Eighties in Horror: 1985 – 1989

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John Harrison Day of The Dead

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Having already covered the golden era between 1980 and 1984, you would be forgiven for expecting something of a drop-off in quality when commentating on the ass-end of the decade. However, while commercially the genre had begun to stutter somewhat, home video still provided us with a plethora of wonderful movies. If a gun were placed to my head and one year in particular was requested as the one where the stars truly aligned, then 1985 would narrowly pip its rivals on account of three films in particular. Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of The Living Dead would be one, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator another, and Lamberto Bava’s Demons would alas be pushed from the podium to make way for the master. Who else could it be in the year when the undead ran rampant? Romero of course. Was there ever any doubt?

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Day of The Dead suffered something of a stingy response from critics upon its release and it wasn’t until years later that it was honored for its services to horror. It told a much darker story than its much celebrated predecessor but its social slogan was arguably even more relevent than the master’s wry dig at consumerism which had so resolutely resonated back in 1978. Regardless of the fact that the general consensus was damning, this was the first video release which I recall slobbering over right up until its eventual unveiling. The trailer, with Lori Cardille discovering that thin walls have more than simply ears, was tantalizing in the extreme and ambiguous enough to ensure that we hadn’t the faintest inkling as to what we were letting ourselves in for. Had this surfaced a couple of years prior then the BBFC would have had a field day trimming it of its gory excess. Thankfully, by 1985, they had been worn down and somehow it made it past the censors in a manner that The Pink Panther himself would be proud of. Moreover, while he was at it, George snuck Demons in the back door similarly unscathed. What a difference a year makes.

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While his later efforts never quite reclaimed the lofty mantle of his original Dead trilogy, I believe it was here that his prowess was at its summit. With the entire world now overrun and a mere handful of survivors left to bank on keeping humanity ticking; things were that much more desperate and all the experience Tom Savini had amassed over the years came to fruition with some of the most staggeringly unapologetic kills ever committed to celluloid. For as much as splatter provided the schlocky seasoning, it was a good old-fashioned struggle between scientists and the military which made for such an ambrosial hors d’oeuvre. There was only one cause to pledge our allegiance to although I still felt a twinge of sadness as the cantankerous Captain Rhodes’ favorite lackey Steel took a self-prescribed bullet to the tonsils. Its message was bleak; we simply cannot co-exist without incident. Its impact on our senses was beyond approximation.

Ten undeniable terrors from 1985: Day of The Dead, The Return of The Living Dead, Re-Animator, Demons, Fright Night, Lifeforce, Cat’s Eye, The Stuff, Titan Find, Cut and Run

Honorable mentions: Phenomena, Ghoulies, Blackout, Warning Sign, The Doctor and The Devils

Jonathan Elias Vamp

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As tempted as I may be to drool over the immeasurable majesty of James Cameron’s Aliens at this point, it just seems a little safe and I would imagine that this interstellar boy’s own adventure has been done to death far too many times to be considered pathologically sound. Instead I wish to sing the praises of a vampire flick which has never been considered as part of the elite, Richard Wenk’s infinitely rejuvenating camp classic Vamp. If Martin represents the genre’s defining moment 1970 thereafter, then Wenk’s wonderful cocktail of horror and comedy, offset against a backdrop of garish neon, is undoubtedly its guiltiest pleasure.

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Grace Jones had always fascinated me but never had I considered her hot. Even during A View To A Kill, for as much as I shed a tear when May Day became unceremoniously railroaded, I still didn’t wish to lick her boot leather after an afternoon in the mines. As queen of the blood suckers Katrina, she cast a spell, and suddenly I found myself desiring only to pull up to her bumper. However, if she assumed top billing as mistress of my loins, then Dedee Pfeiffer’s ditzy bubblegum princess Allison effortlessly had my heart. Along with Kelli Maroney’s Samantha from Night of The Comet, Pfeiffer led the charge for slumber party cuties whose pelt I would wish to slather marshmallow fluff from. Two years later, Linnea Quigley’s Suzanne would complete the three-pronged attack on my slender salami baton. Curiously, Tawny Kitaen’s Linda from Kevin Tenney’s Witchboard of the same year misses the cut by a bush whisker.

Ten undeniable terrors from 1986: Aliens, The Fly, Night of The Creeps, The Hitcher, From Beyond, Vamp, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Manhunter, House, Witchboard

Honorable Mentions: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, The Wraith, Slaughter High, Crawlspace, Spookies

Gerard McMann Cry Little Sister

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1987 would appear to be all about one particular toe-to-toe tussle. Near Dark or The Lost Boys? It would appear as though you were only permitted to select one and damn the other perpetually in the process. No can do I’m afraid; they were both equally delightful and trying to tell them apart would be akin to selecting either Into The Groove or La Isla Bonita for your iPod shuffle list. Call me Mr fence-perch but I refuse to get drawn into that impotent debate. They’re both brilliant in their own way and chalk and cheese as far as reasons for eternal prosperity are concerned.

