It Came From The ’80s.

Opinion by Tony Frame.

The ’80s was the best era for horror movies. That’s a fact. Legend has it that those who refute that claim are visited by Freddy Krueger in their dreams and are ripped apart with his bladed glove, destined to spend an eternity in the afterlife being chased by Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees amidst the sound of Leatherface’s chainsaw in the background.

The VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) gave birth to a number of monstrous creations being easily accessible in homes across the country via video-cassettes. Those bulky black tapes of plastic and videotape were by far one of the greatest inventions of the late 20th century; no longer did you have to wait years for your favourite movies to be broadcast on TV – you could now go out and buy or rent them at your own leisure. It was bliss.

Some classic ’80s horror faces. Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

By the mid ’80s more than a quarter of homes in the UK had a VCR in their household. The horror genre thrived; movies that would never have been financed before now had the home-video market to make money back. This led to an influx of good, bad and beyond silly and absurd horror movies (Troll 2 being one of them) being made and rolled out to video stores across the world.

Blockbuster video. Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

It also led to the censors having to do overtime and put many films on their video nasty list which, in fairness, only made people want to see them even more. Films like Basket Case, The Evil Dead and The Hills Have Eyes found mass-audiences watching their gore-fests in the comfort of their own homes, despite some of them being cut to shreds by Ferman and friends at the BBFC.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you’re not an ’80s kid like me then the chances are you’ll probably find it very difficult to find a good horror movie from the era, outside of the usual classics like Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Friday the 13th (1980).

Over the years there’s been a few ’80s horrors that I have caught for the first time and then there’s the others that I will revisit once in a blue moon because they’re so damned good.

So, in the interests of validating my misspent youth watching horror movies, it’s only fitting that I share my knowledge and give you my recommendations of lesser-known tantalising treats from the ’80s horror genre.

To maximise the viewing experience, these movies should be viewed when the full moon is watching and the wind is howling…and the witching hour approaches…

Spellbinder (1988)

‘A young lawyer, after falling in love with a beautiful woman, finds that she has an extremely mysterious past…’

Images courtesy of IMDB

The late Kelly Preston takes the lead role alongside Tim Daly who rescues her from her boyfriend after an altercation in a car park. The film is a straight-up thriller, with horror elements throughout, and it’s aided with some creepy and tense moments.

The writing is good, the characters and their motivations are believable, and Kelly Preston really does add an element of charisma to her performance as the alluring and mysterious Miranda Reed. It’s a film that seems like your typical horror movie but is elevated with a few twists and set-pieces that make it one of the hidden gems from the ’80s.

The Unholy (1988)

‘A priest battles a demon that kills sinners in the act of sinning.’

Images courtesy of IMDB

This was one I watched back in ’89 / ’90 and I can always picture the video cover with it’s glaring red silhouetted background. The library I rented films from back in the day didn’t break the videos up into genres (all the movies were mixed in together) which meant that horror movies, with their dramatic fonts and stark covers, always stood out on the shelves.

Ben Cross plays father Michael; a priest haunted by visions and near death experiences who is given the responsibility of re-opening a parish in which the previous two priests were murdered.

It’s got a strong cast with Hal Halbrook and Ned Beatty in supporting roles and I would call it a classic ’80s horror in the traditional sense; the sets are filled with neon lighting and the fog and wind machine are put through their paces amidst some freaky and gory practical effects. All of which are aided with an atmospheric synth soundtrack.

Scarecrows (1988)

Criminals hijack a plane and force the pilot and his daughter to fly them to Mexico. However, an unexpected landing finds them in a cemetery inhabited by killer scarecrows.’

Images courtesy of IMDB

I saw this in the late ’90s and it always stuck with me due to its creepy atmosphere. It has a small cast of relative unknowns and is pretty low budget, however the killings and practical effects are exceptional. The plot is very straightforward; bank robbers hijack a plane and have to make an emergency landing after one of the robbers bails out with a parachute, taking all the money with him.

It’s set in a remote countryside, beside an old disused farmhouse, with evil looking scarecrows inhabiting the fields nearby. There’s a few nice touches in the film; like the gang using headsets to communicate with each other which elevates the paranoia later on.

This is one of those horror movies that doesn’t give too much away in the backstory and is probably stronger for that because it allows the viewer to make it up themselves. For those of you that are looking for one of those dark films set solely at night, with scarecrows in the mix, then check this one out as it ticks a lot of boxes for ’80s horror aficionados.

That’s it for just now. If you love ’80s horror then these gory treats should keep that beast at bay for the interim, so go check them out and send your thoughts or cadavers in the comments below!

Keep an ‘eye’ out for Part II!

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