Whether it was from fright or from laughing myself to involuntary incontinence, these ten Horror Films left a lasting impression on me since I originally watched them in the 1980's. Possibly tame and silly by today's standards, these Horror classics were my first foray into the genre when I was but a wee lad in the 1980's. Ranging from blood soaked knives, mad science, and haunted houses, these 10 films prepped my pants for future frights.
THE CHANGELING (1980)
Directed By: Peter Medak
Written By: Russell Hunter, William Gray and Diana Maddox
Starring: George C. Scott; Melvyn Douglas
Released: March 1980
Music Composer John Russell (George C. Scott) moves into a Victorian era mansion north of Seattle, Washington. He has relocated from New York following the tragic death of his wife and daughter in a car accident. Concentrating on getting his life back together, starting with composing music once again, Russell soon realizes that he is not alone in the house. Russell begins to unravel the mystery of his unwanted house guest, which involves the murder of a child in the house more than 60 years prior.
The Changeling is one of those horror films that you’ve never heard of, but love once you’ve seen it. It could very well be the best haunted house horror film of the modern era. Critically acclaimed, and winner of 9 Genie Awards (the Canadian Oscars) including the first ever Genie Award for Best Picture. George C. Scott gives a stellar performance as Dr. Russell a man who is just as haunted internally as the house is externally. You`ll also do a double take the next time you step into a bathtub!
FRIDAY THE 13TH - PART 2 (1981)
Directed By: Steve Miner; Sean S. Cunningham
Written By: Ron Kurz; Phil Scuderi
Starring: Amy Steel; Adrienne King
Released: May 1981
“I don’t wanna scare anyone, but I’m gonna give it to you straight about Jason. His body was never recovered from the lake after he drowned. And if you listen to the old-timers in town, they’ll tell you he’s still out there, some sort of demented creature, surviving in the wilderness, full grown by now… stalking… stealing what he needs, living off wild animals and vegetation. Some folks claim they’ve even seen him, right in this area. The girl that survived that night at Camp Blood, that… Friday The 13th? She claimed she saw him. She disappeared two months later… vanished. Blood was everywhere. No one knows what happened to her. Legend has it that Jason saw his mother beheaded that night. Then, he took his revenge, a revenge he continued to seek if anyone ever enters his wilderness again. And, by now, I guess you all know we’re the first to return here. Five years… five long years he’s been dorment. And he’s hungry. Jason’s out there… watching… always on the prowl for intruders… ready to kill… ready to devour… thirsty for young blood” – this is the story that Head Camp Counsellor Paul tells the other Counsellors at a campfire in the early half of the movie. Unbeknownst to him and all the others, Jason Voorhies is already watching them and picks them off one by one. Why do I like this movie over the original? Jason Voorhies has become a cult character of mythic status in horror. This movie was his first murderous foray (as opposed to his mother in the first Friday). Part Two is bloodier, scarier, and more visceral. It also has the distinction of being the last Friday movie that wasn’t over the top and ridiculous (I realize how ludicrous the last statement is)…as Jason is still depicted as a deranged “human” in this movie — subsequent films built Jason into a supernatural engine of chaos and murder. Whether it was at Camp Crystal Lake, New York City, a copycat killer, or on a space station in the future, each following instalment of the franchise became more and more absurd with each offering.
Directed By: Tobe Hooper
Written By: Steven Spielberg, Mark Victor and Michael Grais
Starring: Craig T. Nelson; JoBeth Williams
Released: June 1982
The Freeling`s, Steven (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams), move their family to a new sub-division in California. Their youngest of three children, daughter Carol Anne, wakes up one night and starts talking to the T.V. She does so again the next night and is abducted into it by a ghastly apparition. Other incredible supernatural occurrences happen throughout the house and the family fears the worst as young Carol Anne’s voice can be heard emanating through the television set. The Freelings discover that the homes have been built over a cemetery and that they are being tormented by ghouls and ghosts. With the help of a group of Parasychologists and a Spiritual Medium, Steven and Diane hope to get their little girl back and rid the home of it’s uninvited houseguests.
