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

PuppetMaster

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

PetSematary

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 1988

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1988

Theres a video for this list here.

10. Rabid Grannies

RabidGrannies

A group of relatives meet to celebrate their elderly relations birthday (but have disclosed that they are only there so that they may be left something in the old duck’s inheritances when they pop their clogs). A black-sheep nephew of the octogenarians who practices the black arts has been excluded from proceedings but sends a supernatural gift that turns the lovable grandmas into evil, homicidal maniacs. Fun ensues.

This film is from Troma (of course). Within this Belgian horror film, the gore and blood flow and there is also a delectable sick strain of humour at play that make the film feel like no other movie I think I’ve ever seen.

Demented, wickedly funny and one of a kind.

9. The Blob

TheBlob

A remake of the Steve McQueen classic. A meteorite emits a strange pink goo type substance that is in fact alive, harmful to humans and intent on wreaking havoc. It seems to be completely sentient. This 80’s version determines the slime as in fact, a biological weapon that was sent into space after being concocted by scientists on Earth rather than being an alien entity.

By 1988 when this remake was made, special effects had progressed at such a dizzying pace that it was felt that anything was possible. Director Chuck Russell takes full advantage of this with not only The Blob doing things onscreen that could only have been dreamt of in the original film. Also, the blob itself looks aesthetically beautiful, akin to a huge oozing mass of pink bubble gum.

Kevin Dillon is certainly no Steve McQueen (but, to be fair, no one is) and this remake doesn’t have the amazing theme song that the original had, but as a special effects laden 1980’s remake this film more than accomplishes (and with real panache) what it aims to do.

8. Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood

Fridaythe13thPart7VarietyAd

This film is basically Jason vs Carrie as one of the latest crop of teens has telekinesis. Whats more she’s accidentally awakened Jason who was chained beneath Crystal Lake thanks to Tommy Jarvis in the previous film.

This was the first film with Kane Hodder as Jason. He seems completely at home right off the bat with his first inhabitation of the role displaying a real flare and strutting confidence.

We get some great kills, some great moments of sly humour (but not the amount of meta-humour synonymous with Part 6) and a fantastic final confrontation. We also get some of the finest helmet hair ever captured on film, with ‘do’s’ so severe that they very possibly could be just as bad (if not worse) than any of the atrocities committed by Jason.

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There are also some great character archetypes that the film hams up to- the bitch, the evil doctor, the ugly duckling. There’s a shrewdness to proceedings that is really enjoyable and helps pull this entry out of being just a generic late 80’s slasher movie.

But there were also other, more radical ideas being pushed forward when this movie was being mooted. Barbara Sachs, a Paramount producer wanted this movie to be the one Friday that was seen as being ‘arty’ and wanted it to even be in the running when the Academy Awards came around. Seriously! At one point there were even mutterings of trying to attach a director of (previous) high standing to the film with one possible nominee being Fellini. Yes, seriously!!!

This all came to nothing though as John Carl Buechler who had directed Troll was employed instead. He does a great job but the mind still boggles at the idea of Fellini directing proceedings and Jason going up to collect the Palme D’Or.

7. Child’s Play

ChildsPlay1988

Another movie that kickstarted a brand new and very profitable horror franchise was Child’s Play.

Catherine Hicks plays a single mother who gives her young son Andy a new toy (named Chucky) akin to the old ‘My Buddy’, the awkwardly large doll for boys (!) from the 80’s.

Very early on this movie steers into dark waters. When Chucky starts killing people beginning with Maggie, Andy’s babysitter, the police make Andy the key suspect. The issue of killer kids is still a taboo and ironically one of the entries in this franchise would be linked to the real life case of the two killer kids who murdered James Bulger in 1993.

The doll scampering around to kill people looks and feels very sinister and uncomfortable as it looks like a child is actually committing all of these atrocities (a child was actually used to act as the killer doll). Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky is amazing as he shows that even when he isn’t on screen he can still light up a role.

A very good start to an inventive, funny and intelligent franchise.

6. Killer Klowns From Outer Space

KillerKlowns

A film for everyone who finds clowns really sinister and scary (or sexy because of that).

A young couple are busy making out at Make Out Point when they see what looks likes like a falling star and so go to investigate. It’s there that they find, of all things, a circus tent. The alien beings in said tent all look like clowns but they aren’t here to fall over and entertain us. They hate humans and want to harvest us in bright pink cocoons. They also kill humans as witnessed by Deputy Sheriff Mooney who arrests one of them. It slaughters everyone else in the cell along with the deputy.

Fortunately the Sheriff proper realises that the Klowns are a serious threat to the entire town and sets out to stop them. Will he succeed or will they?

This film is by the Chiodo Brothers and is like a really brightly coloured acid trip with this startling vision having darker undertones beneath the surface. This is also one of those movies that has it’s own reality and an amazing vision that is fully and brilliantly conceived and realised by the filmmakers.

This film is now seen as a cult classic and I can fully see why. A sequel has been mooted for years. I hope it comes to fruition.

5. Maniac Cop

ManiacCop1988

A cop has supposedly gone psycho on the streets of New York which causes citywide panic and retribution with cops being shot or steered clear of by scared civilians. The main suspect is a policeman called Jack with another cop called McCrae diving deep into the case and trying to stop the killer as he doesn’t think Jack is responsible.

This is another film by William Lustig who made Maniac and Vigilante. With this movie he again comes up with the goods. Not only is this a cult film fan’s dream cast with Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins and Richard Roundtree (not to mention cameos by Sam Raimi and Jake LaMotta who is Lustig’s uncle) but this is a great concept for a movie. It has plenty of tense night-time scenes on grimy, terrifying New York streets (a Lustig speciality). There’s also the genuine shock scene when Maniac Cop is revealed with the legend Robert Z’Dar and his awesome jaw coming to the fore.

Maniac Cop was cut by 5 secs by the BBFC when it was first released in the UK. This involved the shower scene that involved a stabbing and facial mutilation.

This film was followed by two more Maniac Cop movies.

4. Phantasm 2

Phantasm2

It was because of Phantasm 2 that I learnt of the first film. Barry Norman on his regular film review programme reviewed the movie and voiced the opinion that he didn’t even know there was a first Phantasm film. At that point I had to agree.

I rented Phantasm 2 before I got to see the first film and loved it. It was (like the first movie) unlike any other film I had ever seen, with bags of imagination and nothing over-explained. The film had a mysterious aura about it.

This film continued it’s exploration of the sinister and malevolent Tall Man with Mike from the original film (but played by a different actor) leaving the mental institution he was resident in after the events of the first film and returning to Morningside Cemetery where he starts exhuming graves. Just as he suspected, they are empty. This convinces Reggie (also from the original) to help Mike investigate further and try to stop The Tall Man.

A bigger budget, more ambitious visuals and more complex plotlines (there seems to be more of an emphasis on the psychic element that was just hinted at in the original film with the seer and her granddaughter) permeate this sequel. There are also more guns, action and gore with the spheres being given a redux and more murderous implements to kill with.

But theres still mystery, intelligence and innovation. And whats more, it’s still ingrained in this second film as it was in the first. The viewer is free to interpret events in this film and try to decide if they are actual or imagined.

Phantasm 2 is a very worthy sequel to a masterpiece.