The Truth The Hidden

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Of the remainder of the Class of ’87 I have decided to heap a little praise in the direction of Jack Sholder’s magnificent direct-to-video delectation The Hidden. One could argue that this wasn’t a horror film in the slightest and, indeed, it was only loosely affiliated. Fuck it, when all is said and done, it gave us an orally transmitted alien parasite which used its host to provoke all manner of rampant skullduggery and that makes it more than deserving of keeping such company in my book. Astonishingly, this tenacious thriller has never really received the adulation of which it is thoroughly deserving but, Evil Dead II aside, no other experience in 1987 proved quite as high-octane as Sholder’s whippet of wonderment.

Ten undeniable terrors from 1987: Angel Heart, Near Dark, The Lost Boys, Evil Dead II, Hellraiser, Predator, Stagefright, The Hidden, Anguish, Opera

Honorable mentions: Street Trash, Prince of Darkness, The Believers, The Kindred, Bad Taste

Richard Band & Christopher L. Stone Prison

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This one’s a no-brainer for Keeper. Horror may have been falling away from the box-office by 1988 but one film which found its natural home on home video affected me more than nigh-on any other and still remains one of the most anonymous entries in the year’s roll-call. Renny Harlin’s Prison passed by us with barely a tremor and this saddens me to my very core as there aren’t many films from its epoch more effortlessly unnerving and rich in intensity and foreboding. A fresh-faced Viggo Mortensen led the charge as an unspeakable malevolence received its parole and wrecked havoc at a recently renovated off-shore prison. I implore you, one and all, to seek this rough diamond out like The Goonies that you are. It really is worth doing time over.

Dennis Michael Tenney Night of The Demons

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However, I cannot allow an opportunity to massage Night of The Demons to pass as my time at Hull House taught me many things, none more remarkable than its lipstick swallowing mystical mammalia that encouraged me once more to believe in magic after my personal Jesus John Amplas convinced me there was none ten years earlier. Above all else, Tenney’s Halloween-themed hell house was a veritable hive of activity and doused in blue tones and ethereal light which offset quite beautifully against its jovial script and tongue-thru-cheek delivery. If ever a movie could be enshrined for locating and maintaining its equilibrium then Tenney’s fine mesh of trick and treat would surely be worthy of such a commendation.

Ten undeniable terrors from 1988: Night of The Demons, Prison, The Vanishing, The Blob, They Live, Dead Ringers, Monkey Shines, The Serpent and The Rainbow, Maniac Cop, Phantasm II

Honorable mentions: The Lair of The White Worm, Bad Dreams, Dream Demon, Waxwork, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, The Unholy

Helen Moore Eton Boat Song

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The decade was all-but spent by the time any stragglers wandered onto the scene and 1989 was a curious year with some particularly macabre flag bearers. How could I feasibly overlook Brian Yuzna’s unhinged insight into what really plays out behind closed doors, cunningly titled Society, when dishing out the plaudits? Bob Balaban’s Parents was already convincing us that all as not well in suburbia but never, in my wildest imaginings, did I expect that things had grown this debauched. I could buy that the bemused Bill’s sister possessed a pair of perky back breasts as the after-effects of Chernobyl had been far-reaching but I have never attended a soirĂ©e where one of the patrons has been pulled inside out through his own sphincter and been bobbing for apples just moments later like nothing untoward had occurred.

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Speaking of anuses, have you ever watched another movie with a talkative rectum with shit for brains, King Frat aside? Only in Society would things escalate to such a demented degree that ass-about-face was taken so literally. It seems only fitting that the tail-end of the decade be bookmarked in such a way. If nothing else, Yuzna’s sloppy (in the best way) celebration of the grotesque showcased that original concepts were still possible to come by. Alas, the nineties were culpable of ignoring such brave endeavors in favor of painting largely by the numbers. Even the Italians were running short of rocket fuel with Michele Soavi’s The Church being the last of the true greats to emerge from this once formidable nation. Actually, he did repeat the feat five years later with the equally enigmatic Dellamorte Dellamorte but that’s another story for another day.

Ten undeniable terrors from 1989: The Exorcist III, Society, The Church, Vampire’s Kiss, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Intruder, The Horror Show, Pet Sematary, Warlock, Santa Sangre

Honorable mentions: Curse II: The Bite, Leviathan, Parents, Shocker, The House of Clocks

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I trust that my year-on-year breakdown has covered all bases but, as always, I welcome your comments should I have negated to mention a personal favorite. Some years the competition was fiercer than others, thus there may be some glaring omissions but that is testament to a decade where quantity and quality married together stunningly. Should you be children of the nineties then firstly I wish to commiserate with you for being a tad slow through the gene pool and secondly I apologize for taking this epoch so lightly. It really wasn’t that bad and I could effortlessly reel off a dozen or so pictures which showed that horror still had a pulse, albeit a little fainter than before. But the eighties had already spoiled me by that point. What a monumental decade for horror it was. It’s the whole reason why I metamorphosed into fully fledged man-child in the first place and the reason why, three decades on, finger monsters have lost none of their appeal.

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Read Eighties Slasher: The Definitive Cut

 

Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2015

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6 Comments

  1. I remember seeing several of these films in the theater – I even have my RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD cut-off t-shirt they gave away the opening night. What a gas that was! (See what I did there?) Thanks for taking me along memory lane. There are a few here I haven’t seen, so I’ll be taking some of these up soon!

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