What I love most about this movie, is that it’s fun. Not particularly the scariest of haunted house movies, Poltergeist makes its way into my favorites because there are a lot of fun elements to it:
Little girl gets sucked into a tv; the tree outside of older brother Robbie’s window tries to snatch him up; Tangina the medium is a hoot to watch on the screen; melting faces and objects whizzing through the air as if perpetually stuck in a twister; and portals to and from another dimension. With all that going for it, Poltergeist is definitely a fun horror flick to curl up on the couch with your honey to with a bowl of popcorn. But if the T.V. starts vomitting phantoms at you, it might be best to run out of the house immediately!
Directed by: George A. Romero
Produced by: Richard P. Rubinstein
Screenplay by: Stephen King
Starring: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E. G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Tom Atkins
Released: November 12, 1982
This movie is one of the more popular anthology horror movies comprising of five vignettes, “Father’s Day“, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill“, “Something to Tide You Over“, “The Crate” and “They’re Creeping Up on You!” and a bookend piece introducing and closing out the film. The segments “Jordy Verrill” about a simple man named Jordy (King) that stumbles upon a meteorite that has incredible floral consequences when Jordy touches it, and “The Crate” about a murderous Bigfoot like creature held in a box at a university that one psychopath professor (Holbrook) decides to use as a method to kill his obnoxious wife (Barbeau), were adapted for the screen from Stephen King’s unpublished material. The remaining segments, “Father’s Day” about the reanimated corpse of a murdered family patriarch that seeks vengeance against his greedy duplicitous family…and some cake, “Something To Tide You Over” about an enraged millionaire (Nielsen) who plots the murders of his wife and her lover (Danson), and “They’re Creeping Up on You!” about a Scrooge like rich crotchpot overrun in his penthouse apartment by swarms of cockroaches were written specifically for the movie. My personal favourite of the lot was “They’re Creeping Up on You!”
Creepshow (1982) was a rare departure from Director George Romero’s usual comfort zone zombie-fare. The movie is a book-ended anthology picture, with various themes and tones, that attempts to successfully emulate the classic horror comics of the 1950s that George Romero grew up with. On paper, with a screenplay written by Stephen King – directed by a Horror master in Romero – and an impressive cast of the day including Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielsen and Ted Dansen (to name a few) the movie seems like it would be an awesome horror flick…but it lacks any real frights. However, the film was a moderate sleeper success in 1982, and spawned a sequel in 1987. A third movie was released in 2006 and although it follows a similar format, it lacks the same charm and feel of both the original and Part 2.
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Produced by: Claude Héroux
Written by: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry
Released: February 4, 1983
Videodrome is the kind of horror movie that you watch while stoned. So that when you see a dudes’ (James Woods) stomach turn into a pseudo-vagina VCR, or fingers stretching outward from a human chest or television, you can blame it on the funny mushrooms you just had about 45 minutes ago. The movie is a trip, and it’s one of director David Cronenberg’s biggest cult films from an experimental era. Debbie Harry from the 1970’s band Blondie, plays the lead sexual conquest with the bizarre fetish palette. There’s some very bloody visuals in this film, and at parts you may find yourself scratching your head wondering just what exactly is going on. But it plays like a car accident where you can’t look away. It’s dated and cheesy, but different and bizarre enough to deserve a quick watch.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Directed By: Wes Craven
Written By: Wes Craven
Starring: John Saxon; Heather Langenkamp; Johnny Depp; Robert Englund
Released: November 1984
“I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy!”
I have never been a fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street series as a whole. I often found them silly and after every chapter Freddie Krueger became more and more ridiculous. Anyone that could come up with a wittier bon mot then him could live to see another day. In fact, I would almost consider the 2010 remake a better film as Freddie is far more menacing and frightening in that installment, but to do so would be a great diss-service to the original. I haven’t seen the movie in years, but most notably for me is Johnny Depp’s “bloody” death, the razor-gloved hand pervertedly creeping on Nancy in the water as the poor stressed girl is trying to have a relaxing tub, and of course her getting french-kissed by a rotary phone (You mean they didn’t have speed dial? Oh the horror!) The kids nursery rhyme: “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…Three, four, better lock your door…Five, six, grab your crucifix…Seven, eight, gonna stay up late…Nine, ten, never sleep again” is scary in its own right. The movie has a lot of really cool special effects (which is really what prompted me to include the movie on my list). The first one is worth a watch for any true horror fan…the sequels not so much!