3. Scarecrows

Scarecrows

Ever since I read about Scarecrows in an old issue of Gorezone I knew I had to see it. When I did finally see it, of course, it was cut by the BBFC. But even in this cut form it still made for a great film.

A plane full of mercenaries have stolen millions of dollars and are flying away to Mexico with their bounty. However, one of them swipes the loot and parachutes from the plane into a cornfield. Two others parachute after him to be joined by the others upon landing the plane. They all meet in a house adjoined to the field. They spot the loot which is in the field but what they don’t know is that they will have major problems retrieving it as the cornfield is home to three paranormal scarecrows who are actually alive and hate those who trespass onto their terrain.

This is a brooding, dark hued film which is perfect for such a dark and gory movie. The horror of the scarecrows is intensified by the way they have been lit with all of the action taking place at night. This lends a very sinister air to proceedings especially with the haunting locale of the nocturnal cornfield.

There’s also great characterisation with the backstory warranting it’s own prequel. The sense of mistrust and paranoia permeates the action and prepares the audience to expect the unexpected. This is no generic 80’s horror movie.

I finally saw the uncut version and it was well worth the wait. As was seeing the film on Blu ray after I first saw it on VHS all those years ago.

2. Dead Ringers

DeadRingers.jpg

More double crossing now with twins being perfectly suited for this.

This David Cronenberg movie stars Jeremy Irons as twin gynaecologists with one twin, the narcissistic Elliot, seducing and then discarding some of the women who come to their practice with his more submissive and introverted twin Beverly taking over from Elliot in the relationship but without the woman being aware of the substitution.

The twins carry out this abusive practice with actress Claire (Genevieve Bujold). But Beverly seriously falls for her and after beginning a relationship together, refuses to ‘share’ her with Elliot (which causes a serious rift in their relationship) and starts to share her addiction of prescription medication.

After she has lunch with one of her friends she learns that Beverly has a twin brother. This triggers earlier doubts she had had regarding Beverly and how differently he acted after their first dalliance together. She confronts Beverly about this and tells him that she knows what him and his twin have done.

After a reconciliation between Beverly and Claire, there is more drug use between the two before she leaves town to work on another film. With her gone, Beverly becomes depressed, starts taking more drugs and becomes obsessed with mutant women with abnormal genitalia.

Yes, there’s lots going on here! This couldn’t be more different from the plot to Friday the 13th Part 7 if it tried. This film was another example of Cronenberg going from strength to strength. Just as The Fly had been a huge hit without any sign of selling out or compromise (in other words it was just as gross as his earlier films!), Dead Ringers was Cronenberg’s most accomplished film to date. The plot had plenty of scope for his breed of body horror (check out the horrific women’s examination implements that are made for Beverly as he becomes more deranged and drug-addled), but this time it was his most polished film with a stellar and VERY well respected cast. Cronenberg aimed high with this project and asked Robert De Niro to play the twins but was turned down. He also asked William Hurt but he wasn’t comfortable playing twins. Jeremy Irons has a formidable reputation, rises to this challenge and does an amazing job. His mix of equal parts refinement and derangement was perfect for this role. Genevieve Bujold was another actor of undeniable class who was perfectly cast as Claire.

The critics almost universally threw bouquets at Cronenberg’s feet with this film. It was intelligent, perfectly realised and gorgeous to boot with the subject matter being pure Cronenberg. Many critics and fans think this is his best film. They may be right.

1 Monkey Shines

MonkeyShines

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.

 

 

 

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1986

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1986

Theres a video for this list here.

10. Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives

JasonBond

Jason was killed in Part 4. But just as that installment was supposed to be the literal ‘Final Chapter’, it had been such a success that Paramount made another film. Part 5: A New Beginning involved Tommy Jarvis still seeing Jason everywhere, especially as new murders start to happen around him. Instead, it turns out that an ambulance driver has adopted Jason’s hockey mask and chosen to dispatch of all of the teens in the vicinity. His identity was only revealed at the end of the film.

Friday fans weren’t happy. They wanted Jason and not some tribute act. Their disappointment was indicated in the poorer box office returns for Part 5. So Paramount decided to resurrect the big guy. Jason would be back and (hopefully) the studio would profit handsomely from this.

How do you resurrect a supposedly dead horror film character? Easy, especially if the film franchise in question isn’t exactly known for it’s logic or coherent timeline. After all, Jason was supposed to have drowned in Crystal Lake prior to the first film. Tommy Jarvis is suffering from PTSD (never explicitly stated in the film but the flashbacks and hallucinations are symptomatic of this) and goes back to Crystal Lake with a friend to put Jason well and truly to rest. They dig up his coffin and open it so that Tommy can burn the corpse. However, with an iron railing from a nearby fence, Tommy stabs it into Jason’s body out of sudden rage when faced with him again. Lo and behold, a lightning bolt strikes the railing which resurrects the killer like a Frankenstein for the MTV generation (theres a great shot of worms falling off Jason’s face as he gets up). He arises, kills Tommy’s friend and puts back on his hockey mask thats nearby. He’s ready for business. Tommy escapes and spends the rest of the movie trying to convince people that Jason is back and then trying to stop his foe.

The supernatural elements to Jason’s resurrection was something Paramount must have loved. It meant that Jason would never really die, could be brought back to life at any time without a reasonable explanation and still make them money.

But there were still risks being taken with this film. It contained a sly humour that wasn’t present to such a degree in any other of the films. Most daringly, there was a meta humour present whereby the film would gleefully reference and gently poke fun at the conventions of cinema and in most instances, horror cinema and the slasher subgenre.

The title sequence of Jason Lives shows this in all it’s glory as we see Jason’s version of the James Bond gun barrel sequence. Instead of firing a gun, Jason throws a knife at the perpetrator whilst we see the blood then gush down. A knowing homage. The Friday 13th fanbase would instantly be divided into two camps. The ones who love the dark, brutal and more serious films and view The Final Chapter as their favourite and those who liked this less serious, more laid back venture with the kills still bing brutal but the build-up being laden with gentle winks to the camera and those in the know.

There are other humorous asides in the film. The cemetery being called ‘Eternal Peace’, the woman in her car who sees Jason and remarks that shes seen enough horror films to know a man in a mask in the woods is never a good thing, the American Express card drifting by on the top of a puddle after a victim is murdered. Theres also a hilarious scene in which Jason’s woods are swarming with paintballers with one of them thinking Jason is one of the competitors.

But whilst there are jokes and subtle references galore, there are great kills as well. The film also attempts to give the fans something new and to expand the canvas of the series as well. One way the film does this is by introducing bigger spectacles that haven’t been seen in the series previously. The scene involving the bus had never been attempted in any previous films and the shots of Jason on top of the huge vehicle feel like something new and grander in vision. The films were little by little changing as they needed to to reflect an ever-changing audience and not to stagnate and grow lazy by just depending on the formula used during the iconic first four films.

Ironically, Part 6 made less money at the box office than any of the other installments. But, it found it’s audience even more on home video and remains many Friday fans favourite entry in the franchise.

9. Chopping Mall

ChoppingMall

A shopping mall gets a new state of the art security system consisting of robots that patrol the mall and tackle thieves through the use of lasers whilst also being able to shoot them with tranquillisers. All ways in and out of the mall are also secured with shutters which make it virtually impossible to get in (or out!)

