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

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.

6. Cujo

Cujo

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 1980

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1980

I’m currently writing an article about my childhood in the 80’s, the massive part that video played during that period with regard to my obsession with cult/horror films and so I’ve decided to compile lists of my favourite horror movies from each year from that awesome decade. These will all lead up to a list at the end of this in which I will compile my favourite horror movies of that decade.

The release of horror classic Halloween in 1978 seemed to open the floodgates to many horror movies being made in what, with hindsight, can be seen as another golden era for the genre and this wasn’t just for slasher movies. There seemed to be a new horror movie being released every week and add to that the various double-bills being shown in cinemas here in the UK and the emergence of home video that seemed to pander primarily to those with a sweet tooth for horror and the 80’s were a great time for gorehounds. I look back at this period and smile. As I say to younger people- I might be an old cunt but at least I got to grow up in the 80’s.

And so without further a do here are my Top 10 movies from 1980. There is a corresponding video here. And whilst you’re there you should subscribe to my YouTube channel. Your life will be enriched because of it.

10. Antropophagus The Beast

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This Italian shocker goes the extra mile. In fact, it goes the extra five miles! It was directed by Joe D’Amato so you know you’re gonna get the goods.

If you ever find yourself in a group of tourists who want to detour to a desolate island whilst on a cruise, listen to the tarot reading member of the group who predicts something terrible is going to happen AND THAT YOU SHOULDN’T GO!

Guess what? They go! And they then hear stories of a man called Klaus who found himself and his family shipwrecked and so to survive ate his family. He (obviously) went insane in the process and became a human flesh craving madman.

The scene involving the pregnant character has to be seen to be believed (a skinned dead baby rabbit was used) as has the climactic scene. There is a reason why early 80’s horror movies were called Video Nasties in the UK. This film has a lot to do with it. Unmissable.

9. The Boogey Man

TheBogeyManAnother Italian shocker, the poster for this poster has a cameo in Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Blow Out as it appears on the wall of the schlock film company that John Travolta’s character works for.

Ulli Lommel directs this sleazefest, a name as revered by horror fans as D’Amato’s. I find horror movies that deal with children killing adults to be one of the ultimate taboos for the genre and this movie features it very early on. It feels so raw and upclose and personal that it almost feels like you’re watching something that you shouldn’t be privy to.

Years after killing his mother’s abusive boyfriend, Willy (!) goes back to the house where the abuse happened as himself and his sister try to face their childhood fears that have plagued them ever since.

The potential silliness of the plot (a possessed mirror resplendent with glowing shards once it is broken) is more than levelled with a gritty tone and gore galore. Witness the scene where with the scissors, for one example.

You’ll need a shower after seeing this. In fact, you will after seeing many of the films on this list.

8. Without Warning

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Malevalent aliens have never been so adorable as in this film. I love it when big star names (Jack Palance stars here) throw caution to the wind and star in something that at the height of their career would have been beneath them. I especially love it when they sink their teeth into these roles and bring real life and verve to their characters. It’s almost like they’re having fun! (See Joan Crawford in the brilliant Trog for another example of this). Palance is batshit crazy as is co-star Martin Landau and they both bring so much demented fun to proceedings.

Theres something very aesthetically pleasing about the alien in this movie and the  skin burrowing jellyfish he throws at his victims. They’re like deadly limpets, if you will.

Whatever drugs were being taken during the writing and filming of this surreal and unhinged epic worked really well! Pair with that the beautiful cinematography (courtesy of the ever amazing Dead Cundey who shot Halloween), a gorgeous colour palate and you have a visual treat with a one of a kind atmosphere.

When you get to see the lead alien, it’s well worth the wait! (Kevin Peter Hall of Predator fame did the honours).

7. Humanoids From The Deep

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A movie that was on my list entitled ‘Films I Must Get Round To Watching’ but hadn’t managed until quite recently. It was on Netflix and so I decided to satisfy my curiosity. And I’m glad I did!

I love a monster movie from a pre-CGI time that involved a man in a suit and loads of ingenuity (see also Slithis).

A coastal town is the target of a creature from the sea that kills people. Then the townsfolk discover that there is more than one of these creatures. And worse still, they don’t just kill but rape too.

This couldn’t be because of a nearby shady company called Canco who have conducted their own sinister experiments involving a growth hormone they’re fed to salmon, could it?! I jolly well think it could! Thus they find themselves the victims of horny, murderous creatures from the sea.

Theres a great atmosphere to this film with small town locales and American life of the time being captured really well. The kills are innovative and the film seems to want to push the envelope and give the viewer more thrills for their buck. It more than succeeds.

If there is one reason for this which also acts as a seal of approval and should have you eager to seek this film out it’s this- it’s a Roger Corman film. You don’t need any higher recommendation than that.

6. The Shining

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What more can be said about this film that hasn’t been said before?! Jack Torrence is a writer and gets a job to act as caretaker for The Overlook Hotel with his wife and son during the snowy winter season when the hotel is closed to the public. He envisages that this will be perfect for him to get some writing done. But little does he know that there are a few other inhabitants within the hotel who reside there and none of them are human.

Amazing direction by the genius Stanley Kubrick, wonderful performances from the entire cast with Jack Nicholson stealing the show with his character sliding into insanity and becoming utterly terrifying, but also very funny with it.

