My Top 10 Horror Films of 1984

As a teenage horror fan in the 1980s, I felt as if I were living in an age of discovery. Only now, when compiling this list, do I realize 1984 was limited in its breadth of offerings compared to the years around it. Perhaps I had been too busy tracking down bootleg videos of Joe D’Amato and Paul Naschy films to notice.

In retrospect, A Nightmare on Elm Street cast such a long shadow across the genre that it disguised the dip in quantity and quality elsewhere. Still, as with 1983, there are a few gems and more than enough enjoyable B-efforts to cobble a list together.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1984

 

  1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

 

I’m going to be negative for a moment. In comparison to other Golden Age of Horror classics, A Nightmare on Elm Street hasn’t aged that well. There’s quite a bit of cringey acting and hokey dialog, and the ending is poorly conceived.

That said, the scares still work great, and Freddy Krueger is a truly inspired villain that takes the concept of “horror icon” way beyond the silent-killer-in-a-mask routine. The film is, in the end, a dark fairy tale masquerading as a slasher movie.

Among all the great horror directors of the time, Wes Craven may have been the most outside-the-box thinker. Flawed or not, Elm Street changed the genre more than any film since Halloween, and that’s no small achievement.

 

  1. Terminator

 

Terminator is a film that can be claimed by several genres, including action and science fiction. That it also works as horror is a testament to James Cameron’s dynamism as a filmmaker.

Despite the high concept, Terminator’s relatively low budget works in the film’s favor. It’s lean, mean, and harsh looking, which adds both to the intensity and the realism. That chewed-up looking Schwarzenegger-bot above is a nightmarish sight indeed.

 

  1. Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter

 

Though a big fan of the Friday the 13th franchise, I recognize the repetitiveness of the films and their low artistic merit. For some reason, though, I’ve always found them more unnerving than the other well-known horror series. As I’m wont to say, horror is supposed to be scary. The other factors become less important when a movie is successful in getting under your skin.

Admitting that we’re dealing with a low-brow concept here, I think The Final Chapter is the second best in the series (after the original). They got the formula down, added some human drama, upped the body count, and brought Tom Savini back to stage some great kills. Ted White made a more physically imposing Jason than anyone before as well. A great film, no. But it works well for what it is.

 

  1. Gremlins

 

I’ve never been into Hollywood glitz. I don’t like “cute” films and I have little interest in sanitized horror.

Once in a while, there’s an exception. Gremlins is just so creative and fun, and so full of homage to classic cinema, it’s hard not to like it. It doesn’t hurt to have Joe Dante at the helm, the talented filmmaker who had previously directed The Howling and Piranha.

 

  1. The Company of Wolves

 

This British werewolf flick is a delightful oddball with its a strange mix of childlike storytelling and extreme graphic violence, operating very much in the spirit of Grimm’s fairy tales. This is one instance in which a bigger budget might have helped, as the FX, while creative, are spotty in terms of execution. Overall, though, The Company of Wolves marches to the beat of its own drummer, an admirable quality in a film.

 

  1. C.H.U.D.

 

This has to be the most referenced and joked about film that hardly anyone has seen. It’s a throwback to 1970s-era eco-horror but with a 1980s twist in animatronic creature FX. C.H.U.D. drags at times and ultimately lacks payoff (where’s the big, gory, all-out monster attack?), which keeps it from being a real genre classic.

Contrary to popular belief, “C.H.U.D.” does not stand for “cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers.” You have to stick around for the last act to find out what it really means.

 

  1. Rats

 

When an idiotic post-apocalyptic flick about flesh-eating rats makes number seven on a Top 10 list, it’s either a weak year or your list maker is drunk. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

Look, I know there are fans of Night of the Comet wondering why they don’t see that film anywhere on this page, while a $5 piece of trash from Bruno Mattei is front and center. The answer: I like Rats better. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

[I don’t get the appeal of Night of the Comet, to be honest. But shhhh, people get legit annoyed when you don’t like a film they like]

 

  1. Silent Night, Deadly Night

 

Though Christmas-themed horror films and killer Santas were nothing new in 1984, this slasher flick seemed to inspire a fair amount of outrage among the parental-warning-sticker crowd. I’m not sure how much of that was real and how much was staged for marketing purposes, but either way, it worked for the filmmakers.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is a surprisingly gloomy film and not one you’d call “fun” in the way that Friday the 13th Part 2 and Pieces are fun. It probably wouldn’t crack my Top 10 list in a stronger year, but it has its merits, including Linnea Quigley in a small but memorable role as one of the killer’s victims, this coming before her rise to scream-queen fame.

 

  1. The Toxic Avenger

Lest you think I’ve lost my mind, I’m fully aware The Toxic Avenger is not a good movie by any standard. At the time, though, before Troma’s garbage aesthetic became a known quantity, this film was hysterically terrible in ways no one had ever imagined a film could be.

It’s a nostalgia pick for one reason: I actually saw this movie in a theater and watched through tears of laughter as patron after patron marched out in disgust. I stayed until the end, and it was great.

 

  1. The Initiation

 

Sigh. This goofy slasher would not have gotten anywhere near my Top 10 lists from 1980-82. But here we are in 1984, when horror hit a lull, so we work with what we’ve got.

The Initiation has some good kills going for it, plus Clu Gulager and Vera Miles, two actors who can elevate a B-movie.  Daphne Zuniga fans ought to enjoy her extensive screen time as well. It’s a mostly dumb and not-at-all scary flick, but measured against the entirety of 1980s slashers, it’s not bad.

 

Honorable Mention

 

Children of the Corn

 

We all have subgenres we like and ones we don’t. For whatever reason, the Amish/Mennonite horror scene (Wes Craven’s The Deadly Blessing is another example) doesn’t appeal to me. I can see how others would dig the look and atmosphere of Children of the Corn. I just never got into it.

 

Terror in the Aisles

 

Hey, they tried! Terror in the Aisles, a documentary ostensibly celebrating the horror genre, helped pave the way for the likes of His Name Was Jason, Halloween: 25 years of Terror, and other recent, in-depth examinations of popular horror franchises.

However, Terror is little more than a string of random clips and seems targeted at people who know nothing about the genre. The running time is liberally padded with scenes from action movies and cop thrillers as well. The idea behind this production is good but the execution is forgettable.

 

Death Warmed Up

 

Up to this point in this blog series, I haven’t given much attention to the contributions of our filmmaking friends down under. To rectify that, either this one or Razorback was getting talked about today. However, since I’ve never seen Razorback (gasp!), the choice was already made.