You know what happens next! The system malfunctions due to the mall being struck by lightning and the robots become killing machines as we see after they bump off the system’s technicians and a caretaker in an early scene.

There are four couples in the mall as they stay on after-hours to party, have sex in the beds in the furniture store they are in (three of them work there) and to fall foul of the killer robots.

What is it about malls and horror movies that makes them work so well together? This is certainly no Dawn of the Dead but it’s fun, camp, kitsch and great fun, a true popcorn 80’s film.

But also, it’s a Roger Corman movie so we get Corman royalty such as Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham and Mary Woronov in roles.

I remember seeing this great big hunk of cheese in 1986 and thinking that American malls were so much more fun than the soulless 70’s shopping precincts we had in the UK. Especially as they had killer robots.

8. House

GhoulHouse

A best selling horror author moves into his aunt’s house after she hangs herself in her bedroom. Here he encounters all manner of supernatural shenanigans.

And shenanigans is the right word as this is, and I never thought I’d be uttering these words on my website, a family horror film. The movie is bright and breezy and the monsters fun (but still scary). But this is the kind of horror movie that the whole family can sit through as long as the kids aren’t really young and can see the monsters and ghouls for what they are- grotesque parodies of other people from author Cobb’s life. The ugly female creature is a reverse manifestation of his beautiful actress (soon to be ex) wife, the green and rotting soldier is his buddy from Nam who thinks Cobb left him to perish. These ghouls are one step up from the scarier elements of The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth.

This was directed by Steve Miner who also directed Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3. George Wendt stars of Cheers fame as does William Katt who, of course, was Tommy Ross from Carrie.

This was so much fun when I first saw it with my mates in 1986. And when I watched it again the other day, it was still fun. Arrow’s transfer of this movie is flawless.

7. Critters

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A criminal species of aliens are being transferred to a prison planet but in the process they hijack a spaceship and escape. With Earth in their sights they are pursued by two intergalactic bounty hunters.

They land in rural Kansas and start to cause havoc and mayhem.

Whilst this may sound ‘fun’ and a family film like House, Critters is much more aimed at adult horror fans with more ‘horror’ than House and less of a bright and breezy feel to proceedings.

Dee Wallace Stone, E Emmett Walsh and Billy Green Bush all star and bring a lot to the film. This feels like a moderately big budget movie rather than some cheap and corny alien flick.

The critters (of Krites as they’re called earlier in the film) can frenziedly eat rather like piranha (we see them eat a cow in this manner which makes them a threat to animals and humans alike), fire quills from their foreheads and also travel at high speed by rolling away.

I love the depiction of small-town American life that this film captures with it’s rural/farmland idyll and one scene taking place in a setting of All-Americana, a bowling alley.

Theres also a great sense of playfulness and humour to the movie that comes through loud and clear to the viewer.

This film really reminds me of the movie, Tremors released a few years later.

6. The Hitcher

HitcherNewspaperAd

1986 sounds kind of lightweight so far, doesn’t it? Quasi-funny aliens, family-friendly spectres and ghouls. But whilst there were a spate of PG-13 horror films that had as many funny moments as horrifying moments, there was, almost to balance things out, a spate of horror movies that were the complete opposite- unhinged, unrepentant and willing to push the boundaries.

One was The Hitcher starring C. Thomas Howell as a motorist travelling from Chicago to San Diego and stops to pick up a hitcher (Rutger Hauer). This in turn unleashes a shitstorm of epic proportions. The Hitcher reminds me of Spielberg’s Duel but with a seemingly unstoppable psychopath taking the place of the truck.

After John the hitcher pulls out a knife and saying he had cut off the arms and legs of the last person who picked him up, Jim (the driver) notices that the passenger door is unlocked and pushes him out of the car as it’s moving. This starts a series of both people crossing paths (or should be roads) with each other until the film’s climax.

The Hitcher is a very well made and beautifully shot B movie. It’s also close to the edge, has a brutality that was pushing boundaries for movies at that point and remains a fan favourite for just that reason.

It is also open to many readings. One possible reading involves the underlying gay subtext to the film with one scene where the duo have to go through a roadblock due to construction work, implicitly bringing this up and out into the open.

5. Night of the Creeps

NightoftheCreeps

It’s always a special year when a movie with Tom Atkins in it makes my Top 10 list.

A fraternity prank involving the thawing of a cryogenically frozen corpse sets into motion a tale involving alien brain parasites (!) that turn humans into zombies.

This film is a fantastic yarn. Not only is it an excellent film but it’s also a brilliant homage to horror of old with several sub-genres being resurrected (pun not intended) and referenced. Also, look out for the character names that name-check others within the genre (Cronenberg, Landis, Corman etc).

This is also a prime Tom Atkins vehicle and, as ever, he shines as ex-cop Ray Cameron. The script is littered with acerbic one-liners for him to utter, which he does with relish.

This film bombed royally when it was first released. But, thankfully, it found it’s feet on home video and became a huge cult classic (just like director Fred Dekker’s next film, The Monster Squad).

4. Vamp

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An ultra stylised vampire film starring Grace Jones (!) that has aged extremely well.

AJ and Keith want to get their way into a college frat house and so decide to hire a stripper for the evening to seal the deal. They puruse the local strip joints in the seedier parts of town and after entering a bar called After Dark, become set on asking Katrina, a stripper they have seen to come to their frat house. AJ goes backstage to try to convince her but she seduces him and then bites his neck.

So sets in motion a whole chain of events that includes more vampires and, of all things, an albino street gang. It would seem that nearly everyone working at the club is a vampire.

With the stylisation of this film being so central to it’s vision, this could have aged really badly and looked ‘sooo 80’s’ and been all surface and no substance. Thankfully, it’s neither of these and looked even better now than when I first saw it. There has also been a pristine transfer issued on Blu Ray by Arrow which means the film looks better than ever before.

The colour palate for this film is extraordinary and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Grace Jones with red hair!

3. The Fly

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Scientist Seth Brundel (Jeff Goldblum) shows Ronnie Quaife (Geena Davis), a journalist, his transportation pods (not a euphemism) and how he can transport anything from one to the other. He still has to work on the idea though as living beings aren’t transporting properly yet (we see what happens when Brundel tries to transport a babboon and it actually gets transported inside out). Brundel promises full publishing rights to Quaife when the idea is perfected.

Brundel does perfect and tweak the idea and transports himself from one transporter to the other to prove it. However, a fly has entered the pod as well and so Brundel is transported but also combines with molecular structure of the fly.

He soon starts to transform and manifest his new Fly component. He becomes markedly stronger, starts craving sugar and starts to sprout thick hairs on his back. And that’s just the start.

The Fly was a huge hit in 1986 and it’s great to see that after years of directing his body horror films, David Cronenberg’s reputation and body of work started to grow in prestige. Could someone as esoteric as Cronenberg ever make a film which would *shock horror* involve a huge studio and maybe even be a huge hit? The answer was Yes. 20th Century Fox was behind The Fly along with Mel Brooks’ production company, Brooksfilm. And all of this happened without any kind of sell out or compromise. The Fly feels through and through like a Cronenberg film with it’s minutiae for procedure, science and what the stomach turning results are. And, boy, these sequences don’t disappoint. The bar-room arm wrestling scene is still as painful to watch as when I first saw this on VHS.

