The 1980s were an embarrassment of riches for horror fans. The second half of the decade saw a surge in new titles that began in 1985 and peaked in 1987, when a deep run of popular films hit screens big and small.
This list was tough to whittle down. Indeed, there are three fan favorites you won’t find below: The Lost Boys, Near Dark, and The Monster Squad. They’re all fine films, but this blog series features my personal favorites, not an attempt at consensus regarding which ones are “the best.” Such an endeavor is inevitably subjective anyway.
A few others I cut, but which could have cracked the top ten in a weaker year, include Street Trash, The Offspring, Blood Rage (filmed in 1983 but released in ‘87), and Dolls. But enough about movies I omitted. Which ones made the list?
My Top 10 Horror Films of 1987
Hellraiser isn’t the best acted or most polished production of 1987, but for sheer imagination, you can’t top it. Writer-director Clive Barker has shown time and again to be among the most outside-the-box (no pun intended) thinkers to ever work in the horror genre. The puzzle box, Pinhead and the cenobites, the S&M kinkiness, the merging of hell and earth … such a tableau of terror could not have been dreamed up by anyone else.
- Stage Fright
First he got his brain squished in City of the Living Dead. Then he sold real estate in A Blade in the Dark. After that, he gave away free tickets to the Metropol in Demons. Finally, Michele Soavi got a hold of a camera and directed his own movie.
The result was Stage Fright, one of the best slasher films of the decade, a stylish and gory romp that somehow managed to make this tired subgenre seem fresh and exciting again for 90 minutes.
- A Chinese Ghost Story
Hong Kong cinema is at times so imaginative that writers are at a loss for how to describe it, often resorting to comparisons between disparate western films to draw a vague sketch. So I’ll wave the white flag now and do the same: A Chinese Ghost Story is like Evil Dead II meets The Princess Bride.
Director Ching Siu-tung’s dark fairytale tells of a beautiful, life essence-devouring ghost betrothed to a tree demon, and the human tax collector so in love with her he enlists the help of a magical swordsman to stop the wedding. Whew. Tell me the last time Hollywood came up with an idea like that. This film is funny, eerie, tragic, action packed, and charming, often at the same time.
- Prince of Darkness
A surprisingly gloomy metaphysical horror movie, John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness tells of an ancient container found in the basement of an urban church that may be holding the essence of evil itself. Spoiler alert: they open it.
This film sustains a somber, eerie atmosphere throughout its entire hour-and-forty-minute running time, and even the little bits of humor are tinged with unease. In my opinion, it’s the director’s most underrated work.
- Bad Taste
I’m going to boast: I called it. Way back in the day, a friend who ran a video store gave me a promo screener of this flick well before it hit the shelves, and I said after watching it, “This director, Peter Jackson, is a genius and is going to be super famous one day.”
The video store guy scoffed at my prediction, but I was right. Don’t tell him (Peter Jackson, that is) that I think Bad Taste is still his best movie. If the Lord of the Rings trilogy had featured vomit-drinking aliens, a pair of sneakers ruined by exploded brains, and a dive-bomb chainsaw assault, we might be having a different conversation right now.
- Angel Heart
This is Hollywood horror all the way: polished, expensive looking, and trying to hide from the fact that it’s a horror film. Except in this rare instance, it also happens to be pretty damn good.
Sure, Angel Heart is stylized to the point of being pretentious, but Mickey Roarke, Lisa Bonet, and Robert De Niro are all perfect casting choices, and the story is full of giallo-eque twists and intricacies that keep viewers hooked to the very last. Like Hellraiser, the film isn’t afraid to merge sex and death into one kinky mess.
- Evil Dead II
It seems as if each one of these lists requires me to make the same confession, and it usually comes around film number seven: I don’t like this one as much as I should.
Don’t misunderstand; Evil Dead II is still one of the top horror films of 1987. It’s zany and funny and full of cool creature FX and all that good stuff. I’m such a huge fan of the original, however, that I kind of wish Sam Raimi and company had taken a darker, less slapstick approach. That said, I totally get why they went for laughs at this point in the horror cycle, and I enjoy the film for what it is.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
After an inconsistent outing with Freddy’s Revenge, New Line Cinema brought back some familiar faces from the original Elm Street movie to stabilize the franchise. The result is the best sequel of the entire series.
When it comes to 1980s body-count movies, you can usually count on one thing: The characters will be so annoying you can’t wait for them to die. Dream Warriors is the rare exception in that you root for these kids. This flick has a surprising amount of heart, as well as some rather inventive horror set pieces on a low budget.
- The Stepfather
Two words: Terry O’Quinn.
The decision to cast the at-the-time relative-unknown character actor in the titular role turned what would have been a taut little thriller into one of the most talked-about films of the year. Just as it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho, it’s hard to see The Stepfather being as effective without O’Quinn as the oft-disappointed family man Jerry Blake.
To most viewers, Nekromantik is either disgusting, offensive, repugnant trash, or it’s too primitive to be considered a legitimate feature film. Shot on Super 8 by eccentric German filmmaker Jörg Buttgereit, this “corpse-fucking art” flick sports production values barely more polished than those of a home movie.
However, to a few of us, it’s one of those weirdly captivating films that continues to haunt long after the credits roll. I’ve encountered a number of folks who can comfortably sit through the most violent and notorious splatter movies ever made yet find Nekromantik too disturbing to watch. That’s impressive in a strange way.
Aside from the wraparound scenes and story-to-story transitions, the filmmakers ditched the comic-book visuals in this sequel to George A Romero’s 1982 classic, the result being that the cinematography is flat and uninteresting. Also, the lead story about the cigar-store Indian come to life is lame and eye-rolling in historical context (“These young Native Americans today just don’t appreciate the great things the white man has done for them!” Yikes).
But once you get past those flaws, the flesh-eating oil slick story is pretty cool (if kinda rapey in that one part), and the hitchhiker segment is lurid comic-book horror at its best. Instead of being great, Creepshow 2 is merely decent, which keeps it off the Top 10 list. It’s still a worthwhile flick in a strong year for the genre.
The giallo film was on its last legs in 1987. Not even the genre’s greatest auteur, Dario Argento, was able to conjure another classic in a genre that had reached its zenith in the early 1970s. In the end, we got a pretty good movie that seems cobbled together from bits of the director’s earlier works.
That said, while Opera has its flaws, the film still features plenty of Argento’s signature set-piece kills and flashy camera work.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II
Prom Night II isn’t any better than the films I left off the list altogether, such as Street Trash or The Offspring. There’s just something weird and unexpected about it (it feels more like a Freddy Krueger film than the sequel to a slasher movie). Ask me next week and I might change my mind, but for now, it gets an honorable mention.
To repeat: I have chosen to omit The Lost Boys, Near Dark, and The Monster Squad from my list. Yes, I have seen them; no I have not lost my mind. Please mail your complaints, along with a $20 processing fee, to:
Alex Vorkov Enterprises
1313 Mockingbird Lane
Hollyweird, Karloffornia 66666