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10. Twilight Zone: The Movie
An anthology of separate short films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller and John Landis.
This homage to the original Twilight Zone TV series much loved by both television and horror fans works really well as the spirit of the series is kept intact but advanced into the 80s and given the budget afforded to a big Hollywood film. It means the scope of the ideas is expanded immeasurably.
My favourite segment is undoubtedly Dante’s ‘It’s a Good Life’ which blew my mind when I saw it as a child and still blows my mind now. It’s akin to taking acid whilst watching Looney Toons cartoons alongside The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I will be forever haunted by the girl with no mouth and the giant eyeball.
All of the segments are amazing but there is an added poignancy to the Landis-directed ‘Time Out’ as Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese children who weren’t working under acting rules in California were killed in a scene involving a helicopter.
The sequences that bookend the main segments are just as good as the main content of the film.
This film was such a hit that the old TV series was relaunched.
9. The Keep
Warning- this is a Michael Mann so expect stylisation to be turned up to eleven.
‘Nazis are forced to turn to a Jewish historian for help in battling the ancient demon they have inadvertently freed from its 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 its 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. Many others share my view too.
This Canuxploitation flick started as a low-key hidden gem that over the years has come to prominence through word of mouth and more and more fan raves. If it wasn’t for the internet this film may still have remained buried.
Method actress Samantha has herself committed to a local asylum to properly research for the forthcoming role in a film in which her character is mentally unstable. However, when she is committed she is left to rot in the nuthouse by the film’s director Jonathan who decides to audition other actresses for the role whilst she’s 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 skilful 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 its place in the very best of the 80s.
7. Psycho 2
Just like a sequel being made for Halloween, making a follow-up to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho would require balls of steel.
And just like Halloween 2, this movie isn’t as good as the original (naturally) but it’s still a great film. Everyone’s favourite Mother’s Boy and psychologist’s wet dream, Norman Bates is set free from the mental facility he has been a resident of since the end of the previous film. He has been classed as fully rehabilitated and no longer a threat to the people outside the asylum and so is free to go. But Marion Crane’s sister Lila isn’t happy about this and wants Norman to return to his padded cell.
We see Norman take a job as a short-order diner chef after kicking out Dennis Franz’s sleazy creep who has turned The Bates Motel into the kind of place where rooms are rented by the hour and fake names are written in the register.
We then see strange things start to happen like Norman finding notes left by his ‘Mother’ who, of course, has been dead for years. After one of Norman’s colleagues from the diner, Mary moves into the Bates House even stranger and unnerving things start to happen. Is Norman losing his grip on sanity once more or is someone gaslighting him to think he is?
A great cast helps 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 is completely different to the first film and feels very gritty and claustrophobic.
There’s also one of the most unexpected and brilliant endings I’ve ever seen. Freud would have a field day with this scene and what it represents.
6. The Lift
This Dutch film is about a killer lift. Yes, really.
The lift in question is checked over by a repairman, Felix after it fails to open up when power returns to it after a storm has caused a power failure and people were trapped inside. When the lift still continues to malfunction, Felix starts to dig deeper and sees that a corporation called Rising Sun is 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 its tongue planted in its cheek. Watch the sequence where the lift interacts with the little girl and scares her just for the hell of it.
I love the fact that the hero of the film is a humble, blue-collar lift repairman. I also love that they sought to flesh out his character more. His wife thinks he’s 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 its 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 1980s 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 its claustrophobia and demonic intent. Who would have known that a film that sounds like the most whimsical piece of fluff ever would in fact be this entertaining and well-made?
Max Renn (James Woods) is the CEO of Civic TV, a production company making base-level, rating-grabbing programmes. He is then shown a new show called Videodrome, a show that transmits violent S&M sex and the murder of its 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 learn more about the mysterious Videodrome and 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 write 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, in turn, 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 extraordinary film.
Is the film a knowing prediction of numerous television and cable channels running 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 in 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 now recognised as a masterpiece. It’s part of The Criterion Collection.
Stephen King’s brilliant novel is 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 if 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. She also seeks to punish 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 brilliantly brought to the screen by Carpenter.
There’s also a great soundtrack by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Listen carefully and you can hear similarities between the music here and their soundtrack for Halloween 3 that they composed the previous year.
3. The Dead Zone
Another Cronenberg movie adapted from another Stephen King novel. Christopher Walken plays Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who awakens from a five-year coma to find that he can tell the future by touching someone. The future isn’t set and so can be changed.
This film showed Cronenberg’s versatility as a director as here he made a simple (for him) film that wasn’t overcomplicated (he even ironed out any overly complex issues such as Johnny’s brain tumour that were evident in the novel) and was made more straightforward for the audience.
A truly startling quality of the film is its 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 its lead character. Johnny 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 and 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 mistaken for this being directed by anyone but Cronenberg. If any of his films show what a master auteur he is, it’s The Dead Zone. It showed he can stray away from his usual brilliant territory and still make a brilliant piece of work. And not only is this one of Cronenberg’s best films, it’s also one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel that has ever graced the screen.
2. Sleepaway Camp
Shit starts to get weird at a summer camp where some of the campers meet very violent and grisly deaths.
Whilst this could have been the most generic premise for a slasher movie ever, instead, we get something off the wall, VERY left field and completely unexpected.
This movie pushes the boundaries and provides something that then and especially now could be seen as extremely un-PC. One of the characters is the camp chef, Artie who is also a paedophile. 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 he’s standing on.
Other kills 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 and killed in the shower, four children being hatcheted 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 that’s 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. Its reality is heightened, exaggerated massively and if it offends some people then the filmmakers have succeeded.
Which leads us to one of the most shocking scenes in not just horror history, but in film history. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve seen lists within highly respected film magazines, journals and websites name this final scene as being in the same league as Salo and Irreversible. Yes, it’s that shocking and yes, it’s that unexpected. Oh, and no, I won’t be telling you what it is.
Yet another adaptation of a Stephen King novel 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 its 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. 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 claustrophobia 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 it’s 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 from being just a mildly interesting B-movie.
Another plus point is that there are uniformly 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.