10. Pin, 1988
A lifelike medical dummy becomes more and more conscious as time goes by; used as an alter-ego by Leon (struggling to come to terms with the death of his father, the creator of PIN) this is one ‘doll’ who is lacking Chucky’s knowing gurning and cutting one-liners. He’s not interested in playing for popularity.
Pin himself is a great creation, all blank stares and guttural baby voice, unleashing Leons darker side when he can’t. This is more than the sum of its parts which, lets face it, are not exactly of Oscar standards; but it manages to be both creepy and have something to say about fractured psyches, even without the benefit of a big budget or a name cast. The book is also a taut read.
9. Slumber Party Massacre, 1982
A young female basketball team have a slumber party, they are stalked and picked off by a killer – that’s pretty much the synopsis of a lot of slasher horrors but what makes this one special is the script. For a film with massacre in the title, this one is surprisingly humane to its characters. They are allowed to have personalities and not just be nubile airhead fodder for our killer, it is no surprise that this was written and directed by two women as even though it features your standard amount of nudity, it never feels too exploitive, the kills don’t feel sado-sexual, these women are not victims but fighters, and the male characters are also fully realized. Moreover I felt the ending and the killer reveal was surprisingly realistic, he is a troubled man, not a monster, and that is somehow scariest of all. Refreshing!
8. Terror Train, 1980
I love a clever twisty ending, and this only the first of three movies on this list that have one! A prank on a high school loser leads to death and mayhem years later as someone is picking off the kids involved in that long ago prank at a costume party set on a train. It stars scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, and David Copperfields role should alert you to the fact that this film involves magic.. It all works (the costumes an especially macabre touch) and makes clever use of the moving setting. The ending was a surprise to me and really cemented this film in my mind as one to remember; as did an earlier almost unseen non-showy murder that proved this movie meant business. An unexpected treat.
7. Phenomena, 1985
Italian film-maker Dario Argento is a horror legend, responsible for many classics including Deep Red and Suspiria. This is a slightly more accessible outing but it is just as satisfyingly creepy, beautifully filmed and visceral as his previous work. Starring horror legend Donald Pleasance and a young Jennifer Connelly as an American girl sent to a Swiss boarding school where her ability to speak to insects may help her catch a serial killer, this is a treat even for those of us who find all things creepy crawly.. well, a bit creepy. With original music by ‘Goblin’ and featuring songs by Motorhead and Iron Maiden, the soundtrack is also well worth checking out too. Released in America as ‘Creepers’ with 30 minutes cut out – avoid this version and see Phenomena instead, its not a film you’ll forget.
6. The Entity, 1982
Based on a true story – a lot of films used this title card, and the word ‘based’ is important here, it means no proof is needed. The Entity starts with this tile card, the film claims to tell the story of a woman in California who was tormented, beaten and raped by a spirit in her home. The rape scenes are graphic and upsetting; the film sometimes hard to watch as she goes through this, but it is ultimately up to the viewer to decide what is real. All I know is that the film is critically under-rated as a horror; mainly, I believe, due to the close-to-exploitation of its star Barbara Hershey, the camera almost lasciviously lingering over her body during the rapes. A valid argument but for another time. As a film this is powerful, harrowing and effective, regardless of its truth.
5. Happy Birthday to me, 1981
The next twisty ended horror on the list involves that old slasher trope – killer stalks and kills unknowing teenagers but is not revealed until the finale.
The difference here is a surprisingly involved plot, which plays out like a combination of Heathers, Identity and Friday the 13th. This movie does feature some of the most inventive kills of the genre and is surprisingly strong with female protagonist roles. Those multiple twists in the denouement are what sets this movie apart though, and truly imprinted it in my memory, and that final line and its implication is quite the game changer.
Though the film-makers seem to have taken some liberties with continuity of plot I don’t care when the twists are this unexpected. Worth seeking out by slasher fans.
4. The Changeling, 1980
One of the first films to really scare me, this chilling ghost story stars an embittered and greif stricken George C Scott, attempting to move on after the deaths of both his child and wife and instead finding himself at the centre of an unsolved murder involving assumed identities and devastating cruelty. Some of the ghostly set pieces here are scares my mind still occasionally revisits in the watches of the night. A master class in the chills that can be created by the simplest of moments or objects - a small voice, a ball, an echo. Would be a nifty little thriller even without the horror elements, but with them it stands as a ‘great’ in the ghost sub-genre.
3. Sleepaway Camp, 1980
If you’ve seen this movie, you ‘know’. There has not been a film like this before or after. The final entry in my trio of twist movies is a juggernaut of ‘OMG!!!’ Nobody saw that ending coming, and I have to admit I rewound and rewatched that sucker at least five times before I stopped exclaiming over it. The plot that comes before that end is fairly stock standard slasher movie ‘killer kills kids at camp’ with the added cheesy bonus of watching a movie made before being politically correct changed things – here we have counselors ogling and hooking up with campers, counselors in totally inappropriate super-tight junk-highlighting shorts, campers who take verbal bullying to a whole new level etc. All a tad distasteful but a guilty pleasure just the same. The acting must be mentioned as it is, by and large, ranging from acceptable to atrocious with the aunt being one of the worse actors I’ve ever seen on film… but who cares, the ending is disturbing in a way that’s hard to describe and totally comes from nowhere. Sleepaway Camp is an absolute must see!
2. Silver Bullet, 1985
Adapted from a Stephen King novella ‘The cycle of the Werewolf’, this movie stars the late Corey Haim as wheelchair bound protagonist Marty who discovers that someone in his sleepy town is a werewolf. The kills here are effective and believable, the small town rendering is palpable, the humor subtle and the ‘family’ story behind the werewolf tale is handled well wihout being cloying. Werewolves are always hard to bring to the screen and there are some obvious ‘teddy bear’ hiccups here but if you go into this expecting some occasional ‘fluffiness’ then you can just enjoy a good story well told. The acting is all well above board (with Gary Busey and Megan Fellows of tv’s Anne of Green Gables also in the cast), and the direction effective. This has a nostalgic tone to it which is made even more poignant by the lamentable loss of Haim, his performance here is tantamount to the success of the film and he carried that burden admirably with a performance that belied his years. Such a shame.
1. Bad Dreams, 1988
The first film directed by Andrew Fleming of ‘The Craft’ and ‘Threesome’, Bad Dreams came out at a time when audiences were getting their fill of 'horror and dreams' from A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels, and so it quickly sunk from the publics conscious without much of a splash. This is unfortunate because I think this movie has a lot to offer. The plot concerns Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) who, in the 70’s, is part of a cult called Unity. After surviving the cults mass suicide and awakening after 13 years in a coma, she finds herself immersed in the suicides (or are they??) committed by the residents of the psychiatric ward in which she is recovering. Featuring truly intriguing imagery (some taken from famous artworks, some harkening back to the Jonestown horror mass suicide of the 70’s) this film is infinitely quotable, full of dark humor (mainly from the brilliant Dean Cameron), truly gory kills and a tight plot that has a strong basis in reality although it doesn’t at first appear that way. This is an entertaining thrill ride with a frightening antagonist and the end credit song is Sweet Child of Mine – what’s better than that?