The arrival of Death Warmed Up in North America was preceded by some buzz within the horror world, but I admit to having been underwhelmed when I saw it. I’ve watched it since and still don’t find it that great, but I could hardly shun the Australians for the likes of Firestarter or Monster Dog, could I?

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My Top 10 Horror Films of 1983

Like Vikings setting sail on a murky, mist-shrouded sea, we wade into the fog of 1983, the first year in over a decade without a consensus horror classic. No Texas Chainsaw Massacre, no Alien, no Evil Dead to be found.

It’s tantalizing, in a way, the mysterious path before us.

From the darkness ahead, choices emerge: gory, micro-budget space monster epics from New Jersey … trippy alien invasion flicks from England … weird Nazi monster somethings in a fortress … beloved pets turning on their owners … beloved appliances turning on their owners. Perhaps we’ll come up short if we go looking for another Halloween or The Exorcist, but the allure of discovering personal favorites and unearthing hidden gems is powerful nonetheless.

 

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1983

  1. The Deadly Spawn

 

There’s no point making a Top 10 list if you’re going to pander to your audience. Integrity is my calling card. One of them, at least. My other calling card is making melodramatic and hokey declarations about calling cards.

But anyway, after I compiled a comprehensive list of titles to choose from and analyze, I was left with an incontrovertible truth: I adore the crap out of The Deadly Spawn. I’ve made no secret of my love for the aesthetic of low-budget horror flicks. If the filmmakers are talented, imaginative, and passionate, I don’t care if the budget is $10; I’ll probably like the movie.

This fun and gory flick is imbued with an authentic rainy-day atmosphere and a variety of unexpected moments and nasty kills. It also stars a rare non-annoying kid actor (Charles George Hildebrandt), whose character is a misunderstood horror fan, something many of us can relate to.

 

  1. Xtro

 

While we’re on the subject of low-budget, imaginative films, it’s hard to top Xtro.

It’s no surprise, following the success of Alien, that we’d see a bunch of R-rated alien-invasion knock-offs in its wake. But while many transferred the action to terra firma for budgetary reasons, only one featured a monster with its head (and dick) on backwards; a giant, murderous toy soldier; and a dwarf clown with a glowing razorblade yo-yo. All swirling around a poignant family drama in which a mother’s loyalties are torn between the man she once loved and… aw fuck it. Just watch it. It’s as slimy as it is trippy.

 

  1. Videodrome

 

These segues are writing themselves today.

If you think Xtro is trippy, get a load of David Cronenberg’s most perverse, hallucinogenic body-horror tale yet. In the film, TV producer James Woods starts watching a late-night broadcast called Videodrome and soon grows a vagina on his abdomen, in which he stores a bio-mechanical gun. That’s not even the hallucinogenic part.

 

  1. Psycho II

 

If there’s one movie you’d never make a sequel to, it would be Psycho. Why? Because Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece is so cinematically perfect that a sequel would be an insult to the art of film itself.

Well, they made a sequel anyway, and you know what? It’s pretty good. Of course, unlike its predecessor, Psycho II is not one of the greatest films ever made. It is a solid horror mystery with cool twists, however, and body count movies rarely feature such multidimensional characters. The ending is a trip too. At worst, this one falls into the category of pleasant surprise.

 

  1. Dead Zone

 

Dang. Two David Cronenberg movies in one year? 1983 does reward the genre fan who digs deep enough.

This film, based the Stephen King novel, is certainly the more “Hollywood” of the Canadian director’s two productions. You get bigger stars and a more mainstream storytelling approach than you do with Videodrome, the latter of which any reasonable fan must admit has limited appeal due to its difficult narrative and perverse imagery. That said, Cronenberg successfully avoids studio glitz with The Dead Zone and keeps the narrative focused on a compelling human drama.

It’s too bad Christopher Walken and Cronenberg never teamed up again. They seem made for each other artistically. Imagine how much better Scanners would have been with Walken in the lead.

 

  1. Mausoleum

 

Here’s another of those low-budget horror flicks that could only have been made in the early 1980s, when the genre was flourishing as never before and kids like me craved cheap, nasty, over-the-top terror. For various reasons that may or may not have something to do with a mausoleum, buxom beauty Bobbie Bresee is transformed into a reptilian demon with killer tits. That should be detail enough for you to agree that Mausoleum is high art.

 

  1. Latidos De Panico

 

Sounds the trumpets; the great Paul Naschy is making his long-awaited return to this blog series. The Spanish horror star had done some solid flicks through the late 1970s and early 80s, but a simultaneous run of well-known genre classics banished him to the listicle dungeon. Well, he’s back.

I’ve said this before, but I don’t know of any actor/filmmaker whose movies better capture the mood of a lurid horror comic book cover. In Latidos De Panico (AKA Panic Beats), Naschy plays a ghostly knight who chases his victims down atop a phantom horse and bludgeons them to death with a military flail. His first victim, pre-credits, is a butt-naked young woman making a not-too-enthusiastic attempt to escape as he emerges after her from a glowing fog bank. Right off the cover of Weird Tales or some such grisly rag, if you ask me.

 

  1. The Hunger

 

David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve play a sexy vampire couple who become immersed in a world that combines 1970s lesbian-vampire erotica with 1980s rock-video cinematography. I don’t know if The Hunger is that substantial of a film, but it’s pretty to look at and stylish to a fault. Captivating when you’re in the mood for a horror that’s elegant and melodramatic. Willem Dafoe completists should take note of his role here as Thug # 2.

 

  1. American Nightmare

 

I debated with myself whether this is a horror film, since it lacks supernatural elements, monsters, aliens, a body count, or a masked killer. The tone is so utterly bleak, however, that it becomes horrifying. The presentation is essentially “a day in the life” of a guy spiraling so far into hopelessness he’s compelled to annihilate not just himself but everything that represents his existence. Features one of the darkest endings you’ll ever see.

 

  1. Christine

 

Since we’re keeping it real today: I don’t love this film. In a stronger year it wouldn’t make my Top 10 list, and I don’t think it measures up to John Carpenter’s previous horror efforts in terms of scares, FX, or memorable moments. That said, it’s well directed and sports gorgeous cinematography. Overall an entertaining watch but a lesser effort from a guy who has delivered some major genre classics.

