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Monday, June 22, 2020

Things of the Past: The 14 Best Horror Movies of 1984!

There’s an alternate reality out there in which we’re all at the multiplex, or at least able to go, and watching all of the big blockbusters that were originally scheduled to come out in the summer of 2020. But although we can’t currently go see Wonder Woman 1984, we can still go back to 1984 and watch all the movies that would have been playing in theaters while Wonder Woman was fighting supervillains.

And why not? Hollywood likes to dictate our nostalgia with films set in seemingly halcyon eras like the 1950s and 1980s, but those were horrifying decades too, filled with nightmarish stories in the cinemas. So let’s take a look back at one of the biggest years for horror in one of the biggest decades for horror, and highlight some of the timeless classics that came out of 1984 and also some of the underseen gems that aren’t quite so famous… but should be!


Body Double

Brian De Palma’s lurid pastiche of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Vertigo and Dial M for Murder stars Craig Wasson (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) as a sad-sack struggling actor who takes a housesitting gig and falls in love with a beautiful neighbor through a telescope, watching her as she seductively dances at night. His late night voyeurism makes him the only witness to her brutal murder, but the plot takes a bizarre turn when he notices that a famous porn star named Holly Body, played by a never-better Melanie Griffith, has the exact same sensual dance routine in her films.

The creepy psychosexual subtext of Hitchcock’s films is laid bare, front and center, in De Palma’s Body Double, a film which showcases some of the most ambitious and playful camerawork of the director’s career. Even when it’s not shockingly violent Body Double still feels shocking, as Wasson’s hapless protagonist discovers the depths of his own obsessions and the bizarre lengths he will go to in order to seduce the woman (women?) of his dreams. Meanwhile, Melanie Griffith challenges all expectations in her performance, revealing Holly Body to be as complete, as radical, and as intriguing a character as any in De Palma’s filmography.


The Company of Wolves

Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan may not exclusively work in the horror genre, but his career is full of ghosts (High Spirits), psychic phenomena (In Dreams), serial killers (The Butcher Boy) and, most famously, nosferatu (Interview with a Vampire). But although his sumptuous bloodsucker epic may be his best known mainstream film, his haunting and haunted surreal fairy tale The Company of Wolves provides a more complete perspective on its legendary monsters: werewolves and wolves.

Adapted from a story by and co-written by Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves takes place inside the troubled dreams of a teenaged girl, whose mind becomes an overlapping series of fairy tales. Women are attacked by werewolves, seduced by werewolves, and use their own magic to exact lupine revenge on the classist and misogynistic aristocracy. Narratively it’s a bit jumbled, and maybe even a little confusing, but the imagery is so elegantly realized – featuring some of the most eerie werewolf transformation effects in history – that it hardly matters.

The Company of Wolves may not always be cogent, but it feels complete, as though the whole horrifying history of demonizing wolves has been revealed, with all its gruesome violence and terrible hypocrisies.


Frankenweenie

This early live-action short by Tim Burton was a remake of James Whale’s Frankenstein, but instead of a mad scientist resurrecting the dead in order to play god, it’s a young boy resurrecting his pet dog so they can play. Frankenweenie whimsically reimagines the horror of Mary Shelley’s creation as a series of misunderstandings in which an undead dog – whose only crime was doing typical dog stuff – gets accused of being a monster, and as cute as that sounds, it was still too ghoulish for Disney at the time. The short was intended for theatrical release but wound up being shelved by the House of Mouse until after Tim Burton became a household name.

Frankenweenie is superb horror entertainment for children, dealing with serious issues in a charming way, while still embracing the history and style of the genre. Even Disney finally came around to it, having brought Burton back to remake the film as a stop-motion animated feature with more characters, more monsters, and just as much heart.


Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

The fourth film in the Friday the 13th series is one of the best films in a franchise which is, admittedly, so inconsistent that fans can’t always agree about which ones are good or not. But The Final Chapter seems to be the perfect example of the series at its best: Jason Voorhees is actually the killer, he’s wearing his hockey mask, his victims are likable and memorable, and the campfire legend of his origins is front and center, and exploited by the film’s protagonist to defeat him at the end.

Ironically, the fact that this was supposed to be “The Final Chapter,” and finally tied the franchise up in a nifty bow by bringing the story full circle and going full bore on the gore effects (courtesy of returning makeup wunderkind Tom Savini), made the film such a success that audiences demanded more. The franchise would keep going but it could be argued that it was mostly downhill from Joseph Zito’s smart, efficient, stylish fourth chapter.

And of course, nothing was ever better than co-star Crispen Glover’s epic dance scene.


