There’s a video for this list here.
10. The Mutilator
Family horror here! Teenager Ed accidentally kills his mother whilst cleaning a rifle for his father (imagine what a headfuck that would be). After his father (Big Ed) discovers his dead wife’s body, he has a breakdown.
Fast forward a few years and Big Ed asks his son to close up their second home which is situated at a beachside location. Ed takes some friends with him so they can spend some time there first during their Fall Break (the original name of the movie). But, Big Ed is already there 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 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 there’s 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 its genre.
9. Fright Night
Part horror film, part boy’s own adventure.
Could Charley Brewster’s very good-looking next-door neighbour really be a vampire as he suspects? Several women have gone missing and this makes Charley suspect Jerry Dandridge as the culprit. Charley goes to Peter Vincent who was renowned for playing a vampire hunter in a series of films to help him in his quest to put an end to Jerry’s bloodlust after the police don’t believe him.
This is a great movie featuring a genuinely original plot that leaves you guessing until the very end and without it ever feeling stale, tired or stooping to cliche.
On top of this, there’s 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. There’s also the scene where Billy cleans Jerry’s wounded hand but does it whilst he’s 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.
8. Silver Bullet
A low-key adaptation of Stephen King novella Cycle of the Werewolf.
A serial killer in a local town is actually found to be a werewolf by wheelchair-bound Marty (Corey Haim) who defends himself against attack with a well-aimed firework that is fired into the creature’s 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 its 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 halfway through.
A made for TV movie directed by Wes Craven that was issued on video in the UK.
A wealthy businessman, Miles Creighton has himself cryogenically frozen after his death. But then the container holding his frozen body starts to make him thaw. His mother asks surgeons to operate on him to resuscitate 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 is really good with Michael ‘Swan from The Warriors’ Beck as Miles and Paul Sorvino as Father Penny. It’s an interesting conceit and I’m glad I enjoyed it again when I recently watched it. Some movies are like that. They are dependent on mood and can’t be enjoyed at just any time. Another film like that for me is Driller Killer. Sometimes I think it’s an amazing examination of madness in rundown New York. Other times I find it to be the most tedious and slow movie ever made.
6. Cat’s Eye
Yet another low-key Stephen King adaptation.
This one is an anthology of three vignettes linked by the same cat strolling through. The first story involves the extreme measures employed by a company that smokers can sign up to 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, he 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 its owners are oblivious.
A very young Drew Barrymore, James Woods and Candy Clark from Larry Clark’s brilliant Q are some of the actors who are great in this.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
I saw this when it was first released on video in 1986 after being obsessed with the original. It was…unexpected. It wasn’t the sequel I had wanted but it was still interesting and my Gaydar was going off like crazy!
It was probably the scenes that took place in the S&M bar that made me pick up on the gay subtext the most especially the death of the sadistic gym teacher- naked, from behind and having balls fired at him. What could it all mean?!
The story of effeminate outcast Jesse (perfect name haha) becoming a body for Freddy to be reborn was intriguing but didn’t really make sense. He was shown to be still at work at the dreadful conclusion of the previous film. There was also the scene at the pool party that defied the rules of the first film. Freddy has just appeared to loads of teens. Were they all asleep at the same time then?!
But other than that the film is an interesting experiment, with a look and feel that the first film had even if the events it was portraying were very different.
A sequel that took risks rather than seeking to establish a formula.
Strangers on the streets of Berlin are invited to a mysterious cinema for a free screening. They take their seats, the film starts but then one by one they become froth-mouthed demons. At one point those who haven’t succumbed to a similar fate make it to the exits to find they’ve all been bricked up.
I love the fact that some of the humans start to use promotional props used to advertise other films to fight off the demons. Although I’ve never seen a motorbike used in a cinema foyer to advertise a film before.
This Lamberto Bava shocker is all visual thrills that were 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 tale and make it into a feature-length film.
Yes, this isn’t a film that you’d seek out if you want nuance and detail. This is a visceral, gory and bloody ride that is full of interesting visuals and thrills. One of the women who becomes a demon is wearing spandex. If that doesn’t cause you to investigate this film then nothing will. It’s gory, extreme but also very, very camp which is part of its brilliance. Just let this film wash over you and you’ll love it.
3. Day of the Dead
Another film that my opinion flip-flopped over significantly over the years.
The zombie epidemic has now spread to such an extent that zombies are now everywhere and humans are few and far between. The few human survivors live in underground bunkers like the one in which we find the film’s characters. There’s 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 scepticism by the military who are 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 in 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 80s I loved it, then as a teen, I thought it was too talky with not enough action (ahh, the folly of youth!) but I reinvestigated it when it was released by Arrow and I love it again now. The gorgeous cinematography, the intellectualism regarding the pandemic, the evolution since Night and Dawn, the zombies who are now actually rotting and looking worse than ever.
It’s a great moment when the zombies are eating Rhodes’ intestines and his dying words are ‘Choke on ’em!’
I remember going to a midnight screening of this one of my local cinemas. As myself and my friend were too young to go on our own my friend asked his Dad if he would accompany us. He agreed but didn’t know what sort of film this was. Boy, did he get a rude awakening! He even made the audience laugh at one point when a character on the screen said ‘I can’t believe this is happening!’ to which 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 its 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 its 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 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 holding his severed head as it tries to have its 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 movie felt like it was light years ahead of the more generic entries in the slasher subgenre. By 1985, horror was mutating and evolving in interesting new directions and this film was leading the way.
1 The Stuff
A white goo is found to be bubbling out of the ground by workers. It’s found to be edible, sweet and very addictive. The yoghurt-like substance is then branded as The Stuff and sold and marketed. It sells like hotcakes as it’s sweet, very moreish and, most importantly, has no calories! But, unfortunately, The Stuff is actually a living, toxic and parasitic organism that turns its consumers into zombies before eating them from the inside out.
Because of The Stuff and its 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 its success can be sabotaged. Rutherford also teams up with a young boy called Jason who sees that The Stuff is actually alive and the dangerously addictive effects it can have. I love the part of the film where Jason becomes 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). It’s 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 its 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.