 

Honorable mention

Today’s honorable mention section is devoted to movies that a lot of people like but which I don’t. As I told you, I shan’t pander by pretending I like things I don’t like. I’ve got to maintain my integrity.

 

Sleepaway Camp

 

To be honest, I don’t get the appeal. The movie is fun in the way average slasher flicks are fun, and Angela is a cool character. Otherwise, the acting’s weak, it’s not scary, there are way too many dudes in half-shirts (“not that there’s anything wrong with it”), and the movie is liberally padded with meaningless scenes of kids hanging out in the mess hall or playing softball. Is it the fucked-up ending that makes it great? Am I missing meaningful subtext? Feel free to elucidate the film’s merits in the comments.

Regardless of my personal view, it’s quite popular, so I would be remiss if I didn’t give it an honorable mention.

 

Twilight Zone – The Movie

 

This film is a slick, watchable production. However, it could have been a great one if they’d picked better stories and gone with a darker tone. John Landis phoned in a bland comic-book-justice bit, and Steven Spielberg went with a treacly remake of an episode that was already overly sentimental. George Miller’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” segment was well done but too easy a choice. Joe Dante’s entry was the most imaginative, if unsatisfying in resolution.

Hollywood rarely gets this kind of effort right. Imagine a directing team of John Carpenter, George A. Romero, Dario Argento, and David Cronenberg, all near the peak of their artistry at the time, tackling this project instead.

 

The Keep

You got tanks, Nazis, stone fortresses, good actors, a talented director, and a golem-like demon. The imagery is cool, but, for me, the film doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. At the same time, I would totally understand if this were someone’s top film of 1983. It’s unique, and that’s worth something.

 

House of Long Shadows

 

Oh lordy. A film with Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine should have been great, but it falls flat, not unlike earlier attempts at all-star horror like Madhouse and Scream and Scream Again. Star power is seldom enough to make a movie good on its own.

 

Microwave Massacre

 

I’m only including this one because I made reference to it in the intro. I could just as easily have mentioned Cujo or Curtains, both of which are okay and have a bit of a fan following. Neither of them boasts Jackie Vernon, the voice of Frosty the Snowman, however.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1982

After the barrage of bloody horror that splashed across theater screens in 1981, the volume of releases normalized to a more sustainable level the following year. It turned out there were only so many audience dollars to go around.

Though the quantity of titles was lower, 1982 offered good variety. Instead of slasher after slasher, we got aliens, mutants, new gialli, a demonic possession/haunted house flick, and the return of anthology horror, which had fallen out of favor midway through the 1970s after Amicus faded into oblivion. There was also a comic book superhero monster in Swamp Thing, a sexy, stylish Hollywood remake in Cat People, and a rare R-rated stop-motion monster movie in Q, the Winged Serpent. None of which appear on the list below.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1982

  1. The Thing

 

This is the easiest decision of this entire blog series. The Thing, the pinnacle of John Carpenter’s career, is as close to a perfect horror film as you’ll see. It seamlessly builds from eerie to unnerving to outright scary. It’s perfectly cast. The music score gets under your skin (like a shape-shifting alien), and Rob Bottin’s make-up FX work is both innovative and surreal. In short, this film deserves the near-universal adulation it gets from fans.

 

  1. Tenebrae

 

In the early 1970s, the giallo film was all the rage, with a new one hitting theater screens every other weekend. But by the beginning of 1982, the genre had seemingly seen its last razor-wielding, black-gloved killer.

Until Dario Argento said, “Not so fast,” and delivered this killer classic that plays like a “giallo’s greatest hits” film. I didn’t know what giallo was when I first saw Tenebrae way back when, but I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction.

 

  1. Creepshow

 

In 1982, George A Romero returned to the horror genre for the first time in four years to deliver this homage to classic horror comics, using a script written by Stephen King. The individual stories lack the clever twists associated with those old comics, but the visuals are a feast: garish colors, striking transitions from artwork to live action, and now-classic make-up FX by Tom Savini, who was, by this point, almost as legendary to genre fans as his two collaborators mentioned above.

 

  1. Forbidden World

 

In my previous post, I praised New World Pictures’ Galaxy of Terror for being exceptionally creative and ambitious when the producers could have just as easily have crapped out some exploitation fare featuring a rubber monster chasing after topless models. Well, New World took the latter route with this follow up, and we ended up getting a delightfully entertaining piece of trash about an alien that reduces humans to blobs of bloody protein for easier consumption. Forbidden World is a real grindhouse treasure.

 

  1. Pieces

 

If the previous film on this list is a grindhouse treasure, Pieces is a grindhouse legend. The slasher/giallo hybrid features genre favs Christopher George, Jack Taylor, and Paul Smith, absurd dialog, a hilarious array of red herrings, gallons of splatter, a nonsensical ending, and the single worst moment of acting in the history of movies.

This flick is the kind of delirious cinematic mess that compels me to shout derisive comments at the screen, yet I can’t imagine life without it.

 

  1. Basket Case

 

You know how you can often recognize when a film was made, give or take a year, by the “look” of it? Early 80s horror looks different from late 80s horror, for example, and micro-budget American splatter flicks from the early 80s have an aesthetic you can spot instantly: hard lighting, a slight graininess, compressed audio, and fake blood of a deep crimson that filmmakers can’t seem to capture on camera anymore. And the subject matter tends to be in bad taste.

Cult director Frank Henenlotter‘s Basket Case is the quintessential flick in that idiom, the cinematic equivalent of a really good punk rock album on an indie record label. To “normals” raised on big-budget Hollywood spectacle and over-produced pop music, it’s the sort of artistic creation that would be labeled “garbage” in two seconds and is likely to offend on multiple levels. But if you’re the kind of person who gets it, you love it.

 

  1. The Beast Within

 

The Beast Within combines elements of 1950s sci-fi films about mutated humans and oversized bugs and repackages them as a gory, slimy horror film. The plot: a woman is raped by a giant beetle and gives birth to a son who, 17 years later … turns into a giant beetle. Lots of townsfolk meet bloody ends.

Perhaps inspired by the spectacular werewolf transformations depicted in American Werewolf in London and The Howling a year earlier, the producers hired then up-and-coming make-up FX artist Tom Burman to concoct a man-into-bug metamorphosis sequence that turned into perhaps the most over-the-top transformation scene ever filmed. No shot was too absurd to be included in the final cut, which may have been ridiculous at the time but garnered the film some long-term notoriety.

