Just as modern man now gazes upon the ancient pyramids of Egypt in awe and wonder, so too shall future humans look upon the horror genre in 1985 and say, “Dang.”
It’s as if Michelangelo had sculpted the David, Van Gogh had painted Starry Night, Leonardo the Mona Lisa, Dali the Persistence of Memory, and Vermeer the Girl with a Pearl Earring all at the same time.
It’s as if … all right, enough with the friggin’ hyperbole. On to the list!
My Top 10 Horror Films of 1985
- Return of the Living Dead
When you crack open oyster after oyster and, at long last, you find the pearl.
Return of the Living Dead, from the opening second to the last, is about as entertaining a horror flick as you’ll ever see. It’s gory, funny, scary, creative, and filled with likable characters, amusing dialog, and killer tunes. This group of kids—punk-rockers, headbangers, nerds, preppies, and jocks—is so like the crew I hung with in my youth, it’s as if I were there in that graveyard with them. Directed with TLC by the underappreciated Dan O’Bannon, screenwriter of Alien and Total Recall.
In compiling this list, I fought the temptation to have a multi-way tie for number one, because that would be a cop out. The truth is, though, I love Demons as much as I love Return of the Living Dead, and both would be on my all-time top horror movie list.
Demons is as stylishly European as Return is all-American. It’s got the flair, the artifice, the weird dubbing, the surreal lighting … all the qualities we Eurocult fanatics love about that scene going back Black Sabbath in 1963 (which was directed by Mario Bava, father of this film’s director, Lamberto Bava). If you’re not into horror, you won’t get the appeal. Then again, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog, either.
- Day of the Dead
It has been written that George A. Romero planned a more epic conclusion to his “Dead Trilogy” but was forced to drastically revise the story because of budgetary constraints (some of the excised ideas ended up on screen years later in Land of the Dead).
Perhaps the small cast and intimate story of Day are disappointing to those looking for a big zombie blow-out. I, on the other hand, think the desolate finale couldn’t have been more perfect for this undead apocalypse trilogy. Every event in the film seems all the more profound and significant when we understand that these characters may be all that’s left of humankind.
“You can’t be serious!” say Re-Animator fans. “Number four?”
Please understand, my fellow horror aficionados; 1985 is, pound for pound, the genre’s deepest year. I consider Stuart Gordon’s zombie classic to be one of the greatest of all horror films, but it was released alongside three other films I also count among the greatest horror films.
Wherever it lands on a list, this movie is a balls-to-the-wall classic that captures everything we love about good 80s horror: Gore, sardonic humor, comic-book visuals, memorable performances, beautiful scream queens, and iconic moments.
- Fright Night
Psycho II screenwriter Tom Holland’s directorial feature debut is what you call a crowd pleaser. Fright Night offers a charming mix of horror, humor, and memorable characters brought to life by a strong cast delivering spot-on performances (similar to Re-Animator in that way). I had the good fortune of seeing this one in a fantastic old barn theater with red velvet curtains, an ornate stucco ceiling, and a gigantic screen, the kind of experience from which great memories are forged.
At that point in the decade, the movie people had caught on that audiences were looking for make-up FX spectacles, which is why you have a vampire film with werewolves, giant demon bats, and meltdown sequences. It all looks very ‘80s now, but that’s part of the appeal.
Seriously, if they had released this film as Space Vampires instead of giving it the drab title Lifeforce, it would be a cult favorite today. The little details matter.
Whether he chose the shitty title or not, Tobe Hooper delivered his most eye-candy laden picture yet in terms of visual spectacle, horror FX, and full-frontal nudity. It relies too heavily on the light show elements, which become somewhat tedious after a while, and some of the last-minute story turns suggest the writers didn’t know how to end it. Not a masterpiece, but surely underappreciated in the horror canon.
I confess now that I did not like this film the first time I saw it. The tone seemed goofy relative to the horror that unfolded. Thanks to subsequent viewings in recent years, however, I’ve come to realize I didn’t get what they were going for, and now I do.
Director Steve Miner’s possessed-house flick is a comic-book fantasy in the vein of Marvel’s AARGH!, a weird comedy-horror hybrid that mixed slapstick with irreverence. It works.
On the surface, Creature is the most blatant of all Alien knock-offs, from the derivative beast itself to the ship damaged after landing on a dark and windy planet. This film also borrows a major plot point from Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires in which dead astronauts come back to life under the control of a malevolent, invisible force to menace the living.
Hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Although the climax is underwhelming (and ripped off from the 1951 version of The Thing, in the event you’re keeping score), what precedes it is creepy, gory, and fun.
Dario Argento threw the kitchen sink in with this one. Chimps, mutants, maggot pits, bugmasters (a beastmaster who controls bugs?), and gory murders. I find it a bit disjointed and cluttered with unfinished concepts, but a so-so Argento film is still better than most things the genre can offer.
- Mr. Vampire
This hyperkinetic Chinese kung-fu vampire comedy was one of those “you gotta see it to believe it” films back in the day, which led to its popularity on the bootleg VHS market. Thanks to YouTube and the proliferation of foreign films on DVD and Blu-ray, today’s viewers have become inured to the lunacy of Hong Kong horror movies. But in the mid-80s, Mr. Vampire’s blistering fight scenes and hilariously over-the-top choreography were jaw dropping. It’s still a good time.
The stalk-and-slash film had become a well-worn concept by the middle of the decade, and The Mutilator is no better or worse than most of its predecessors, story-wise. However, the gore FX by make-up artist Mark Shostrom are on par with Tom Savini’s great work on The Burning and The Prowler from earlier in the slasher cycle. Sometimes that’s what it takes to elevate a so-so flick into the realm of the stand out.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
If the last act of this film had been as good as the first two, it wouldn’t be down here in the honorable mention section. Unfortunately, the filmmakers forgot to pack the creativity and style when they went off to shoot the final 25 minutes worth of footage. There’s a lot of good stuff here, but overall it’s a missed opportunity.
This is the portion of our show when we talk about films we don’t like but everyone else does.
I seem to be missing the gene required for liking horror movies built around child characters. There’s just something too cute and cuddly about the whole affair, so I will leave my fellow horror fans to take pleasure from Silver Bullet while I watch something else.
You know, I almost put Friday the 13th: A New Beginning here, being that I’m a fan of the franchise, but it’s just not a very good movie. I got you, Silver Bulleters.