Since the 1980s was a time of truly horrifying fashions and some downright scary hairdos (pass the Aquanet, please) it's no surprise that it was also a boom period for horror films. Some of the biggest horror franchises in history came into their own then, and the decade was marked by the emergence of home video, the greatest thing ever to happen to horror. I'm presenting these in no particular order, but these are all flicks I found time to enjoy between solving my Rubik's Cube and admiring girls in leg-warmers (I keep hoping those will come back).
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Despite what ultimately ended up on screen, this project began its undead life as a more or less official sequel to the movie that gave birth to the modern zombie genre. After completion of Night of the Living Dead, director George Romero and co-screenwriter John Russo both held sequel rights. While Romero continued the series with 1978's Dawn of the Dead, Russo's sequel came in the form of a potboiler of a novel called Return of the Living Dead. The book is a real chore to plod through, but apparently writer/director Dan O'Bannon liked it enough to turn it into a film which fortunately bears no resemblance to Russo's novel. In the film, the events of Night of the Living Dead are more or less based on a true occurrence, but names and details were changed to avoid law suits. Several drums of the chemical manufactured by the military to reanimate the dead were mistakenly shipped to Uneeda Medical Supply. A dopey pair of guys release the chemical which makes its way into some cadavers in the warehouse and eventually the cemetery across the street, where a gang of punk rockers are killing time. These zombies are more selective than most, feasting only on brains. Not everything works perfectly, but the zombie known as Tarman is pretty cool, Linnea Quigley is naked most of the time and there's an awesome punk soundtrack.
The Lost Boys (1987)
It don't get more 80s than this. Lost Boys was director Joel Schumacher's follow-up to his 1985 tale of post-teen angst St. Elmo's Fire, and while the two films might not seem to have anything in common, you should really watch them back-to-back to see some of the most overdone 80s styles in film history. It's as if Schumacher took as many current fashions and styles as he could find and showed them through a magnifying glass. Lost Boys is about the Emerson family who, in the wake of mother Lucy's divorce, have relocated to Santa Carla, CA, where eldest son Michael immediately falls in with the wrong crowd. His new pals are actually a group of teen vampires who, like the lost boys from Peter Pan, never grow old, but have to feed on the blood of the living. Michael is tricked into drinking vampire blood and is on the way to becoming one himself, but his younger brother Sam and his alleged vampire killing pals, the Frog Brothers, step in to help. The film is so hip, it was dated six months after its release, but it's a hell of a lot of fun, with Kiefer Sutherland making one of the most memorable screen vampires of all time. Lost Boys marks the first and only really noteworthy pairing of Coreys Haim and Feldman, and if you're at all human this film will have you craving root beer and Double Stuff Oreos.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Aliens arrive in a small town, and for some reason they look like nightmare versions of circus clowns. They're ship is shaped like a big top tent, and they restrain their victims (who they intend to eat later) by weaving them into cocoons made of cotton candy. Genius. In the tradition of 50s monster flicks, the kids can't convince the authorities that they have an alien invasion on their hands. John Vernon was never able to escape the role he played in Animal House, and here he plays the college kid hating Sherrif, who is basically Dean Wormer if he'd taken a different career path. The film never once takes itself seriously, and that's why it works so well.
This has long been a favorite, and I've always regretted that Clive Barker didn't direct more movies. Based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser represented a refreshing departure from the humorous horror that the 80s became known for (thanks for nothing, Freddy Krueger). Larry and Julia have moved into Larry's family homestead, but Larry's brother Frank with whom Julia was having an affair returns from hell, reconstituting his body from his brother's blood. Frank is on the run from creatures called Cenobites, denizens of Barker's S & M take on hell, and they quite literally can't wait to get their hooks in him. Larry's daughter Kristy complicates things when she acquires the puzzle box that opens the gateway to hell, and soon she too is at the mercy of the cenobites. This was, of course, the first appearance of Pinhead played by Doug Bradley who came back for all of the sequels -- one pretty good one and too many bad ones to count. The original Hellraiser, though, was dark, gory fun.
The Fog (1980)
While I'm sure to be in the minority here, I've always preferred John Carpenter's The Fog to his Halloween. Halloween is a great movie, but I'm not a fan of slasher films generally, and supernatural horror tales are more to my liking. One hundred years after the residents of a coastal California town lured a boat full of lepers to their deaths, the ghosts of those murdered souls return for revenge. The spirits get around inside a mysterious fog bank that glows and moves against the wind, and they're packing lots of sharp pointy weapons. Offshore fishing boats are first to fall victim as the fog moves closer and closer to shore. The film stars then up and coming scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis -- who added Prom Night and Terror Train to her resume that same year -- as well as Curtis's mother Janet Leigh, who is best known for that shower she took at the Bates Motel in Psycho. Hal Holbrook is also memorable as a priest with a drinking problem and a guilty conscience.
In order to secure backing for a feature production of Stephen King's The Stand that was to be directed by George Romero, these two titans of terror joined forces for this relatively low budget flick to show they could produce something bankable. The end result was this anthology flick based on a handful of King's short stories and presented as an homage to the E.C. Comics of the 1950s (the same comics that were adapted for the HBO series Tales From the Crypt). The framing device that holds the stories together shows an enraged father played by Tom Atkins tossing his son's comic book in the trash. The wind whips the pages around and the camera is drawn into the comic, showing us the stories inside which feature walking corpses, carnivorous creatures in crates, King himself playing a walking pile of moss, man-eating cockroaches and a brief appearance by Gaylen Ross, one of the stars of the original Dawn of the Dead. The final story "They're Creeping Up On You," is a bit slow, but the other four are nicely paced, and Tom Savini handled the gore and creature effects. Good times.
The Blob (1988)
A classic monster flick from the 1950s is given an 80s overhaul, with the amorphous flesh-eating mass from space being replaced by an amorphous flesh-eating mass from a government laboratory. This remake is a far more cynical film than the original, and the low-tech jelly creature is now a pretty impressive translucent monstrosity whose recent victims can be seen floating beneath its surface. The basic plot is preserved, with a homeless man falling victim to the creature and the authorities refusing to believe the kids who tell them there's a monster on the loose. This is a far more gruesome film as well, with highlights including the blob surrounding a phone booth before crushing it and absorbing the woman inside, and another hapless victim sucked down a drainpipe by the gelatinous critter.
Agree? Disagree? What movies from the 80s scare you the most?