 

  1. Poltergeist

 

Some readers will scoff at Poltergeist sitting all the way down here at number 8. Of course, it’s a horror classic with many iconic moments. For my taste, though, it’s a little too Hollywood, a little too glitzy, and little too reliant on the light show. Few do spectacle better than Steven Spielberg, but I would like to have seen Tobe Hooper unleashed and free to go for an R rating.

 

  1. The New York Ripper

 

Shifting from Poltergeist to The New York Ripper could blow a listicle’s transmission, but for you I’ll take the risk.

Like his countryman Dario Argento, Italian splatter maestro Lucio Fulci returned to the giallo film in 1982 and delivered what is surely that genre’s most gruesome and violent production. Fulci was never about elegantly orchestrated camera moves and clever staging. He was about the visceral aspects of life and death, and there’s one kill in this film so disturbingly visceral it has led some genre fans to declare that Fulci went too far.  To me, if a film’s participants are consulting adults of sound mind, and no one is actually in danger, there is no “too far.” That doesn’t mean I think the scene is ho-hum. It’s kinda fucked up, actually.

 

  1. Amityville II: The Possession

 

By mainstream cinephile standards, this sequel does not compare to the original on any level. By my standards, it’s actually better. As stated in earlier posts in this series, I believe less money generally leads to better horror, because the real scary stuff doesn’t require A-list actors and Hollywood razzle dazzle.

 Amityville II: The Possession is creepier, gorier, more violent, and easily more disturbing than its predecessor. It’s a horror film, for fuck’s sake. Those are good qualities. And Burt Young goes to some dark places with his character.

 

Honorable Mention

 

Friday the 13th Part III

 

I believe there are two groups of Friday the 13th fans: The ones who favor the darker, grimmer early films and those who find the later, campier ones more entertaining. I belong to the former group. Horror is supposed to be scary, IMO.

That said, Part III is the weakest of the four “classic” films. It offers some good kills as well as my favorite pre-zombie Jason make-up.  However, the blurry 3D footage is annoying in 2D, and there are too few likable characters. I like it, but better films bumped it from my top 10.

 

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

 

That time John Carpenter said, “Let’s make a Halloween movie without Michael Myers.” A divisive decision to be sure. On the one hand, the concept, plot, and execution are absurd, and I can see why so many fans dismiss this entry. On the other hand, the concept, plot, and execution are absurd enough to be audacious and ironically cool. It probably doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts, but Halloween III: Season of the Witch did manage to produce some iconic genre moments.

 

The Slayer

 

Perhaps this obscurity shouldn’t warrant “honorable mention” over Cat People, Swamp Thing, Slumber Party Massacre, Parasite, House Where Evil Dwells, and a number of other titles released that year, but I’ve long had a soft spot for it. The Slayer is a bit rough around the edges, but it’s legitimately creepy and desolate, and it digs more deeply into the human psyche than most low-budget horror flicks do.

My Top 15 Horror Films of 1981

And thus we arrive at the most prolific year in the history of horror, the likes of which we shall never witness again. Let us pray…

52 titles appear on this page, which equates to a new horror film every week, and I’ve surely overlooked or forgotten more. What a glorious time it was to be a genre fan.

I tried really hard to limit this list to 10 films, but it simply wasn’t possible. If you find this abuse of power unconscionable, you may submit your official complaint to the Department of Listicles ($10 processing fee).

My Top 15 Horror Films of 1981

  1. The Evil Dead

 

If I absolutely, positively had to answer the question, What’s your favorite horror film?, I’d have to go with The Evil Dead. It’s not the best acted or most polished movie, but it is 85 minutes of pure, unpretentious, unrelenting horror, and Sam Raimi‘s directorial prowess is miles above and beyond the norm. To those who claim that splatter and terror are exclusive of each other, I say bullshit.

 

  1. The Howling

 

Werewolves were my favorite monster when I was a kid, but I never understood why the inevitably tragic hero viewed his lycanthropy as a curse. I wanted to be a werewolf. And so do the lycanthropes in The Howling, a movie that’s scary, funny, and totally outside the box. In my opinion, it’s the best werewolf film of them all.

Also, since my prior blog posts discussed the make-up FX artist as the “movie star” of 1980s horror: How about then-relative unknown Rob Bottin’s work in this film? It’s like he showed up to a high-school dance in a Lamborghini.

 

  1. An American Werewolf in London

 

You know it’s a deep draft when John Landis’s werewolf classic ends up at number 3 on a Top 10 list. As with The Howling, American Werewolf in London is both scary and funny and boasts legendary FX work, this time by Rick Baker. How much iconic horror imagery can come out of one film? A lot, it turns out.

 

  1. Galaxy of Terror

 

Considering its minuscule $700K budget, Galaxy of Terror may be the most ambitious film ever made. The producers could have set the whole show on a spaceship and then let a rubber monster pick off the crew one by one, and few would have complained. But instead we are given a mythology to contemplate, a host of monsters and other horrors, and a giant pyramid game in which humans are the playing pieces and the fate of the universe is at stake.

You can make fun of it for being “cheesy” if you like, but it’s a pretty bold take on Alien. Shit, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant rip this movie off, however unintentionally. That’s irony.

 

  1. Halloween II

 

This film has to be one of the most underappreciated sequels in horror. Halloween II is scary and intense, nearly equaling the original in that regard, yet with more of a 1980s-style body-count ethos. I love the conceit of setting the story on the same night as the original. A wise choice.

 

  1. House by the Cemetery

 

Some Lucio Fulci fans view House by the Cemetery as the weakest of his splatter epics, perhaps because it lacks the surreal horror set-pieces you get in the other films (e.g., the zombie-shark underwater fight in Zombie and the spider attack in The Beyond). I rather enjoy its simplicity, though. It’s a haunted house movie of sorts, and an eerie one.

And it’s not like Fulci scrimps on the gore. Some pretty savage kills occur in this flick.

 

  1. My Bloody Valentine

 

The slasher film is probably the cinematic sub-genre most reviled by critics. I say fuck ‘em. There are good and bad slasher films, and My Bloody Valentine is one of the good ones.

The small-town setting, the character drama, and the horror all feel authentic, and the filmmakers exploit the “valentine” imagery memorably. The unrated version boasts some truly grim kills as well, and the murderer, with his pick-ax and gas mask, is as striking a figure as any of the more well-known horror icons.

 

  1. Burial Ground

 

My god, this guy’s shirt.

