panache.

There are some great directorial flourishes that are also noteworthy and set this head and shoulders above other late 80’s slasher fare. For example, check out the camera shot through the dial of a telephone. Inspired.

Watch out for the unexpected and brilliant ending.

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1985

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1985

Theres a video for this list here.

10. The Mutilator

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

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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

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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.

7. Chiller

Chiller

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

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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

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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.

4. Demons

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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

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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.

***SPOILER***

It’s a great moment when the zombies are eating Rhodes’ intestines and his dying words are ‘Choke on em!’

2. Re-Animator

Reanimator

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

TheStuffProduct

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.

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1984

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1984

Theres a video for this list here.

10. The Hills Have Eyes Part 2

HillsHaveEyes2UKVideo

Yes, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2! I can see some of you sniggering! I have great memories of watching this film on VHS as a kid as it had some great lurid artwork (the video company were probably thinking ‘This movie sucks! We need great artwork to get people  to rent this!’) and actually really enjoyed it. At the time the original film wasn’t available on video and so this was the next best thing.

It was great to see the flashbacks to the original film (I love the fact that Beast the dog has a flashback) and it was great to see Bobby, Ruby and Pluto in a follow-up film.

It was also interesting to see Wes Craven make a strictly genre film within those formula constraints.

I love the new member of the cannibal family, Reaper and more examples of their extraordinary wardrobe (check out Pluto’s headband!). I also like the Scooby Doo vibes I get with this sequel with the bike team and their bus.

This was a cash-grab for Craven which, of course, is nowhere near as brilliant as the original film (which I think is Craven’s best film and a true blue masterpiece) but it’s still entertaining whilst it lasts. Theres even a blind psychic character who uses her senses of smell and hearing to help tell when the baddies are approaching. Whats not to like about that?!

9. Firestarter

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The film John Carpenter was due to direct but lost out on as The Thing tanked at the box office.

Andy and Vicky have a 9 year old daughter Charlie who can start fires with her mind and predict the near future. She gained this power after her parents took part in a government experiment which gave Vicky the ability to read minds and Andy the power to completely control people’s thoughts so that they implicitly believe him and do as he says (he gets nosebleeds when he uses his power, however).

The family had always had their suspicions that the government who were responsible for the experiment they had participated in were watching them and want to utilise Charlie’s power for their own uses. These suspicions are then realised for Andy when one day he returns home to find that Vicky has been murdered and Charlie has been snatched.

Andy tracks down his daughter and then goes on the run with the Government in hot pursuit.

This film has two elements I love- gifted people with powers not normally afforded to mere mortals and shadowy government agents who are up to no good. This is also adapted from Stephen King’s novel with the screenwriter employed by Mark Lester to pen the adaptation sticking closely to the source novel (John Carpenter had employed Bill Lancaster who penned an adaptation of The Thing that Carpenter was working on at the time he was asked to direct Firestarter. Apparently Lancaster’s adaptation didn’t stick as closely to King’s novel).

This is very well directed, perfectly cast and with fantastic special effects, especially the fire scenes. This also feels quintessentially 80’s but in a very dignified way. I remember this film being on the shelves of every video shop that I frequented back in the day (and I went to a lot of them!) I’m glad it was so ubiquitous.

8. Night of the Comet

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I first caught this film when it was shown on late night BBC2 in the late 80’s. It stayed with me so much that I had to rent it again soon after to see if it really was as good as it was when I watched it first time round. It was.

Three friends find that most people in the outside world have turned into zombies or dust. They didn’t as they have spent the night in a cinema. It turns out that so many people met this fate as it was publicised that the Earth was travelling through the tail of a comet and so they went outside to witness this extremely rare event not knowing that they will either die or become zombiefied because of it.

I love the quirky characters in this film. The shots of the two girls wandering around completed desolate Southern California streets are extraordinary and very eerie and disorientating. The zombies are excellent and these scenes are genuinely unsettling.

This film later became a cult classic and I can see why.

7. A Nightmare on Elm Street

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It’s a given that film should be in a best of list for 1984, the 80’s and even lists of the greatest horror films of all time.

