Eighties + Horror = KABOOM!

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Suggested Audio Jukebox:

 

[1] Madness “One Step Beyond”

[2] Joy Division “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

[3] Japan “Halloween”

[4] Duran Duran “A View To A Kill”

[5] Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark “Enola Gay”

[6] Bow Wow Wow “Go Wild in the Country”

[7] The Specials “Ghost Town”

[8] Visage “Fade To Grey”

 

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It’s that time again. Surely he’s not going to take us all on yet another jaunt through the eighties. Has he not punished us enough already? Have I fuck! Best just sit back and soak up those deep red rays with me once again for old time’s sake now that you’re here right? Throughout my tenure as a Keeper, I have made no secret of my affection for the eighties, and champion them at every available opportunity. This is partly because, being born in 1974, this is the decade where I began to come of age. My first pubic hair sprouted around the mid-eighties and I began the long, winding road through adolescence before the nondescript nineties arrived. However, it is far more than simply rose-tinted spectacles as it was also the most significant era for horror and the time where numerous changes began ringing in unison. Filmmakers began taking more chances with their material and testing the boundaries further than ever before, particularly with regards to that beautiful deep red splatter.

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Of course, much of the hard work had been accomplished during the seventies with the likes of Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, George A. Romero, Wes Craven, and John Carpenter laying the foundations for what was to come. They themselves had taken stimulation from established studios such as Hammer and Amicus, not to mention visionaries such as the great Mario Bava and Alfred Hitchcock so the wheels had already been set in motion long before I received my first luscious taste of the macabre. I gotta lot of love for the seventies and many of my all-time favorite horror movies herald from this unforgettable epoch. However, it was the eighties that saw horror reach for the apex and this was a culmination of lessons learned and a burning desire to coerce us into a truly monumental era. I never before much cared for the word woot but, while never likely to replace good old yippee in my first stop vocabulary, it has been growing on me of late akin to fungus strangely enough and I fully expect a brace of them in honor of eighties horror.

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So how did it start shaking those tail feathers then? You ever heard the term money makes the world go round? Love or loathe the green stuff, there’s a fair dash of reason to its logic. Box-office returns started to increase and the genre found itself far more marketable, with the drive-ins of the seventies superseded by bulging movie houses, with folk queuing like stalkers at book signings to be placed in great peril at the hands of these wonderful reprobates. All of a sudden, the wrongdoers had become who audiences were lining up to see; the slasher phenomenon started picking up a head of steam in the early eighties and all manner of bankable icons were now amongst us. To many, Jason Voorhees and Fred Krueger were the star attractions, and this was reflected in the takings Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday The 13th and Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street boasted theatrically. Granted, they were big business, but I’ve always been one for rooting for the underdog, so would have taken Harry Warden and Cropsy any day of the calendar month.

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Given that I always had such fondness for the little guy, cheering for the final girl didn’t really interest me particularly. I was far more absorbed with the secondary characters, those whose fates seemed pre-ordained and for whom early showers were running long before the end credits rolled. I’m speaking of nearly men such as Hollis from George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine, a man in desperate need of a monocle, who boasted the most formidable set of facial furnishings I had ever seen. I remember yearning for his safekeeping, regardless of how improbable that appeared, and may well have welled up the moment he took his ultimate bow. Similarly, Private Steele from Romero’s Day of The Dead proved a driving force throughout, providing sturdy back-up for the tyrannical Captain Rhodes and slipping in enough one-liners to keep my spirits from flagging. In truth he was a bit of a shit, but mine was not to judge him, merely to pin hopes on his survival that I knew damned well were ultimately going to be dashed. Then we have the glorious Bobby Rhodes and this ebony prince not only put in a shift as pimp daddy Tony for Lamberto Bava’s glorious 1985 schlock fest Demons but later chose to return to the fray a second time as fitness instructor Hank for the inevitable sequel two years later, with a depressingly similar conclusion.

