If you are new to the works of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, Phenomena (1985) is as good a place as any to start. It practically plays like a ‘greatest hits’ of all his virtues, and more than a few of his vices. And for the Argento veteran, it’s a gas for those very same reasons – by combining so many elements from his other films he’s created his most bizarre feature to date – no mean feat. When I need five alarm Dario, I throw on Phenomena.
At the turn of the ‘80s, Jamie Lee Curtis was THE face of horror; by this point she had already starred in Halloween (1978), and cemented her position with three releases in 1980 alone – The Fog in February, Prom Night in July, and today’s title, Terror Train, in October. It was a banner year for her, and for horror fans alike – well, apart from that snoozy school picture. Terror Train was a great way to end her 1980, and a fitting way to cap off 2016, as it’s a – ta da! – New Year’s Eve movie. Climb aboard for a fun, surprisingly classy ride.
’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the land
Mommy and Santa, were getting on grand.
This threw little Harry, into such a tizzy
He grew up demented; delusional, dizzy.
What appears on the page is not always what appears on the screen. The screenwriter has most times defined what he/she hopes to see translated, but that’s not always the case (and when it isn’t, it’s usually for the worse). However, sometimes a film will morph from the pen to the multiplex in a post-faithful state that exceeds expectations. One such film is The Pit (1981), a Canadian made, US lensed flick that started out as a psychological breakdown of a delusional little boy, and ended up in B Movie Heaven, where it is personally fanned and fed grapes by Ed Wood and William Castle on a daily basis. There’s no other film quite like it.
I Drink Your Blood (1970) is as old as I am. Unlike me, however, it shows very little wear and tear; a loud and proud exploitation horror diorama from an age when all boundaries of good taste and reason were pushed to the breaking point. If you only have room in your life for one rabies-infested satanic hippies movie, make it I Drink Your Blood.
Cynicism isn’t hard to come by in the horror genre; any Italian cannibal or home invasion flick will satiate your desire for an outlook on man’s worst transgressions. Conversely, it’s even harder to find a film with such a buoyant feel that is at odds with the terror on display. Well, folks, may I present to you The Boogens (1981), an endearing charmer of a subterranean monster movie. By the time it’s over, you may want to give it a big old hug.
When the mood strikes, there’s nothing better than an Atomic Age Monster Movie (B Division). Glorious black & white, damsels in distress, iron willed heroes and rubberized villains never fail to hit all the pleasure centers. The Monster that Challenged the World (1957) is one such film, and better made than most of the era. As the tagline says, “A New Kind of Terror to Numb the Nerves!” Well, you may just feel a tingle, but it’s a blast nevertheless.
Without question, being a stepparent can be rough. It’s a balancing act between wanting what’s best for the child, and the need to ingratiate oneself and hopefully, earn and obtain love. This is a tightrope that Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn) has no interest in walking – if he can’t implement his perfect family plan, he switches policies in the most violent way possible. Welcome to the world of The Stepfather (1987), a pretty good thriller elevated to classic status due to a legendary performance by O’Quinn.
Full disclosure: I hate spiders. Like really, really despise them. God’s creatures blah blah blah – save it. They are absolutely, without a question, the most insidious, terrifying things on the planet. Now, horror films about arachnids? Well, that’s different. They have a built in creepiness factor that ensures, at the very least, it will hit the icky button with me – not my go to sensation for horror, but still creating a sensation while I watch – which promises a memorable experience.
But when you add in a level of fun, and in the case of Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), a ridiculously high quotient of it, I pivot from respect to awe in the space of 97 minutes. Not for the spiders – that will never happen as long as I’m gulping air. But the film? I’m in awe each and every viewing. It’s my favorite Animals Attack film, my favorite John ‘Bud’ Cardos directorial effort, and hands down the all time William Shatner performance. It’s a dang gone gem.
Killer kids really started pulsating on the horror radar with The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). Horrific as these tots were, their actions were explained away by demonic possession and satanic lineage, respectively. Regardless of their cause, the sight of a youngster engaged in heinous behavior was still shocking. Now, roll back the clock a couple of decades and drop a sociopathic eight year old girl in the middle of apple pie strewn Ozzie & Harriet America, and what do you get? The Bad Seed (1956), that’s what; a wonderfully odd ode to li’l murderers and the mothers who love them.