This year, February and March have back-to-back Friday the 13th's. Now traditionally, I usually spend Friday the 13th marathon viewing the entire Friday the 13th film franchise; but that's been over done. This year, I'm going to save-the-date to watch other slasher films that came out around the same time as the glory days of the Friday series. So, here is my carefully selected list of Five 80's Slashers Worth a 2nd Look!
1. DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE (1980)
Directed by: Joseph Ellison
Produced by: Ellen Hammill
Screenplay by: Ellen Hammill, Joe Masefield, Joseph Ellison
Story by: Joe Masefield
Starring: Dan Grimaldi
Released: March 28, 1980
In much the same vein as Psycho almost 20 years prior, Don’t Go In The House contends with Donny, a man who goes of his rocker when his abusive mother suddenly dies leaving him alone in a big house. As he slips further and further into his psychosis, the man lures innocent and suspecting women back to his home where he incapacitates them. The women awaken naked and strung up in a strange metal room that Donny has built in the house. One by one each of the helpless victims are blow torched by Donny and burned to death, a method of pain that Donny is reliving from his childhood when his mother used to discipline him by placing his arms over and open flame. Donny collects the charred remains of the women, as well as his mother’s burnt corpse, and dresses them all up and seats them together in a closed off room upstairs. Concerned by his increasing weirdness, Donny’s one work friend Bobby and a Priest try to help Donny in their own ways — unaware of the atrocious murders he has committed.
First off, this movie certainly wasn’t up for any Acting Oscars. But that detractor slowly subsided as the movie progressed. Mostly because the kill sequences, and scenes with the voices in Donny’s head, were actually done quite well. Don’t Go In The House plays out like a “bridge” between the carnage films of the 1970s (ala The Hills Have Eyes) and the soon-to-explode-onto-the-pop-culture-scene slasher trend of the 1980s. Donny is an interesting and complex character. Timid, meek, and squirrelly at work and out in public. In his home, however, he is calculating, unwavering and unflinching in his brutal execution of his victims all the while succumbing to the mad voices in his head.
Although the film feels as though it has been lost through the annals of time (I’d never heard of it until very recently), it still plays out well by today’s standards and the movie is really not too bad — if you can get past the horrible acting. Given that most films of the era had killers stalking their prey with knives and machete’s, the unique concept of an oven room and immolated victims may be just the ingredient in this recipe to set it apart from any contemporary clones. If you can get your hands on a copy, I recommend a viewing of this movie to any horror fan.
2. THE BURNING (1981)
Directed by: Tony Maylam
Produced by: Harvey Weinstein
Screenplay by: Bob Weinstein, Peter Lawrence
Story by: Brad Grey, Tony Maylam, Harvey Weinstein
Starring: Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Brian Matthews, Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter
Released: May 8, 1981
In the summer of 1976, a bunch of no-goodniks at a summer camp decide to play a prank on the mean ole drunk groundskeeper, Cropsy.
They placed a gross skull, crawling with worms and lit candles in the eyes, on his dresser and watch through a window for him to wake up. When he does, Cropsy is so terrified of the head that he knocks it over and the flaming candles ignite a jerrycan filled with fuel beside Cropsy’s bed. Within seconds, he is fully in flames. The kids watch in terror and then run away to hide, as Cropsy runs out of his cabin fully aflame and collapses in a creek. He is taken to a hospital where he survives, but with fourth degree burns over his entire body. He spends 5 years hospitalized, with multiple failed skin graft surgeries and remains horribly horribly disfigured. Cropsy is finally released from the hospital and he heads straight back to the camp to enact his murderous revenge — right after he tries to pop his rocks off with a hoo-er. Let’s just say that he’s so ugly that SHE couldn’t get it up, and Cropsy didn’t take to kindly to that.
In the early 1980s the slasher film was at its height, and many of them took place at a summer camp (cheap to produce at a camp or ideal setting for “boogeyman” stories — my inner jury is still convening on this). Unlike many of it’s contemporaries, I found The Burning to be quite good. A group of counsellors and older teen campers are stranded up river from the camp while on an overnight canoe trip. Cropsy systematically eliminates the unsuspecting group one-by-one and in a very cool group sequence (not gonna spoil it, the scene alone is worth watching the movie).
