It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month will see us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format will be much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.
Yuppies, wealth, greed, Thatcherism, consumerism, social realism, neoliberalism, capitalism and many other isms. All words and phrases synonymous with the 1980’s. Money and politics defined the era in the UK, whilst across the pond horror films had grown more popular than ever before. From the camp and ethereal horrors of the sixties, to the mainstream success of films such as Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist and Alien in the seventies, horror only had one avenue left to turn to. It became fun. A self awareness of the excesses of the decade seeped through to the genre as it began to poke fun at itself. Over the top levels of gore, grotesque melting rubber prosthetics and lift-fulls of blood were everywhere you turned. Whilst the dreaded word “franchise” reared its ugly mutated head, there was still space for the more intelligent horror. Although, Kubrick’s The Shining was but a mere distraction amongst the picnic hampers of evil twins, voodoo practising murderous children’s dolls and head-exploding psychic wars. First up on our list of favourites is this film from 1982…
No list of 1980s horror would be complete without Poltergeist. It’s up there with The Shining for permeating modern culture and having the most recognisable, commonly used references. How many times have we heard “They’re Hee-re” parodied in other works?
It introduced a generation to the word and the concept of a Poltergeist as a spirit attaching itself to an individual person and, although it has its faults and technical shortcomings, there’s still an awful lot to like about it.
An ordinary family have their lives turned upside down when strange things start happening around the house. At first they seem fairly benign but they soon turn extremely sinister.
The sheer normalness of the targeted family gives the “It could happen to you” element and the fact that person most in peril throughout the entire ordeal is a young child adds another level of emotional reaction.
Zelda Rubenstein, as Tangina the psychic is extremely good. The best performance of the film aside from the children. The main fault, in my opinion, is JoBeth Williams as the mother of the imperilled youngster. Her acting during the early part of the film seems worse with each viewing. Thankfully, she does get better as the film warms up and the pressure mounts on her character.
Poltergeist is certainly worth seeing and revisiting once in a while.
by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)
The Thing (1982)
More nostalgia as we reach the 80’s, as after Jaws the next most notable scare from my childhood was on a babysitting trip in 1983 with my mum. This family friend had something I craved, I wanted, I adored but surely would never be able to afford. Adjusted for inflation, these things would run to several thousand pounds today. A (Betamax) Video Cassette Player… with a copy of John Carpenter’s The Thing!
Rewatched many times, and again this week, it still holds up. The practical effects are simply brilliant for a film that is over 30 years old. The cast are all capable actors, the setting is utterly genius. Claustrophobia, tension, jump scares and effects driven gory mayhem, the dogs writhing and squirming in slime covered deformity, the head sprouting legs and being both horrific and funny… and that scene…
I can’t look at a defibrillator being used today without expecting the recipients chest to open up and bite off the arms to the elbows and fountains of blood to gush forth. I have never been or will ever be so terrified as I was that night as a just-turned 13 year old. Well played, Carpenter. Well played.
by Paul Field (@pafster)
Day of the Dead (1985)
“I’m runnin’ this monkey farm now, Frankenstein, and I wanna know what the fuck you’re doin’ with my time! ’cause if we’re just jerkin’ off here, I’m gonna have my men blow the piss out of those precious specimens of yours, and we’re gonna get the hell out of here, and leave you and your highfalutin asshole friends to rot in this stinkin’ sewer! Is that food enough for ya?”
When deciding on my choice for this list, I was torn between two films. Both of which are semi-sequels to George A Romero’s previous zombie film, Dawn of the Dead, as chosen in our seventies Decade In Horror article. It came down to either Fulci’s magnificent Zombie Flesh Eaters, or this. In the end, I thought about which I’d rather didn’t make the cut as opposed to which I love more, and thus Day of the Dead won.
I absolutely adore this final piece in Romero’s original Dead Trilogy. In my opinion, it has the best soundtrack from any horror film, something I’m listening to right now as I write this! But it’s probably Romero’s most intelligent movie. It switches things around as the humans become less humane and the zombies start to learn morality. Or, at the very least, instead of them simply being terrifying mindless hungry ghouls (as per Night of the Living Dead), or a snide joke (as per Dawn of the Dead), you’re meant to feel sorry for them. Given a chance, they could learn to be integrated back into society. They can learn. Or…. not. They might just choke as they chow down on your internal organs.
It has great characters and performances, perhaps none more so than Joe Pilato as the hot headed sergeant Rhodes. Romero also keeps up a tradition of having a black heroic central male character (Terry Alexander) and strong female lead. Lori Cardille as Sarah, struggling to stay sane between working on her research and coping with her PTSD suffering soldier-boyfriend, carries the film brilliantly. I also can’t talk about performances without mentioning Sherman Howard’s role as Bub, the saluting, pistol whipping, walkman wearing zombie. An iconic character in the genre; he even pops up as a cameo in The Walking Dead! Everything about this movie is fantastic. Everything.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Evil Dead II (1987)
The first Evil Dead is a masterpiece. An ultra-violent horror filmed on an ultra-low budget. Branded a “Video Nasty” and achieving near instant cult status, it is a film that should stand proud in any film lover’s collection. But The Evil Dead isn’t my favourite horror film from the 80’s. No, it’s Sam Raimi’s half sequel, half remake that gets my nod.
In the 80’s, when everyone was going for more blood and more gore, Raimi brought something interesting to the table. Something to cut through the tension and the scares, something to soften the shovel blows. Comedy. Real laugh out loud humour.
Evil Dead II sees our returning hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) back in the woods. A new girlfriend but the same old cabin with the same old demonic fiendishness outside just waiting for someone to stumble across the, now infamous, Necronomicon. As luck (?) would have it, the cabin’s previous occupant was an archaeology professor who handily recorded translations for Ash to play, releasing the demons to possess his girlfriend. Chaos and hilarity ensues as Ash is forced to decapitate her to survive. Joining forces with a research team led by the professor’s daughter, Ash and his new found friends spend the night trying to fight off the demons and get out of the woods alive.
The 1980’s is my favourite decade for horror. So many directors made their mark. Craven had Elm Street, Barker had Hellraiser and Carpenter remade The Thing. Friday the 13th, American Werewolf, Maniac and The Shining all shaped my love of film. But Evil Dead II, with its possessed hands, chainsaws and time portals is hands down my favourite from this particular melting pot.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
The Lost Boys (1987)
Without doubt one of the most iconic vampire films from this decade. The Lost Boys stands the test of time, with its endlessly quotable lines, cool looking vampires and its awesome soundtrack. Joel Schumacher’s skilful direction allows the tone of the film to shift from horror to humour effortlessly, never feeling forced or out of place; Schumacher gets the balance just right.
The cast give some strong performances on the back of an excellent screenplay. Corey Haim and Jason Patric have a decent chemistry as brothers, mothered by the always dependable Dianne Wiest. Barnard Hughes as Grandpa adds some great comic relief along with the Frog Brothers; Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander. Yet it’s Keifer Sutherland that steals the show, his David is superb; his ice cold look, the constant menace in his voice; David is one of the great on screen vampires of this decade. Well, any decade really!
A film which came out of the shadows for me in the 80’s. I just wasn’t expecting it all to be this good. Amid all the slasher frenzy, this easily beat down the rest and emerged as my all-time favourite 80’s horror film.
by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, picking our top five horror films of the nineties, the decade that thought it was smarter than it actually was.