Home video marketers tend to throw the word “sleazy” around to promote trashy horror films and gialli from the 70s and 80s, as if we genre fans all wear trench coats in theaters and subscribe to Barely Legal.

I’m saying, save the word “sleazy” for when you really mean it, like when you’re talking about Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground. Everything from the ridiculous zombies to the casting of a porn actor as one of the male leads to the nauseating oedipal subplot, it’s quite a piece of trash. And of course there’s that scene. Just try to unsee it.

 

  1. Nightmare

 

If we’re going to talk sleazy films, we might as well get ‘em out of the way all at once.

Nightmare, like Maniac and Don’t Go in the House from a year earlier, is a character-study slasher. That is, we are aware of the killer’s identity from the beginning, and instead of getting to know a bunch of attractive young people and then watching them get picked off in turn, we follow the killer around as he commits his crimes.

The body count is comparatively low in this flick, but the kills are extremely nasty and bloody. And if you thought it impossible for an actor to out-repulse Joe Spinell from Maniac, you haven’t seen Baird Stafford cry, scream, foam at the mouth, and turn into a sweaty, quivering blob when sexually aroused.

 

  1. Ghost Story

 

Whew. It’s time for a little Hollywood glitz to wash away the filth.

Ghost Story, loosely based on the Peter Straub novel, tells of four elderly men with an old, dark secret that’s finally catching up to them. The film offers an air of wintery doom, great make-up FX by The Exorcist veteran Dick Smith, and a pitch-perfect performance from Alice Krige as the vengeful specter.

There are some unexplained character motivations and a pointless subplot about a menacing hoodlum that goes unresolved, but it lives up to its promise as an eerily atmospheric horror.

 

  1. Scanners

 

David Cronenberg’s tale of a mind war between telekinetic rivals is bursting with ideas and revels in its ambiguity. And it features one of the best-known FX set pieces in horror history, when Michael Ironside blows up some guy’s head by thinking at him.

Although Scanners is most certainly more intelligent than most of the films above it here, I have it at 11 because of some momentum-killing pacing problems and a woefully miscast lead actor.

 

  1. Friday the 13th Part 2

 

In a sub-genre often mocked for lack of originality, Friday the 13th Part 2 is so derivative of its forerunner that one could call it a remake. A more polished and less scary remake.

That said, most of the characters are likable, which makes their deaths more impactful for the viewer, and the overall proceedings are fun and fast paced. And we all know Amy Steel is, with good reason, the poster child for “The Final Girl.”

 

  1. Dead and Buried

 

Somehow this film remains relatively obscure, which is a shame because it’s eerie throughout and quite chilling at times. The story eventually unravels thanks to an overload of plot twists that stop making sense after a while. Perhaps it’s best to enjoy the ride and avoid thinking about what it all means. Arguably the scariest film on this list.

 

  1. The Prowler

 

1981 offers a cornucopia of slasher films to explore, from the classic My Bloody Valentine to the forgettable Graduation Day to the flat-out bizarre Student Bodies. I wouldn’t say The Prowler is exceptional (compared to some of the others on this list, it drags in spots), but it has one sure thing going for it: Tom Savini.

Savini did fine FX work in Maniac and The Burning, but I believe the kills in this film are his best achievement in the slasher realm. Most happen on camera with the actors in motion, and they’re quite harrowing. The knife-through-the-top-of-the-head scene, when the victim’s eyes go white, is my favorite kill shot in any slasher film. Bravissimo, Mr. Savini.

 

  1. Cannibal Ferox

I knew Umberto Lenzi would show up on one of my lists eventually, even if I had to cheat and go to 15 entries.

This gorier knock-off of Cannibal Holocaust is the cinematic equivalent of Burger King: It’s bad for you and leaves you feeling sick, but when that hankering hits, damn you enjoy it. Those of us who grew up in the video nasty VHS era—when this movie was called Make ‘em Die Slowly—know well the allure of films so offensive they dare you to rent them. In that context, you won’t find a better marketing tagline than “Banned in 31 countries!”

 

Honorable mention

 

The Beyond

 

Shockingly to some, this film is my least favorite of Fulci’s “big four” zombie classics. But it’s still a few steps ahead of most other horror films. Had it been released a year or two later, it would easily have cracked my top 10.

 

The Burning

 

It tells you what kind of year it was when one of the better slasher films of the decade only earns an honorable mention.

 

The Funhouse

 

Tobe Hooper once again proves his directorial chops with this stylish and well-shot slasher that seems more profound than it is thanks to his skillful filmmaking. Gore was never Hooper’s thing, but this one might have moved into the top 15 had the kills been more memorable.

 

Happy Birthday to Me

 

That’s it, 1981 is officially the Year of the Slasher. This entry is a solid horror flick with a “you gotta be kidding” twist that’s audacious enough to be cool.

 

_________________________

 

Here are more horror films released in 1981, many of which are excellent. You could make a strong Top 10 list from these “leftovers” alone:

Absurd · Black Cat · Blood Beach · Bloody Birthday · Bloody Moon · The Boogens · Dark Night of the Scarecrow · Dawn of the Mummy · The Deadly Blessing · Don’t Go in the Woods · Don’t Go Near the Park · Evilspeak · Fear No Evil · Final Exam · Full Moon High · Funeral Home · Graduation Day · The Hand · Hell Night · Inseminoid · Just Before Dawn · The Loch Ness Horror · The Nesting · Night of the Werewolf · Omen III: The Final Conflict · Piranha 2: The Spawning · The Pit · Porno Holocaust · Possession · Saturday the 14th · Student Bodies · Wolfen · Zombie Lake

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1980

This shit just got real.

In 1980, the horror genre exploded. For makers of Top 10 lists (a noble endeavor to be sure), there are three times as many films to choose from compared to years prior. However, there are also fewer consensus classics.  Your list might look nothing like mine.

To some, Prom Night and Motel Hell are the bees’ knees, whereas I’d take Without Warning or Nightmare City over those two any day.

We can all agree on one thing: mainstream critics hated this stuff.

 

My Top 10 horror films of 1980

 

  1. The Shining

 

The most quoted, homaged, and parodied horror movie ever made, The Shining is famously hated by Stephen King, yet I feel it’s by far the best movie based on one of his books. Honestly, I’m in it for Stanley Kubrick. The film is mesmerizing; the novel leaves me colder than snow falling at the Overlook Hotel on a Wednesday.