The film has the distinction of being the launching pad for both Bob and Harvey Weinstein at Miramax. Harvey was one of the producers on the movie, and brother Bob co-wrote it. The Burning also introduced the world to several actors who would go on to become quite successful in Hollywood: Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame plays joker Dave, Fisher Stevens from Short Circuit plays the prankster Woodstock, and a young Holly Hunter has a bit part as camper Sophie. But Cropsy doesn’t discriminate. He murders “A” through “D” listers without even batting a burnt eyelash. Just ask Fisher Stevens’ character Woodstock to open up a jar of peanut butter for you (he can’t — Cropsy diced off all of his fingers in one swoop with those shears).
I had no knowledge of The Burning until I watched a Top 20 horror countdown on YouTube and saw the trailer for the movie. It looked pretty good, it had me hooked enough to look for it, and after watching it a couple of times — I’m glad that I did!
3. PIECES (1982)
Directed by: Juan Piquer Simón
Produced by: Stephen Minasian, Dick Randall, Edward L. Montoro
Written by: John W. Shadow, Dick Randall
Starring: Christopher George, Linda Day, Frank Braña, Edmund Purdom, Paul L. Smith, Ian Sera, Jack Taylor
Released: August 23, 1982
Pieces is a Spanish horror film from 1982 that was dubbed into English for an American release. It starts off in 1942. a young boy gets scolded by his mom because she caught him putting together a puzzle of a naked woman. After yelling at the boy and threatening to destroy any smut she finds, the super ticked off boy grabs an axe and repeatedly chunks it into his mom’s skull killing her. No more nagging…ever. The cops arrive a little later with the concerned nanny, and they find the boy hiding in a closet and the severed head in another. The police ask the nanny about the whereabouts of the father (who has left the family) and she replies that he’s in Europe. She tells the po-po that the boy has an aunt and she’ll take care of him from now on.
Flash forward to 1982, the boy is all grown up and goes by the name Willard. He opens a box revealing his mother’s bloodstained shoes and clothes, as well as pieces from his nudie puzzle from back in the day.
Soon after, many girls around the University campus start getting gruesomely murdered, and one by one the killer puts the puzzle together with each subsequent kill.
Because the chainsaw-wielding killer is such a nutjob, he tries to create his own jigsaw puzzle made from real human body parts. Police Lieutenant Bracken is investigating the vicious murders and recruits college student Kendall and undercover officer Mary (posing as a tennis instructor) on board to try to uncover the identity of the maniac.
Pieces (1982) is very bloody and gruesome with it’s kill scenes. Outside of those frames, the film has some laughably bad dialogue (perhaps it’s from a loss in translation from the movie’s original Spanish track). Here’s an example of some of the Keatsian-like dialogue in the movie “there’s nothing better in this world than smoking some good pot and fucking on a waterbed” and
“That bastard! While we were looking around out here, that bastard was in there killing her! Bastard! Bastard! BAAAS-TERD!” – ah gems all around! The movie screams are abundant and the victim’s limbs and heads fall off their bodies like a well-cooked pulled pork sandwich.
Pieces has it’s strong degree of cheesiness, but it’s an enjoyable horror film for the type of people that like their steaks raw and bloody and it’s a good addition to the plethora of Slasher horror films that arose out of that era.
4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
Directed by: Robert Hiltzik
Produced by: Jerry Silva, Michele Tatosian
Written by: Robert Hiltzik
Starring: Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Jonathan Tiersten, Felissa Rose, Christopher Collet
Released: November 18, 1983
**I’m putting up a major SPOILER ALERT! for this one folks!**
In Sleepaway Camp the viewer is introduced to the film (via a flashback story) in which a little girl’s brother and homosexual father are killed in a boating accident. Orphaned, Angela is relocated to the guardianship of her peculiarly disturbed aunt. Several years later, Angela attends a summer camp with her overprotective older cousin Ricky. A string of murders occur at the camp and all paranoid suspicion, both by the camp director and the viewing audience, leads to Ricky as the prime suspect. Ultimately, it is revealed that Angela is the killer but not before the audience is shown her shocking secret…”she’s” actually a dude! This eye-opener is revealed simultaneously in the narrative real-time of the movie, and in a flashback sequence eight years prior to Angela’s first arrival at her aunt’s house. The aunt is ecstatic to finally “have a girl around the house.” The aunt continues a dialogue with the child throughout the flashback stating that she always wanted a girl and since there was already a boy in the house with Ricky that “there was no need for two boys now is there…Peter.“ It is then that the audience comes to the chilling revelation that it was not Angela who survived the boating accident, but her brother Peter – who was now forced by his nutjob aunt to be raised as a girl and assume his sister's identity. The scene then continues in real-time where two of the camp counsellors encounter a naked Angela embracing young camper, Paul, on the beach. When she rises, and turns to face the counsellors (and in-turn the camera), the audience sees Paul’s severed head in Angela’s hand as well as ‘her’ penis!