This film was actually panned by quite a few critics when it first came out and was nominated in several categories at that year’s first Razzies along with another film on my list and the likes of Cruising, Can’t Stop The Music and Dressed To Kill. I’ve looked to The Razzies to see whats great about film ever since and not in some vile ‘so bad it’s good’ kinda way either.

5. Maniac

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I remember the first time I saw the notorious poster for Maniac in a magazine when I was a young kid in the early 80’s and thinking ‘Whoa! I need to see this!’ This film has the distinction of being banned by the BBFC not once but twice and so it would be quite a few years before I could get to see it after I had first seen the poster.

When I finally got to see it, it didn’t disappoint! An unhinged portrayal of New York life when the Big Apple was rotten to the core, this is up there with Driller Killer. It has lots in common with Taxi Driver whilst being not as brilliant. Not many other films of any kind are as brilliant as Taxi Driver though and so this shouldn’t be taken as criticism.

There is so much to talk about- William Lustig’s assured direction, Joe Spinell’s devastatingly brilliant central performance, Tom Savini’s make-up work as well as the explosive end his character comes to in the film, Caroline Munroe’s character as a fashion photographer whereby we see another side to Frank as they start a relationship.

And then there are the murders. These pull no punches and are truly the stuff of nightmares. The subway scene is worth the price of admission alone. Think of Lustig and Savini choreographing his own extended version of the opening credits to The Equaliser and you’re almost there.

From the eye-popping ad campaign, to the film that was just as lurid and the genre advancing portrayal of madness and instability, this film is a classic. It also earned the highest honour of being picketed by angry feminists and people with nothing better to do with their time.

This has recently been released on Blu Ray in 4K. Karma.

4. Prom Night

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One of the Halloween clones that starred Jamie Lee Curtis and was the best of it’s class. An irresistible blend of Halloween, Carrie and Saturday Night Fever.

Theres high camp (check out the bitch off between Jamie’s character and the school bitch Wendy- ‘it’s not who you go to the prom with. It’s who takes you home!’) but also high grit. Check out the scenes in which the killer phones the classmates one by one, the opening scene involving a very sinister child’s game that ends with the death of one of the children, the subplot regarding the local paedophile who was blamed for the little girl’s death escaping his mental hospital and being hounded by police.

We also get to see JLC’s dance moves. She’s as good a dancer as she is an actress, something that we’d see further in Perfect a few years later.

Add to the mix a great ad campaign and a poster that is so disturbing that it hangs on my living room wall and you have one of the best horror films of 1980.

3. The Watcher in the Woods

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The rarest of things- a Disney horror film. This is one of the videos I rented the most during the 80’s.

A naive meddling with the supernatural causes one of the children involved to go missing under very mysterious circumstances. Several decades pass and a teenage girl and her family go to share the house owned by the missing girl’s elderly mother. She says that the teenager Jan resembles her missing daughter and so the unsolved is due to come full circle.

There are some great moments in this film that feel very childlike but very unsettling because of it. Check out the scene in which Jan’s little sister (Lyndsey from Halloween!) goes into a trance and starts writing backwards onto a dirty window, the hall of mirrors scene at the local funfair, the flashbacks to the deadly ritual the children held in the local church. Watcher in the Woods would have made a great spin-off children’s TV series akin to Chocky.

And Bette Davis stars as the elderly mother! And she predictably steals the show and rightly so.

2. Friday the 13th

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It’s interesting to watch Friday the 13th again, especially after the whole franchise has become so huge and has established a formula (but also sees fit to subvert that formula). In 1980, spoiler alert, there was no Jason, no hockey mask. In fact, in this first film the killer isn’t revealed until the end.

For this very fact I always think of Friday the 13th as close to being an American Giallo movie (Giallo movies in Italy derived from the gory yellow paged detective pulp novels with a private investigator pursuing and then revealing a killer’s identity in the last few pages). The sequel would also share more in common with a certain Giallo movie with one death scene being reminiscent of Bava’s A Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve.

Because this is the first film in the series there also isn’t a formula or pattern to proceedings yet and so we get elements in this film that aren’t present in the sequels. There is a goofiness and a brand of humour in this film that isn’t present in quite the same way in the later films (one example being the sheriff). There is also the well defined characterisation of the teens in this film and the inclusion of some of the secondary characters such as the diner’s waitress and Crazy Ralph which isn’t found to be present to such a degree with subsequent sequels.

Friday the 13th was conceived by Sean S Cunningham and Steve Miner as they saw the great box office Halloween was doing. Is this film as good as it’s inspiration? No way. But not many films are. But this has solid direction, a killer (sorry) soundtrack, very good performances all-round and some amazing special effects and make-up by Tom Savini. Check out the innovation of some of his set ups- the arrow through the neck of a young Kevin Bacon, the ax to the face, the beheading. All great stuff. Less art than Halloween but more blood for your buck. If Halloween is a trip to the opera, Friday the 13th is a trip on a rollercoaster. Both have their place.

1 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.

 

Day 20- 31 Days of Halloween- Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Day 20- 31 Days of Halloween- Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

A madman escapes from an asylum. A group of female friends have a slumber party. Join the dots.

