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 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 review of THE MUTILATOR Blu-ray

mutilator blu ray

by Alex Vorkov

The Movie

THE MUTILATOR (1984) is a fucking terrible film. That said, so is almost everything else in my DVD collection. As far as bad ‘80s slasher movies go, this one is pretty good.

Originally dubbed FALL BREAK, The Mutilator concerns a bunch of bored college kids who go to a beach house to get murdered. The first 35 minutes of the movie should be called Fall Break, because it wants to be a dumb teen comedy called Fall Break. In actuality, it’s an excruciatingly unfunny first act. A dumb teen movie, sans comedy.

Fortunately, director Buddy Cooper seems to have whacked his head at this point in the production and thought he was making a horror film. Either that or he realized just how much we all want these irritating fuckers to die, so he brought in FX wizard Mark Shostrom to kill them in satisfyingly gruesome ways.

The kills make your painful first-35-minute investment worthwhile. I won’t spoil them if you haven’t seen the film, but I will say there is one murder that is sure to make you squirm. I’d put The Mutilator next to THE PROWLER on the splatter scale. Certainly not in the Lucio Fulci class, but pretty gory for a throwaway slasher movie.

Plus: Great splatter; weapon variety; a good beach location

Minus: No likable characters; a gratuitous hairy chest; and the absolute worst theme song you ever heard in your life. Seriously, it’s like they took an adult-education songwriting class one night at the local high school and crammed every bad rock-pop cliché into one song. Remember how Kenny Loggins used to do all those catchy movie songs like Footloose and the one for CADDYSHACK? This song is to Kenny Loggins what I am to Wayne Gretzky. I mean, I can sort of skate in a straight line.

The Blu-ray

Sorry. No scans from the Blu-ray available yet. Enjoy shit shitty VHS screen shot in the meantime.

Sorry. No scans from the Blu-ray available yet. Enjoy this shitty VHS screen shot in the meantime.

I am so in love with Arrow Video I want to strangle it and violate  its corpse (we all have our own ways of showing affection). There’s are a lot of disappointing Blu-rays out there, but Arrow has a way of taking old, murky, grainy movies you thought were shot on garbage film stock by people with no talent and making them look like brand-new productions.

If you haven’t picked up an Arrow disk yet, their work is a revelation. The Mutilator suffered from a particularly bad pan-and-scan VHS dub back in the day, with many of its night shots lost amid a grainy, indecipherable haze. This Blu-ray is crisp and bright, and the contrast is excellent. The blood in the kill scenes flows a wonderfully vivid crimson.

You know what? In the context of micro-budget slasher films with bad acting and witless scripts, Buddy Cooper turns out to be a pretty good director. Now that we can actually see what he shot in the proper aspect ratio and on a 2k transfer, there are many well-composed sequences, the shot coverage all edits together nicely, and the cinematography is stronger and more creative than previously evident.

I’m not going to get into the audiophile stuff. I’m half deaf from playing drums for years and wouldn’t know the difference anymore. Suffice to say, the dialog, sound effects, and music are well mixed and up-front.

There are shit-tons of extras, including 2 commentaries and a lengthy making-of documentary as well as a booklet and reversible artwork.

The Mutilator is recommended for lovers of ’80s horror and slasher films and for people who like to torture themselves with godawful theme songs.

mutilator

5 slasher movies from the`80s that make you feel grimy

The 1980s were the era of the slasher film pop icon, when Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers transformed from mere movie characters into branded franchises, helped along by signifying attributes like goalie masks, red striped sweaters, and William Shatner’s face. Toys, t-shirts, and posters followed, and children even dressed as their favorite mass-murdering, unkillable psychopaths for Easter. Or Halloween, if your family is more normal than mine.

Many filmmakers tried to emulate the success of these characters with unscary, disposable copycats like Dr Giggles and Horace Pinker (Shocker). Then there were the producers and directors who thought: let’s skip all the merchandising bullshit, the marketable killer, and enjoyment for the audience. Let’s make something unpleasant.

Depending on the type of horror fan you are, you may find unpleasant films pleasant (hey, I listen to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, which a lot of folks find pretty unpleasant). Grimy, uncommercialized slasher films tend to have a documentary feel as well, which can set a somber, dreadful tone that is an absolutely viable artistic choice. Notable about grimy slasher movies–versus the more mainstream ones–is the tendency to build the story around the killer rather than the teenagers in peril. Jason Voorhees is usually on screen for about 10-15 minutes out of 90, whereas in 4 of the 5 films described below, we follow the killer through the entire film, see his daily life, and often get a deeper backstory that explains what sent him on a murderous path.

Oh, he’s usually a repulsive, greasy fuckface that you’d cross the street to avoid in real life. No catchy one-liners, either. In chronological order:


Maniac (1980), Director – William Lustig

maniacJoe Spinell plays Frank Zito, a sweaty, pock-faced, overweight, hooker-scalping creep who imagines his mother while he kills. He is also dating tall, gorgeous Caroline Munro, in possibly the most implausible plot element ever committed to celluloid. Did they write this thing for Harrison Ford and leave the script as is when Joe Spinell took the part instead? Also, Spinell cries and rocks back and forth in a dirty, sweat-stained undershirt after he kills and mutilates his victims. Where can I get a poster of this for my bedroom?

The real star is Tom Savini’s gore effects. I’d say Maniac is a snuff film featuring real murders, but Savini kills himself in the movie and appears to be alive and well 35 years later, so maybe the guy is just gifted at special effects.

 

 


Don’t Go in the House (1980), Director – Joseph Ellison

Don't Go In The House One SheetDonny Kohler (Dan Grimaldi) picks up chicks, takes them back to his house, sticks them in a fireproof room with metal paneling, and burns them alive with a flamethrower. It’s not poorly made, but it is the kind of production that stuck the horror genre with the misogyny label. We find out that Donny was abused as a child, so I guess the message is: Don’t abuse your kids; they might burn people alive later. This is a somber flick and not very fun to watch. Like the Cosby Show now.

 

 

 

 


Nightmare (1981), Director – Romano Scavolini

nightmareGeorge Tatum (Baird Stafford) is released from a mental institution and deposited back on the streets. This turns out to be a terrible decision, as he goes on a road trip/killing spree. That is, when he is not hallucinating, sweating, screaming, crying, going to porn shops, wetting the bed, wearing tighty whiteys, and foaming at the mouth, none of which makes people want to dress like him for Halloween. The uncut version his movie features the most over-the-top ax murder in all of cinema. No human holds that much blood.

 

 

 

 


Unhinged (1982), Director – Don Gronquist

UnhingedThis somewhat more traditional slasher film tells the story of three women on their way to a concert who get into a crash and are brought into a creepy old house populated by the last humans you’d ever want to be around, and that includes all 14 Wrong Turn movies. Unhinged is basically an all-female Three on a Meathook, which is something the world was most certainly clamoring for. The main reason this movie leaves me feeling grimy is the disturbingly androgynous (not that there’s anything wrong with it) villain, played by Janet Penner. I was wondering whatever happened to Nancy Culp from Beverly Hillbillies.

nancy culp janet penner


Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Director – John McNaughton

henrySurely you’ve all seen this film by now. If you haven’t, please do so. It’s quite horrifying, disturbing, and haunting, and Michael Rooker is brilliant as the titular character. Based on real-life maniac Henry Lee Lucas, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer shows us a week in the life of an utter sociopath and feels very much like a documentary sans narration. It’s far better than the other four films on this list, but, like them, it’ll make you want to take a long, hot shower afterwards.

 

 

 

 

 


So what grimy 1980s slasher movies would you add to this list?