Eighties in Horror: 1980 – 1984

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John Carpenter The Fog

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The 1980s were a marvellous decade for horror. I was hatched in 1974 which meant that I had some catching up to do once I got around to beginning my expedition ten years later. Thankfully, the video trade was in the midst of an almighty boom at the time which meant that many of the films I had missed during the interim were already doing the rounds. My interest in horror also coincided with the “video nasty” outrage, thus many of the movies I had been keeping my beady eye on until that point began to mysteriously disappear from store shelves but kids can be pretty resourceful thus, thanks to a local bootleg dealer, I still managed to procure these unsavory features for a paltry cost. Things become even easier come my thirteenth birthday as I landed myself a part-time job in the nearest video rental store and commenced catching up with anything I had missed until that point with regularity.

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The goal of this particularly article is to run through the decade, year by year, talking of some of the movies which comprised my filmic upbringing. Many of my all-time greats were birthed during this epoch and the eighties were packed to the brim with inspiration for a young lad with a penchant for the grotesque. Things were changing, the seventies provided us with flag bearers such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, Phantasm, Martin, Dawn of The Dead, Suspiria, and Halloween; while the turn of the decade saw film-makers endeavor to continue the forward momentum with some interesting results. Friday the 13th may not have been the great innovator that many believed it to be but it did open the flood gates for slasher. Suddenly horror was becoming big business and the drive-in cinemas began to give way to straining multiplexes with horror movies attaining top billing.

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1980 was a pivotal year for horror although, despite Sean S Cunningham’s stalk and slash template coming good during this time, there were other more significant genre entries making themselves known at the same time. John Carpenter was hitting a particularly sweet spell, having already provided us with The Shape two years earlier. The Fog remains one of my all-time darlings and few films of its epoch had the same effect on a young boy looking to be relieved from his skin by way of scares. It had a number of things going for it: San Antonio Bay was a wonderfully moody locale and played ideal host to the malevolent mist, Blake’s embittered troop were merciless in the extreme and encouraged many a night terror, Carpenter’s synth-laden electronic soundtrack fitted like a fine silk glove, and then there were the players.

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Jamie Lee Curtis has already proven herself to be the scream queen of the period and also managed to squeeze out Prom Night and Terror Train in the very same year. While neither film were particularly memorable, her performances lifted them effortlessly above the mediocre and here she was given a vehicle in which to truly excel. What better way to resonate than playing opposite the enigmatic Tom Atkins? Over the course of the eighties, Atkins would pop up in numerous genre classic including Tommy Lee Wallace’s criminally underrated Halloween III: Season of The Witch and Fred Dekker’s B-horror behemoth Night of The Creeps. This mustachioed chick magnet oozed cool from every pitted pore in his face and, along with Curtis, gave us somebody to really root for.

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However, for Keeper, The Fog was all about one person and she sat atop a lonely lighthouse purring into her mic as she provided wayward travellers with the dulcet tones required to send them to slumberland as their vessels became dashed on the bay’s rocks. Adrienne Barbeau offered my very first audible seduction and, to this very day, no single voice has ever been able to shepherd me through the storm with such conviction. The Fog is my personal highlight of a year where things were in swift transition although it did keep some decidedly stellar company. Here are ten horror movies plying their trade within the same twelve-month period and my picks for any 1980-themed movie marathons.

Ten undeniable terrors from 1980: The Fog, The Shining, Inferno, Altered States, Cannibal Holocaust, Friday the 13th, Maniac, City of The Living Dead, Death Ship, Humanoids From The Deep

Honorable mentions: Motel Hell, Mother’s Day, The Boogeyman, Macabre, Alligator

John Carpenter Halloween II

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If 1980 was a year of transition, then the following year was one of immense consolidation. It is hard picking an outright favorite from these twelve manic months, hence I have decided to talk, not of the best of the bunch, but of a movie which I believe to epitomize the savvy sequel. Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II may not have been of the same pedigree as Carpenter’s original, but it did play out during the very same evening and, once again, the luckless Laurie Strode was number one on Michael Myers’ wish-list. This time it relocated her terror to the nearby Haddonfield General and there is no place more perfectly suited to carnage than an understaffed hospital, wouldn’t you agree?

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Of course, the bloated body count was always number one priority, and any secondary protagonists were little more than cannon fodder, but still Rosenthal managed to squeeze every last drop of tension from his scenario. As was customary with Keeper, my attentions weren’t solely focused on our final girl, and instead my affections were with Tawny Moyer who played sweet-natured nurse Jill. In the same year I rooted for Hollis from My Bloody Valentine, with similarly distressing results, as I was always all about the underdog. The moment when hapless Jill loitered in front of that ominous open doorway and became The Shape’s next glove puppet will forever be etched in my mind and I live in vain hope of a director’s cut whereby she finished her shift just before the bodies began to pile up and thus evaded her fate. Halloween II represented everything that was wholesome about sequels and will forever hold a place in Keeper’s heart for that.

Ten undeniable terrors from 1981: The Evil Dead, The Burning, The Beyond, Possession, Halloween II, Galaxy of Terror, An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, My Bloody Valentine, Omen III: The Final Conflict

Honorable mentions: Happy Birthday To Me, The Prowler, Scanners, Just Before Dawn, The Entity

John Carpenter & Alan Howarth The Thing

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It’s tough to pick a winner from the following year as so many of my favorite all-time movies surfaced during this period. The aforementioned Halloween III: Season of The Witch is hard to discount as it received all manner of flak on account of shameful marketing and deserves far more plaudits than it ever received. Carpenter’s The Thing was, in my opinion, head and shoulders above the competition and it would be all too effortless making that my focal point. However, we all knew by now what the master was packing behind that lens, so I have decided instead to wax about another man who has struggled to place a single toe out of formation over his long, illustrious career.