Much like Norman Bates in Psycho (1960), Angela’s altered gender role is a result of an irregular childhood with a disturbed matriarchal figure. Add in a homosexual father who Angela walked in on while he was in the embrace of another man (as seen in flashbacks) for extra scarred trauma motive. Angela murders the males who sexually advance on her, and the females to whom Angela is attracted to. Angela’s homicidal activity is a resultant effect of her cross-gender and confused sexuality. It can be surmised, then, that Angela is a sexual other. She has both elements of masculinity (which is genetic) and of femininity (which has been instilled upon her). Although Angela exhibits both of these elements, she was not fully either and as a result her sexual rage was unleashed on the clueless victims of the camp.
Sleepaway Camp is actually pretty good. The acting is of a Community Centre Christmas Pageant calibre, but the make up and technical effects look really good — the kill scenes are done well — and the final reveal sits with you after the movie is over. The film was a moderate success and spawned two immediate sequels and a return to the camp in 2008. The sequels amped the sarcastic clever quips to 11, the murder scenes were more creative and over the top, but the original was on a scale where it hangs out with the '80s slasher cool kids. The sequels sat at the corner lunch table all by themselves with that kid that smells like extreme body odor.
5. SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)
Directed by: Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, George Dugdale
Produced by: Dick Randall, Stephen Minasian
Written by: Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, George Dugdale
Starring: Caroline Munro, Simon Scuddamore
Released: November 14, 1986
Several former students of Doddsville High return for a mysterious 10-year high school reunion. The school has been closed down for years after a prank by these same former students caused a nerdy recluse, Marty Rantzen, to become horribly disfigured and psychotic. Unbeknownst to the hapless octet at first, the entire reunion is a sham; it’s an orchestrated revenge plot by Marty Rantzen to kill everyone that had a hand in his accident. One by one they are each disposed of in inventive and deplorable ways.
Slaughter High (1986) stands toe to toe with most of the 2nd or 3rd wave of slasher flicks that were released in the mid 1980’s. Sure it was a bit formulaic in that it had a deranged killer and it had some imaginative kill sequences, but it also asked a lot of the audience to suspend a lot of belief. Personally, I had a hard time accepting a few things (I know, I know, it’s a horror film not Shakespeare), like how 8 people showed up at a closed down school with no lights on, parked outside for hours where no one greeted them nor other alumni arriving, and then decide to break in to look around. Any semi-intelligent biped arthropod would have abandoned the reunion possibility hours ago, and would have questioned how completely suspicious this whole thing is, and would have left. But for the sake of moving the plot along…all rational thought is dismissed. This continues when the first victim’s gut explodes after shotgunning a tainted beer. You all leave together, or you all stay put. Never separate. Especially going to take a bath alone in a gross bathtub that hadn’t been cleaned in years, or sneaking off to have sex with a high school flame. But, right…moving plot along.
Overall, Slaughter High (originally titled "April Fool’s Day" but had to change it’s name when another movie called April Fool’s Day was released earlier that same year) is not a bad little slasher horror movie, I really enjoyed it as a teen and I particularly love the skeleton holding the apple movie poster. The only problem I have is what I mentioned previously about how the audience is expected to accept some of the questionable choices made by the principle characters. But hey, the movie is fun so it’s forgivable to jump past a lot of the gaping plot holes.
So there you have it, Five 80's Slashers Worth a 2nd Look! If you have seen these movies before, try giving them another viewing for nostalgias sake. If you haven't seen them before...well...what are you waiting for?