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Ironically all of the above sported facial growlers and I would imagine my fascination stemmed from the fact that my own personal hero, my beloved father, also knew precisely how to rock a ‘tache. Tom Atkins wore a real beauty stretched across his pitted face and this made him a rather unlikely sex God with the opposite sex. Indeed, he could moisten the quim of any female standing in his vicinity with a simple raised eyebrow and make a lady cum just by lighting a Havana. Meanwhile, Kurt Russell took things one step further, donning a fully formed face beard and matching chest hair to boot. His turn as MacReady in Carpenter’s The Thing did him no end of favors, although the tracks had already been laid a year previous as Snake Plissken for Escape From New York. Of course, it wasn’t all about the ‘tache as a clean-shaven Jeffery Combs also scurried out of his crawl space to bring us Herbert West for Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator in 1985, becoming the new age Doctor Frankenstein horror cinema had sorely needed for so long.

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Back to Carpenter, who was already in the ascendancy coming into the decade after the hugely influential Halloween, and continued his run of supremacy for the first half of the decade, churning out innumerable highlights during this hectic period of productivity. These included the aforementioned The Thing and, while the famed blood-test scene stood out effortlessly, it was the dread that hung in the air of his insular incubus like a midsummer vagrant that stoked my dark soul’s inferno, thanks to a fine ensemble cast of cagey alphas and airtight script. That said, it wasn’t only about Carpenter as he was enabled by the incandescent cinematography of a certain Dean Cundey and the production and screenwriting skills of the late Debra Hill. In addition, the synthesized scores of Carpenter and collaborator Alan Howarth provided the soundtrack to the entire decade, drawing inspiration from Tangerine Dream and supplying the ideal audio seasoning to the eye candy on exhibit. I struggle to think of a filmmaker more formidable than he during this flush spell, certainly with regards to horror, and his output from this period was truly second to none.

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The undisputed master of the written word, Stephen King, hasn’t always been overjoyed with the manner in which his tales of terror translate to the silver screen but the eighties actually produced a number of cinematic high points in my opinion. Carpenter’s Christine was solid, Lewis Teague’s Cat’s Eye and Romero’s Creepshow were delightful anthologies, and Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me provided easily one of the decade’s most memorable rites of passage. Even though I’m not an avid reader of anything in particular, King’s influence has been gargantuan in teaching me the true tools of a scribe. He burrows away, wrestles something out in record time, and likely has little inkling of what has been exorcised until he reads it back later with a demented grin spread wide across his cheeks. If I were afforded the opportunity of licking one frontal lobe for shits and giggles, I’d have my licker up his right nostril before you could say “redrum” and every last encrusted booger of enlightenment would taste delightful I’m sure.

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One man who deserves tremendous credit for his services to eighties horror is the great Tom Holland. Not only did he direct the likes of Fright Night, Child’s Play, and sadly overlooked monster movie The Beast Within, but he also penned the rather wonderful Psycho II for much-fancied Australian Richard Franklin to direct. The very notion of anybody even attempting to not only update but further Hitchcock’s legacy seemed ludicrous in the über-extreme, but not so in 1983 when the pair pulled off precisely that between them. Hopkins was again on masterful form as the beleaguered Norman Bates, there were inspired turns from Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz and Vera Miles herself, and Meg Tilly did a marvellous job of reminding us how filthy it gets in those habits and how imperative it is that we shower regularly as fallen angel Mary Samuels. Holland’s script was respectful, never neglectful, and the result was positively spectral.

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As for practical make-up effects, which were growing increasingly more sickening as the eighties wore on, the wizard of gore Tom Savini was truly without equal. He was responsible for some of the most famed FX work to see the light of day although much of it was trimmed callously by over twitchy censors, making his task a particularly thankless one. Savini worked on a string of slashers in the early eighties, with Joseph Zito’s The Prowler and Tony Maylam’s The Burning showcasing a dexterity way beyond anything his contemporaries could even dream of. The staggering Day of The Dead not only made a critical statement about mankind’s self-destructive nature but also twined this with the most benevolent grue of the entire series thanks to Savini’s wizardry. Another fine example of this man’s courage under fire came courtesy of William Lustig’s notorious exploitation flick Maniac, whereby he volunteered to blow his own head clean off with a double-barreled shotgun for one particular standout effect. Given that they had no consent to film and around an hour to grab the shots they needed, before dumping the membrane plastered automobile into the East River, this was an even more extraordinary feat and demonstrates, once again, the power of the ‘tache.