The teens on Elm Street seem to be dreaming of the same grotesque man in their dreams (or should that be nightmares). When one girl, Tina Grey actually dies horribly during one of her nightmares, it’s presumed her delinquent boyfriend, Rod Lane has done the deed. But plucky and resourceful Nancy Thompson has a feeling that theres more to this and that the man she keeps seeing in her nightmares is somehow responsible.

This film has more plus points than minus aspects. It’s completely unique with the ‘what happens in your dreams happens in real life’ conceit. This means that if you’re killed in your dream then you’re not waking up! The first kill is extremely graphic and very shocking, even by the standards of the more extreme horror films available on home video at that time (it’s worth noting that the Video Nasties brouhaha was going on at that time in the UK. How ANOES wasn’t censored by the BBFC is anyone’s guess. Mary Whitehouse could have also chosen this film and it’s killer as Public Enemy Number 1 as well. Instead, she designated The Evil Dead as her cause celebre and so Craven was spared).

I was obsessed with this movie when I first saw it on home video in the mid-80’s. Expert direction, awe-inspiring cinematography and pitch perfect locales that capture the essence of Americana with surburban streets, high school classrooms and corridors. But the sphere of killer Freddy Krueger’s boiler room is also perfect. We find out that Krueger has somehow manifested himself in the teen’s nightmares after he was killed by a lynch mob of the Elm Street parents after he was found to be a local child killer who was set free on  a technicality even though he was guilty of his crimes. The parents corned him in his boiler room, doused the building in gasoline and set fire to it with him inside. In their dreams Krueger uses a leather glove that he has fashioned with long sharp blades.

I also love that another ‘dream rule’ is established in the film and that is that if you are holding something in your dream when you are woken up this comes out of the dream with you.

The cast are also perfect with cult favourite John Saxon starring as Nancy’s cop father. We even have a young Johnny Depp as Nancy’s boyfriend. But it’s Heather Langenkamp as Nancy that steals the show. She carries the movie from start to finish and is the brilliant cast’s strongest link. Her performance is one of the best in the whole horror genre as she plays Nancy as extremely strong, very believable and, occasionally, very funny (after she looks at herself in the mirror to see if her recent traumatic experiences have affected her looks she remarks ‘Oh God! I look at least 20 years old!’).

Whilst this is a great movie it is marred by a couple of issues that prevent it in my mind from being the classic some lazily extol it to be. Firstly, I don’t believe that ANOES was only intended as a one-off and not as the start of a franchise. Witness the number of times Freddy’s name is mentioned in the film and is even uttered by him a couple of times! It feels to me like they are trying to establish him as a brand. Certain people had a franchise in mind and I’m sure Craven and Robert Shaye at New Line were amongst them. Not that theres anything wrong in that but please fess up if that was the case!

Also, this is a great movie with a laughably bad ending. It must have been extremely difficult to end the film after Nancy has turned her back on the killer and taken away his power through not giving him that power (a great metaphor for Narcissistic Personality Disorder and how to deal with narcissists). Should the film have ended there? There were many other filmed endings that appear on the many ANOES DVD’s and Blu Rays that have been released over the years. None of them really work. But with a movie to finish quickly it must have been difficult to suddenly come up with a twist. But an obvious doll being yanked through a tiny window in a front door was a terrible choice.

But with the positives significantly outnumbering the negatives this is still a horror film that deserves the recognition it gets. But it’s still not as good as The Hills Have Eyes which I consider to be Craven’s masterpiece.

6. Gremlins

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Teenager Billy receives a creature called a mogwai as a gift but there are strict rules as to how to care for it- don’t feed it after midnight, don’t get him wet and don’t get him into contact with any form of light especially sunlight. After naming him Gizmo, Billy’s friend Pete (played by cult favourite Corey Feldman) accidentally gets him wet meaning that he spawns more creatures but not the cute sort like Gizmo but mischievous, dangerous and also, it has to be said, really entertaining creatures who look like really evil lizards who stand on two legs.

