A Bloody Good Time 07.10.14: Top 10 Horror Movies Of 1980
Posted by Joseph Lee on 07.10.2014
From The Shining and Friday the 13th to The Fog, Inferno, Altered States and more, 411's Joseph Lee counts down the top 10 horror films of 1980!
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
As you guys might have noticed last week, I forgot Chief Brody from Jaws on my cops in horror movies list. As I said on Facebook and in the comments, that's totally my fault. I'd place him at #3 and move everyone else back.
Speaking of Facebook, I've been presenting new ideas for the column and have been getting some feedback from some of my readers. Really, if you haven't liked me over there yet, I really think you should. It's a way for you to play a part in this column and I try to get some horror discussions going every so often. I presented one idea that not only went over well, but could be another regular feature. When you've been running a column for almost seven years (this October), you need to find ways to keep it fresh.
This week we're going back in time to the early 80s. The year 1980, to be exact. I'm of the opinion that the 80s were the best decade for horror and none of the others come close. So in a similar style to my end of the year countdown, we're counting down the Top Ten Terrors Of 1980! I must warn you, I've praised a few of these movies before so it may get a little repetitive.
#10: The Fog
I'm not as big of a fan of The Fog as everyone else is, but there's no denying that the 1980s were very kind to John Carpenter. This was the decade that he made himself a huge name in movies with both horror and non-horror movies. The Fog, while the lesser of Carpenter's run during the decade, is still a fun ghost movie with great direction. I'd say the biggest problem of The Fog (outside of the production issues Carpenter encountered) was the fact it gave way to a horrible, horrible remake.
The movie features a stellar cast including Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins and Hal Holbrook. Jamie Lee Curtis is in it too, as 1980 was probably the year that made her a scream queen between this, Prom Night and Terror Train. This was the best of her movies that year. I like the atmosphere Carpenter created and with a cast this good it's hard to go wrong. I really don't mind when filmmakers try to bring a gothic horror tone to a contemporary setting. Not enough movies do that these days.
#9: City of the Living Dead
Lucio Fulci was coming out of his peak in the early 80s but he still had a few minor classics left in him before he was done. One of these is City of the Living Dead. It's the worst of his "Gates of Hell" trilogy (which includes The Beyond and House by the Cemetery) but still a decent zombie movie. Of course, these zombies are only zombies because they're walking corpses. They don't eat people so much as they murder them.
A priest hangs himself in a cemetery and opens the gates of hell. This causes him to create a horde of zombies with the ability to teleport. He can also make your eyes bleed and make you vomit your own intestines just by looking at you. The kills also feature zombies crushing the heads of people until their brains come out the back. I think the first time I saw this I unfairly compared it to The Beyond, but on it's own it's a solid movie and one you should see if you're a Fulci fan.
#8: Don't Go In The House
1980 should be known as the year in which horror lost its mind. By that I mean there were several movies (three on this list) in which it follows a man as he succumbs to his madness and becomes a psychopath. I'm a sucker for strong character-driven movies in horror along with my blood and guts. Say what you will about the Friday the 13th sequels, but the ones that had victims with personality were the best.
This movie follows a man that is already on the edge but finally loses it when his mother passes away. She used to torture him when he was younger by burning his arms over the stove. He decides the best way to get revenge is to immolate young women that resemble her. This includes an incredibly graphic scene in which he strips a woman naked, chains her up and lights her on fire with gasoline and a flamethrower. That's the kind of sick stuff you'd expect from a Saw movie, not a 1980 movie. We weren't quite in the era of slashers trying to top each other with gore effects yet. Dan Grimaldi does a good job of making you feel empathy and fear for his character, sometimes at the same time.
#7: Motel Hell
It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's fritters. This is a movie I expected nothing from, but ended up loving it. So much so that I'll go to a horror con and take a photo with a guy dressed as Farmer Vincent because I think it's really cool. Motel Hell is such a weird and out there movie that once again, features some unique characters and an original method of killing people. Farmer Vincent turns people into food, but only after he plants them in the ground and feeds them like cattle.
A lot of people complain about the lack of originality these days but I think the lack of strong characters is a bigger problem. Even in lesser-known movies like Motel Hell, we remember the wacky characters who do things like wear a pig mask and chase people with a chainsaw. Vincent's sister Ida is even weirder at times, which says a lot. If you want something a little different then Motel Hell is for you.