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Of course, it wasn’t all about Savini as Stan Winston and Rick Baker were in fine form also. The latter excelled with his extraordinary transformation effects for John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London, leaving duties for Joe Dante’s The Howling to his fresh-faced deputy Rob Bottin with only marginally less exceptional results. Before long, Bottin was making a name for himself too and beginning to step out of his master’s shadow once and for all. His monstrous mechanical creations for The Thing still largely hold up to this very day and state a pretty strong case for why practical effects are far more satisfying than anything CGI can ever hope to conjure up. Meanwhile, the partnership of Gregory Nicotero, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman was yielding impressive results and, thirty years on, hardly a week passes when you don’t see KNB Effects Group attached to a new horror project. After the whole video nasty debacle came and passed, boundaries continued to be pushed and all of the above flourished thanks to their second to none powers of creation.

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While things were really motoring Stateside, the Italians were doing the business also, with Argento hitting the eighties running after coming on decidedly strong at the tail-end of the seventies. Both Inferno and Tenebrae gleamed like gemstones and the former was easily the most artistically exhaustive of his many works by his own admission, trading cohesive narrative for striking set pieces and a dream-like ambiance like no other. That said, Argento was now joined by a number of fellow countrymen, with Lamberto Bava picking up the reins from his father, Michelle Soavi stepping behind the lens to bring us the wondrous Stagefright, and the gatekeeper of hell himself, Lucio Fulci, turning stomachs as though they were heads at a lingerie exhibition. Poor Lucio suffered a torrid time earning the respect of his peers and was also hounded by the censorship board for daring to zoom in that much closer than his competitors.

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Did he lose any sleep? Not particularly as he had finally found his niche and wasn’t budging for anyone, although it wouldn’t be until after his death that his work would finally be given its due and full credit. The output wasn’t necessarily consistent with regards to quality but his Gates of Hell Trilogy is now rightfully considered a three-pronged Goliath and Zombi wasn’t exactly a slouch either. Romero wasn’t over fussed with Fulci borrowing his shufflers as long as they were returned to his abnormally large hands come the end. Indeed, the closing shot of zombies ambling their way across Manhattan Bridge was truly a thing of rapidly decomposing beauty. Granted, Fulci’s narrative shared the same consistency as diarrhea, but their incoherence simply enriched each and every harebrained experience.

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Females were in fighting form, having been forearmed a decade earlier by the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and Marilyn Burns. Ellen Ripley and Laurie Strode were certainly bitches on heat, but it was Sally Hardesty whose blind terror hit home hardest for Keeper. I say blind as this was very much the case with Hooper opting against filling her on just what she would be going through prior to shooting. That painfully protracted chase through the thicket midway through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will run on incessant loop in my head until my very last breath and you have to admit she was kind of a good sport there. Strong independent women were a mainstay during the eighties, although misplacing their virginity was generally frowned upon by those hulking juggernauts. The AIDS epidemic was making the worst kind of headlines by this point and horror led the charge for contraception fairly thoughtfully when you think about it. Barbara Crampton and Linnea Quigley took great pleasure in breaking this mould and, I’m assured that I speak for all of us, when saying the pleasure was all ours.

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So about these eighties chicks then. Well, aside from Crampton, Quigley, and the ridiculously desirable Adrienne Barbeau, there were two other bubblegum blondes vying for my affections in equal measures. I happen to be a huge fan of Thom Eberhardt’s Night of The Comet and Richard Wenk’s Vamp and both Kelli Maroney’s Sam and DeDee Pfeiffer’s Allison/Amaretto had similarly exclusive designs on both my toss sock and heart-strings in the exact same moment. Sweet, innocent, and more than a little badass, they were as delectable a treat for my retinas as Molly Ringwald and every bit as pretty in pink. Vamp bathed the latter in neon for additional effect, while Maroney had the whole night sky to blend into once that comet came and passed. Another femme fatale that warrants particular praise is the insanely alluring Nastassja Kinski. She was so feral as Irena for Paul Schrader’s stylish noir Cat People, that I wasn’t sure whether to feed her a length of my beef whistle or leave her out a dish of milk.