Mary Holden Jones brings to the screen a screenplay by Rita Mae Brown. This was supposed to be a ‘feminist’ slasher movie in what is considered to be a deeply misogynistic genre. Hence we have young women flicking through Playgirl, expressing their desires when it comes to men and women who show they can kick ass.

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The UK quad poster for the film

But is the film as good a slasher as it proports to be? It starts well enough with engaging characters, a great tone and a fantastic soundtrack. But when it comes to the actual horror it feels generic, unscary and very cliched. The number of tedious jump scares grates on the nerves after a while. And who is cruel enough to lock a cat in a closet?!

Yes, the killer has a big drill. Yes, we know what that signifies. Yes, we also know what it means when one of the women breaks his ‘big tool’ in two. If only this film built suspense and tension first I would have been more impressed instead of it relying on cheap thrills and techniques from ‘Slasher Movies For Dummies’.

There is some great humour in the film. Check out the pizza delivery guy getting killed with one of the women later feeling no remorse for tucking into the pizza. Hunger doesn’t abate just because the delivery guy gets drilled through the eye sockets whilst doing his rounds.

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But this is pretty anaemic stuff. Don’t waste your time. Watch Halloween (1978) instead. It may have been written and directed by a man but it’s a truly great feminist slasher pic.

1/5 out of 5 stars

Day 18- 31 Days of Halloween- The Forest (1982)

Day 18- 31 Days of Halloween- The Forest (1982)

Two couples decide to go camping in the woods. Arriving separately (darn that wonky radiator!), they soon realise that the woods aren’t as peaceful and reinvigorating as they first thought. It is in fact a killing ground for a father who mudered his philandering  wife, went mad and took his two young children to live in a cave. Unfortunately they got sick and killed themselves. Daddy has been killing anyone stupid enough to camp in his woods ever since and eating their remains. Insanity does that to you.

The Forest is one of the more, erm, extreme entries in the ‘City Folk vs Hillbillies’ horror genre which is really saying something when you think about how outthere some of the other films in this genre are (Deliverance and it’s ‘squeal like a pig’ sequence springs to mind and that was a studio film!).

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The film starts almost like a zany and not very funny comedy movie made for TV about the two witless and dull couples deciding to live in the wilderness for the weekend (you almost expect the TV listing to include the words ‘with hilarious consequences!’). Thank God the makers of this decided on making a horror movie instead. In the genre it’s quite natural to set up irritating characters to have them despatched by the ruthless killer. It puts the audience firmly on the side of the killer as we root for him to kill the boring couples in even more of a sick and twisted fashion.

I love the fact that the couple of guys decide to eat with the hunter whilst being blissfully unaware that a) he is the killer and b) the meat on the barbecue could very well be the remains of one of the women who arrived before them and was promptly bumped off.

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I also love the fact that the ghosts of the killer’s children appear to the campers to warn them that ‘Daddy’s gone a-huntin’!’ and to warn them if he’s near.

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The kills are gory (thankfully) and the scenery is glorious. This isn’t some lost gem of the horror genre but I’ve seen much, much worse. Check out the DVD/Blu ray release of this and compare with the VHS transfer thats on YouTube. The difference is astounding.

3 out of 5 stars

 

Day 10- 31 Days of Halloween- The Burning (1981)

Day 10- 31 Days of Halloween- The Burning (1981)

Cropsey, a summer camp caretaker is burnt alive as an unfortunate consequence of a prank that goes horribly wrong. After five years he returns to the summer camp with vengeance in mind.

This is the slasher movie that helped form Miramax Films and gave a young Harvey Weinstein a career as a film producer.

The movie was actually written before the film Friday the 13th even though most people think it was the other way round.

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The Burning doesn’t just take place on a summer camp. We get to see the hospital where Cropsey (described by an orderly as looking like a ‘Big Mac overdone!’) is being treated and later his release. I love the following scene where he ventures to the seedier part of town and picks up a prostitute. She doesn’t see the full extent of his injuries until they’re in a cheap motel room (Cropsey wisely turns out the lights) and his face is briefly illuminated by lightning. On seeing his disfigured visage she screams to which he proceeds to stab her in the stomach with a pair of scissors whilst forcing her body through a window.

Cropsey’s garb on leaving the hospital is a classic Giallo look. He may have a rotten face now but looks to have gained key sartorial knowledge whilst he’s been in hospital. I’m wondering if this look was entirely coincidental or if the film’s makers were paying attention to the Gialli flooding 42nd Street and Drive-Ins at the time.

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The action then takes place in the familiar locale of the camp and woods that surround it. Theres performances by Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter who appear in early film roles.

But theres one crew addition who would make sure that this film wouldn’t just be a generic and mediocre slasher flick- Tom Savini. And what an astounding job he does. Garden shears (Cropsey’s weapon of choice) have never been used so innovatively or with such murderous intent. The raft scene is almost balletic and beautiful to watch in it’s brutality.

The Burning also features a Final Guy rather than a Final Girl and his character is VERY problematic! Alfred has been seen early on in the film spying on one of the young women as she showers. When caught and asked why he was there he says that he ‘only wanted to scare her.’ But this is disproved later on the film as we see him covertly perving on a couple of other characters who are making out and then follows Glazer as he goes back into the woods after retrieving matches to start a campfire with to enjoy with Sally who hes just done the deed with. It’s then that Alfred sees Glazer get murdered by Cropsey. This all leads to the film’s finale.