Is Gremlins a horror film? Yep. Check out the scene with Billy’s mother. If this isn’t like a scene from a slasher movie than I’ll eat my hat. Also, check out later scenes like the one in the sports store for more horror or the part of the hilarious bar scene where we see Gizmo nailed to a dartboard whilst other Gremlins are firing darts at him. It’s horror but also gallows humour. It’s also a horror film for kids. But kids with a really sick sense of humour. The microwave and stairlift scenes are also great examples of this.

But it’s also a very dark family film mixed with comedy elements and even qualifies as a Christmas film.

Was Gremlins a metaphor for childhood as the angelic cute little toddler (like Gizmo) enters into the terrible twos and becomes more like Stripe?

A huge hit in 1984 and deservedly so. Another example of perfect casting and only Joe Dante could have directed a film as funny, scary and satisfying as this.

5. The Toxic Avenger

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From Troma, of course! I’ll always feel indebted to Troma Studios as not only have they distributed many of my favourite films (Bloodsucking Freaks, Mother’s Day, Rabid Grannies) but have also produced many classics such as Sgt, Kabukiman, Beware Children At Play and, of course, The Toxic Avenger.

Melvin mops floors in a New Jersey health club for a living and is regularly bullied by the customers there. One day they make him dress in a pink tutu and chase him through the building until he throws himself out of a second floor window and lands in a vat of toxic waste. However, this works to his advantage (theres a silver lining to every cloud) as he mutates in size and strength to superhuman proportions. He then starts to rid the streets of Tromaville of it’s criminal elements and becomes a superhero of sorts.

The Toxic Avenger is funny, sick and horrifying all at once. It’s also a film that feels like no other with this kind of horror and sick humour being specific to this film only. It was quite a gamble to make a film that is so idiosyncratic and esoteric. But it works brilliantly and for every target it aims at it hits. It also parodies and lampoons the conventions and tropes of other genres and does so very intelligently and accurately. Theres a real sense of cine-literacy and knowing under the surface anarchy of the movie.

This garnered attention after it became a midnight movie sensation in New York and it’s legend just snowballed from there. And this film is certainly legendary.

4. Children of the Corn

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This movie is adapted from 80’s favourite for film adaptations, Stephen King and was one of the short stories in his brilliant book, Night Shift.

***Now, if you haven’t seen this film, please skip this bit as herein lie spoilers***

This movie has one of the most shocking openings for a film I’ve ever seen. A young man goes to a local diner with his father. A very creepy looking young man named Isaac comes to the window, gives a nod to his comrade Malachi in the diner whereby all of the kids in there bring out concealed weapons and commence to annihilate all of the adults. The horror of this scene is completely unexpected and truly disturbing because of it.

The film then skips forward and we find out that all of the town of Gatlin’s adults have been slaughtered so that a huge sacrifice can be made for He Who Walks Behind The Rows, a god that needs such a sacrifice to make sure their corn harvest doesn’t fail like it has in the past. All of the children except young Job and his younger sister Sarah were involved in this action.

A young couple travelling to Seattle drive through Gatlin not knowing that the children in the town are homicidal and that they should have found another route to take!

This is a very taut horror movie that deals with a topic that is still taboo within society- the killer child. In this movie, we have scores of them! Another master stroke by the film is that it’s not actually proven that the god that the children worship is actually real. You begin to think that they have just been gaslighted into believing in him and that he is a figment of the children’s leader’s imagination. But then, lo and behold, it manifests itself, you get to see it’s malevalent power in action (special effects and visuals that have ages really well thankfully) and then the film starts to go down more of a supernatural, occult route. The film also feels more sinister because of this.

It helps that the two outsiders who stumble across the town are played by Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton and that the young actors who play Isaac, Malachi, Job and Sarah are also brilliant in their roles.

This could easily have felt like made for TV fluff. Instead we have a serious, haunting and very affecting horror film that is intelligent and very well made indeed.

3. Silent Night, Deadly Night

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The film that outpaced A Nightmare on Elm Street when they were both released the same week. But then some vile mother’s protest group noticed that there was a killer Santa in this film and so pressurised the film’s studio, the general public and the media to have it pulled from theatres. It worked.

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But whilst the film was prevented from playing theatres, it was released on video and became a huge cult classic.