Written and Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale
Theatrical Release: October 1985
A classic horror recipe re-tooled for the 1980’s. An H.P. Lovecraft story infused with an element of Frankenstein. Jeffrey Combs steals the movie as obsessive medical scientist student Herbert West. In the movie, he has developed a serum that can reanimate the dead. His discovery piques the interest of his room-mate Dan, when the latter witnesses his dead cat come back to life. Both men begin experimenting on the recently deceased, as Dan’s job at the hospital has him working in the morgue and thus easy access to dead bodies. The duo’s twisted science has them expelled from school, Dan is put on the outs by his creamy breasted girlfriend and her father – the Dean of the University, and Herbert is also pursued by the sinister and creepy Dr. Hill who steals the formula for his own gain. Re-Animator is incredibly amusing, has some great bloody scenes, some fun but awkward scenes with Barbara Crampton lying mostly naked on a gurney and being sexually advanced upon by a severed head and its reanimated former body. The film is a cult classic that has spawned two sequels, turned Barbara Crampton into a Horror Convention fan favourite, and immortalized Jeffrey Combs (or at least the deplorable yet loveable Herbert West) as one of the greatest Horror movie anti-heroes ever.
DEADLY FRIEND (1986)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Produced by: Robert L. Crawford, Patrick Kelley, Robert M. Sherman
Screenplay by: Bruce Joel Rubin
Based on: Friend by Diana Henstell
Starring: Matthew Laborteaux, Kristy Swanson, Michael Sharrett, Anne Twomey, Richard Marcus, Anne Ramsey
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Released: October 10th, 1986
A single mom, her genius teenaged son Paul, and his fully functioning -prone to fits of violence and rage – intelligent robot BB, move to a new house near the university where Paul has been hired to work on scholarship. Paul quickly makes friends with the newspaper boy Tom, and his next door neighbour Samantha (Sam). Paul and BB immediately get picked on by a local thug – who BB quickly incapacitates. The sight of Paul’s robot angers a crusty curmudgeon of a recluse in across the street neighbour Elvira Parker who threatens the quartet if she ever sees the robot near her property again. Paul also seems to piss off Sam’s abusive and alcoholic father who doesn’t want anyone to be near or touch his daughter…except him (ewwww). The plot really kicks into high gear when BB is destroyed, and Sam is injured so badly by her father that she becomes brain dead and scheduled to have the plug pulled. With the reluctant help from Tom, they steal Sam’s body from the hospital and like a modern day Dr. Frankenstein and Igor, the two boys try to put this perky boobed little Humpty Dumpty back together again. That’s when the real fun begins.
Often considered to be one of director Wes Craven’s worst films, and the D on his filmographic report card. By the time the movie was released in 1986, plenty of hokey and over-the-top crazed technology horror films had made their way to the silver screen (including fellow robot rager “Chopping Mall (1986)” released in the same year) so it wasn't too much of a weirdo stretch.
I appreciate the themes of domestic fears, like physical abuse, that I feel Craven was trying to spotlight –particularly during character Samantha’s bloody and violent dreams about her violently abusive drunken father. But the movie lacks any real kick to the frights. Some of the kill shots, including the most famous from this film — the basketball to the head execution of Mamma (Anne Ramsay) from both “Goonies (1985)” and “Throw Mama From the Train (1988)” — were of the lowest-bidder-special 30% off quality. I also had a really difficult time getting past the robot looking like a special ed Bumble Bee from the Transformers.
Matthew Laborteaux, who plays the lead character Paul, fresh off his cancelled TV show “Whiz Kids (1984-85)” will forever be Albert Ingals to me. I half expected Michael Landon’s Charles Ingals to show up in his hat and save the day with inspirational words of wisdom. In fact, there was an episode of “Little House on the Prairie” (the name of which escapes me) starring Laborteaux as Albert, where his new girlfriend – who just moved to Walnut Grove, is being violently stalked by some masked madman. It was scary! Probably scarier than this movie.
Finally, Kristy Swanson running in slo-motion towards the camera with her fingers scissored on both hands and stiff limbs, really felt like she was just racing to give us all hugs. There are a few moments I really like, including the dream sequence where Sam impales her inebriated lout father on a steam pipe, and he menacingly laughs at her. There were shades of “A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)” in that scene — which makes it feel like Craven was going to the well too many times.
Deadly Friend is not awful. It’s certainly not great, and is ridiculous in many parts, but it’s far from the worst thing I’ve ever seen. The movie is considered to be Wes Craven’s blight on his film repertoire because it appears like he phoned it in.
