Despite the assertion of Oscar Wilde, art does imitate life. So what concerns beset the era of Garbage Pail Kids, legwarmers and glam rock? What communal fears plagued the decade of Hungry Hungry Hippos, Pop Rocks and the Brat Pack?
Embraced by a generation that feared nuclear fallout, gang warfare and the AIDS epidemic, horror pictures of the 1980s exposed the ugly underpinnings of American society. Hot on the heels of the shootings at Kent State; Vietnam; the second Cold War; the boycotting of the Summer Games in Moscow, horror positioned itself as a force to be reckoned with at the box office.
The Terminator witnessed a world ravaged by nuclear war and cashed almost $80 million in ticket sales. John Carpenter’s The Thing saw a US Antarctic research team resort to blood testing to determine who among them was safe and who was “infected.” David Cronenberg’s The Fly featured a scientist plagued by a degenerative disease that attacked his physical shell. Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage witnessed a naïve teen resorting to murder in exchange for a hallucinogenic alien fluid.
The 80s also saw the (to coin a freshly popular phrase) reimagining of classic monsters, the transition from slasher to rubber-reality, the advent of the mom-and-pop video store and accompanying gore fare, the return of the anthology and the sequel craze.
Among all this is a collection of truly imaginative, really frightening and wholly entertaining movies. Here are a few that I feel stand out among the crowd:
1. The Evil Dead – Vicious, visceral, grueling and inventive. Quite possibly my favorite film of all time.
2. Fright Night – Tom Holland exploits the clichés of the genre in triumphant fashion. This film ranks slightly above Near Dark for best vamp pic of the decade, though the margin is slim.
3. Hellraiser – Clive Barker’s imagination is unparalleled. The best rubber-reality has to offer.
4. An American Werewolf in London – A nearly perfect blending of comedy and horror. For the longest time I had an internal debate as to which was a better film between this and The Howling before settling on AWIL.
5. The Fog – A classic ghost story that features a commendable simplicity, the Fog is the most underrated of Carpenter’s 80s pics, boasting his most chilling score and Cundey’s most beautiful photography.
6. Friday the 13th – If Halloween introduced the conventions of the slaher sub-genre, Friday the 13th set them in stone. It is the film that all others in its wake inspire to be. Its structure has become so familiar as to become almost silly.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street – Wes Craven’s first reinventing of the genre. He tossed aside the faceless, voiceless stalker on a mission in favor of a maniac with burned flesh and a sarcastic wit.
8. Re-Animator – Of all the 80s zombie pics (Return of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead) this one made me laugh the loudest and cringe the hardest.
9. The Thing – Perhaps Carpenter’s strongest directorial effort the film boasts terrific effects and a relevant theme.
10. Poltergeist – Most will be surprised to see this ghost title placed above The Shining on my list but its satirical storyline exploits every childhood phobia imaginable resulting in a truly scary experience and is at the present, my 10th favorite horror film of the 1980s.