The unexpected also happened- The Fly won an Oscar. It was for Best Make-Up and it was richly deserved. Jeff Goldblum’s transformation into part-man, part-fly is inspired, horrifying and extremely gross (perfect for a horror film).

2. Manhunter

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FBI criminal profiler Will Graham comes out of retirement to try to help apprehend a serial killer known as ‘The Tooth Fairy’. This involves meeting with one of his old nemeses, Dr Hannibal Lecktor who almost killed Graham.

Whilst Silence of the Lambs was the mainstream Hollywood movie that introduced the world to Hannibal Lector (without the middle ‘k’ too) then Manhunter was the arthouse movie in which he first appeared.

Whilst Silence has a lot to like about it, it does have moments that make me roll my eyes. The one-liners (especially the too showy speech abut fava beans and a nice Chianti resplendent with slurping sound effects) and general showiness does feel a bit forced and kind of vulgar to the Lecktor in Manhunter and Thomas Harris’ books.

With Manhunter the only downside is the change of title forced on by the film by it’s producer Dino De Laurentiis. The book by Harris was actually Red Dragon after he had produced a film with Dragon in it’s title that had flopped. He also didn’t want cinema goers to think the move was a kung fu vehicle. Two stupid reasons but Manhunter isn’t that bad a title for a movie.

Manhunter is a Michael Mann so the visual aspect of the movie is of paramount importance. The way every single frame is composed, the colour palate (notice the colours used for intimate scenes and more striking hues used for more disturbing episodes), the surreality of certain scenes (especially the showdown between Graham and Dollarhyde aka The Tooth Fairy) and how they have been filmed to accentuate this.

Whilst Silence was a huge hit on it’s release, Manhunter flopped but was lauded by critics on it’s release, to be appreciated more over the years with it’s release on home media. Which is ironic as Manhunter is the better film.

1 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

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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. Theres then a short pause after which Otis asks her if she thinks Leroy is hungry and then wickedly smiles.

Just as there is (very dark) humour in the film, Henry is also depicted as charming and completely human in some scenes. If serial killers looked like the monsters they are on the outside, they wouldn’t get close enough to kill anyone. We see Henry making a waitress blush by saying she has a nice smile. Near the end of the film he meets a woman and her dog in an alleyway and goes on a charm offensive, mentioning how lovely her dog is and asking it’s name. He can use his charm when he wants to get close to a subject to kill them.

A note here about the music used within the film. The score brilliant mirrors Henry’s behaviour and temperament. For the most part it suggests a steady air of impending doom and menace whilst during the murders it curdles into wild explosions of sound complete with stingers when Henry stabs or attacks someone. These sound devices utilised during the murders wouldn’t be out of place in a slasher movie and their use here is very important. Henry feels completely separate to almost every other horror film especially the slasher genre. The use of slasher film type music shows that it can be used to even more terrifying use when utilised by such a realistic film as Henry. The film reappropriates this music and gives it a new meaning. The tagline used for the film was ‘He’s not Freddy. He’s not Jason. He’s real’. This film is so invested in real life that it’s power, rawness, and menace comes from that fact.

The three central performances within the film are amazing as are their characterisations- the wide-eyed naivety and gullibility of Becky, the already corrupted and willing to be further corrupted Otis. And then theres Henry. Michael Rooker’s performance is nothing short of brilliant and is one of the best performances I think I’ve ever seen. He is a walking, talking realistic portrayal of a psychopath and sociopath. He seems to inhabit the character and, as cliched as it is, he is Henry. And with the drawl of Droopy the Dog. Apparently he stayed in character for most of the film’s shoot. A crew member would drive him to the set every day and he would talk about his background, sometimes as Michael, sometimes as Henry. Rooker’s wife found out that she had become pregnant whilst Rooker was working on the film, knew that he was in character whilst he was shooting it and so waited until filming had completely finished before she told him the good news.

I could say more about Henry but to do so would completely ruin the film for new viewers and expose major spoilers. I’ll just say that the film is now recognised as the classic it truly is, is now uncut in the UK (and many other countries) and is available in 4K on Blu Ray (I remember seeing a print before this restoration that was on Netflix here in the UK and it looked dreadful! This new anniversary edition makes up for this with the film looking and sounding the best it ever has).

A truly astonishing piece of work and not for the faint hearted. I could write more about Henry and analyse it in more depth. And I will.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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 1981

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1981

Theres a video of my choices on YouTube here.

10. The Burning

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One of the most notorious films involved in the Video Nasties debacle, (but not the most notorious. That honour is reserved for another movie on this list) this was severely cut by the BBFC for cinema and video release. However, Thorn EMI Home Video accidentally released the film uncut before this version was recalled.

The film was so contentious for the BBFC due to the infamous raft scene which is still an outstanding piece of film. It’s strangely beautiful, like a savage, painful and bloodspattered ballet due to it’s choreography and editing. It also involved Tom Savini who was responsible for all of the make-up effects for this film so you just knew this movie would be extra special. The prostitute being dispatched with a pair of scissors also, ironically, met with the censor’s scissors also.

This should have been an anaemic Friday the 13th rip-off which instead is as good as many of the entries in that franchise. A great backstory involving a prank on a summer camp caretaker gone horribly wrong, the deformed killer making his way back to the summer camp with revenge on his mind via an eventful visit to a prostitute resplendent with 42nd Street sleazy locale, a problematic Final Girl who is in fact a guy (and a voyeuristic perv), bloody kills and early roles for Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter. The characters are well written which obviously puts this head and shoulders above such fare.

This was also the first film by production company Miramax and it’s co-owner Harvey Weinstein. And another reign of terror of a very different kind began.

9. Burial Ground

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A film that had been on my radar for a while when I first saw the poster for it in a book about extreme horror movies. When I eventually saw it (not easy as it wasn’t readily available in the UK due to it’s graphic nature) it was worth the wait. Craggy faced Italian zombies who seemed to really hate the living as displayed in the gory death scenes.

But I didn’t expect the whole sleazy subplot regarding Peter Bark’s character and his mother. No, I won’t reveal all as it would ruin a huge surprise for those who haven’t seen this film yet. Suffice to say, my jaw hit the floor when I saw it for the first time.

When this film eventually surfaced on UK video it had been cut by 3m 11s (ouch!). It’s now uncut on YouTube.

8. Just Before Dawn

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Jeff Lieberman is a legend and has made many films that I hold dear (Squirm and Blue Sunshine being two of them). Just Before Dawn is his very original take on the town folk vs hillbillies subgenre and also on the slasher movie genre and is utterly brilliant.

Quirky characters, twists galore and an ending that is both funny and surreal. Chris Lemmon and George Kennedy star in this movie that was unavailable for many years but is now (rightfully) on Blu Ray. Look for the deluxe edition on Code Red.

Expect the unexpected.

7. The Howling

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Werewolf movies were like buses in 1981. Wait long enough and three came along at once. One such movie was Joe Dante’s The Howling that skillfully blends horror and comedy to tell the story of Dee Wallace’s Karen, a plucky TV reporter who agrees to meet serial murderer Eddie Quist who seems infatuated with her. Things turn bloody as Quist is shot by the police with Karen having to escape to a resort at the recommendation of her therapist (played by the ever brilliant Patrick McNee) to try to come to terms with what happened. Things then get really weird.