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I always had a fondness for head cheese and low-grade production guru Roger Corman was already knocking out lucrative B-Movies like wank bullets by the turn of the decade after Piranha had done decent business theatrically. From his vast stable, Bruce D. Clark’s Galaxy of Terror, Allan Holzman’s Forbidden World, and Barbara Peeters’ Humanoids from the Deep stood out like shoddy beacons of brilliance, each delivering cinematic brie the likes of which just don’t grow old and supplying Corman’s all-important three B’s in abundance – Blood, Boobies, and BOOM! There were a treasure trove of unsung heroes too, with Douglas McKeown’s The Deadly Spawn, James W. Roberson’s Superstition, and my own personal darling, Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro, providing hour upon hour of the most shameless B-grade entertainment imaginable. The lattermost I still watch frequently even now and feel obliged to ask any Xtro fans out there a very serious poser. Is it just me or does Bernice Stegers possess an alluring sexy aunt charm which positively begs for our personal debasement?

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While I’m in the gutter, God bless Lloyd Kaufman and his team over at Troma for dedicating so much time to tickling our pickles without ever seeing a solitary red cent in return. The Toxic Avenger wouldn’t hear of us taking shit too seriously and, should those smiles not be deemed wide enough, then his mop and bucket glowed a rather ominous green and would be used to gently persuade us to buck the fuck up. The very epitome of no-brainer, there were more smarts here than folk realized, and it’s about time Kaufman gets his own Hollywood star on the boulevard dagnabbit. While you’re at it, etch one for his brother Charlie too as Mother’s Day was far more than the rough diamond it initially appeared. Age has been remarkably kind, its satirical subtext is so on the money it’s frightening, and I’d pack it for my desert island list way before the overly pretentious likes of Amadeus. Let’s not get our panties bunched, Miloš Forman’s period drama is a dry delight, but Wolfgang ain’t as much cotton picking fun to hang out with as Ike and Addley.

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There was definitely no shame in Dan O’Bannon’s game and his 1985 comedy horror The Return of The Living Dead almost snatched the crown from Romero himself on that year, such was its utter and sublime brilliance. Granted, it was more of a chucklefest, but also managed to strike that balance just right, and keep our knees knocking as the undead numbers became overwhelming. As if it wasn’t already the gift that kept giving, a barely recognizable Quigley put in a turn as pink princess Trash and promptly relinquished that cumbersome linen. She was far more identifiable by the time she was left purely in leg warmers and I shared the very sentiment of Miguel A. Núñez Jr.’s Spider once those panties dropped to the topsoil. Indeed, I believe it was their sweet scent which roused those cantankerous zombies. While we’re on the floundering franchise, Brian Yuzna’s Return of The Living dead 3 can’t be held accountable for its ailing fortunes and hinted at an interesting new direction that regrettably wasn’t ever taken advantage of. It’s no bona fide classic, but it is the closest those Z-men have gotten to their very own Romeo & Juliet.

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I’m not done with Yuzna yet as, whatever sickness had afflicted Stuart Gordon in the eighties, presumably struck him down also. Moreover, his strain was even more severe and, should you require further proof, then look no further than Society. I’m not sure what possessed him or screenwriting duo Woody Keith and Rick Fry when dreaming up some of the disgusting debauchery they did for the closing thirty but, whatever it was, I want some of that shit too. Alas, I don’t possess a vagina to stab with a crucifix, and would never make it downstairs in crab formation thanks to two shot kneecaps, but I’ll puke in your face on command if it buys me just a dash of his delightful disease. Society is a film like absolutely no other (that doesn’t boast Yuzna’s involvement) and one that has to be seen to be believed. Even then, you’ll not be entirely sure that you haven’t just witnessed a 99-minute long acid flashback. The shunting scene, in particular, could only have come from a very sick mind, and one which I’d slather soundly given half a chance.