This film was so gruesome that it was cut by the BBFC for it’s cinema release. When it came to the film coming out on video, Thorn EMI accidentally sent the uncut version to video shops and had to recall all copies. Video shop owners decided to keep the uncut tapes instead! The film was then banned outright.

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The Burning is a treat to behold. Great cinematography and directorial touches (check out Glazer’s death and the killer’s/shear’s point of view shot) and a great music score by none other than prog rock’s very own Grand Wizard Rick Wakeman (apparently on his ’81 tour he was playing tracks from The Burning soundtrack. Whilst possibly wearing a cape). The teen characters are quite likeable too which is a real rarity for the slasher genre.

Who knew- a slasher/summer camp film that was once banned but is now viewable and revered nowadays. The BBFC/DPP must be outraged.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 5- 31 Days of Halloween- The Mutilator (1984)

Day 5- 31 Days of Halloween- The Mutilator (1984)

This movie was on my ‘must see but haven’t got round to yet’ list for the longest time. But whilst other titles on said list turned out to be great (take a bow Pieces and Madman) can the same be said for The Mutilator? Can a movie with such a great poster and tagline live up to expectations?

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The poster for the movie- wayyy better than the actual film

This was originally released as Fall Break. The MPAA found the film so violent that they were ready to slap an X rating on it. Whilst there was no problems with the film’s distributors booking the movie into theaters in the big cities those in Middle America refused due to the X. Hence the movie was re-edited and rereleased as The Mutilator.

Skip forward to the ever great Arrow Video finding an uncut print when it was called Fall Break and releasing it with a wealth of extras.

The plot concerns a young boy accidentally killing his mother as he cleans one of this hunting obsessed father’s guns. Years later we see the young man now at college and going to his father’s beach condo (I’m taking it that the obligatory cabin in the woods was already booked) for some R&R. But someone is watching them and picks them off one by one.

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Even hideous fashions can’t save this film

It’s all pretty generic- even to the point that it’s so routine that it almost feels like it’s a spoof or send-up.

Even gory kills don’t make up for a massive lack of suspense and innovation.

In the words of Simon Cowell- distinctly average.

1/5 out of 5 stars

10 To Midnight (1983)- J. Lee Thompson’s Vigilante Slasher Sleazefest

10 To Midnight (1983)- J. Lee Thompson’s Vigilante Slasher Sleazefest

I remember one of the first films my family rented when we first got a video recorder (VCR to my American buddies) in 1983 was the Charles Bronson sleazefest 10 To Midnight. OK, I know it sounds weird that such a lurid piece of exploitation was hired for a cosy night of family movie watching but (luckily) my Dad thought that the Daily Mail moral panic when it came to film violence and the dreaded ‘video nasties’ was just plain bs. Thus I got to see 10 To Midnight and such fare from the age of 8 and onwards. And I turned out OK. Right?!

10 To Midnight was released on Guild Home Video- ahh, the memories of the Guild introductory pulse theme tune…of the many pieces of music which remind me of just how awesome the 80’s were this is one of them.

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I hadn’t seen this piece of celluloid slime in a long time and so I thought it was well overdue for a rewatch.

The plot involves a homicidal maniac called Warren Stacy (an extrordinary performance by Gene Davis who had starred as a transsexual hooker in the masterpiece Cruising three years previous) who kills women who rebuff his advances and the cop Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) who is determined to catch him. By a bizarre twist Stacy sees Kessler’s daughter at the funeral of one of his victims (an ex co-worker who gave him the cold shoulder and paid for it) as she was a childhood friend of the deceased.

Is the film as grimy, perverted and kick-ass as I remember? In a word- YES!

One thing that I found particularly interesting about the film on watching it again was how it perfectly mirrors the general moviegoing public’s populist tastes of the time. 10 To Midnight is a perfect hybrid of both vigilante film and slasher movie which was brave as the filmmakers could have just played it safe and churned out another Charles Bronson vehicle starring a functional but uninteresting adversary.

Instead they made a film with a killer who was just as interesting and quirky as Bronson’s character. In fact, Gene Davis who plays Warren Stacy gives a performance that truly goes the extra mile! It’s a freaky turn that is comparable with Betsy Palmer in Friday the 13th or Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry- performances that are so full-on and brilliant when portraying mentally unstable people that they are utterly believeable but without curdling into camp or pantomimesque theatrics.

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Gene Davis as Warren Stacy

Not only were the vigilante and slasher genres popular at the cinema but also with the home video audiences of the day. The video was rapidly building in stature and earning a reputation as a ‘must have’ piece of technology for every home. Thus video shops started to spring up everywhere with the more extreme genres proving to be the most popular with the general public. Ahh, the golden days when video shop shelves were filled with wall to wall horror, action and kung-fu movies, each with lurid and sensationalistic cover artwork. The makers of 10 To Midnight knew this all too well and so made a movie that perfectly tapped into this creatively and without making some obvious cynical cash-in.

You’re probably thinking that as this is a Charles Bronson movie you know the kind of formula to expect. But this film actually subverts that narrative. Instead of a Death Wish vibe this film actually has a Dirty Harry-type storyline in that instead of being a ‘civilian who fights back’ here Mr Bronson is ‘the cop who bends the law to apprehend the bad guy’ but with a sting in the tail.