John Harrison Creepshow

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George A. Romero gave us an anthology to scream from the rooftops about with Creepshow and celebrated all that we had come to hold dear until that point in the process. His five-piece, ironically featuring Tom Atkins minus ‘tache in its wraparound, was a delight from start to finish and still holds up to this day alongside Michael Dougherty’s flawless Trick ‘r Treat as the best compendium concocted since Hammer and Amicus relinquished their grip on the monopoly. Picking a winner was purely a subjective pursuit but the manner in which Something to Tide You Over washed over me made this the jewel in a particularly shimmering crown. Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson, two actors more recognizable for pratfall, played it straight to glorious effect and their parable had a delightful darkly comic sting in its tale. Watching Creepshow was akin to being offered a platter of all your favorite confectionary and I guzzled until my blackened heart’s content.

Ten undeniable terrors from 1982: The Thing, Halloween III: Season of The Witch, Creepshow, Poltergeist, Cat People, Alone in The Dark, Amityville II: The Possession, Madman, The Sender, Tenebrae, Class of 1984

Honorable mentions: The Beast Within, Superstition, Forbidden World, Q: The Winged Serpent, Basket Case

Jerry Goldsmith Psycho II

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I’m so tempted to stump for Xtro during my jaunt through 1983 but it just feels a little obvious, given that I shoehorn it in so habitually. Richard Franklin’s Psycho II is therefore the object of my affection here as I regard it almost as highly as its formidable forebear. In the same manner in which Romero updated the zombie template for Dawn of the Dead, franklin’s marvellous film reminded us that Norman Bates could move with the times. Time can be kind with a movie such as Psycho II; thirty years later it is finally seen as spiritual successor where previously it was labelled a callous cash-in. This pleases me akin to punch as I would rather ogle at Meg Tilly lathering in the shower than Janet Leigh. Let’s not get it twisted now; Lila Crane’s soapy soakdown was a thing of infinite marvel. But I was an eighties child, primed on the visceral, and Tilly possessed a punnet of peaches which were now afforded the opportunity to plunder with our peepers.

Howard Shore Videodrome

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1983 was also the year of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and I cannot pass up a chance to front load it as it turned my entire world on its head. Body horror had become a favorite of mine with his trio of Shivers, Rabid, and The Brood, all inciting salivation before the turn of the decade. James Woods would later become a personal hero of mine but it was Videodrome where I first received intelligence of his edgy swagger. This revolutionary slab of crime fiction reminded me of the twenty percent of redundant brain matter I had yet to fire up and was partly responsible for me dropping acid by sweet sixteen. Not sure I should be thanking Cronenberg for that one but the truth is that I wouldn’t be sat here scribing this now had I not learned the art of opening my mind and, with that reasoning alone, he’s got my vote. As if that weren’t ample, he also gave us The Dead Zone within the same twelve-month period. Smug git!

Ten undeniable terrors from 1983: Videodrome, The Dead Zone, Xtro, Psycho II, The Deadly Spawn, The House on Sorority Row, The Keep, The Hunger, Christine, Twilight Zone: The Movie

Honorable mentions: Sole Survivor, House of The Long Shadows, A Blade in The Dark, Curtains, Mausoleum

Diana DeWitt Hard Act To Follow

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It speaks volumes for 1984 that many of the highlights weren’t necessarily horror films in the slightest. My rundown features everything from scintillating sci-fi epic to big-budget crowd pleaser, outright parody, film noir, one shameless sequel, and even a glorified full-length trailer so, contrary to belief, it didn’t exactly provide the apex of innovation. Horror was in a state of disarray with the censors coming down hard on anything they deemed as nefarious and public outcry to ban these sadist videos was taking precedence to actual bankable contenders for our emotions. Nevertheless, it only takes one feature to resonate and the gloom instantly lifts. Thom Eberhardt’s wondrous B-Movie marvel, Night of The Comet, puppeteered the strings of my heart and, three decades down the line, remains one of my all-time darlings.

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Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney as sparring sisters Regina and Samantha provided us with a pair of divine reasons to be gleeful and their chemistry was unforced and natural. The ominous crimson sky hung overhead as a constant reminder that the apocalypse was looming and those partially exposed were transformed into marauding zombies just to ensure that their plight be all the more disconcerting. Night of the Comet is one of those glorious movies which are truly evocative of their era and provided the inspiration for 28 Days Later whilst offering up the same kind of camaraderie which made Dawn of The Dead so unforgettable years earlier. Consequently, the delectable Maroney remains one of the most underused of all eighties commodities and I live in constant hope of her reinvention.

Ten undeniable terrors from 1984: The Terminator, Gremlins, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Company of Wolves, Night of The Comet, Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, Blood Simple, Dreamscape, Bloodbath at The House of Death, Terror in The Aisles

Honorable mentions: Razorback, Silent Night Deadly Night, Mutant, Don’t Open till Christmas, Death Warmed Up

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The early eighties were rife with cutting edge carnage and are fondly remembered with sound reasoning. There was no conceivable way that the genre could continue such a rich vein of form and the latter half of the decade witnessed a significant drop-off in quality although not before 1985 came along and pummelled our senses with more undisputable classics than you could shake a stick at. More on that next time but, until tomorrow Grueheads, there should be numerous ripened fruits here for the plucking.

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Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2015

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8 Comments

    1. He’s certainly no Bugs. I wouldn’t mind but I carry a carrot in my trouser pocket at all times and he has been eyeing it up for the past few moments. Mommy!

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