Classic 80s Scares!
By Kristin Battestella
From bloody action and slashers to creatures, ghosts, and creepy crawlies, here’s a list of some classic, eighties, scary fair we love!
House – I like this 1986 haunted house story starring William Katt (Carrie) and George Wendt (Cheers). Though cliché, the inheriting an old house from the recently deceased and staying there to get some writing done start is quite creepy – as is the sweet, sweet, tense Victorian house itself. The eighties nostalgia, fashions, classic music, and some scary sarcasm work wonderfully as well. Unfortunately, the turn towards comedic attempts and playing the fat zombies in lipstick and pearls and the undead soldiers for the camp misses more than it hits. The Vietnam flashbacks should be far more sinister and traumatizing, but the jungle scenes just look poorly done and are played too hammy. Add divorce and child loss into the stress and instability and the comedy comes off as not just inappropriate, but a waste compared to the opening makings of a truly scary tale. Why go with the evil, quipping monsters before the unexplained house history anyway? One must let go of what this film could have been in order to enjoy it, for the finale is, well, inexplicable. Does our demon fighting horror author get a dang book out of his ordeal or what? It’s definitely flawed, but some charming fun and scares keep this one memorable. Besides, I’d live in that house, beasties and all!
Predator – Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Carl Weathers (Rocky), Jessie Ventura (Demolition Man), and Bill Duke (Commando) lead this 1987 multi genre gunfire and scare fest from director John McTiernan (Die Hard). The plot maybe standard, sure – guerillas and post-Vietnam badasses shooting up an equally badass alien in the jungle – and some of the effects shots might not look good to fancy CGI viewers today. The dialogue will be wooden and the quips hammy to some audiences as well, yet this is still a darn entertaining, intense action thriller. Most of the titular effects and infrared designs by Stan Winston (more on him in a moment!) are dang impressive and more than effective in Kevin Peter Hall’s (Harry and the Hendersons) scary reveals and shock scenes. The Mexican jungle locations look wet, hot, and dangerous, and the multi cultural cast has the build, chemistry, and Spanish speaking flair needed. This one may start out as a straightforward action, sarcasm, and divided team with lots of firepower tale, but one by one, the plot turns into procedural horror action with a fun, mano y mano finale. Yes, the Predator legacy is a little tainted by the stinky sequels and crossovers, but this original remains solid for a rip roaring boys night. Besides, where else can you see two Governors in one movie?
Pumpkinhead – Lance Henriksen (Near Dark) stars in this delightful 1988 backwoods tale full of deepening vengeance and deadly mayhem. Late Oscar winning creature master Stan Winston (Terminator 2, Jurassic Park) directs this taut, sorrowful thriller beautifully while fellow effects designer and performer Tom Woodruff handles the gruesome titular monster. Understandably, this does make the monster look slightly Alien in stature, but the mystical resurrection and freaky pursuits remain solid thanks to the familial revenge and action torment from Henriksen. Awesome as his design work is, why didn’t Winston direct more? Sweet a character cult favorite as he is, why wasn’t Henriksen a leading man more? His predicament is instantly relatable for parents – how far would you go? Pumpkinhead does what the vengeful aren’t capable of doing, but his deeds consume them nonetheless. Perhaps the shocks, thrills, or gore here aren’t super scary, but these ends justifying the means questions are scary concepts in themselves. Yes, there’s no law enforcement, some redneck dialogue is frustrating, and the middle of nowhere witchery may be too much for viewers wanting more polish. Fortunately, there’s atmospheric red lighting and nighttime photography, and the largely outdoor happenings are perfectly dirty, dusty, and desperate – matching the very effective personal scares, dementedness, and questions on right and wrong perfectly.
Sleepaway Camp – The woefully laughable acting in this 1983 coming of age slasher is so bad it’s good, and intentional or not, the nostalgic delights keep on coming – from short shorts and cropped shirts, homoerotic innuendos, and camp abuses to twisted point of view killings, foul-mouthed humor, and the expected youth shenanigans. Yes, there may be too little blood and gore. Without subtitles, it’s often tough to tell who is who amid the capture the flag competitions and mean girls bitchiness beyond the bad acted front and center folks. A sharper script would have clarified the back-story and not left the plot hanging on the twists and kickers, too – for the history, trauma, and catalysts will definitely be at best confusing or at worst unexplained to modern, spoon-fed viewers. Franchise creator Robert Hiltzik perhaps wears too many hats in directing a serious slice and dice picture mixed with near parody humor writing, and potential statements on mind, body, society, and possibly homophobia are hampered by the quick but no less shocking finale. Which of the traumas actually puts the killer over the top? The severity and escalation scale of the crimes is also uneven – a potential molester is badly burned while a water bomb thrower is stung to death. Fortunately, the bad scene chewing keeps these sexual topics, dirty old men implications, nasty cooks, and unseen suggestions surprisingly light. We don’t blame the killer for doing in this lot, and it is fun to spot the clues and avoid the red herrings in solving the murder mystery. Both wise audiences and retro fans can enjoy the thinking person’s movie potential and bemusing eighties shockers here.
Ghoulies – We knew nothing of this 1985 camp meets occult 80 minutes upon our initial viewing, and we barely finished this so called horror comedy replete with bad acting college coeds such as the debuting Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit). The viewer is erroneously built up with scary ambiance, ancestral demon resurrecting, and a nostalgic mood and atmosphere, but somehow, one too many fire and brimstone scenes after another turn into a Gremlins meets the lizard baby from V with little people and nonsensical rituals. We’re not laughing with the titular, snarling, slimy puppetry, we’re laughing at them. Proper comedy horror films make the audience feel comfortable in the sarcasm, quirky normalcy, and sprinkles of humor and then spring the whiff of scary, mood, and fears, ala The ‘burbs or Beetlejuice. Here, when it’s the other way around, the audience feels confused, cheapened, and can’t wait for it to end. Some may desire this ‘stoned to enjoy’ viewing, but the PG-13 rating, whimsical music, and ridiculously slow pace just falls totally flat. What was wrong with doing a straight dark descend into invocation and incantation? In the end, they pull out the evil chicks with deadly tongues standard scares anyway. I don’t get what they were trying to do here at all, and I can’t believe they made more of these films. Sorry!