It’s easy to see why. After he sees his parents slaughtered by a homicidal maniac dressed as Santa, Billy finds himself growing up in a very strict Catholic orphanage presided over by a vicious Mother Superior. He has an aversion to all things Christmas and even punches out the visiting Father Christmas after said Mother Superior tries to make him sit on his knee.

The film then fast forwards to Billy (now tall, muscled and blond) going to work at a toy shop. As Christmas approaches he feels his old phobia coming back to haunt him. But this time he goes full retard, dresses as Santa and starts killing people.

Like The Toxic Avenger theres a sly sense of humour at work here and also a deep running knowledge of other movie cliches and genre conventions being gently teased and ridiculed. Check out the wholesome montage of Billy working at the toy store- he’s hard working, good with kids and prefers drinking his milk when a co-worker offers him Scotch.

But the film also has a steeliness and grittiness to it that is undeniable. It feels dangerous, forbidden and perfect for horror and cult cinema audiences. Witness the creepy Grandfather who only comes to life when hes alone with the young Billy whereby he can scare the young child to death. Also, the scene with the killer Santa is especially on the edge and tries to push boundaries when it comes to taste and decency and it manages handsomely. It’s almost like the makers of this film knew what an audience of exploitation film fans wanted (sorry One Million Moms). I also love the fact that it isn’t just the psychos and Billy who are shown to be deranged. The Mother Superior is just as empathy-free and vile and I’m glad this wasn’t watered down.

This film joins the ranks of other Yuletide shockers like Black Christmas and Christmas Evil that I watch every Dec, the only concession to the over-hyped season I make.

2. Terror in the Aisles

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This compilation of clips of horror films will always have a special place in my heart.

Firstly, it has links within it by Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen who both attack them with real gusto and relish.

Also, it sources such a wide range of horror movies from many different eras that it made me seek out such diverse fare as Alone in the Dark, Night Hawks and The Fury.

But, most importantly, it contained clips of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Exorcist that had been removed from UK video shelves by the dreaded BBFC. This was the only way to see these golden nuggets of these fabled depraved masterpieces.

The film also contained interview clips from masters such as Alfred Hitchcock talking about how to ramp up tension within the cinema audience.

Add to that some really cool artwork and you have a GREAT movie! I was so glad when this was released as a special feature on the Blu Ray release of Halloween 2. I thought if one title wouldn’t get a Blu Ray release it would have been this because of rights issues.

1 Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter

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When this was released my friend and I just happened to be in the video shop when it was being put onto the shelves. My friend’s mother as with us and so we asked if she could rent it for us. She said, ‘Yes’ (!)

Yes, this was cut by the BBFC with the brutality of some of the scenes trimmed or excised completely such as the infamous ‘machete slide’ scene. But there was still enough in it to give me sleepless nights. In fact after we had watched it, it was dark and I had to have my friend’s dad walk me home as I was so scared.

What makes this Friday 13th my favourite instalment? Well, after the high-camp of part 3 (well it was camp compared to the other Fridays at least) it was back to business with this entry. Back to the dark, shadow hued locales (Part 3 was brighter than the other films so that the 3D it was filmed in would work to it’s maximum potential as dark surroundings aren’t conducive to that technique), back to the brutality and cruelty of the earlier films. Who would you call for this feat? Tom Savini, of course. With Savini’s return we get kills that aren’t just more painful but that are amazingly orchestrated, innovative and distinctive. These were generally blunted by the cuts made by the BBFC when the video was released 1987 but the film is now available uncut here in the UK. We get to see Jason taking a hacksaw to a victim’s neck followed by a massive twist of said neck which almost completely beheads the poor man, a woman who is pinned to a wall whilst Jason as good as guts her by inserting a knife in her stomach to pull it upwards, a woman is thrown through an upper floor window to land on the top of a car with all of the windows exploding outwards all at once. Violence and brutality have never been so beautiful.

We get some great characters in this instalment also. When Jason’s body arrives at the local morgue from the end of Part 3, the morgue worker is there to induct him. He is called Axel and is shown to be so inappropriate in his role that it’s untrue. Not only is he eating a cream cake (that he places on down on top of Jason’s corpse whilst he needs to sign the relevant paperwork) but he makes sick jokes about a female corpse in the room who he thinks is good looking. He sits down and is enjoying Aerobicise: The Beautiful Workout  when he receives the hacksaw neck twist from Jason.

We also get the genius of Crispin Glover in this sequel before he starred as Marty McFly’s father or started appearing all unhinged on TV chat shows. His character is worried that he might be seen as a ‘lame fuck’ when he finally gets with a girl (this is later disproved later on in the movie) but also displays quite possibly the quirkiest dance moves ever captures in the annals of horror movie history. On asking where the corkscrew is later on, Jason obliges him by stabbing said implement into his hand and sinking a meat cleaver into his face.

Then we get Tommy Jarvis played by Corey Feldman. He’s a young boy who’s into horror movies and making masks. He would reappear in Parts 5 and 6 after defeating Jason at the end of this epic (thats after he has shaved part of his head to resemble Jason as a young boy to confuse him which, of course, reminds the audience of the kind of deep psychology used by Ginny at the end of Part 2 putting on Pamela Voorhees’ jumper, and hey presto, becoming Jason’s mother to him).

The Final Chapter also feels more than just another film in the Friday the 13th series. It feels like the end of an era not just because this instalment promised Jason’s demise but it also signifies the end of the Friday the 13th series as we know it and the era captured by the first four films. The end of a golden era for horror fans that seemed to start in earnest with the release of Halloween in 1978 with new horror releases appearing more and more. At it’s peak it seemed like there was a new horror release in theaters every other week. This era is also marked by the amazing horror magazine Fangoria which was there to document and celebrate this age. Joseph Zito, the director of this film was the one who suggested the killing of Jason as he could see the slasher phase was going to end soon and so it was better to be ahead of the curve.

After this film was a huge success, of course, there was another sequel. But the Friday the 13th series had started to mutate and change which is understandable. Especially as it wasn’t even Jason who was the killer in the next movie. And, for what it’s worth, whilst I eventually give up on all horror franchises, it’s the Friday the 13th series that has continued to hold my attention the most. Even the missteps (Part 5, The Final Friday) are interesting.

But for me the first four Fridays signified more than just mere slasher movies. They encapsulated a whole brilliant era for horror culture.

 

 

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1983

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1983

There is a video regarding this article here.

10. Twilight Zone: The Movie

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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

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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.

8. Curtains

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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

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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

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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?

5. Videodrome

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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.

4. Christine

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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

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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

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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.

1 Cujo

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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.

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1982

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1982

Theres a video for this list here.

10. A Stranger Is Watching

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After reading Mary Higgins Clark’s book in the late 80’s, I was intrigued to learn that it had made into a film previously..

We had a huge video store near us at the time called Barker’s which was cavernous and full of quite obscure titles, including a lot of Made For TV titles that were released onto video in the UK (I saw the two tape edition of The Deliberate Stranger in which Mark Harmon plays Ted Bundy after renting it from there).

On seeing the film I felt they had done a really good job! This was a low-key, understated film and all the better for it. A young girl and her father’s girlfriend are kidnapped and held ransom by a psychotic nutjob in the tunnels under Grand Central station. Rip Torn makes for a terrific baddie and Sean S Cunningham (Mr Friday the 13th) does a very good job directing. Gritty, dirty and underrated. Oh, and a great New York movie.

9. Visiting Hours

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I love hospital based horror movies. The pinnacle of this subgenre was, of course, Halloween 2 but Canxploitation flick Visiting Hours released the year after is also a treat. In fact, Visiting Hours also had the honour of being decried against in the press after it was judged to be ‘misogynistic’ by oversensitive feminists (maybe the fact that the lead woman is playing a feminist provoked her fellow real life sisters into action).

Michael Ironside stars as the psycho here named Colt Hawker (!) and attacks Lee Grant’s feminist activist after she riles him on a TV chat show. He attacks her viciously but after surviving she is taken to the local hospital. But he isn’t finished with her yet.

This film feels sleazy, dark and is as fucked up as it’s psycho lead. This film came in for a hard time with The British Board of Film Classification (they seem to be an unwelcome guest in so many of my reviews) with a minute of footage excised from both the theatrical and video version. The film was also dragged into the Video Nasty moral panic.