Whilst this film is very funny and there are lots of references to the werewolf genre and it’s legend for the eagle-eyed, this isn’t some vile horror comedy in the vein of the appalling Scream. This film does the horror brilliantly and the sequence in which Karen goes to meet Eddie in a cubicle in the back of an adult bookshop is one of the most unnerving sequences I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.

I remember reading the Gary Brandner book after seeing this movie and it’s very different but just as fantastic.

Look out for legend Roger Corman’s cameo waiting for Karen to finish her call in a phone booth, entering after she leaves and then checking for spare change. Fantastic.

6. Friday the 13th Part 2

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Yes, Jason being alive after drowning in Crystal Lake doesn’t make sense. Do you watch Friday the 13th movies for realism or a coherent timeline?! Do you?!!

Alice, the Final Girl from Part 1 returns but is quickly dispatched by Jason in the first few minutes of this sequel (loving the fact that Jason then takes the whistling kettle off the stove after killing Alice with an ice pick through the temple. He’s a good boy after all! He also doesn’t mind that a little cat has joined him. He’s good with animals!) Adrienne King who played Alice doesn’t really even remember starring in this sequel as she had her own shit going on in real life- she was being stalked before the phenomenon of stalking was more widely talked about. He even broke into her apartment whilst she was in it so with her scenes in this film it really was the boundaries between life and art being blurred.

But I digress. This entry into the franchise sees Jason before he acquired his iconic hockey mask, instead donning a cloth sack over his head with one eye hole cut out of it. It’s reminiscent of the killer in The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

We have some iconic kills too- machete to the face of a guy in a wheelchair before he goes down a large outdoor staircase backwards (Jason believe in equal opportunities when it comes to killing), a spear impaling two people at once as they have sex (ripped off from the Bava Giallo movie Twitch of the Death Nerve which a member of the  Friday Part 2 crew helped to distribute in the U.S.), someone being killed after falling into a rope trap that leaves them suspended upside down prior to their gruesome fate.

This film also has the distinction of granting the viewers to see inside Chez Jason, a makeshift shack that our hero has made in the woods. He knows a thing or two about decor! It’s within here that we see a shrine to his dead mother. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you all but I love the fact that the film makes sure to establish that the Final Girl, Ginny (Amy Steel, one of the series best characters) has previously studied psychology because her plan at fooling Jason is so intricate that it would require a psych major (!) The ending is unexpectedly slapstick in places but this emphasises the comic book type dimensions to this entry.

A great sequel and one of the best in the series.

5. An American Werewolf in London

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Another of the trio of excellent werewolf movies that was released in 1981 (the third was Mike Woodleigh’s Wolfen that didn’t make it into my Top 10 but missed out by a whisker. It’s a very different beast (pun not intended) to the other two films but is still amazing and well worth finding).

Spookily, this film has also mixes horror and humour but whilst making sure that the funnies don’t dilute the horror just like The Howling. A couple of American chums are hitchhiking across the North Yorkshire Moors and come across a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb (a huge red flag!) where the drinkers inside (Rik Mayall and Brian Glover feature among them) aren’t too friendly but send the boys on their way after a few drinks and warn them ‘to stay on the road!’ They don’t and one of them is brutally attacked by some kind of wild animal. The other wakes up in a hospital in London and…

This film is a treat. Gorgeous characters (including fantastic characters that feature in only a small way but make such an impression that they win the audience over- an example is the uncooperative little boy who is a patient of Alex the nurse played by the gorgeous Jenny Agutter).

This film also acts as a time capsule as we get to see Piccadilly Circus when it was a sleazy den of inequity as David meets his dead and decomposing chum Jack (who appears as a ghost) in the porno cinemas of the area.

We also have quite possibly the best transformation scene in film history, a very scary sequence in an underground station and lots more besides . With all of this you have a genuine masterpiece. I remember this film when it was released when I was 6 years old. It featured in every newspaper and magazine we had knocking around the house and I remember posters and billboards on the street for it. It worked too. It was a huge hit and deservedly so.

4. Halloween 2

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How do you follow up a film as great as Halloween? A sequel would seem like it was doomed to failure, especially with John Carpenter deciding not to direct it.

But Halloween 2 still succeeds admirably. Yes, it’s not as good as Halloween and if the original is an A+++ movie, then it’s sequel is a B+ film.

The decision to carry on straight after the events of the first film still seems audacious and original. Laurie is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to recover from the injuries she endures at the hands of Michael Myers. But Myers follows her there and picks up where he left off.

Cue some very disturbing sequences involving the disturbing sight of Michael Myers walking inhumanly up and down quiet nocturnal hospital corridors and being seen doing so on CCTV monitors which is very unsettling. It takes a while for Myers to catch up with Laurie but when it happens it’s well worth the wait. Props to the director Rick Rosenthal for making her POV shots slightly blurred to convey that she is sedated and groggy. The chase scene through the hospital is amazing with Laurie having to climb through a tiny window, fall onto and then walk through broken glass with bare feet and then wait for a lift door to close as she sees Michael approaching. One of the tensest and best chase scenes I’ve ever seen.

Theres also a revelation as to possibly explain why Myers wants the same fate to become of Laurie as he meted out on Judith years before this.

I remember the first time I saw this was on Thorn EMI video which was cut to take out the hypodermic needle through the eye effect and severely reduce the brutality of the therapeutic pool scene. They’re all restored now though and show Halloween 2 to be a classy film which still packs a punch.

3. The Pit

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File this film under ‘Quirky’. This movie still isn’t as well known as it deserves to be. Hopefully the recent Kino Lorber Blu Ray will help more people discover this gem.

Jamie is a rather misunderstood 12 year old. But he has a secret discovery- a pit full of creatures called Tra-la-logs who are hungry for human flesh. The movie sees Jamie lure those who tease and ridicule him to the pit and then feed to the creatures who live within. ‘They don’t eat chocolate’ Jamie says at one point to illustrate their carnivorous tendencies (plothole nicely sewn up!)

There are so many great idiosyncratic aspects to this movie- the fact that Jamie confides everything to his teddy bear (the working title of this movie was Teddy. As filming went over schedule, the novelisation for the film came out with the title of Teddy- except the film was now to be called The Pit. Oops. The novelisation apparently also differs quite a lot from the final movie).

I love the humour within the film too, some of which is so quick that you might miss it. The entire town seems to be mean to Jamie but it’s great for the audience. Those who are mean to him are like characters lifted by a John Waters movie. In fact, The Pit at times feels like an especially edgy after school special directed by Waters.

Something else about the film I love is that Jamie is really dirty and inapproropriate in his actions and deeds. He’s 12 years old in the film (9 in the book apparently) and so on the cusp of puberty. He doesn’t realise that sneaking into the bathroom whilst his babysitter is in the shower to write on the mirror ‘I love you!’ in her lipstick is wrong.

Later in the film he also takes pictures of the mean little girl and her mother as they do aerobics dressed in leotards. This is also, obviously, massively inappropriate. In real life, he’d be arrested. For audiences of exploitation cinema, Jamie is a boon. And an instantly entertaining character.