 

  1. Friday the 13th

 

When I discuss a movie’s “scares,” I’m often talking about effective genre filmmaking, not actual fear. I’m not literally scared watching The Exorcist. The sensation is more akin to pleasure at how successfully it delivers the thrills.

Friday the 13th, on the other hand, is scary to me for real. Like, “sprint up the stairs from my man cave after watching it, hoping to outrace the hand that is sure to grab me any second” scary. I’ve had multiple nightmares about this film.

Viewed out of context, it’s a cheap-looking, unstylish slasher flick, so I’m not sure what makes it so effective and influential. The isolation of the characters? The fact that you never see the killer but you see the kills? The location shooting? The score? Whatever it was, director/producer Sean S. Cunningham captured lightning in a bottle. Critics be damned, this film is among my all-time favs.

 

  1. City of the Living Dead

 

Does anyone know what this movie is about? Coherence was never a strength of Lucio Fulci’s horror oeuvre, but this entry is especially dreamlike and disjointed. My plot summary: something séance, something buried alive, something table drill, puking entrails, here come the zombies.

 

City of the Living Dead AKA The Gates of Hell may be little more than a 90-minute string of horror set-pieces, but they are wonderfully shot, gruesome, eerie, and atmospheric set-pieces. Phantasm, Fulci style?

 

  1. Zombie Holocaust

 

Back in the early days of VHS, we rented every single new horror flick that hit the shelves in the hopes of finding that rare grindhouse jewel: A flick that delivered everything you wanted and more. If you ever wanted “Zombie meets Last Cannibal World meets Island of Lost Souls,” this was that one time it happened.

 

  1. Cannibal Holocaust

 

Cannibal Holocaust is such a vile film, I contemplated bumping it from the list. But to do so would be a violation of the sacred oath taken by list-makers: Thou shalt be as honest as possible (even if thine moods are known to change like the shifting wind).

Appalling qualities aside, this grindhouse epic is well-directed, intense, and influential. It’s certainly more significant than the goofy gore-fest with the similar title that I slotted right above it. I never promised you I have good taste.

 

  1. The Fog

 

Auteurs sometimes trip up after creating their first masterpiece, such as when Tobe Hooper followed Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Eaten Alive or when George A Romero somehow thought There’s Always Vanilla to be the right vehicle after Night of the Living Dead.

Not John Carpenter. Perhaps The Fog isn’t quite on par with Halloween, but Carpenter still delivered an effective and eerie ghost story that serves as a fine example of how to wring maximum horror from a minimal budget. I think it misses a few opportunities, which is why it isn’t higher on this list. Nevertheless, it’s one of the top films in a busy year for the genre.

 

  1. Maniac

 

This is a grim fucking movie. Audiences hoping for shriek-then-laugh jump scares and scenes of good-looking teenagers getting picked off one by one instead got a grimy character study about a serial killer. And they had to look at Joe Spinell’s sweaty, crying mug for 90 minutes.

The character-study approach to horror in the early 80s was surely an artistic rather than commercial choice. It tended to limit the crowd-pleasing aspects of a film and might even have suppressed word-of-mouth. How many casual moviegoers viewed Maniac and then told their friends, “I just watched this sickening and depressing flick about a fat, greasy killer with mommy issues. You gotta see it!”?

Then again, the film does boast brutally realistic gore FX by Tom Savini. I doubt we’d be talking about it if it didn’t.

 

  1. Humanoids from the Deep

 

It’s well known to horror fans that the director of this film, Barbara Peeters, attempted to deliver a PG-rated eco-horror movie, but the producers sabotaged her vision by inserting new footage laden with gratuitous gore and nudity.

I can’t say I’m sympathetic. They took what would have been a dull and anachronistic monster movie and turned it into a grindhouse classic. Sit back and enjoy the royalty checks, Ms. Peeters!

 

  1. Hell of the Living Dead

 

That’s right. Of all the options I had available to me for this list, I went with a Bruno-fucking-Mattei flick so famously dumb it should come with its own wisecracking shadow robots.

“Borrowing” liberally from Dawn of the Dead and Zombie, and making use of egregiously inappropriate stock footage, Hell of the Living Dead is funnier than most comedies and more entertaining (to me) than the last ten Best Picture winners put together.

 

  1. Terror Train

 

1980 had plenty to offer slasher movie fans. Terror Train, a stylishly shot and well-paced film, was one of the best. Sure, the characters are dimwitted even for a slasher film, but the above-average cinematography and the claustrophobic setting make up for its flaws.

 

Honorable mention

 

Alien Contamination Alien gave you one chestburster. Alien Contamination gives you 12! That means it’s better. It also stars Ian McCulloch of Zombie and Zombie Holocaust fame.

Wait a minute. Why the hell isn’t this film on my Top 10 list?

 

Alligator – Animatronic gators. What more do you need in life?

Altered States – A story ideally suited to Ken Russell’s psychedelic-kitsch aesthetic.

Anthropophagus Joe D’Amato’s famously dopey cannibal horror film has its charms.

Invasion of the Flesh Hunters John Saxon + Giovanni Lombardo Radice + cannibalism = a movie both actors seem embarrassed about.

Don’t Go in the House – Gloomy, gruesome character-study-slasher overshadowed by the similar but better Maniac.

Dressed to Kill Brian de Palma does a giallo and it turns out pretty well.

Fade to Black – Fan-favorite slasher features a sympathetic killer a lot of viewers can relate to. It’s not the least bit scary, though.

 

House on the Edge of the Park – Any similarity to Last House on the Left, including the casting of the same lead actor, is purely intentional.

Inferno – I love Dario Argento movies, but this one falls a bit short for me. That underwater room scene, though! If I ever obtain an HD version, I may be forced to revise my opinion.

Motel Hell – I dig the black-comic horror elements, but this film is way too long for the flimsy plot. It should be 80 minutes, not 103.

Mother’s Day – Now here’s a black-comic horror I love. It’s brutally violent, though, which can be off putting to some.

 

Nightmare City –Did Umberto Lenzi just invent the “fast” zombie?

Prom Night – Hot take: this film is a slashiallo (a giallo-slasher hybrid).

The Boogie Man – The most terrifying film ever made about a little piece of broken glass that sticks to a lady’s face.

The Changeling – A subtle, psychological ghost story lost in a sea of splatter.

The Exterminator – I’m not sure it’s a horror movie, but genre fans have embraced it as one.