Ghostbusters

Ivan Reitman’s blockbuster Ghostbusters was such a mainstream crossover hit that audiences sometimes overlook the fact that it’s technically a horror comedy. Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd star as scientists who leave academia (not by choice) and become ghost hunters for hire, using high tech equipment to capture apparitions brought to life by jaw-dropping visual effects.

The gags are funny and the set pieces are epics but the imagination on display is pure horror nerd material, filled with ancient Lovecraftian gods, cultists manipulating the architecture of New York City to open portals to other dimensions, grotesque translucent monstrosities wreaking havoc and, yes, a giant angry monster attacking the city (who just happens to be made out of marshmallows).

For all the credit Ghostbusters gets for its sparkling screenplay and eye-popping imagery, and of course its perfect cast (which also includes the fantastic Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Rick Moranis), its contributions to the horror community cannot be ignored or underappreciated, launching kids all over the world into a fascination with the supernatural, and spawning a blockbuster franchise full of movies, TV shows, video games and surprisingly creepy toys.


Gremlins

If you ever wondered what would happen if an army of reptilian prankster monsters attacked the town from It’s a Wonderful Life, then Gremlins is the movie for you. But actually, Gremlins is a movie for just about anybody. Malevolent enough to satisfy horror hounds, heartfelt enough to connect as a Spielbergian fantasy, and wacky enough to make damn near everyone laugh.

Joe Dante’s most beloved film has become such a mainstream classic – and an annual part of many film lovers’ rotations, since it’s also a Christmas movie – that it’s hard to add much to the conversation about it. Splendidly acted, wittily written, impishly wicked, and on top of it all riddled with little details that sometimes take multiple viewings to pick up on. Not everyone notices that Gremlins has a working time machine in it, but it does, right in the background at the inventor’s convention, a wonderful gag just waiting to get discovered as fans watch and rewatch Gremlins over and over and over again.


The Initiation

One of the best unsung slashers of the 1980s stars Daphne Zuniga as a college sorority pledge named Kelly, who is plagued every night by disturbing nightmares about sex, murder and mirrors. Meanwhile her parents, played by genre legends Vera Miles (Psycho) and Clu Gulager (The Return of the Living Dead), have decided not to tell her that there’s been a breakout at a mental institution, and a serial killer wielding a trowel is out to murder her and her friends.

The set-up is simplicity itself, but The Initiation makes the most of it with an impressive ensemble cast and characters who are complex and likable enough that even though we’re here to watch them die, we really hope they won’t. Add in a few unexpected twists (some more plausible than others) and some playful additions to the formula, and The Initiation stands out against the vast majority of the 1980s slasher competition.


Night of the Comet

A comet passes by planet Earth, killing almost everybody on the planet except for two valley girls, a small army of cannibal mutants, and a secret underground bunker full of corrupt scientists. Teenaged sisters Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart, The Last Starfighter) and Sam (Kelli Maroney, Chopping Mall) may very well be the last, best hope for the future of the human race. But first… they have to go shopping.

Thom Eberhardt’s quirky cult classic Night of the Comet is a genuine blast from the past, combining 1980s culture – which even at the time we all knew was ridiculous – with life-or-death genre stakes. The juxtaposition was so strong that Night of the Comet wound up directly influencing the creation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which took the same basic idea and added supernatural monsters, soap operatic romance and a few extra apocalypses for good measure.


A Nightmare on Elm Street

The horror genre is always on the hunt for a new boogeyman, and Wes Craven came up with one of the greats: Freddy Krueger, played by the perfectly terrifying Robert Englund, the living embodiment of nightmares. Fusing elements of the popular slasher genre with surrealist imagery and psychological depth, the original A Nightmare on Elm Street quickly made waves, establishing itself as one of the dominant horror franchises with one of the most enduring horror movie icons.

And yet, for all the history associated with it, the original film still packs an enormous wallop. Future installments would play up the dream sequences for gigantic phantasmagorical imagery and increasingly jokey kills, but Craven’s first film keeps most of the unthinkable imagery grounded. Arms that are too long for a body, a tongue in a telephone, a face pressing into a wall; these visions are insidious and indelible, and feel as though they could happen to us at any moment and reveal that we, too, are trapped in one of Freddy’s gruesome dreams.


Ninja III: The Domination

Not every great horror movie from 1984 was “good.” This absolutely brain-melting action/horror hybrid stars Lucinda Dickey (Breakin’) as a telephone linewoman who accidentally runs into a dying, homicidal master ninja, and then gets possessed by his soul so he can continue his reign of terror. Making it even weirder, the first two films in the series had no supernatural elements whatsoever. Ninja III: The Domination is kinda like if the third John Wick just suddenly had leprechauns in it and nobody said anything.