2. Scanners

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Ahh the glory days of video. This was one of the first videos I ever saw on the great Guild Home Video label, resplendent with the minimalist electronic Guild intro which brings back so many memories for me.

This feels like a genre movie completely subverted by David Cronenberg with a down and out man shown to have the power to destroy adversaries just by thinking about it. Whilst this is happening we see a conference into these thought powers taking place with  a smartly dressed person in front of the audience asking for a volunteer so that he can demonstrate his powers. He doesn’t realise that the person who volunteers also possesses similar powers but to a higher level and not with malevalent aims. Cue quite possibly the best practical special effect in film history and a sequence that would instantly give Scanners cult classic status.

But this film has a lot more going for it then just one perfectly executed (pun not intended) special effect.

Not only are we introduced to the concept and capabilities of scanning and scanners but we also get to see scanner vs scanner as the newly cleaned up Cameron Vale from earlier is told of a very powerful and utterly ruthless scanner named Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside in an example of perfect casting) and his dastardly plans. It’s a race against time for Vale to stop Revok and his team of scanner assassins. Who knows what Revok and his followers could accomplish if they aren’t stopped. The previous conference and Revok’s display of power there was only a potential taster of what might be to come.

The locales Cronenberg uses within the film are extraordinary with the glass and metal world of downtown Canada, the shadowy concrete organisations such as ConSec (a staple of Cronenberg’s work) and the extraordinary lair of fellow scanner Benjamin Pierce who explains that his art keeps him sane. We get to see a whole range of very disturbing and fascinating pieces of art and how he sees the work because of his ability to scan. Witness the giant plastercast head that Vale and Pierce walk into to discuss Revok.

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When Vale and Revok finally meet it doesn’t disappoint. There are revelations, plans proposed by Revok to team up and then a duel to the death- with surprising results!

Scanners based it’s publicity around the extraordinary special effect that it showed within the first few minutes of it’s playtime. It also gave it’s audience a movie that was a rollercoaster ride that was just as brilliant, visceral and intelligent. Cronenberg reeled em in and gave em a film that most horror fans would never have normally seen. Now that’s subversive and brilliant. Cronenberg would do the same with the amazing Crash which proved so controversial with the BBFC years later.

1. The Evil Dead

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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.

 

 

 

Top 10 Fan Made Movie Posters

Top 10 Fan Made Movie Posters

On my search for movie posters on the internet for my articles I come across a massive amount of fan made movie posters. Correction- I come across a massive amount of really good fan made movie posters. Heres a collection of the best I’ve seen so far (this could change as I stumble across more…)

And so, in ascending order…

No. 10- Captain America: The First Avenger

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Such a classic American hero gets a classical poster concept.

The Art Deco framing and reimagining for Cap works brilliantly well here as the lines synonymous with this genre also emphasise movement, action and speed.

The red, white and blue of Cap’s costume works really well against the monotone of the background’s gun metal grey.

No. 9- Friday the 13th Part 3

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How do you even think about reimagining a horror villain as well known as Jason Voorhees? Like this. Take only single colours (the blue background, the green of Jason, the red lettering that looks it has been written in blood- very Manson Family) and make the image as iconic as possible to reflect the film and central figure.

This is further demonstrated when you realise that it was this Friday instalment that introduced Jason’s hockey mask to proceedings (R.I.P. Shelley). This image further emphasises the iconic dimension to this.

The red and green also remind me of the red and green stripes of Jason’s sparring partner, Freddy Krueger. A nice touch. Red and green are also the colours used for 3D- which this film was shot in. Another nice touch.

No. 8- The King of Comedy

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Sometimes simple is best. This poster is minimalism used to brilliant effect. The painting of Pupkin is gorgeous. And that’s all thats needed.

No. 7- Double-Bill – The Birds and Up

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A fan made poster for an inspired double-bill coupled with absolutely gorgeous artwork. The colour of Up, the Gothic darkness of The Birds. The juxtaposition works beautifully.

The typography and aged look to the artwork works amazingly well also. I’d pay to go and see this double-bill anyway, but this poster would make me go and see both of these films even if I hadn’t heard of them.

No.6- Drive

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I’m loving that this artist has used Gosling’s stuntman mask and brought it to the fore for this poster. I’m also loving that he/she has referenced the iconic poster artwork and bald head motif from Dawn of the Dead resplendent with blood splatter.

I noticed the gore/slasher elements of Drive when I first saw it. It appears I wasn’t the only one. Bonus points for the weathered/vintage look to the poster.

No.5- Dr. No

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A sign of a great fan poster- it fools you into thinking that it was possibly conceived and conceptualised at the time of the film’s release but not used by the studio.

This is what has happened here- the artist has utilised the same style of artwork used at the time, assimilated it and come up with something just as brilliant but completely original.

You can tell that the artist knows this film and the series it belongs within inside out.

No.4- Jaws

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There are so much Jaws fan posters on the internet and there are so many that are utterly brilliant.

This entry wins out as it terrifies me. Freud would have a field day with this. The enormity of the shark, the unsuspecting woman who is oblivious to her fate, the black water the shark is lurching up from. The sea could be the psyche, the shark our deepest fears that are waiting to attack and consume us whole. But that would be a Tarkovsky film and not the Spielberg classic we all know and love.

This poster still gives me shivers as I’m looking at it whilst typing this entry.

No.3- A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2- Freddy’s Revenge

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Such a simple premise that no-one else thought to do it! The gay subtext of Freddy’s Revenge is brought to life and placed centre stage on this poster. Thankfully it’s done by someone who is extremely talented and brilliantly gifted.

There was even a ‘Drag pre-show’ before this screening and a discussion about ‘queerness in the horror film’ after it.

This film has become a gay classic as well as newly reappraised by the horror community. It may not have been the sequel to the first that fans wanted but this curve-ball of a film has rightfully now been taken to horrorhound’s black little hearts.

No.2- The Shining

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This fan poster is stunning. All the disturbing aspects of the film, all of the disturbing scenarios of the film and the utterly disturbing transformed persona of Jack Torrence are  all upclose and personal on this artwork. And the choice of style for this poster is perfect for this with each brushstroke evoking so much.

When I marvel at this poster I think of the brilliance of artists such as Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville. Really. It’s that good!

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‘Stare’ by Jenny Saville

No.1- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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Well, where do I even begin with this beauty?!

My eyes almost popped out of their sockets when I saw this for the first time. Quite possibly, one of the best movie posters (fan-made or official) I’ve ever seen. And loads to discuss.

When I saw this I instantly thought of the Disco-era of the 1970’s whereby a disco dancers moves would be collected together in one picture, the same figure side by side, showcasing the very best of their dancefloor poses.  I then remembered that was in fact a picture like this that was used to publicise Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta as Tony Monero being captured in various poses of disco brilliance.

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Five moves of Travolta, referenced in the TCM poster with five moves of Leatherface

Theres also a similar collection of poses of Juliet Mills from the horror masterpiece Beyond The Door that was used in the film and as a still.

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The colours on this TCM poster also compounded this Disco 70’s feel as well as the colours also echo the lit up coloured squares on the dancefloors of the era. This is a culture clash that has something in common- TCM came out at the same time as Disco was starting to take off and just two years before Travolta shook his groove thing and became a household name.

