Eighties Horror: The Great Flashback Giveaway

Eighties Themed Jukebox ♫

[1] Depeche Mode “New Life”

[2] P. Lion “Happy Children”

[3] Simple Minds “I Travel”


Thank God for those rose-tinted spectacles. It’s funny, I’m forty-two-years-old and still I find myself casting my mind back to the eighties for inspiration. At the time it was considered one of the less notable of decades and not a patch on either the seventies or sixties. However, time being the great healer, it is now looked back on with great fondness and this pleases me massively as it was jam-packed with reasons to be cheerful. Given that horror movies were my thing growing up, I was more than well catered for, as the genre was in fine form up until the mid-point at least.

The slasher craze was riding on the crest of a wave after Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday The 13th made an obscene amount of money at the box-office and every week it felt like a new pretender to its throne was surfacing. Tony Maylam’s The Burning, George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine, Joseph Zito’s The Prowler and Joe Giannone’s Madman were perhaps the pick of the fresh crop, while everybody’s favorite momma’s boy Jason Voorhees certainly wasn’t allowing the grass to grow beneath his feet as Paramount Pictures made the very most of his overnight popularity, to the tune of annual sequels.

To be fair, the foundations had already been set in place the decade prior, particularly during the tail-end of the seventies when a number of key players made their presence well and truly known. Americans George A. Romero and John Carpenter in particular led the charge with Dawn of The Dead and Halloween respectively, both of which laid the tracks for what was to come before the fact, while British filmmaker Ridley Scott’s Alien did likewise.

Meanwhile, the Italians were getting in on the act too, with Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece Suspiria scaring audiences witless worldwide (myself inclusive) and countrymen Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava taking note on the sidelines. To be fair, the Giallo was already in full swing long before the eighties came around, but the likes of both Suspiria and Argento’s localized translation of Dawn of The Dead, Zombi, encouraged his natives to begin knocking up a new kind of spaghetti. Fulci was on-hand with the meatballs and marinara sauce, kicking things off with his superb Gates of Hill trilogy. Not too far away, Bava was busy cutting his teeth and in the process of taking over the reins from his father Mario.

Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and Canadian David Cronenberg were practically old timers by that point and continued to tease the boundaries as horror continued to surge through the first half of the decade. And surge it did. I was ten-years-old when my father purchased our first family toploader and barely thirteen when I landed the plum role of video store clerk and found myself instantly playing catch-up. With hundreds upon hundreds of cunningly devised VHS sleeves greeting my wide-eyes every time I turned up each my shift and free rentals one of many numerous perks of the job, I promptly graduated to seventh heaven and took my pick of the cluster.

Carpenter was on fine form, with The Fog and The Thing at the very top of my shopping list, while the sleeves Joe Dante’s The Howling and John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London practically screamed out “take me home”. However, numerous B-movies also staked their claim on my senses, with Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro and Bruce D. Clark’s Galaxy of Terror making their presence very much known.

Barely a day passed when I didn’t find myself perched in pleasurable paralysis before the TV screen, and while pops was more than happy to be my wingman, my poor mother was far from amused. Her reaction to my primary exposure of Xtro was way beyond priceless as it playfully blurred the lines of decency with a couple of memorably macabre scenes that mommy dearest couldn’t even begin to process. Despite raising her objections in no uncertain terms, I was already a slave to the sickness and had gathered far too much momentum to double-back to Disney.

1984 turned out to be a significant year and not necessarily for the right reasons as the media had made the link between on-screen violence and its real-life counterpart and the government soon sat up and took notice, setting the wheels of the Video Nasty Act in motion. Suddenly the pressure was on as curiosities such as Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer were amongst those taken to task and swiftly spirited away from the shelves. Did this deter me? Hell no it didn’t as rumor had it that where’s there’s a will, there a way.

Enter the video pirate, friend of anyone desperate to lay their clammy hands on these undesirables and foe of the powers of be as those caught supplying to demand were deemed objectionable and punished by way of hefty fines, and in extreme cases, jail time. Visual quality was traded off and this only served to make grubby little numbers like William Lustig’s Maniac and Roman Scavolini’s Nightmares in a Damaged Brain appear even seedier, with the latter earning UK distributor David Hamilton Grant an eighteen month stint in the clink for unlicensed distribution (he eventually served twelve).

Given that I was an adolescent, there seemed no reason to fret over such unlikely repercussions and the only comeuppance I had to concern myself with were the amount of head cleaners I was getting through at the time as yet another notorious nasty stanked up my toploader with its delectable filth. Of the 72 “wrong ‘un” titles seized by authorities (only 38 of which were successfully prosecuted), a fair number were either undeserving of such infamy or woefully lacking in quality. Thus I cherry picked the crème de la crème and avoided said bum steers wherever feasible.