Yes, the film is disturbing. Yes, women are treated appallingly and are the focus for the ire of Ironside’s character (an explanation for this is given when we see him visit his father who was disfigured by his mother and has caused him to foster a hatred for women ever since) but there are really characters like this in real life with women being the target for their twisted actions. Maybe this film not being censored would bring attention to this and act as a reflection of society. Or maybe I’m just trying to substantiate my twisted tastes in films…(I suddenly thought of porn theatre owner Elmer Fishpaw in John Waters’ Polyester- ‘my theatre helps stop rape!’)

Have a shower after watching this. But watch it!

8. Pieces

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I didn’t see this for the longest time even thought I had seen it mentioned in books and had seen the great poster for it. When I was living in Sydney I rented it out from the incredible Dr What video with Madman (another film I had always meant to get round to watching).

What can I say?! Cult classic! Lynda Day George screaming ‘Bastard!’ isn’t just cinematic gold but my message to the world!

The king fu professor scene, Paul Smith polishing his chainsaw, the tennis scenes, the clawed crotch scene, the opening backstory with the jigsaw…all utterly brilliant. And I haven’t even mentioned the kills! How brilliant they are, how deliciously gory and aesthetically pleasing each one is. Its like this film was made by a team of horror fans who had a roundtable discussion regarding what would be cool ways to kill people in a horror film. A girl on rollerskates going through a glass pane being carried by two guys who cross her path? That’d be cool! A girl in a lift is joined by a nutjob hiding a chainsaw behind his back? Lets do it!

If a film is brilliant enough it won’t just sink into obscurity. Eventually it will be rediscovered and treated like the great work it really is. That’s the Pieces story. I’ll never understand the massive cult status given to a film like The Room. It should be given to Pieces instead. And it’s already started.

A horror classic. And remember- ‘Theres nothing better than smoking grass and fucking on a waterbed!’

7. The Forest

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I didn’t even know of the existence of this film until it’s restoration for DVD was announced in the 2000’s. I happened to see an original copy of it on the shelves of the afore mentioned Dr What video store in Bondi Junction and so rented it. I’m glad I did. It’s a cracking film.

A bunch of hikers find themselves the target of a madman whilst being warned about him and if he’s close or not by the ghosts of two dead children (back story- the two children used to be his but were mistreated by their mother. Their father killed her when he found she has been having numerous affairs behind his back. He runs off to live in the woods with them but after the onset of malnutrition they commit suicide together. This makes their father go mad and live in the woods as a cannibalistic hermit. Shit happens). As they tell the hapless cityfolk, ‘Daddy’s gone a-huntin!’, what the hikers don’t realise is that it’s the kids who are the ones who let their father know when there is fresh meat to be had nearby. Damn those double-crossing ghost children!

This film is a low-key, frenetic joy. Check out the fight scene between the killer and one of the campers. It’s one of the most high octane and off the wall bouts I’ve ever seen in a film and a triumph of kinetic direction and editing.

Another sign that you need to see this film is that there’s an actor in it called Corky Pigeon. True fact.

6. Tenebrae

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One of the many great things that the early 80’s video boom did was introduce movie viewers to the delights of Italian horror movies commonly known as Giallo. One of the leading directors of this genre was (and still is) Dario Argento. 1982 saw the release of his masterpiece Tenebrae. This time not only did horror fans get the usual exquisitely directed and staged bloodshed that Argento fans came to expect but they got a bona fide Hollywood cult star as one of the leads, John Saxon!

Peter Neal is an author of violent horror fiction and it would seem he has inspired a murderer to undertake a killing spree in his name.

Innovative murders, double and triple crossings, red herrings and an ending that has to be seen to be believed! I’d love to elaborate but I’m giving nothing away! I’d also love to explore the themes and meanings within this film but I’m reserving that for a future essay. I don’t want this list to become a thesis length dissertation.

In Italy Giallo directors were treated like royalty. In Britain their movies were banned and lionised (as we’ll see in a much more extreme example later in this list!) See this film to find out why Italy has such high regard for Giallo and it’s filmmakers. In fact, see any of Argento’s films to see why.