The rainbow colours also act as a signifier of the rainbow flag of the LGBT community. I don’t think Leatherface has ever been recognised as an icon of the trans movement even though he is biologically male but loves to apply make-up…to masks made of his victim’s skin. It’s unconfirmed where Travolta stands when it comes to all things LGBT.

 

Cinema Wishlist- Films I’d Love To See on the Big Screen

Cinema Wishlist- Films I’d Love To See on the Big Screen

I have an ever-changing mental list of films that I’d most like to see on the big screen. A few entries on this list I’ve been lucky enough to actually see in a cinema such as Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, Cruising, The Hills Have Eyes (the masterpiece original, not the remake shitfest), Mommie Dearest, Friday the 13th Part 3 and YES! it was in 3D, Last House on the Left… The film that was at the top of my list (Female Trouble) is about to be ticked off when I go to see the film at my local cinema tonight.

This has made me rethink and rejig my Cinema Wishlist. And here, for your enjoyment, it is…

1. Supergirl (1984)

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The film I probably rented the most on VHS back in the 80’s when I was a kid. The Superman franchise takes an unexpected turn with this tale of his female cousin, Kara who lives on Argo City (a huge piece of Krypton which survived after it’s explosion) who has accidentally lost the omegahedron (an artefact that gives the owner huge power and could be lethal in the wrong hands). And so we see Kara come to Earth in search of it and become Supergirl in the process.

The special effects haven’t dated very well but who cares? Everything that makes Supergirl such a treat is in place- great dialogue, an all-star cast (including Simon Ward, Peter O’Toole, Brenda Vaccaro, Mia Farrow, Peter Cook…) and great cinematography and locations which really establish the feeling of small town America so lovingly.

But the jewel of this crown is that Faye Dunaway plays Selina the self-styled white witch who has come into possession of the omegahedron. FAYE FUCKING DUNAWAY!!! I think of La Dunaway’s filmography as being split into two very distinct categories- the critically acclaimed movies that are examples of brilliant cinema that she has acted in and greatly contributed to (examples of this include Chinatown, Network, Bonnie and Clyde) and then the other category in which Ms Dunaway stars in films that are some of the greatest examples of cult cinema in which she hasn’t just contributed greatly but stolen the show by being larger than life, going batshit crazy in her role when she needs to and not just going the extra mile but the extra five miles. Examples include such brilliance as Mommie Dearest, The Eyes of Laura Mars and The Wicked Lady. Guess which category Supergirl is in?

Supergirl is the rarest of things- intentional camp which works really well. Mostly in cult cinema terms when a big budget film becomes defined as camp it’s in fact strayed off-course and found itself being an uneditable mess and utterly terrible to boot. Cinema goers may appraise it as ‘so bad it’s good’ as camp wasn’t intentionally sought as a tone but camp is what the filmmaker got, whether they like it or not!

But in Supergirl the entire cast knew right from the get go that this film was supposed to be camp and boy, do they go for it! And most importantly- they succeed.

Also, Selina’s character has her own fantastic environ set piece which is an abandoned fairground which looks very sinister but also a pretty cool place to reside.

The dialogue is a knockout. It wouldn’t surprise me if John Waters penned the screenplay under a pseudonym. There is some real comedy gold in this film. One example- when Selina reminds her sidekick played by Brenda Varraco that she’d be nothing in the dark arts without her, she remarks ‘If it wasn’t for me you’d still be reading tealeaves in Tahoe!’

2. Walkabout (1971)

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A film that is contained in one of my favourite film books of all time ‘Movies of the Seventies’ by Lloyd and Robinson. A great book that provides a wide ranging overview of many different genres, it also pays particular attention to some individual films and analyses them whilst providing stills of scenes from that movie. One such film was Nicolas Roeg’s Aussie classic Walkabout. The film was shown out of the blue in the late 80’s on late night regional TV and because I had already read about in in this brilliant book I recorded it. And I’m so glad I did.

A well to do man tales his son and daughter out of school with the promise that they are going on a picnic. They drive out of Sydney and into the outback. As his kids start to prepare the picnic their father unexpectedly starts firing shots at them with a gun before setting the car on fire and turning the gun on himself.

We then see the children the next day after they have been aimlessly wondering through the barren terrain. They encounter an Aboriginal boy who decides to accompany them on their journey.

This is an amazing film with stunning photography which Nichols Roeg has spliced, manipulated and completely buggered around with to illustrate themes such as the disorientation the children are feeling and the forward and backward passing of time. We see the father’s suicide in reverse and later see a flock of birds flying backwards.

Time and the brutality of civilisation seems to be another theme that is explored within the film with the civilised youths being paired with the uncivilised Aborigine. In one scene we see hunters killing numerous animals and wildlife which really hammers home this brutal intrusion of those who are supposed to be more advanced yet aren’t.

This film was tied up in rights hell for years which prevented it’s release on home video. But the requisite number of years have passed and it was finally issued to an gobsmacked public who could finally see this classic. It’s now rightly on Criterion Blu-ray- it’s place as a bone-fide classic firmly established and recognised. Walkabout is another Roeg masterpiece.

3. King of Comedy (1982)

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Rupert Pupkin is obsessed with becoming a famous comedian and is also obsessed with the late-night talk show host Jerry Langford. And he’ll do anything to get his shot. Anything.

This 1982 Scorsese film was a first glimpse into the crazy world of fandom, celebrity obsession and follows it through to it’s darkest conclusions. This was unexplored territory at the time and so some thought of this film as overdramatised, exaggerated and how the events depicted could never happen in real life. This seems incredible now as Scorsese’s film has been shown to be, if anything, a conservative depiction os how dark this world can be.

Another criticism of The King of Comedy by critics was that it feels quite flat compared to other Scorsese films. Thats because Scorsese employs a lot of techniques and styles found in television as this is the axis of the film’s narrative rather than him utilising overelaborate cinematic techniques.

Watch out for Sandra Bernhard’s role as Masha. She almost steals the film from right under De Niro and Lewis’ noses.

Loner Pupkin has many similarities with Taxi Driver’s protagonist Travis Bickle. Both films have been referenced in the recent brilliant film, Joker. I’d love to see King of Comedy on the big screen. If a cinema programmer really wanted to go the whole hog then why not put on a King of Comedy/Taxi Driver double-bill or even a triple bill with Joker. With the latter film’s popularity at the moment, the time is right.

4. Spawn of the Slithis (1978)

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A film I caught on late-night Yorkshire TV in the 80’s. And this is why I loved growing up with the truly fucked up stuff my local television station was showing!

A monster born of nuclear waste stalks the environs of Venice, California.

Not only do we get a great low-key and little known horror movie that features a guy in a suit, we also get the local weirdos, kooks and freaks of Venice that are intertwined into the story. We also get gorgeous cinematography which gives us a flavour of how far-out 70’s bohemian Cali really was.

Roger Ebert hated this film when it was first released. If I saw this poster outside a cinema I would be first in line to watch it. The film had it’s own fan club for the eponymous monster that is the film’s star. The film was shown at various college campuses across America during it’s initial release with the actual monster suit being used so that one of the film crew could dress up as Slithis for delighted (and possibly stoned) students. You got to watch Slithis with Slithis. Now that’s genius.