The horror sequel was rife by the time horror’s eighties surge picked up pace and Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II always stands in my mind as a prime example of just how to do it. Carpenter’s involvement may have been limited and essentially it had downgraded to merely a slasher; but it nailed the tone effortlessly, taking place right from where the original left off and felt natural in its progression. A year later, Tommy Lee Wallace got in on the act and attempted something which had the purists positively foaming from their mouths.

Halloween III: Season of The Witch was somewhat predictably and utterly unfairly ripped a new one for moving the goalposts way out of sight, where in fact, it never felt anything less than a part of the universe that Carpenter had created. To this very day, it still doesn’t receive the due respect for my liking, as I would gladly go on record to state that it is one of the decade’s finest horror movies and stand by that audacious claim belligerently. It also boasted one of Carpenter’s best electronic compositions and a mean streak that set it effortless apart from other franchise fodder suspects surfacing at the time.

Of all the years that stick in my mind, 1985 is the one wearing garters and suspenders and the lipstick came in the form of a quartet of personal darlings, all of which clawed themselves free of the topsoil during this plush twelve-month period. First stiff to the morgue was Godfather of The Dead himself, Romero, leading the charge in a manner nothing less than masterful with the monumental Day of The Dead.

Screenwriting genius Dan O’Bannon then threw us a curve ball with The Return of The Living Dead sending up the granddaddy with an impish twinkle, while playing it straight enough to still allow for the catch. Spectacularly entertaining, O’Bannon’s effort was but a layer of creeping flesh from perfection absolutus and single-handedly rebirthed one of the decade’s most regal Scream Queens in Linnea Quigley. But still there was sufficient time for another brace of beauties to emerge from their body bags and more than enough undead swagger to win horror audiences over.

Young Bava’s Demons and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator were upon us just prior to Halloween and both placed their own spin on pulse-free halfway houses for maggots. The latter hit the ground running and consolidated twelve-months later with the similarly schlock-filled From Beyond, while Bava’s fellow Italian Michele Soavi dropped the curtain on the short-lived slasher craze after his ovation-deserving homegrown 1987 encore, Stagefright.

Dialing us back to 1984 momentarily, Thom Eberhardt’s Night of The Comet struck a damn fine balance between horror B-movie and sci-fi and, a year prior, Australian Richard Franklin gifted us another sequel that has stood the test of tie remarkably well in the excellent Psycho II. This also brought to the forefront the writing skills of another eighties stalwart, Tom Holland, while Re-Animator afforded Brian Yuzna to step out of the shadows and see what was cooking.

Just as the decade was drawing to a spluttering close, Yuzna’s Society splurged forth and it was the nineties before audiences could even begin to process its madness. I’ve seen a lot of messed up shit in my time, but little more disorderly than the ever-infamous shunting scene of the closing act. I’ve never partaken in a full-blown orgy and would say it is at least partially due to sick puppy Yuzna that the opportunity has never presented itself.

I did however attend rather a lot of house parties and Kevin S. Tenney’s Night of The Demons played a significant part in their appeal. Quigley was at it again, this time finding time to perfect the art of applying lipstick using one’s perky right nipple. To this day, this is one of the most shifty cinematic illusions I’ve ever been utterly bamboozled by. Thus I honored her soon after by getting my own righty pierced, although I unwittingly plucked out said hooped ring on a car door a mere two weeks later, to the tune of a similar hue of deep red.

The horror anthology was already in fine song long before Romero’s Creepshow rolled into town back in 1982 and this fiendishly favorable five-piece set a trend that suited my short attention span down to the terra firma beneath me. Numerous others had a crack, with Lewis Teague following suit in 1985 by selecting the short stories of literary legend Stephen King for bite-sized recognition. It wasn’t perfect and felt a little front-loaded with Quitters Inc. being potentially my all-time favorite anthology segment.

Much of this hero-worship was down to the gloriously twitchy turn of James Woods whose breakout role in Cronenberg’s Videodrome three years previous had revealed the kind of edge that he was packing. Others didn’t fare quite so well and consistency proved the Achilles heel where these playful portmanteaux were concerned but my recollections are fond for second-tier fare such as Jeff Burr’s 1987 effort, From a Whisper To a Scream (or The Offering as it is also known). This also provided an ideal swan song for one of the last of the old guard, Vincent Price and this distinguished gentleman departed through the pearly gates a few short years after its completion.