This narrative is always problematic. Kessler is only acting on a hunch when he thinks he knows who is carrying out the murders of the women in the film. The viewer has the advantage of the ‘all seeing eye’ of the film to confirm that Warren is carrying out these sadistic homicides but Leo doesn’t. Kessler bends the rules in a number of different ways with regards to Stacey during the course of the film based on this ‘hunch’ which in real life would make for terrible policing.

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Charles Bronson as Leo Kessler

In fact this ‘all seeing eye’ awarded to the film’s audience is something that elevates this movie from just being a stock post-Death Wish Charles Bronson film. We get to see the devilish deeds of Stacy and how much of a depraved, sleazy and warped character he really is. In other words, he’s perfect for an early 80’s exploitation movie.

Stacy’s character points the film firmly towards slasher movie territory. Theres also a nod towards the ‘true crime’ genre of documentaries and pulp paperbacks as the film and Warren’s character seem to be influenced by real life felons and ‘serial killer as celebrity’ culture.

The first time we see him in the film he’s getting ready to go out for the night. He’s very good looking, has a perfect body and is very vain with it. There’s a vibe of Ted Bundy crossed with a proto-Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) about him. Stacy even drives a VW Beetle which was synonymous with Bundy.

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Sharply dressed men- Stacy…
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…and Bateman

We then see him chatting up a couple of young women in a cinema but only to make sure they recognise him and can later vouch for his whereabouts. He’s constructing his own alibi whilst the audience can see what he really does. He sneaks out of the movie theater through a bathroom window once the film has started, stalks a woman who rebuffed him at his work picnic (!) and murders both her and her date at a lakeside location. This scene is very important to the film as a whole. It establishes that this is as much a slasher movie as it is a Bronson action flick. The fact that the young woman and her partner were mid-carnal encounter hammers this home even further with such an act being a sin within the slasher genre.

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‘You come here often?!’ Stacy establishes his alibi by chatting up two women at the cinema

It also establishes a key feature of the killer and the film’s sleaziness as a whole. He likes to strip naked prior to killing his victims. In fact, there were two versions of this film made- one in which Davis is completely naked in the murder scenes and another in which he is only wearing briefs. This tactic would make sure that there was at least one version of the film which could be shown on TV without it being deemed too sexually explicit.

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A still from the ‘briefs’ version of the film

With this first murder, notice the way the woman is killed with the camera invading her body space and the prolonged, almost uncomfortably long time that it takes for Stacy to actually bump her off. This allows the audience to fully see her terrified reaction to her impending fate. The film milks this for all it’s worth especially with the fact that both victim and murderer are naked. You get to witness how twisted and perverted Stacy really is with the audience getting the impression that he is enjoying the build up to the murder almost as much as the actual deed itself. The terror he evokes from his victim is very much the foreplay to the terrible deed itself.

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The all-nude first lakeside murder

When Stacy climbs back into the cinema he flushes down the toilet the rubber gloves he was wearing when he killed the lakeside couple. This is another interesting facet of the film. The movie shows the killer to be forensically minded. This was years before the multiple CSI series brought that aspect of policing and criminality into the sphere of entertainment. We later see more examples of Stacy being forensically aware as we witness him thoroughly washing the knife he uses to kill the roommate of the previous victim whose diary Stacy goes to seize. Stacy even uses rubber gloves when we see him making dirty phone calls from various public phone booths as to not leave fingerprints on the receiver.

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The forensically-minded Stacy wearing gloves when going to steal the incriminating diary

When the diary of one of Warren’s victims (who is also one of his workmates) exposes the deceased’s true feelings towards him (‘a creep’) this makes him a suspect in Kessler’s eyes even though the journal also mentions other men in a less than flattering light. Leo and his partner, McAnn decide to visit Stacy at his apartment. It’s when asking to use the toilet that Kessler has a look around in Warren’s bathroom. He spies some porno magazines (these are shown to be gay porn- is Warren, in fact, a closet homosexual? Has the killer placed these there as a red herring for any potentially preying eyes? Are the filmmakers trying to imply that this is why he hates women?) but more importantly, a device used for masturbation.

A major factor to the film’s overall sleaziness is that theres an equal emphasis on sex as there is on violence. We even got some Freudian film analysis as Kessler exclaims that in this case the knife used in the murders symbolises the killer’s penis. Not bad for an exploitation film.

Warren is interviewed. In one of the most notorious scenes of the film, the sexual aid is brought out with Bronson sarcastically asking what the appliance is used for before roaring ‘It’s for jacking off!’ It’s during this meeting that we find out about an incident from Warren’s childhood that adds to Kessler’s sense of unease about him- he cut a small girl, was reported to the police by the girl’s mother and so as retaliation smashed one of her windows and threw a dead cat inside. Kessler also becomes a bit too ‘hands on’ during his interrogation of Stacy, at one point grabbing his head to make sure he looks at pictures of the murdered women. Leo is firmly from the ‘act first, ask questions later’ school of policing. But, whilst a policeman like Leo may be great in an exploitation film from the 70’s and 80’s, would we really want such authority figures operating in real life?

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A different kind of juice extractor

Kessler is willing to bend the rules and even resort to violence to get a confession. This is extremely problematic and will backfire on Leo later on in the film.