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Special mention must go to Joe Giannone’s timeless slasher Madman which has aged extraordinarily well and is still every bit as fresh as it was back in 1982, despite some decidedly dubious lovemaking music and more than a dash of diabolical dialogue. Meanwhile, Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of The Witch earns the more desirable than it seems title of Most Criminally Treated Horror Movie of All Time and was universally panned by critics. Rick Rosenthal’s exceptional Halloween II had left fans wanting more and, with Carpenter now distancing himself from the franchise, Wallace decided to go against the grain. To be fair, Carpenter and Hill were on production duties and the film actually turned a reasonably tidy $11.5m profit, but the daggers were drawn and this sickened me to my innermost core as it’s a truly accomplished thriller and walked away with a nosebleed-inducing 9 out of 10 when the Crimson Quill gave it a run over.

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The reasons to love this movie were endless – the Halloween feel was present in abundance, it was as tense as a round of Russian Roulette with David Lynch, piled on lashings of glorious gushing grue, boasted a killer soundtrack, and starred Tom freaking Atkins for crying out loud. What more could we possibly desire from a dish? Indeed, the Keeper of the ‘tache even managed to slip into yet another pair of white cotton panties, proving again that he must be packing some serious meat. However, it was the biting social commentary which wasn’t picked up on until it had come and passed and a desolate view of a anesthetized homeland that was both disconcerting and precise that makes for such a winner. How this film can still hold a measly 4.6 IMDb average is anyone’s guess but proves unequivocally that aggregate sites are an absolute bloody sham. Be kind Grueheads and rewind, before popping over to IMDb and righting some global wrongs. Do this and I won’t play the Silver Shamrock commercial in your ear each time you lay down to sleep for the remainder of eternity. Deal?

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It just dawned on me that I haven’t yet brought old David Cronenberg in for his post-match shoulder rub and, needless to say, the Canadian mastermind was only getting weirder by the time the eighties rolled in. God bless every contorted neuron as his work ethic has served him more than well for over forty years now. With Cronenberg, I always felt as though he was in on a joke that nobody else was aware of. When you take a look at his trajectory further, it begins to look decidedly like he had a blueprint way back in the seventies and has likely already planned his resurrection. I shit you not, the relevance of his oeuvre is staggering and never once, does it feel as though all ten of his spindly digits aren’t pressed firmly on the pulse. Proving he was the last man alive we’d ever wish to play chess with, his 1982 head fucking module Videodrome helped make James Woods, transmogrified Deborah Harry into our cerebral wallpaper, and blew my mind so far into the stratosphere that I didn’t reclaim it until I first dropped acid in the summer of ’91. By the time I had my psyche back in my clammy hands, he’d tampered with it for sure although the psychotropic drugs may have had a little to do with that admittedly. However, that memorable first trip was certainly sponsored by Videodrome.

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By the asshole-end of the eighties, we began to see a considerable slump in the fortunes of horror, with a depressing downturn in both quality and quantity as the decade ground fumbled to its conclusion. Despite Freddy Krueger suggesting a change of direction, the once massively lucrative slasher craze had all but petered out by ’87, and folk were no longer prepared to accept the slipping standards of wasteful franchises, like Elm Street itself ironically. With that, horror began to step back into the shadows from whence it came, and would largely remain there until well into the noughties. There were occasional flashes of ingenuity during the graveyard of despair that was the nineties and we still received rare shots in the arm courtesy of Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore and Romero’s The Dark Half to keep our pulses racing but, by and large, woe was horror. Being a lifelong aficionado, I was heartbroken to see it falter so, but always held faith in its eventual return to riches. That said, we’re still not quite truly there yet and there is much work still to be done to make it so.

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Should I have been lavish enough with my praise, then my affinity to the eighties should now be clearer than Hollow Man’s bollocks on wash day. It stands to reason that I would hold intimate affection for the decade, after all, I’m a self-confessed nostalgic. But it is far more than that Grueheads as I truly believe it was the pinnacle of the revolt. Horror came into its own during this period, holding the monopoly on my fascination, while offering this adolescent boy reason to be cheerful that didn’t entail flogging the admiral. I’m still convinced that the genre will hit its peak once more and, by the law of thirty-year cycles, would predict the twenties to herald the next wave of truly memorable undesirables. Until then, forgive me if I remain firmly planted right here in the eighties, where it’s all cosy and familiar. Hopefully my clown shoes don’t take up too much space as I’d hate for you to accidentally step in the nineties. That shit takes forever to dig out of your heels, let me tell you.

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