Seventies and Eighties Horror Gems
By Kristin Battestella
At last, my husband has decided to tune in for some ‘old’ horror films. And by ‘old’ he means seventies and eighties nostalgia. So, here’s a quick but by no means exhaustive sample of some horror jewels from those fabled decades!
An American Werewolf in London – Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run), Griffin Dunne (My Girl), and David Naughton (My Sister Sam) star in writer and director John Landis’ (Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Coming to America) very fine 1981 ode to the Universal classics and werewolves of yore. The plotting and pace is realistic and natural, yet there’s room for fun, sexiness, and modern humor amid the scares. Now that it’s been thirty years, that extra touch of period vibe adds to the lovely British locations as well. Landis’ isn’t afraid to go where his horror predecessors couldn’t with nudity, ironic peep shows, graphic designs, and Oscar winning make up. However, there’s also a sweet homage and seriousness to the personal monster torment and the fear of the beast within. Some today may find the ending a little abrupt, but this is still a darn entertaining ninety minutes of quality wolfy.
Dawn of the Dead – This 1978 sequel to Night of the Living Dead from George A. Romero has a lot of subtle humor thanks to Ken Foree (Kenan & Kel) and Gaylen Ross (Creepshow) holding out against a zombie infestation in a very, very sweet mall. I mean, wow, did malls like this really exist back in the day? Our local malls have none of this magic- just clothing shops and empty spaces. But here, rednecks use the reanimated dead as target practice, the government and media are nonexistent, and the ills of people- not zombies- ruin this little retail paradise. Yes, there’s fun, nostalgia, and great zombie effects. However, the somber social statements, serious reflection, and the dynamics of what plague can do to people are just awesome. Seriously, nowadays the best place to survive zombies would actually be a dang Wal-Mart- groceries and guns!
The Evil Dead – Bruce Campbell (The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr.) battles zombie babes, rapacious forestry, and wondrous 1981 isolation in this the first in Sam Raimi’s (Spiderman) trilogy of Sumerian undead running amok in rural Tennessee and beyond. Simply put, the natural horror and backwoods elements build up the scares tremendously. There are no cell phones to save anyone here, people! Even if some of the effects and zombie make up are perhaps dated, it all still looks good, dirty, gory, and frightfully nasty. Raimi and his cast aren’t afraid to get silly, either, with self-referential humor and necessity is the mother of invention absurdity in taking down those titular problems. The conclusion is wonderful, and there’s more to be had in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.
The Fog – This 1980 original from John Carpenter (Halloween) may seem hokey to some- deadly glow in the dark misties preying on two generations of scream queens Jamie Lee Curtis (Prom Night) and Janet Leigh (Psycho) what not and wow all that. However, several spooky sequences and isolated lighthouse in peril action scenes can still bring a few scares. You know if you were alone on a foggy night along a desolate coast you’d be scared witless! Carpenter’s scoring also adds heaps of atmosphere, along with those hook wielding and seaweed wearing wronged spirits out to set right ye olde injustice. Though I would have liked a little more time with the players and their consciences over said errors, Adrienne Barbeau (Maude) is a cool character; a single mom disc jockey we can all get behind. Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild) is also perfect as the lone priest trying to do right. Now then, I had seen the 2005 remake several years ago, but dang if I can recall anything about it! I suppose the proof is in the pudding there.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Naturally, this 1978 science fiction remake from director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) is not the original, I grant you. It’s a little slow to start and spends more time on outer space photography and explanations, creepy plants, kinky pods, and brief duplicate nudity. Nevertheless, stars Donald Sutherland (M*A*S*H), Leonard Nimoy (Spock, people, hello), Jeff Goldblum (The Fly), Brooke Adams (The Dead Zone), and Veronica Cartwright (Aliens) are all likeable and fun to root for against the paranoia and conspiracy. It’s also intriguing to guess who becomes a pod person when while rewatching for all the red herring details. The fear of violation, distrust, and alien peril are damn entertaining; it’s still all about what you don’t see and even more scary, what we don’t know onscreen and off. And that is a damn killer ending!
Return of the Living Dead - John Russo’s 1985 split sequel to Night of the Living Dead brings a little too much punk to the series- yes, these fashions have not stood the test of time. Thankfully, self- reverent humor, a dang intelligent set up, tongue in cheek fun, and a sweet ending go a long way in the whole eating brains of it all. Brains! Brains! Not only do we have characters ironically named Burt and Ernie, but there’s still some social analysis and sexy balancing the gore, too. While some may not like this departure from the seriousness of the original or Romero’s follow up series, you have to be able to laugh at all these zombies at some point. Others new to the somewhat confusing franchises might like the fun nostalgia and a comparison marathon as well.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre – The firstest is the mostest! Despite being one of the grandpappies of the genre, there’s actually little gore in this 1974 film when compared to today’s torture porn. Sure, there’s some smartly placed bloody splatter, skulls and bone furniture, Leatherface and his skin wearing chainsaw wielding self. However, most of the grizzly is blessedly off camera, creating a level of audience suggestion that really ups the fear. The implications of what has happened or will happen are allowed to germ with the viewer. I frankly always wonder about the sexual disturbia that must go on in this domestic. The hidden paranoia formula is far, far superior to the modern shock and awe desensitization, and I really don’t know why this glorious style was abandoned in favor of unsubstantiated guts and glory. The smart, cheap, desperate, and thus brilliant filmmaking also looks dang sweet on blu-ray. Amen.