Kessler asks his superior to get Warren brought in on a spurious charge that he didn’t commit just to keep him off the street where he might kill more women (even though Leo doesn’t know for sure that he’s the killer). McAnn has a dual role in the film. Not only is he Kessler’s ‘by the book’ police partner but he also acts as some kind of moral balance to Kessler’s ‘make my day’ gung-ho method of policing.

Kessler’s view on law and order is also extolled when he states that he sees the law as protecting the ‘maggots’ such as Stacy as if they were ‘an endangered species’ after he learns that a lack of concrete evidence would prevent Warren from being arrested and tried in a court of law.

Stacy stalking the nursing apartment complex where Leo’s daughter Laurie lives and making the nuisance phone calls also mines into events that a lot of viewers could relate to that are very much of their time. During the early 80’s these kind of calls were all too commonplace with telephone companies not yet having mastered the practice of tracing where a call was coming from.  Sourcing a call in those days was a laborious task and hadn’t really advanced from the same method so brilliantly depicted in Bob Clark’s masterpiece Black Christmas in 1974.

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Stacy makes nuisance phone calls to his victims. Note the rubber gloves and ‘Equalizer opening credits’ style chic

The houseshare of nurses also points the film towards the ‘slasher’ genre. There have been other examples of this conceit used in stalk n slash films before and since with one of the most innovative being the movie Slumber Party Massacre in which girls are in a confined space which provides easy pickings for the deranged psychopath. Within 10 To Midnight this scenario also echoes real life events, primarily the Chi Omega murders carried out by Ted Bundy after he escaped from jail. Bundy appears to have massively influenced this film and it’s narrative.

But before the film shows this sorority house invasion by Stacy we see more of the corrupted version of ‘justice’ which is engineered by Kessler. He goes into the crime laboratory whereby he sees the lab technician smoking marijuana. He tells the tech that he will turn a blind eye. Obviously this will work both ways later on as when Kessler asks for the tech to retrieve a file for him he sneaks into the DNA evidence room and extracts a sample of Stacy’s blood. Kessler’s thinking is that if he is willing to turn a blind eye then the lab technician will surely do the same for him.

When blood is suddenly found on the forensically fastidious Stacy’s clothes, Warren is informed of this by his crooked lawyer. He doesn’t react to this news well and becomes extremely agitated and violent. We get the feeling that with Stacy taking such pride in being methodically precise with all of the circumstances surrounding his killings, this forensic indiscretion is known to him to be both false and an example of him being framed. This news is a distinct slap in the face for him and the professionalism of his methods.

Kessler meddling in affairs by trying to engineer the justice he desires so much sets into motion a domino effect of events which 10 To Midnight is brave enough to depict. Within a vigilante or rogue cop film we normally only see the positive effects of such law bending rather than what can go wrong.

Stacy’s lawyer, Dave Dante, states to Kessler’s ‘by the book’ partner McAnn that he believes that the blood was planted on his client’s clothes. McAnn follows up on this with the lab tech who mentions that Kessler disappeared to the room where the blood samples are kept. When McAnn mentions this to Leo he confirms that he did plant the blood on Stacy’s clothes.

Because of this Leo confesses during Warren’s trial that he did in fact plant the evidence himself. The film then shows the dire consequences of such actions- the waste of public money for the trial being held, Warren Stacy being set free when he could be guilty of the alleged crimes (something that the audience knows to be true but the film’s characters don’t for certain), the fact that Kessler has snubbed his nose at due process. Leo is then fired because of his actions. Such resultant actions that occurred because of Kessler’s meddling with justice shows that the movie is much more than just 42nd Street and drive-in fare. It’s great to see that the movie is well-rounded enough to show that such tactics can have the opposite effects instead of what was hoped for.

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Stacy is set free with Dante beside him (right)

Dante also tells Warren something very telling during their pre-trial consultation. He advises his client to ‘act crazy’ as a last resort. This could involve saying that he thinks he is in fact two people and hears conflicting voices from both- a ‘bad’ personality telling a ‘good’ personality what to do. It’s a widely held presumption that a criminal can have a cushier time serving their sentence in a mental facility rather than permanently looking over their shoulder in a maximum security prison where a prisoner’s survival isn’t always guaranteed. This view also resonates with similar views held in real life. A prison guard overheard Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe tell his wife Sonia that if he just convinces the jury that he is ‘mad’ and not ‘bad’ then his sentence served in a psychiatric hospital will be a doddle and he could even be released sooner. Another nod to real life ‘true crime’ culture that the film references.

On being set free, Stacey rings Kessler to taunt him about his deeds backfiring. He also intimates that he will continue with his terror campaign. This in turn spurs Leo on to wage war and intimidate Stacey in a number of ways that include breaking into Warren’s workplace and placing crime scene photographs on the staff noticeboard for all and sundry to see, driving next to Stacy to unsettle him, loitering outside Stacey’s apartment block (McAnn again acts as Leo’s conscience and approaches him to tell him that he shouldn’t be there) and breaking into Warren’s apartment and sabotaging his stereo so that it starts playing loud music when Stacy enters. These are deliberate intrusions of Warren’s territory by Leo and a clear indication that Kessler can infringe on Stacey’s private space just like Warren has to countless other women.