CREEPSHOW 2 (1987)
Directed by: Michael Gornick
Produced by: David Ball
Screenplay by: George A. Romero, Lucille Fletcher (uncredited)
Based on: Stories by Stephen King
Starring: Lois Chiles, George Kennedy, Dorothy Lamour, Tom Savini
Released: May 1, 1987
Released 5 years after the first movie, this anthology film was reduced from 5 tales of creepy frights to 3 spooky delights. This bigger and badder Creepshow was another collaborative effort by two horror icons. The screenplay was written by George Romero, based on short stories by Stephen King, and directed by Michael Gornik — the cinematographer on the first feature film. Much like the first Creepshow, part two also follows a bookend interstitial story mixed between the three feature stories.
Just like the preceding entry, and others like it, I enjoy anthology horror films from time to time. They’re a nice change of pace from full features and they have a very Twilight Zone-esq style feel to them – (my 2nd favourite TV show of all time) – they’re usually fairly short, with a couple of shockers, and then on to the next story. In fact, the third story in this picture “The Hitch-hiker” has a very similar theme and tone as the classic season one ‘Zone episode also entitled “The Hitch-hiker”. In the movie, a lady hits a hitch hiker with her car driving at night distracted. Fearing the worst, she drives off leaving the man to his fate on the side of the road. The ghoulish hiker returns again and again (more mangled and bloodied than the last) and repeatedly says “Thanks for the ride lady”. After a frantic and horrified drive home, the woman may just share in the same fatal fate as her victim. I liked this chapter almost specifically because of its similarity to the Twilight Zone episode previously mentioned. Replace a ghoulish drifter with a ghostly stranger; replace the repetitive phrase upon encounter “thanks for the ride lady” with “going my way”, and swap out the perm for the June Cleaver and it’s virtually the same story. This segment’s just happened to be a teensy tiny bit more horrific, violent, and bloodier.
The low point of the film for me was the first feature, “Old Chief Wood’nhead” about an elderly merchant couple (half of which played by gentle giant George Kennedy) in a dying town that are murdered by a trio of thugs trying to rob their store. Having just been entrusted with the village’s sacred tribal stones, by the Chief of the village as a good faith for future payment, the kindly merchant refuses to surrender it to the thieves and the elderly couple share their last glance. This act supernaturally animates the life-sized wooden Chieftain that has stood in front of the store for decades like a sentinel guard — and it’s out for blood!
Interesting concept, but it didn’t really wow me.
My personal favourite of the lot for Creepshow 2 is the eerie and mysterious “The Raft” – where four young adult students ditch for a day and drive to a secluded lake / pond where a raft is floating out in the middle of the water. They swim to the raft and once they reach it, a bizarre and viscous like black substance heads rather quickly towards them. The quartet soon discover how incredibly deadly this thing is. Plus it had the best make up, special effects, and jolts.
The entire movie was not too terrifying, but still pretty good with some great scenes and it’s really worth a watch.
MANIAC COP (1988)
Directed by: William Lustig
Produced by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Starring: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Robert Z’Dar, William Smith, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree
Released: May 13, 1988
A deranged killer is on the loose in New York City, brutally slicing and dicing innocent victims without provocation. The detective heading the investigation (Atkins) believes that the crazed killer is a cop; based on eyewitness testimony. The investigation leads to a young cop (Campbell) who is suspected of being the murderer when his wife is killed by the “Maniac Cop” after she discovered her husband having sex with a co-worker in a motel. After being arrested and incarcerated, the cop, along with his girlfriend and the detective, believes that this is a frame job and that the real killer cop is still loose on the streets.
Atkins and Campbell are the best parts of this movie. But that’s not saying much. The film brings nothing new to the table in a sub-genre that had been flooding theatres and VCRs with slasher flicks for a decade. The acting is a little bit wooden, even with Atkins, Campbell, and Richard Roundtree at the helm. The killer is a normal man with an above average physique but is portrayed as almost super human — which detracts from the movie.
Despite having two horror movie mainstays in Tom Atkins (The Fog, Night of the Creeps), and Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, Army of Darkness) in the lead roles and penned by veteran horror auteur Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Stuff) the movie didn’t fare so well at the box office, making a little more than half of it’s $1 million budget. Maniac Cop did find some legs on home video where it has become a cult favourite and has been followed by two sequels.