Without Warning – That time two Oscar winners and an Emmy winner starred in a $5 piece of trash about an alien that kills people with fleshy hamburger buns.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1979

You’re kidding, right? Three of my all-time favorites were released within a 12-month span, yet only one can claim the top spot. Why you doin’ me like this, year?

My Top Horror Films of 1979

  1. Alien

 

Alien is as close to a perfect horror film as you’re going to find. Like HR Giger’s titular creature, the film is “unclouded.” Indeed, the movie is the monster: simple, relentless, single-minded.

Performed by an A-list cast and shot and assembled by a young Ridley Scott operating at the top of his game, Alien is at once eerie, harrowing, and beautiful. When those elements are blended as expertly as they are here, you got yourself a masterpiece of modern horror.

 

  1. Zombie

 

Lucio Fulci, a genre-hopping Italian director, had up to this point in his career crafted two top-notch gialli, helmed a number of westerns and comedies, and done well with crime dramas and gangster films. Then, in 1979, he filmed the Italian sequel to Dawn of the Dead (called Zombi 2 in his home country), the spectacular success of which ushered in a new wave of spaghetti splatter that played a major part in defining the genre for the next decade.

Zombie isn’t merely a bloody film; it’s a gut-slinging, throat-tearing, eyeball skewering masterpiece. If you’ve seen photos of real rotting corpses, you know this film got the undead look down. But the reason people love it is not simply the gore; it’s the pall of doom, the decay, and overbearing dread, propelled forward by a terrific score and a tropical setting that’s unexpectedly eerie.

And of course, the shark scene.

 

  1. Phantasm

 

Good lord. What kind of year is it for horror when a film as unusual, creative, and visually arresting as Phantasm falls to number three on a top-10 list?

Perhaps it’s not as seamless as Alien or relentlessly grim as Zombie. The acting is spotty in places. However, director Don Coscarelli did conceive and deliver an authentically dreamlike film packed with unforgettable moments.

Angus Scrimm‘s Tall Man stands among horror’s greatest icons, and the silver ball scene is unique in all of cinema (until Phantasm 2 that is).

 

  1. Salem’s lot

 

After the disappointment of Eaten Alive, Tobe Hooper needed to make a strong showing to avoid being labeled a one-hit wonder. Brian de Palma did more than all right by directing Carrie, based on the debut novel of superstar author Stephen King. Maybe Hooper could take a stab at King’s second book, ‘Salem’s Lot.

Filmed as a two-part television miniseries, Salem’s Lot did more than assuage fears about Hooper’s talent. It proved he could make a scary-as-hell vampire movie. I was a kid back then, and all anyone my age talked about for weeks was this terrifying TV movie.

Viewed today, it’s a bit slow in spots, and in hindsight, David Soul might not be the most dynamic actor to play the hero. But the scares still work like new, and Reggie Nalder’s Nosferatu-eque Barlow is unforgettably horrifying.

 

  1. The Brood

 

Horror auteur David Cronenberg followed up his bouncy shocker Rabid with a more, well, brooding psychological film. This time, Cronenberg subverts his own exploration of body horror in ways that are hard to describe.

This was an era in which “extra sensory perception” and psychic power dominated the pop culture landscape, as manifested in cinema by Carrie and her knock-offs such as Patrick and The Fury. It takes a visionary like Cronenberg to do something this original with the concept as late as 1979.

Mainstream critics recoiled upon seeing The Brood, calling it repulsive and accusing Cronenberg of being afraid of women (?). They shoved it away in disgust like a severely deformed, murderous child. I view this as a positive in favor of the film.

 

  1. The Amityville Horror

 

Haunted house movies were hardly new in 1979. Rather, in a post-modern age where horror was laden with social commentary about religion, STDs, war, and cynicism toward governmental authority, the haunted house sub-genre must have seemed quaint. But this haunted house tale was based on an up-to-date, best-selling TRUE STORY!

Sometimes, you get people’s butts into theater seats by tapping into something trendy and relatable. In this case, it was three things: the late-70s fad for anything paranormal/psychic, the obvious similarity to the types of stories Stephen King was writing, and the mobility of young professionals in America (who were buying up big, old houses like the one in this story).

I don’t love this film as much as a lot of other horror fans do; its trashy, gory sequel is closer to my grindhouse heart. However, The Amityville Horror truly is one of the most influential horror films of the past 40 years and doesn’t get enough recognition for that.

 

  1. Beyond the Darkness

 

Confession: I write derisively about Joe D’Amato as if he’s terrible, yet here’s the second of his films to show up in this blog series. I own a few of his films on DVD or Blu-ray, and I await the release of others. Basically, I’m a liar!

Some of his films are terrible, honestly. But Beyond the Darkness AKA Buio Omega AKA Buried Alive may be D’Amato’s darkest and most unsettling film, and it does not elicit chuckles like some of his sloppier efforts do.

 

  1. Dracula

 

Does this film mark the beginning of the hot-vampire trend that continues to this day? Did the sparkle in Frank Langella’s eye become, decades later, the sparkle of Edward Cullen’s entire being? Should we hate this movie?

No, we shouldn’t! As I recall, this Hollywood-ized, A-list Dracula movie was not viewed all that favorably by fans upon its release. Too romantic, not edgy or modern enough. In hindsight, though, it actually stands out from the other films of the era for exactly those reasons. It’s a big-budget period film with some great looks and a strong cast. Not a masterpiece, but pretty good.

 

  1. Nosferatu the Vampire

 

And here’s the anti-Dracula. Same story, more or less, but instead of the lush, romantic presentation of Dracula, we get lots of gloom, doom, shadows, and overcast skies. It’s cheaper looking and somewhat flatly directed by Werner Herzog; an intentional artistic approach, but one that deadens the pace. It’s a good film, but not so easy to view if you’re not already in the mood.

Or maybe this says everything you need to know about the difference between these two vampire movies: Dracula is played by Frank Langella. Nosferatu is played by Klaus Kinski. Two guys not typically competing for the same roles.

 

  1. The Prophesy

 

I had a choice between the artsy favorite The Driller Killer, with its commentary on urban alienation, and a dumb-ass eco-horror film about a mutant bear.

I went with the bear.

 

Honorable mention

 

The Killer Nun

 

This is the cosmopolitan, sophisticated entry into the nunsploitation genre. I’m partial to the histrionic Mexican variety. We all have our preferences.

 

When a Stranger Calls

A fairly well regarded horror film that aims for suspense rather than visceral thrills and largely succeeds. The major drawback is that the first half hour is better than anything that follows.

