When it comes to horror and sci-fi movies from 1986, there are several milestone titles that always come to mind first: Aliens, The Fly, Blue Velvet, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, Manhunter, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, or even Psycho III, just to name a few. But like any great year of cinema, there are always a few underrated gems that get overshadowed along the way and should receive a little extra love. Here are six films from 1986 that I think deserve to be on every genre fan’s radar:
F/X: A movie about a special effects artist who gets mixed up in a government conspiracy, at a time when practical effects were in their heyday? Yes, please. F/X isn’t a film I hear a ton of folks talk about, but it has been on cable a lot lately, which means I’ve spent a few nights revisiting it, and it still holds up after all these years. While the fact that its main protagonist (Bryan Brown, who had a helluva ’86 with the release of this film and Cocktail) is an effects artist is really badass, the thing that makes F/X such a standout is that the material is far more clever and thoughtful than it perhaps needed to be.
F/X also features Brian Dennehy, Jerry Orbach, and Tom Noonan—a fantastic ensemble who bring a lot of class to what could have been B-movie schlock in lesser hands. If you’ve never seen F/X for yourself, right that wrong immediately and be sure to check out its underrated sequel as well.
Chopping Mall: Many hardcore horror fans are well aware of Chopping Mall, but by and large, there are still a ton of genre enthusiasts who have yet to see Jim Wynorski’s highly entertaining tale of killer robots versus a group of partygoers one night at a mall’s furniture store, where the killer bots are tasked with maintaining security and peace when the shopping center is officially closed.
Easily one of the best “B movies” of 1986, Chopping Mall boasts an incredible ensemble featuring Barbara Crampton, Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Mary Woronov, and Dick Miller, and it also includes the big screen debut of Rodney Eastman, who would go on to star in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Part 4, The Dream Master. It’s a shame that Chopping Mall hasn’t found its way to Blu-ray yet (although it is expected to finally come out later this year from Lionsgate), as I’ve never seen the extended TV version of the film and have always wanted to.
Spookies: Spookies isn’t by any means a piece of art; it’s a weird creature feature that often feels disjointed and cobbled together at times, but its saving grace is the amazing and brilliant effects that make Spookies feel like something more than a haunted house come to life. The acting is pretty subpar and the story often doesn’t make a lot of sense (it was shot on two different occasions and I think the filmmakers just tried to salvage the best parts and put them together in the form of one movie), and yet, I still adore the hell out of it simply because of the amazing heart that went into creating so many different creatures and ghouls, and that’s something always worth celebrating in my book.
A movie that still hasn’t even enjoyed a proper DVD release here in America, I’d love to see Spookies finally get some love in the form of a decent home entertainment release (*cough* Scream Factory *cough*).
TerrorVision: I only discovered TerrorVision about ten years ago, and I’m still wondering how I could have possibly missed a horror movie in 1986 featuring Chad Allen (who made a huge impression on me that same year with Our House, the TV series he co-starred in with Wilford Brimley and Shannen Doherty), because he was all over the teeny-bopper magazines I was reading around that time. But I eventually found TerrorVision, and while it might very well be the weirdest movie to come out in ’86, it’s also still a ridiculous amount of fun and may be my favorite film from director Ted Nicolaou.
Featuring amazing effects, a truly awesome soundtrack, and an ensemble that includes the likes of Jonathan Gries, Mary Woronov (who had a very busy year, apparently), Diane Franklin (who became a princess for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), and Phantom of the Paradise’s Gerrit Graham, TerrorVision feels like Nicolaou’s attempt to pay homage to the great early films from Roger Corman’s career, while also making sure to give the project his own oddball twist. TerrorVision was resurrected in HD back in 2013 with Scream Factory’s double feature Blu-ray, and for those of you who may not have seen this eccentric horror/sci-fi comedy yet, that’s the perfect way to finally see this crazy film for yourself.
Haunted Honeymoon: As probably one of maybe ten people in the whole world who proudly displays a Haunted Honeymoon poster in my house, I still don’t understand why this horror comedy, which was co-written and directed by the legendary Gene Wilder, was so maligned at the time. Sure, Dom DeLuise’s supporting role as Great-Aunt Kate is still a low point in DeLuise’s career, and it’s not nearly as confidently made as some of Wilder’s other comedies from that era, but seeing Wilder and his real-life spouse Gilda Radner together in what would sadly be her final film after succumbing to ovarian cancer in 1989, has always been a welcome sight for me (being a fan of both actors). If nothing else, Haunted Honeymoon feels like a lovely testament to their infectious admiration for each other.
While it may not be even close to being one of the best films that 1986 produced, for me, Haunted Honeymoon is a great tribute to films like The Legend of Hell House and The Haunting, as well as all the great radio dramas from the 1930s and ’40s that first inspired Wilder to make the film in the first place. As someone who grew up loving old haunted house movies and radio programs like The Shadow, that alone makes Haunted Honeymoon such a fun film to revisit each year (especially around Halloween), as it’s absolutely worth the time of any classic horror fans out there.
The Wraith: A supernatural tale of revenge about a killer who drives a badass car and has a clever way of dealing with a gang of street-racing punks, The Wraith is such a weirdly fun movie that I wish more people talked about. In fact, I’m really surprised it didn’t get more attention when it was released 30 years ago, especially since it stars Charlie Sheen, who would continue to enjoy a breakout year with his impressive performance in Platoon.
The Wraith feels like an amalgam of a bunch of other horror movies that preceded it (there’s no doubt in my mind that writer/director Mike Marvin was a huge John Carpenter fan, as various aspects of The Wraith feel like they are plucked right from Carpenter’s finest works), but it features an eclectic cast, including the likes of Randy Quaid, Sherilyn Fenn, Clint Howard, Nick Cassavetes (who would go on to become a successful director), and April Fool’s Day’s Griffin O’Neal, and that alone makes it worth watching. The Wraith also has some of the best driving cinematography I’ve seen from that era in filmmaking (George Miller would be proud of what Marvin and his DP Reed Smoot pulled off with their low-budget affair) and a killer soundtrack with tunes from Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Palmer, Billy Idol, Bonnie Tyler, and Mötley Crüe.
For those who may have missed out on The Wraith all these years, there is a DVD from Lionsgate that is currently available, but if you have Showtime, the film has been playing a bunch recently and is currently in the network’s rotation, so you can keep an eye out for it there as well.
This list is part of our Class of 1986 special features celebrating a wide range of genre films released thirty years ago. In case you missed them, we have links to our other Class of 1986 pieces, and to read more exclusive interviews and articles about flicks from ’86, click on the DEADLY Magazine cover image below: