Hello, dear readers! We’re nearing the end of our Class of 1980 celebration (be sure to check back here next week for something very special that I’ve been cooking up with the help of some very special friends), but before we give the genre films of 1980 the grand send-off they so rightly deserve, I thought we should take a moment to tip our hats to five more films from this notable year in horror and sci-fi that all deserve to get some love as well.
Christmas Evil: "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for Harry Stading’s mom who was enjoying a little naughty time with her hubby while he’s dressed up like Santa Claus." That ends up being a pivotal moment in poor Harry’s childhood, as he cherishes the holiday and all that it stands for, so he’s extremely upset when he sees his mommy getting groped by ol’ Saint Nick, and it fosters some deeply seated issues in the tot, who grows up to be something of a holiday obsessive.
Harry’s love for the holidays goes too far one year, when he decides to dress up like Santa after a series of personal disappointments and spends Christmas Eve delivering presents and serving up a little Yuletide justice as well. This was my first time watching Christmas Evil, and while it’s not your typical slasher film (or even typical holiday slasher), I think it’s those differences that made me an instant fan of this one. Rather than just having revenge fueling his actions, Harry is motivated by much bigger things: human kindness, breaking down the false facades that many put up during the holiday season—when people talk about charity and goodwill, but rarely ever follow through—and giving back to all the good girls and boys out there. There’s a tinge of sadness to Brandon Maggart’s performance as Harry, who is an unusually sympathetic antagonizer here, and I think that it’s his dogged dedication to a role that could have easily ventured into camp territory that helps make Christmas Evil a true rarity amongst its holiday horror peers.
Also, even though the film takes itself extremely serious, I have to say that I cackled with glee during Christmas Evil’s final shot, when Harry’s van—painted up to look like Santa’s sleigh—goes careening into the night air, as it was a wonderfully absurd moment to go out on. Christmas Evil also features a young Jeffrey DeMunn as well, which was a nice surprise, too, and I have to admit that, as someone who is a bit of a holiday obsessive herself, Christmas Evil served as nice reminder that even though I go all out every year for Christmas, I know that I’ll never go full Harry Stading, so at least I’ve got that going for me.
Humanoids from the Deep: While I will admit that watching sea-dwelling creatures explicitly rape a woman isn’t my idea of a good time, if you can get past the heavily exploitative nature of some of Roger Corman’s ill-conceived decisions here, Humanoids from the Deep is a rather gnarly creature feature that may be an amalgamation of influences (much like most films that came out under Corman’s supervision), but ended up becoming a bit of a singular standout in a variety of ways, which makes it a notable entry amongst the genre films released in 1980.
Centered around a sleepy fishing village in California, Humanoids tackles heavy issues like racism and the ethics of creating genetically engineered food, all while serving up some solid B-movie behemoths that run amok, causing all sorts of mayhem and carnage in their wake. And while it was definitely inspired by Jaws (and countless other aquatic horrors), Humanoids from the Deep strips away all the glossiness of Spielberg’s masterpiece, giving us a down and dirty seafaring scarefest that features a hugely ambitious massacre during the town’s Salmon Festival, and honestly, that sequence alone was enough for me to want to include it here.
If you can get past some of the unpleasantness in Humanoids, the film is still pretty damn entertaining, and I can’t help but appreciate any movie that involves some weird ventriloquist foreplay like this one does. Rob Bottin’s monster suits are still pretty damn fun, too, and I’m a big fan of the film’s Alien-inspired stinger at the end as well.
Inferno: Prior to rewatching it for our Class of 1980 series, this was the first time I really sat down with Dario Argento’s Inferno since I was in high school, and I will be the first to admit that I didn’t completely love it back then, either. Ever since its release, Inferno has had the unfortunate task of trying to live up to the legacy of Suspiria—a rather impossible feat (especially in my brain)—but upon revisiting Inferno this week, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and I would definitely now place it in my list of top five Argento films.
Part of Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, Inferno first introduces us to Rose (Irene Miracle), a writer living in New York, who begins to suspect that her apartment building used to serve as the dwelling for one of three powerful sisters who all wield a great deal of evil influence over any misfortunate soul who happens to cross them. Rose decides to write her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey, who used to have a supporting role on Dallas), who is studying music in Rome, and asks him to come visit her at once. From there, a whole lot of weird stuff begins happening, which would take me at least another 1,000 words to get through, but the short version is that there are a lot of inexplicable but wonderfully gruesome deaths in Inferno that are connected to the one and only Mater Tenenbrarum, who is the personification of Death Incarnate.
For what Inferno may lack in a consistency in storytelling, it more than makes up for with its sumptuous visual style and Argento’s dreamy directorial approach to the material (the Maestro became extremely ill during production on Inferno, which makes the results even more admirable in my opinion). It may never crack my top three favorite Argento films, but there’s still a lot to appreciate about Inferno, especially its hypnotic underwater sequences that took my breath away, and it’s certainly a worthy follow-up to Suspiria, even if it doesn’t quite hit the same highs as its predecessor.
Alligator: My introduction to Lewis Teague’s Alligator came from Terror in the Aisles back when I was growing up. After seeing the scene featuring an unlucky victim firmly entrenched in the chompers of Alexander the Alligator (as he’s dubbed by locals) while being slammed against the windows of a limousine, I just knew this was a movie I needed to see. And I loved it—even though it scared the hell out of me, too (especially since a few years after I saw it, my mom’s boyfriend flushed his deceased tarantula down our toilet, and all I could think of was Alligator the entire time).
The film features the late, great Robert Forster as a cop who must team up with a reptile expert (played by Robin Rikers, who I loved on Get A Life) to find a way to stop the oversized monstrosity’s reign of chaos. Teague, who has directed several films that shaped my childhood (Cujo and The Jewel of the Nile being the big two—we watched those a lot in my house), crafts a thrilling monster movie that starts off a bit like a police procedural, but ends up delivering a full-blown creature feature by the last 15 minutes, and it’s just a fantastic ride from start to finish.
I’m not sure if it’s John Sayles’ script, which digs into some serious issues without ever bogging down the story’s genre elements, Teague’s assertive direction that perfectly balances out several tonal shifts throughout the film, or the exceptional performances from its cast (which also includes the legendary Michael V. Gazzo, who many cinephiles will recognize from The Godfather Part II), but Alligator is pure movie magic. I do wish that we could get some kind of a home media release for it, since it’s been like 13 years since Alligator swam its way onto DVD, and it’s certainly a film that is due for rediscovery. Also, I hadn’t watched this one since I was a kid, but I think I’m finally at the age where I truly appreciate Forster for being the totally charismatic fox that he truly was.
Macabre: Before watching Macabre, the only Lamberto Bava-helmed horror films I had watched were Demons and Demons 2, so even though I knew I was going to be in for quite the ride with this one, there’s nothing that really could have prepared me for what was to come in Macabre, which I mean purely as a compliment.
Macabre opens with a card telling us the film was “inspired by true events,” which admittedly piqued my curiosities from the get-go. There’s a whole lot going on, but the basic gist is that Jane (Bernice Stegers) is an unhappily married mother of two who has a separate apartment where she regularly meets her lover Fred for their dalliances. But one day while she’s gone, her daughter Lucy decides to drown her little brother, and as Jane and Fred race back to Jane’s house, they’re in a horrific car accident that leaves Fred decapitated and Jane an emotional mess after losing two different people on the very same day.
As it turns out, it feels like Fred’s death has weighed more heavily on Jane than the horror of losing her own son, and after spending a year at a mental health facility, she moves back into her apartment, away from her family, so that she can reminisce about the times she spent with Fred. Or so it seems. It’s actually a bit more “complicated” than that, but I don’t want to say too much about just what exactly Jane is doing, because it’ll ruin the surprise for anyone who maybe has missed this oft-overlooked Bava gem.
Pushing the boundaries of sexual perversion and familial dynamics, Macabre may not be Bava’s most audacious directorial effort, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most unique films to be released in 1980 and then some. Even though its very final moments don’t make a lick of sense, I don’t even know if I cared at that point because everything else that preceded it is so bizarrely audacious, so basically at that point, I was like, “Sure, why not?” If you’re a fan of Italian genre cinema, but somehow haven’t made time for Macabre, I’d definitely recommend doing so. And then find me so we can talk about it, because there’s a mother lode of weirdness to unpack here. Bravo, Bava. Bravo.
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