#6: Altered States
I've discovered over the years that I'm a big fan of Ken Russell. His movies are weird enough to appeal to someone of my tastes but not so weird that the average movie fan can't watch them. Altered States is probably the most mainstream of his movies in that it was a big studio film (for Warner Bros). It follows a scientist studying sensory deprivation who somehow taps into a more primitive part of his mind and he begins to regress into a neanderthal.
It's something that sounds like a bad 1950s B-movie. Instead, it's a moody, atmospheric piece in which we follow this likable guy who begins to experience his own body devolving in horrific ways. It's somehow both psychological and body horror at the same time. William Hurt in general provides a terrific performance, making this an unheralded classic of the decade. You do not see enough people praising Altered States and that's a shame.
Another filmmaker I love doing some good work in the 80s was Dario Argento. Sure, his best work was in the decade prior but you can't deny that he still had the ability to put out some classic horror in this one. Inferno was the second of his loosely-connected "Three Mothers" trilogy, after Suspiria but before Mother of Tears. They're only connected by fact they have witches. In a lot of ways they're completely different.
The movie has suspension, tension and great kills. It's basically all of the things you'd expect from an Argento film of this time. Even though the score isn't Goblin, that's also another point in its favor. It's Argento at his best. There are some that say he doesn't have it anymore, but you can't hate the guy who can make movies like Inferno.
#4: Friday the 13th
I feel like I've talked about the Friday the 13th series way too often in this column. It's probably my favorite horror franchise but there's only so many words I can give it before I begin repeating myself. The first one, as I've said before, isn't my favorite of the series but it's probably the most well-made. It's one of the best slasher movies of all time and its influence was felt for over a decade.
The biggest reason this movie is so fondly remembered are the special effects from Tom Savini. Savini was a master of practical effects and he pulled off things that most CGi wizards would make look obvious and fake today. Back in the day it really looked like Kevin Bacon was getting an arrow through his throat. We also have the insane performance from Betsy Palmer that will live in infamy and Adrienne King was one of the better final girls in horror history (but not better than Ginny in Part 2, in my opinion). It's Friday the 13th. What more do I need to say?
#3: The Changeling
Here's another movie I feel doesn't get the praise it deserves. George C. Scott essentially delivers a one-man show as a composer who moves into a home after losing his family only to find he's being haunted by a ghost. This ghost isn't malevolent, it's a young boy who wants him to help find the boy's murderer. Even without a ghost that's out to kill our hero, this movie is still moody and has a feeling of dread throughout.
The movie essentially works as a murder mystery but it's a mystery that we don't necessarily know the answers to. They slowly get to the inevitable climax of this movie and that entire time we're getting to know Scott's character and deal with the fact that he is being haunted. If your attention span only lets you enjoy movies with a death every seven minutes you may not enjoy this. I enjoy a good body count movie but I also enjoy the more cerebral aspects of horror as well.
It's time to praise Maniac again. Skip ahead if you don't want to hear me describe how great an actor Joe Spinell is for the 20th time. Feel free to join in if you don't mind. Joe Spinell is a great actor. The film is called Maniac and it follows a sociopath who kills and scalps young women. Yet it also requires you to feel sympathy for this man and hope that somehow he can finally overcome his madness. Part of this is because of the story but a lot of it is due to Spinell and how he interacts with Caroline Munro.
If you're not watching this movie for the great acting, then fine, you can enjoy Savini's special effects again. That's another great part of the 80s: Tom Savini was on fire. This one features scalping, people being ripped apart and a head explosion via shotgun. You get two greats contributing some of their best work here and if that's not reason enough to see this then I don't know how else to sell you on it. Go see Maniac. Then see the remake, because that's pretty good too.
#1: The Shining
Some movies on this list are cult classics, some are extremely underrated and some are great movies that I will continue to praise. Then there's The Shining. These days you have people trying to tear down a movie like this but there's a reason it's a classic. It's not because critics are trained to like Stanley Kubrick. As a horror fan I generally go against the grain of the critics anyway because they hate horror. The Shining is a classic because it's one of the best-made horror films of all time.
Does it do a good job of adapting Stephen King's book? Probably not. Does it matter? Not really. If you want a film that's truer to the book, go with the terrible 1997 mini-series. If you want a film that stays true to the ghostly tone of the book but does it's own thing, then stick with Kubrick's horror classic. How can you not love Jack Nicholson losing his mind for two hours and going ballistic in a haunted hotel filled with madness? It's a recipe for greatness and it's the best horror film of 1980.
That's it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook. Next week it's the return of my "Where Are They Now?" series as we look at John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing!
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