5. The Tingler (1959)

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In fact I’d love to see ANY of William Castle’s masterpieces on the big screen. And yes, if possible, utilising some of the many brilliant gimmicks that Castle employed in the name of entertainment and showmanship.

The ‘tingler’ from the movie’s title is a parasite that lodges in the spine of it’s host and feeds on fear. When the host is scared, the creature makes him/her ‘tingle’.

For this opus, Castle planted electrical devices under random cinema seats in the cinemas it was showing that would vibrate at a key point in the film’s plotline. Theres a great story of John Waters as a child going to The Tingler everyday for it’s theatrical run in a Baltimore cinema, making sure he was always the first in and checking underneath each seat until he found one with the vibrating devices under it.

But the biggest shock regarding Castle’s oeuvre is that his films, even without the gimmicks, work beautifully. Watch this movie and base your judgements just on the film itself. It’s beautifully shot and is extremely aesthetically pleasing. Vincent Price is perfect casting and check out the sequence in which the seemingly black and white movie lapses into colour for one scene. It’s a joy to behold.

Castle has now been reappraised as a great American auteur rather than just a schlockmeister. This film more than amply shows why.

6. Incredible Melting Man/The Savage Bees (1977)

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My history with this film goes wayyy back! My family were driving by the Odeon cinema in York in the late 70’s and I saw the poster for this double-bill of cinematic goodness. This was enough to give me nightmares for weeks! I was only 3 years old.

I got to see both films when I was still a kid when they were shown on TV. Again, nightmares followed. I love the fact that the made for TV movie The Savage Bees was actually shown on cinema scenes in the UK (the same thing happened with Spielberg’s genius Duel which was granted a UK cinema release resplendent with added scenes).

Rick Baker’s make-up FX would have made seeing The Incredible Melting Man on the big screen an almost hallucinatory experience. The film also has a keen eye for humour (check out the severed head/waterfall scene. It’s one of the sickest and funniest in horror history) but also for pathos. Steve West is now utterly tormented by his melting condition and the film makes the audience genuinely feel for him.

I need to see this double-bill on the big screen NOW!

7. Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

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Where do I even start with this opus. I honestly think Bloodsucking Freaks is one of the best movies ever made and there will one day be an essay written by yours truly which will give the movie it’s proper due.

Sardu’s Theatre of the Macabre hosts Grand Guignol shows in which the goriest and most violent acts are depicted. We get to sample first-hand the kind of acts that are put on. Creasy Silo (!) a theatre critic is in the audience and denounces the show as crass, tasteless rubbish much to the chigrin of Mr Sardu. But is Mr Sardu’s show fake or real? We see that he also has much bigger plans for a much more ambitious show involving Miss Natalyia, an internationally renowned ballerina.

We get to see Sardu and his faithful sidekick Ralphus as they live day to day backstage of the theatre and how they plan for their spectacular spectacle which they are sure will shock the world.

This film was never released in Britain until 2014 even though it was made in 1976. Thankfully, when the internet and Amazon became popular, horrorhounds could order the VHS/DVD from America and cross their fingers that it got through customs.

Bloodsucking Freaks captures a time in film history when exploitation was king, 42nd Street was Mecca for horror/porn/kung fu fans and when sick cinema really was sick. It’s tasteless, shocking, VERY funny and camp as tits. Whats more, you’re always routing for Sardu and Ralphus with both roles being portrayed to perfection. The dialogue crackles with the film hitting a bullseye for every target that it aims at.

One day Bloodsucking Freaks will be held aloft and given the same respect and reverance that John Waters’ early films are now being awarded. Bloodsucking Freaks on Criterion alongside Female Trouble? I don’t see why not.

8. Halloween 2 (1981)

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I’ve been lucky enough to see Halloween on the big screen ranging from an original 1978 print copy that looked appalling right through to new prints which visually and audibly are a treat to behold. I’ve been lucky enough to see Halloween 3: Season of the Witch at a small screening a few years ago and so I’d love to see 1981’s Halloween 2 in a cinema.

This sequel takes place straight after the events of the original film with Laurie Strode being taken to the local hospital only to be followed by Michael Myers who wants to try and finish her off again.

Cue some truly unsettling scenes of Myers captured on hospital CCTV, further casualties in the form of hospital staff of all stratas (Michael doesn’t discriminate) and a cracker of a chase scene when Michael finally finds Laurie. The hospital forms a really eerie backdrop for the action, theres more great cinematography from Dean Cundey who also shot the original and a brilliantly updated electronic soundtrack by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth.

In fact, instead of just seeing this on the big screen, can someone please programme a triple bill of the first three films? There would be massive demand for it. That might just make up for the awful Rob Zombie remakes/reimaginings.

9. The Cure In Orange (1987)

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I got into The Cure in 1986 when Standing on a Beach was released. It was love at first listen. The Cure in Orange was released shortly after this but alas, there were no screenings at my local cinema.

However, I bought the home video when it was released. This is quite possibly my favourite incarnation of the band playing a career encompassing setlist with the amazing architecture at the Theatre Antique d’Orange in France as a backdrop. The Cure were HUGE in France at the time and so the concert is rammed full of fans and the brilliant reaction from these fans brings out the best in the band.

Add to this the fact that the concert film was shot by the brilliant director of The Cure’s videos at this time, Tim Pope and you have a winning combination.

A few years ago Robert Smith mentioned that The Cure in Orange would be released as part of a Cure live DVD box set. This hasn’t materialised. This works to our advantage. We now live in an era of Blu ray. Any media shot on film looks especially great when released in High Definition on this format. It would be great for director Tim Pope to go back to the original film negatives and remaster them for a Blu ray release along with a Pope/Smith audio commentary and maybe a CD release also.

There have been cinema screenings of The Cure in Orange in the States. There needs to be some in Britain too.

10. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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Roald Dahl is a legend. One of my favourite books of his when I was a kid in the 80’s was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, wherein eccentric chocolate factory owner Willy Wonka has placed six Golden Tickets in random Wonka Bars. The lucky recipient and a guest of their choice will gain access to his fantastical chocolate factory for an all-immersive guided tour. One of the lucky children to find one of these tickets is poor but kind-hearted Charlie Bucket who decides to take his grandfather.

I’m so glad that Dahl’s masterpiece of kids fiction was translated into a film that lives up to the filmic potential that the book hinted at. Before the film was made the book must have seemed virtually unfilmable as the book was so outthere but the film more than copes with the lofty imaginative standards set by the book.

The film was named Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory rather than sticking to the book’s name and it is TRIPPYYYY! The LSD soaked sensibilities of the late 60’s permeate the look, feel and visuals of the film. The film is also a musical and the songs are just as brilliant as the visuals on offer.

But these drug induced aspects of the movie don’t get in the way of the story being told. The morality of Dahl’s story regarding being a good human being rather than a spoilt brat whether these qualities manifest themselves in children or adults is still present but isn’t overly sugary or overegged.

The casting is pinpoint perfect with Wilder stealing the show as Wonka (lets not go into the disasterous turn by Johnny Depp in the terrible remake by Tim Burton).

A visual feast that entertains, tugs at the heartstrings and makes having acid flashbacks a very real possibility.