But oh, what a glorious chunk of 1980s weirdness Ninja III is! Filled with wildly over the top action sequences, sex scenes involving tomato juice (which isn’t as tantalizing as they thought it was) and acrobatic exorcism scenes. Thoroughly entertaining and utterly inane, and one of the best cult horror flicks of the 1980s.


Razorback

Australian filmmaker Russell Mulcahy was there at the beginning of the music video revolution, directing classic and influential shorts for AC/DC, The Buggles, Duran Duran and Bonnie Tyler. When the time came to direct his first feature, the giant boar thriller Razorback, he put all his experience in those striking shorts to good use. Razorback is one of the most dynamically and beautifully photographed horror films of the early 1980s, with striking angles, jarring cutaways and stunning imagery.

It helps that the movie is pretty good too. Razorback takes place in the Australian outback, where a giant boar has been roaming free, killing indiscriminately but consuming its prey so thoroughly that nobody believes the only witness to the attacks. When a pair of Americans arrive, first to document local animal cruelty, and then to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the reporter, they find themselves trapped in harsh elements with a whole community full of eccentric – and possibly murderous – locals.

In the end, Razorback plays less like a story that needed to be told and more like a bravura showcase of MTV cinematic aesthetics, helping to prove to the world that a new visual language was emerging and that it could breathe life into even the most straightforward of storylines.


Silent Night, Deadly Night

One of the most controversial horror movies of the era, Silent Night, Deadly Night is the story of a boy whose grandfather told him scary stories about Santa Claus, whose parents were then murdered by a criminal dressed as Santa Claus, grew up in an abusive Catholic orphanage, and then worked in a toy store during the stressful holiday season. It’s a perfect storm of motivations that lead poor Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) to snap and go on a yuletide killing spree, murdering anyone he deems “naughty.”

The idea of a homicidal Santa Claus had been put on camera before, but this time people really noticed and protested. Even vaunted film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert took time on their program to read out a list of the filmmakers and say “Shame” after each of their names. But Silent Night, Deadly Night wasn’t an empty-headed schlockfest trying to capitalize on a killer Santa as a marketing scheme. It’s actually a well-conceived cautionary tale that smartly points a finger at the elements of Christmas that deserve harsh criticism, from the commercialization of the holiday to the conflation of goodness with tangible rewards, and sinfulness with judgment.

Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s film may not be as visually exciting as many of its contemporaries, but it’s smarter and more pointed than many of its contemporaries. And its slew of subversive slays – like impalings on antlers and decapitations on sleds – are a wicked treat.


The Terminator

James Cameron’s original sci-fi classic wasn’t the special effects/stunt-driven spectacular that the sequels would become. It was a lower budget, ambitious story about a woman being hunted down by an unstoppable monster who just happened to be a robot from the future. As played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, this “Terminator” is as much a larger-than-life killing machine as any slasher villain from the 1980s, with unforgettable kills and a creepy design that keeps falling apart and revealing more nightmare-fuel within his seemingly human flesh.

The Terminator embraces its sci-fi trappings – it is, after all, about a human and a cyborg traveling back in time to, alternatively, prevent or ensure the robot apocalypse – but from the perspective of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), it’s a monster movie. She’s become the target of an unstoppable juggernaut. And on top of being a great monster movie it’s a smart commentary on nuclear proliferation, humanity’s increasing dependence on technology, and women’s rights issues. The Terminator is the complete package.


The Toxic Avenger

Troma has never been known for their subtlety; Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz saw to that right away with a string of arch sex comedies and then their first campy gory ultra low budget masterpiece, The Toxic Avenger. The film tells the story of a nerdy janitor who is bullied by local jocks, tricked into wearing a tutu, set on fire and then doused in toxic chemicals. He emerges as a giant mutated monster, but a kindhearted one… unless evil is around. In addition to his superhuman strength, “Toxie” becomes overwhelmed with hulk-like rage whenever he’s in the presence of evil, and in the corrupt town of Tromaville there’s no shortage of evildoers wherever he goes.

Extremely violent and almost completely immature, The Toxic Avenger quickly found favor amongst cult film enthusiasts who were not only entertained by its extremity but also charmed by its storytelling naïveté. Kaufman and Herz’s film has all the moxie of the local play in Waiting for Guffman, but instead of delightful songs it’s got gleeful disembowelings. It’s so grotesque that it should push us away and yet instead it invites in, spawning a wave of sequels and – most bizarre of all – a children’s animated series with its own line of action figures.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/movie/3620532/things-past-14-best-horror-movies-1984/

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