 

The Driller Killer

By now, the scandal has broken all over the internet: I chose the mutant bear drive-in flick over this film, which is artistically superior on all counts. I’m just not that crazy about it.

My Top 10 Horror Films of 1978

History results from timing and convergence. The late 1970s saw the rise of the horror-auteur director just as Star Wars was causing a paradigm shift in the movie business. The fuse had already been lit on the upcoming home-video revolution. Italian filmmakers would soon find a new, global audience, and independent movies were coming back into prominence.

Combine those elements, and you get a 10-year span, 1978-87, unmatched in horror history both in terms of total output and in an incomparable run of major classics. From Halloween to Hellraiser, from Jason to Freddy, the conventions of modern horror were defined in—and continue to radiate from—this era.

That doesn’t mean 1978 represents a break in continuity from the past. Hollywood was still knocking out movies inspired by the then-recent success of The Exorcist, The Omen, and Carrie, such as Patrick and The Manitou. Even the director of Carrie, Brian De Palma, copied himself with The Fury, another movie about telekinetic teens.

But it wasn’t Hollywood self-imitating that would launch the new wave of horror. The two films at the top of today’s list played a slightly bigger part.

My 10 Ten Horror Films of 1978

  1. Dawn of the Dead

 

Is there another horror film more effective at making you feel so present as the events unfold? From the entropic opening sequence, to the SWAT attack on the apartment building, to the siege at the shopping mall, George A. Romero’s masterpiece sinks its rotten teeth in and drags you into the action. This movie  catapulted Tom Savini into the realm of make-up FX stars, and with good reason.

Dawn is arguably the best zombie film ever made. For whatever record anyone is keeping, I prefer co-producer Dario Argento’s European edit, but both it and the U.S. versions are equally brilliant.

 

  1. Halloween

 

Choosing between Dawn of the Dead and this film to top today’s list was like choosing a favorite child. Halloween would have come in first place in nearly every other entry in this blog series.

With his third feature, John Carpenter put horror in a place it had rarely ventured: the suburbs. If the genre had scared you out of the ocean, the woods, the desert, the city, and the mountains, at least you felt safe in your suburban neighborhood. That is, until the night he came home.

 

  1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers may just be the best remake in horror history, aside from The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly perhaps. It’s also likely the scariest PG-rated film you’ll ever see. Every scene is that much more unnerving than the one before, until the movie reaches its devastatingly bleak climax (which, of course, has been ruined by internet memes. Damn you, internet).

A masterpiece of paranoia that can be read many ways.

 

  1. Grapes of Death

 

As this blog series leaned heavily on Italian, Spanish, American, and British films to round out its top-10 lists, our French pal Jean Rollin was hovering on the periphery. In 1978, while taking a break from vampire flicks (and softcore porn), Rollin delivered this most excellent and underappreciated zombie film.

Borrowing a few ideas from Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue but putting his own spin on them, Rollin tells the story of a woman (Marie-Georges Pascal) trapped in a nearly abandoned village by a horde of undead flesh eaters, who were rendered so by pesticide-contaminated wine. If you enjoy the vibe of European horror of the 1970s and haven’t seen this one yet, put it on your watchlist right away.

 

  1. Piranha

 

Roger Corman gets it.

While other producers and studios try to mimic hit films by making inferior versions of the same thing (e.g., Orca imitating Jaws), Corman made films that looked superficially like knock-offs but in actuality embraced their uniqueness. Starcrash, for example, may have been a Star Wars cash-in, but it maintains a quirky look and feel all its own. You could say the same about Piranha relative to its inspiration, Jaws.

Directed by Joe Dante, who went on to make The Howling and Gremlins, Piranha is a silly good time as shallow as the water the nasty little bastards swim in, and it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining than The Deep.

 

  1. Alucarda

 

A histrionic Mexican nunsploitation flick featuring a rather spirited performance by Tina Romero in the title role. Trashy, gory, erotic, and overwrought … all the qualities you want in a film about Satan-possessed nuns.

 

  1. Magic

 

If the word “creepy” hadn’t existed in 1978, they would have invented it for this movie. Starring Anthony Hopkins and a ventriloquist’s dummy, the story concerns a … ah, I don’t really need to keep going, do I? That was enough to certify creepiness right there.

 

  1. Damien: Omen II

 

This sequel to the 1976 hit is so polished and tautly suspenseful that you kinda don’t notice it’s little more than a rehash of the previous film and does absolutely nothing to move the story forward. There’s no arc, as we end up in exactly the same place we were at the end of part one. You get a higher body count this time, though.

 

  1. Blue Sunshine

 

Underappreciated director Jeff Lieberman’s offbeat thriller about recreational drugs turning people into murderers serves as a sort-of bridge between Romero’s The Crazies and Cronenberg’s Scanners, both of which explore the unexpected side effects of chemicals on the human mind and behavior.

The film is missing (in my opinion) some of the visceral qualities of those classics, which leaves it somewhat unsatisfying. Still, Lieberman’s attempt at literate, provocative horror on a low budget deserves recognition.

 

  1. Toolbox Murders

 

When you say something is “half” this and “half” that, you usually mean the two haves are blended together. Half-vanilla and half-chocolate swirl, for example. With Toolbox Murders, we get half a splatter movie and half a psychodrama spliced together. Meaning, the first half is about gory murders, and the second half is about getting into the killer’s head.

The mix of gloomy character study and graphic violence prefigures the approach taken with Maniac, Don’t Go in the House, Christmas Evil, and Nightmare a few years later.

 

Honorable mention

 

I Spit on Your Grave

 

Some will wonder how this film didn’t crack my top 10. While I Spit on Your Grave is hardly the first rape/revenge film to shock audiences, it‘s surely the most notorious. Camille Keaton brings a lot of screen presence and acting skill, making the gang-rape sequence all the more grueling to watch.

However, beyond Keaton’s performance, I don’t think it’s especially well done. The pacing is flat, and the revenge portion is unsatisfying. I venture to say that if this film had gone out under the original title of ‘Day of the Woman’ sans the lurid ad campaign, it would not garner as much attention.

 

Dracula’s Dog

 

Also known as Zoltan, Hound of Dracula, this is a movie so absurd but played so straight that I can’t determine if it’s crap or brilliant satire. If it’s satire, what are they satirizing? If it’s crap, why is it so cool to see a vampire dog rising from his coffin?