5. Friday the 13th Part 3D

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I still remember seeing the poster for the video release of this film and feeling so excited. Let me provide you with some backstory. This film was made in 1982 and gained a cinema release in the UK but then when it came to the video release it was the era of the Nazi video banning and burning that was the Video Nasty furore. CIC Video who distributed the Friday the 13th films on video released a press release that basically said that in the current climate they would hold back the release of Friday Part 3 and the forthcoming Part 4 until things had calmed down a bit. A wise move. Imagine Mary Whitehouse if she ever saw a picture of Jason in his hockey mask. He would have quickly become Public Enemy Number 1 with regard to this moral panic.

When I saw the poster for this release in the window of a small supermarket/off-licence near my house in 1987 it meant that their release was imminent (there were doubts as to if CIC would release them at all).

I then got to see the film in all of it’s 3D glory quite a few times in the late 90’s at the NFT in London.

Why do I love this film so much? The 3D is stunning and not just the technique they used to ensure that it could be the best possible presentation for audiences but also the many different ways it’s used in the plot and in what contexts. We get fun scenarios that utilise the 3D and so we have popcorn shooting out of a pan into our faces, a yo-yo being spun at us, a baseball bat being poked into the camera and even a spliff being passed over. But the 3D is also used for, thankfully, many disgusting uses. And so we get an old man clutching an eyeball which is poked into our faces, a hot poker used by Jason to stab a character in the stomach being pointed at us first, a victim whose head is being squeezed by Jason with a bit too much vigour resulting in one of his eyeballs shooting out of his head at us. Thats the kind of shit you need from a horror film shot in 3D.

This was also the first Friday in which we see Jason in his trademark hockey mask after he has ‘acquired’ it from one of his victims (after slashing said victim’s throat first). Jason’s first kill wearing this new fashion accessory is to fire a harpoon gun into a victim’s eye via the audience first of course. Jason then dispassionately throws down said harpoon and walks away. Killing is just functional to him.

The climax in the barn is worth the price of admission alone. At one point we have Jason with an axe protruding from his head coming towards us with his arms outstretched as if hes trying to grab us. Now that’s genius.

A gimmick used well. The spirit of William Castle lives on. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Shoot a film in 3D and watch the money roll in. Not quite. I also saw Jaws 3D at the NFT and it was dreadful!

Friday the 13th Part 3 in 2D highlights one weak chink in the film’s armour however- the final girl. Shes unbelieveable, lacking in spunk and a dreadful actress to boot. Spoiler alert- after ‘killing’ Jason she is meant to show that shes gone mad in the process. Honey, you have a longgg way to get to the levels of insanity that Marilyn Burns achieved in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

But other than that, Part 3 is a hoot.

4. Basket Case

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When we first got our new video machine (a top-loader from Granada Rentals) my family rented two films with it. One was Captain America and was intended as safe enough for 7 year old me. But the other film was Basket Case which interested me a lot more. I remember watching and loving both.

Watching Basket Case years later, it’s so on-point that it’s incredible. It seems to contain everything that an exploitation film fan would salivate over. In fact, it reminds me of another masterpiece that also hits every exploitation/cult film target it aims at, Bloodsucking Freaks (R.I.P. Joel M. Reed).

Duane books into the flophouse Hotel Broslin with a large wicker basket. Whilst the contents of the basket arouses the curiosity of almost everyone who comes into contact with Duane as he’s always carrying it around (we even see him take it to a 42nd Street grindhouse cinema and with wild results!) Duane seems backwards in coming forwards about the secrets contained within. The audience sees that it actually contains Duane’s previously conjoined deformed twin called Belial. The twins didn’t want to be separated and so seek revenge against the doctors and surgeons who performed this operation.

Basket Case is extreme, depraved, gory and very very funny. It’s also a very lurid time capsule to a time when 42nd Street was awash with cinemas showing horror, kung-fu, action and porn. In other words, the good old days.

3. The Thing

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In 1982 American audiences wanted only one alien. He wasn’t the shape-shifting evil alien in John Carpenter’s The Thing, he was the cute alien who wanted to ‘phone home’ in Steven Spielberg’s E.T.

