Thursday, October 14, 2010

HALLOWEEN COUNTDOWN: The 1980s

In the weeks between the DVD release of NIGHTMARES IN RED WHITE AND BLUE and All Hallow's Eve, I thought I’d take time to highlight some great horror films that aren’t included in my documentary. In 96 minutes, NIRWAB references approximately 250 films… but, of course, this barely scratches the surface of “classic horror.” With that in mind, I’m picking ten additional films to highlight for each decade between the 1930s and the 1980s...

1) AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

You could easily argue that this is one of the biggest oversights in the documentary. I had a rationale for excluding it: I decided to focus instead of THE HOWLING (1981), the other big werewolf movie of 1981, because I had on-camera interviews with both Joe Dante (director of THE HOWLING) and Mick Garris (who did behind-the-scenes promotional videos for AVCO Embassy, which distributed THE HOWLING.) All the same, I feel a little guilty because AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is truly one of the great modern horror movies.

2) CUJO (1983)

I didn't realize what an impression this movie had made on me until I was working on the pilot episode of "A Haunting," and I unconsciously stole a scare sequences right out of the opening scene. At least when I steal, I steal from the best... Lewis Teague studied the art of suspense under Verna Fields, the editor of JAWS. CUJO earns extra points for being one of the very best Stephen King adaptations.

3) THE FLY (1986)

Proof that not all remakes are dreck, THE FLY is David Cronenberg at his best... and the horror genre at its most mature. This one made me physically ill the first time I first saw it, because the gross-out moments (and, boy, are they gross) are preceded by such an engaging human drama that you feel like you're undergoing a hellish transformation along with the characters.

4) THE HITCHER (1986)

This one is particularly effective because it's not difficult at all to imagine that it could really happen. Eric Red's script is terrifying in its simplicity; Rutger Hauer's nuanced performance places him in the top tier of movie psychopaths. The desolation of the Great American Desert plays a big part in the nightmare too.

5) THE STEPFATHER (1987)

This one wasn't on DVD when we were editing NIRWAB, which is the main reason that it didn't make the cut for the documentary... but I wrote about it at length in my book. I couldn't have imagined a better topic for my chapter on the postmodern American horror film (titled "Selling the American Dream"). Thankfully, the film is now available on DVD. Long live Terry O'Quinn!

6) HELLRAISER (1987)

I've been taken to task numerous times for not including HELLRAISER in my documentary on American horror films. Well, folks, it's not because I have no love for Pinhead, but because HELLRAISER is a British film. Actually, I love HELLRAISER. It's a horror story of Shakespearean proportions with some of the most compelling visuals ever committed to celluloid. I'm almost as enthusiastic about HELLRAISER II, which boasts one of the finest horror movie scores ever produced (by Christopher Young).

7) CHILD'S PLAY (1988)

I've also been taken to task for leaving Chucky out of the documentary... and that's a fair complaint. CHILD'S PLAY is extremely well-crafted by horror veteran Tom Holland, who also deserves honorable mention for his work on PSYCHO 2 (1983) and FRIGHT NIGHT (1985). All these years and so many sequels later, it's easy to forget how genuinely scary the original film was. This was one of the first horror movies that I was "allowed" to see, so most of Brad Dourif's lines are permanently burned into my brain. I have a feeling that the film probably also made a big impression on NIRWAB director/editor Andrew Monument, since he has a deep-seated fear of dolls...

8) SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988)

The hell with Freddy... this is Wes Craven's best film. There, I said it. Honestly, if it weren't for the tacked-on ending, I'd consider this a perfect horror film -- one that completely immerses itself in another world, with its own internal logic and its own distinct nightmares.

9) PET SEMATARY (1989)

There are two images in this film that scared me more than anything I'd ever seen when I was 12 years old. If you've seen the movie, I probably don't have to tell you what they are. Despite a couple of wooden performances, I heart this movie... right down to the Ramones song on the end credits.

10) BRAIN DAMAGE (1989)

This is sort of a strange movie to end on... but I have to include it because a) I just watched FIEND WITHOUT A FACE for the first time, b) I feel guilty for leaving Frank Henenlotter out of the documentary (and I much prefer BRAIN DAMAGE to his better-known 1982 film BASKET CASE), c) This was my introduction to Zacherly, the Cool Ghoul (who voices Aylmer), and d) I will never forget the night that I watched this movie for the first time... on a drug-induced triple bill with David Lynch's mind-bending TWIN PEAKS pilot and Gregg Arraki's spirit-crushing feature THE DOOM GENERATION. Talk about brain damage.

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