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Kessler drives next to Stacy and makes his intrusive presence known to him

Stacey knows that Kessler is watching his every move outside his apartment and so decides to shake him off so that he can deal with a more prescient task- the dispatching of Leo’s daughter as an act of superiority over him and to hit Leo truly where it hurts.

The audience gets a sudden detour into nocturnal downtown L.A. with it’s peepshows, hookers and grindhouse theaters. Stacey picks up a hooker fully knowing that Kessler will follow but then slips out of a window in the motel he has lured Kessler to. He then goes to Laurie’s shared accommodation.

This is where the slasher component of the film comes to the fore again. In an incredible moment of self-reference, the nurses in the houseshare even refer to Stacy as ‘the slasher’ when McAnn is setting up a tap on their phone for when Stacy calls them again.

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Whilst Kessler is on the phone urging one of Laurie’s roommates to not open the door to anyone, another roommate is opening the door to what she thinks is a delivery of roses for Laurie from McAnn. But this is instead Stacy, naked and armed with a knife. He even has his trademark rubber gloves on, forensically aware to the end.

This sequence is quite extraordinary even within the extreme genres of the vigilante movie and the slasher film. Firstly, it’s audacious that a film should attempt a scene with a killer who is completely naked and somehow manage to do so whilst not inadvertently exposing any of the villain’s ‘crown jewels’. In a number of shots this is even done by the filmmakers with tongue firmly in cheek (pun not intended). Witness the scene where the killer’s modesty is masked by the body of one of the roommates being held close to him. In another, Laurie is under a bed hiding from Stacey but watching his every move. His manhood is hidden from view when he steps in front of a bedpost.

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The bare cheek of the film: the nursing apartment home invasion

This scene also goes the extra mile as it feels extremely uncomfortable to watch just like the earlier lakeside murder sequence. The extreme terror of the women going through these traumatic proceedings is there for all to see and feels like a nod of the cap to films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Last House on the Left. This kind of gritty and unflinching capturing of sheer fear was, with this film, transported from the sidelines of drive-in and grindhouse cinema and now made an ingredient within a mainstream Hollywood film with a ‘name’ leading actor. That was a very brave move to make.

Within this sequence it’s obvious Stacy is getting off on the terror he is evoking and so he takes his time before the actual dispatching of his quarry to elicit as much pure fear from them as possible. These scenes feel necessary to the plot because of this rather than being a cheap and very sick device. This isn’t just the pornography of terror.

The end of this sequence is also noteworthy. Laurie evades Stacey’s clutches by hitting him where it hurts- but not where you think with him being naked. As Laurie tries to leave the apartment she is grabbed from behind by Stacy but retaliates by scolding his face with a pair of curling tongs that were being used just prior to Warren’s home invasion. Aside from kicking him in the balls, this is the worst place to attack someone that the film has established as being so vain.

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‘Not the face!’ Laurie hits Warren where it really hurts

We then see the leadup to the final scene and confrontation between Stacy and Kessler. This involves seeing Stacy (still naked!) chasing Laurie outside (thankfully for Stacy the street is very quiet). Warren is catching up with her when we see her run into the arms of her father. When Leo admonishes Warren for his actions, Stacy tries to say that he only did them because of Kessler’s treatment towards him which cajoled him into further action. Warren then adopts the ‘I’m mad!’ narrative that his lawyer prepped him with earlier. The police arrive but Warren momentarily evades their clutches only to be shot dead by Kessler.

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The final scene. Bronson as judge, jury and executioner

This final scene is the perfect meeting point of the slasher and the vigilante movie genres. The bad guy is meeting justice from the gun of the flawed good guy who has assumed the mantle of ‘judge, jury and executioner’. The bad guy is naked. He’s also just exclaimed to the world how insane he really is and that when he gets out he’ll continue his murderous ways.

Apparently Kessler and Stacy were supposed to fight at the end of the movie. However, Bronson objected to this as he didn’t want to roll around with a naked man!

10 To Midnight also has two other distinct advantages that seal it’s ‘classic’ status.

Firstly, it’s a Cannon Film- an obvious seal of exploitation excellence.

Secondly, ‘esteemed’ film critic Roger Ebert despised 10 To Midnight when he reviewed it which, if nothing else, should propel any self-respecting exploitation fan to want to investigate the film further. Did he not know that his review would actually send gorehounds to the cinemas in droves to see it? Tell me if these titbits from his review don’t whet your appetite-

”This is a scummy little sewer of a movie, a cesspool that lingers sadistically on shots of a killer terrifying and killing helpless women…”

”The movie lingers on the faces of screaming women. It revels in its bloodbaths. Gore spurts all over the screen. The final sequence is so disgusting that I wrote the first sentence of this review in my mind while I was watching it.”

Nice job, Roger. I’m there!

10 To Midnight is out now on Blu ray on the ever brilliant Scream Factory

Review- Black Christmas (1974)

Review- Black Christmas (1974)

Whilst it’s widely thought that it was John Carpenter’s Halloween that initiated the slasher genre those who actually know anything about horror know that it was actually Bob Clark’s Black Christmas made in 1974. In fact, Clark and Carpenter worked together on a project after Black Christmas was made. Clark said to Carpenter that he no longer worked in horror but that he had had an idea for a horror film that was never realised. This would be based around the occasion of, you’ve guessed it, Halloween! Carpenter then later asked to use the idea for a film he was to due to work on and the rest is history. This isn’t to say that Carpenter ripped off Clark but this explains how The Babysitter Murders (the original idea for Halloween) suddenly morphed into the masterpiece we now know and love.