A dog who is being shot at by the crew of a helicopter flying overhead is taken in by an American compound of researchers situated in Antarctica. When the helicopter is accidentally blown up by one of the men aboard, the crew try to find out why. But then the dog who is now in the same pound as the camp’s own dogs starts to act strangely. And then things start to change very rapidly indeed!

Theres a lot to love about The Thing. Rob Bottin’s bar-raising special effects, the perfect casting of the all male cast (unthinkable nowadays with the current emphasis on ‘diversity’ whether it’s necessary or not), the frozen, isolated locale, the colour palate that compliments this setting perfectly.

Ennio Morricone’s score is as intricate, complex and multi-layed as the rest of the movie. It’s been out of print for a log time and is well over due to be rereleased.

The film is also able to be read into in a number of different ways. It can be seen as a study into masculinity and a metaphor for a new disease being reported about on news reports called AIDS. The movie also doesn’t definitively answer vital questions but leaves it up to the audience to decide for themselves questions like who might be human and who might be an alien at the end of the movie. A film that grants the audience with a modicum of intelligence, another reason to love The Thing.

The Thing tanked at the box office. But it then found it’s audience when it was released on home video. Hooray for video!

2. The New York Ripper

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If this film was a stick of rock it would have the word ‘Exploitation’ running through it. This film is the Giallo Citizen Kane, the Gone With The Wind of sleaze. This is my favourite Lucio Fulci movie and I love his work.

A killer is on the loose in New York. Oh, and he has the voice of Donald Duck. He slaughters his female victims in the most disgusting ways possible using razor blades on intimate areas of their naked bodies. One attack on a female victim involves a broken bottle being thrust and ground into a very vulnerable part of her body. Really! And this sequence is featured in the film’s trailer!

This was banned outright by the BBFC and it was rumoured that they were so outraged by the film’s content that they actually escorted the copy of the print out of the country! This story was later proven to be untrue by the BBFC, who said that instead they just didn’t return the print to the distributor after they had banned it.

Right from the film’s start its a grimy and slimy excursion into New York’s underbelly. We see an old man throw a stick for his dog to go and fetch. Instead, the dog brings back a severed hand it has found. From then on in it never lets up with murders and deviant sex galore (check out the scene in the dockside diner involving a woman we had seen in a sex cinema earlier). And the film never flags and is just as disgusting and brilliant with every single scene.

Whilst this film still isn’t legal in the UK, it can be seen uncut on YouTube.

1 Halloween 3: Season of the Witch

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I saw this on Thorn EMI video when I was 8 years old. I didn’t think about Michael Myers and his no show in the movie but just loved it from the first time I saw it. The plot, when explained, is the most nonsensical load of nonsense you’ve ever heard. An Irish mask and practical joke manufacturer plans to kill all of the children in America via a microchip in the back of each of the masks his company makes coupled with a signal to be transmitted via a TV commercial to be shown on Halloween. Oh, and Stonehenge has made all of this possible.

Sounds ridiculous, right?! But when you watch the film, it works! Add to the mix a great cast (Tom ‘The Man’ Atkins as well as Stacey Nelkin and Dan O’Herlihy as the evil Conal Cochran), amazing cinematography (Dean Cundey’s genius again) and quite possibly one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth outdid themselves with this soundtrack as it sounds almost like the work of Can or Tangerine Dream but better! Everything adds up to such a haunting film full of gorgeous shots, genius music and characters that feel believeable as they’re so well sketched out and flawed. Take for example, the film’s lead Dr Dan Challis who is a great crusading hero but is also an alcoholic and serial womaniser.

The video release I saw was censored but a few years after, the film was shown on BBC1 who accidentally transmitted it uncut. The kills are very full-on and pull no punches which makes the film feel even grittier and on the edge. There is a sense of doom that permeates the whole film that really works to it’s advantage.

Halloween 3 had been reappraised over the years as the cult classic that I always thought it was. Even if it doesn’t feature Michael Myers. Halloween 3 never fails to make me feel like the 8 year old who first saw it. It holds the same mystique and power of a campfire tale told to scare and captivate children and adults alike.