As for his stablemate Christopher Lee’s children of the night, vampires, there was something of a skirmish going on between Joel Schumacher’s super cool crowd pleaser, The Lost Boys, and Katheryn Bigelow’s more noir-oriented Near Dark going toe-to-toe for pole position. I never could see the sense of having to pick an outright winner and hold both in similarly lofty esteem, although the latter perhaps stole the edge through securing the services a trio of untouchables who had already come good for her former husband, James Cameron, for his 1986 deep space extravaganza, Aliens.

Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein and the sadly missed Bill Paxton were on typically enigmatic form and vampires were suddenly back in vogue again. Speaking of which, fashion model-cum actress and madame of the strangé , Grace Jones, was on simply sumptuous form as head vampire Katrina for Richard Wenk’s tongue-in-cheek neon-drenched delight, Vamp.

This also enabled boundlessly bouncy bubblegum blonde, DeDee Pfeiffer to stake her claim on my bedroom wall space, alongside the equally effervescent cheerleading cutie pie, Kelli Maroney of Night of The Comet fame, and of course, Queen Quigley herself. Between the three of them and copper princess Molly Ringwald, that was effectively my teenage kicks sewn up.

How could I possibly not honk the horn of Fred Dekker’s Night of The Creeps while we’re balls deep in the festivities? This party hard pleasure provider inexplicably managed to fuse B-grade fifties sci-fi with slasher to glorious effect, seasoning with a smattering of shuffling meatbags for good measure. Moreover, Dekker was one of the few directors to truly appreciate the infinite power of the ‘tache, with potentially the sexiest alpha male ever to don a girdle, Tom Atkins, showing the kids precisely how it was done back in the day as quick-witted flatfoot, Ray Cameron.

Using the timeless calling card “thrill me” to assist in moistening those panty gussets, Atkins has seldom been put to more logical use as he was here and Dekker’s film, along with his very nearly as gratifying glee giver, The Monster Squad, the following year, punched all the right buttons and in precisely the correct configuration.

Given that I have always rooted for the underdog, it seems only right to tilt the lens to some of the more obscure offerings from the epoch. While slasher was in sound health, J. Lee Thompson’s Happy Birthday To Me, Jeff Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn and Jack Sholder’s Alone in The Dark all shone like diamond in the rough, with Andrew Davis’s The Final Terror rambling just shy of the frontrunners. Interstellar terror was well represented also, thanks to the low-rent pleasures of the aforementioned Galaxy of Terror, Allan Holzman’s Forbidden World and William Malone’s Titan Find.

Charles Band was busy making a name for himself with the mildly culpable likes of Parasite and The Alchemist, and if you really felt like slumming it (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), then Lloyd Kaufman was up to his bow tie in latex by the middle of the decade. Indeed, one of the forgotten gems of this era, Mother’s Day, came from his brother Charles and time has been incredibly kind to this surprisingly joyful little exploitation number as a result of its recent Blu-ray restoration.

Arguably Argento’s last truly top-notch movie, Opera, appeared before the eighties tailed off and, while not quite up to the impossibly high standard of Deep Red, Tenebrae, Suspiria and Inferno, featured some of the most breathtaking visual gymnastics of modern-day cinema. These included the magnificent demise of Daria Nicolodi by way of a fast-tracking keyhole bullet to the eyeball.

This scene was made all the more ironic by the fact that the airborne shrapnel then went on to decisively dismantle the only available form of communication for horrified heroine Cristina Marsillac by shattering Betty’s home telephone after fashioning itself a hefty exitwound. Argento even went one better by following its trajectory in slo-mo to afford additional time to revel in his undeniable mastery. So you see, the eighties were a special time for me, and while I’m the first to admit that I’m a shameless servant of the decade, there’s no smoke without fire and they were burning brightly all around me.

The crazy thing is that I’ve barely scratched the surface here as a vast number of big-hitters haven’t even received a mention and that speaks volumes for the length and breadth of a genre well and truly on the upsurge. Whether I will ever again witness a period quite as awe-inspiring in my lifetime is open to spirited debate, but “never say never” is my motto and I’d like to think there’s a lot of life in the old dog yet.

That said, puberty has long since bid me adieu and I’ll leave that poser for a fresh cohort to decipher and ride the new wave alongside them if and when it finally arrives. For the time being, I’m all about the flashback and don’t need a DeLorean to get there either. Long live eighties horror in all its forms and thanks ever so much for the supplying this particular aficionado the very sweetest of cinematic memories.


Click here to read Eighties + Horror = KABOOM!





1 Comment

  1. That was fun. It was like revisiting my teenage years & my twenties in one fell swoop. I remember all of those films. I must admit I am not really a fan of giallo. I have tried watching it but can’t get into it.
    Well done, Rich!

If you like what you've seen & read please feel free to share your thoughts with us!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.