In fact, the opening shots of Black Christmas are similar to those of Halloween- the killer’s point of view camera shot. Halloween reveals who this person is (and it’s one hell of a reveal) but Black Christmas doesn’t. In fact, the killer isn’t revealed fully throughout the entire film which is the first reason that Black Christmas is so revolutionary.

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The story involves a group of female students on the night before they leave their sorority house to go home for the holidays. They start to receive very disturbing phone calls and things start to get dramatically worse soon after.

Another reason to love Black Christmas is that the extent of the killer’s mental instability is shown by the first girl he kills. She is suffocated and then placed in a rocking chair in the attic where the psycho is hiding out. Throughout the film we see him ranting and manically rocking her.

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Arguably some of the most disturbing sequences within the film are when the intruder calls the girls. They don’t know the calls are actually being made by the killer who’s in the attic within the same house. From the calls we come to learn that the person making them is called Billy and that he seems to be playing out incidents from his past, incidents rife with cruelty, abuse and possibly murder. Bob Clark used five different actors for the calls. These phone calls are some of the scariest, most disturbing and unsettling sequences I’ve ever seen in a horror film. They were even cut when the film was first released in the UK.

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Theres also the fact that Black Christmas was the first film to use the now established trope of a killer’s phone calls coming from inside the same house as their potential victim(s). This was years before When A Stranger Calls.

Another great thing about the film is the humour contained within the movie especially from Margot Kidder’s character, Barb. It’s amazing that such an unnerving film can still have genuinely funny interludes but without forsaking the movie’s tension.

But maybe thats because the film is extremely tense indeed. Theres a certain sense of doom to the proceedings that are depicted in the movie. A great example is where Olivia Hussey’s character Jess has just found out that the calls are coming from the sorority house, that Billy is ensconced within it but so are two of her friends (the audience knows otherwise as we saw them get dispatched earlier). On going upstairs (even though the police have phoned and demanded that she leave the house immediately) she enters one of the girl’s bedrooms to discover their dead bodies- and the killer looking at her through a crack in the door. This sequence is one of scariest in horror history.

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Add to this one of the most warped endings I’ve ever seen in a horror movie and you have a masterpiece.

Theres only two horror films with the ability to give me sleepless nights. One is The Exorcist, the other is Black Christmas. Essential.

5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 17- Final Exam (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 17- Final Exam (1981)

A killer stalks a high school. And thats the plot.

This is a cookie cutter slasher film. The only interesting thing about this movie is it’s historical value as an atypical sub-genre piece. You get to see the sheer rubbish that was made to generate ticket sales and box office. Movies with no artistic merit or intelligence such as this were shot quickly in the wake of John Carpenter’s Halloween.

You could watch this to try and spot whats been stolen from other films. But don’t watch for it’s entertainment value as there is none.

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Theres also a scene where a masked gang mows down fellow students that feels massively inappropriate and just plain tasteless.

In the words of Simon Cowell this is ‘distinctly average’.

If you have masochistic tendencies and feel a need to watch this then please watch the excellent Good Bad Flicks video on YouTube which goes into the chaotic and shambolic production of this folly.

Avoid.

1 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- The Funhouse (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- The Funhouse (1981)

A double date decide to investigate a travelling carnival that has just come into town. After strolling around the different attractions they decide to hide overnight in the actual funhouse (like a ghost ride) which is on the grounds of the carnival.

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This film starts out so well with the carnival and the people who work there being shown as being utterly sinister and delightfully sleazy.

When the teens stow away in the funhouse they witness a murder following a paid for sexual tryst (seeing Sylvia Miles from Andy Warhol’s Heat give someone wearing a Frankenstein mask a handjob is worth the price of admission alone). When he prematurely ejaculates but isn’t given his money back (the quickest $100 she’s ever earned) he bumps her off.

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Just prior to the handjob from hell

But then, unfortunately, the film falls flat. Yes, the direction by Tobe Hooper is pretty good, the lighting and colour design make sure that the sets look amazing. But this can’t hide the fact that the script from here on in is badly lacking. There is also no characterisation and the teens might as well be robots. It’s a shame as earlier in the film the lead teen is shown at home with her parents who seem to not care about her whatsoever. Was this a sliver of social commentary from Hooper as to how he saw the American family at this time?

Also, when the Frankenstein mask disappears from the inbred freak (no doubt he would be labelled as ‘mentally and facially challenged’ today) who stalks the teens in most shots he just looks like a dude in a mask. Time had been spent on the look of the movie without a decent script being written or the killer being made to look convincing. All surface, no substance. This is such a shame.

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One mask replaces another

This film was shown in the UK with the MPAA pillaged version of My Bloody Valentine. The poster stated it was ‘the most terrifying 3 hours of your life’. Swap ‘terrifying’ for ‘distinctly average’ and you’re nearer the mark.

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The Funhouse ran into problems years later as part of the ‘Video Nasties’ furore in the UK. If anything shows how inept the police involved in this case were then this is it. Unless they were seizing horror films that had sub-par second halves, that is.

2/5 out of 5 stars.