While us horror lovers revelled in the ripped bodices and cobwebbed corridors of another vampire plagued castle, Hammer was busy trying to clear the halls and make their way into the modern world. Take Nightmare (1964), an effective black and white thriller that shows you don’t need fangs to be fearsome.
Cults and their leaders have always equally repulsed, fascinated, and terrified me. The repulsion and terror are obvious markers for any sane person, but some would rather not have it in their lives at all, thank you very much. This is also a lucid and healthy response. But in horror we look for the cathartic in the carnal; and while Bad Dreams (1988) spends a great deal of effort mining a very similar vein as A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), it succeeds in carving out its own modest slice in the late ‘80s landscape.
Spanish horror superstar Paul Naschy has always been on my radar, yet for whatever reason, I’ve never taken the shot. (And sunk the ship? Metaphors are the worst.) So it is with great shame that I’ve spent far too long ignoring this international treasure as my inaugural Naschy, Javier Aguirre’s Hunchback of the Morgue (1973), is a cheeky Frankenstein riff that offers up its own twisted charms.
Horror was so prevalent and popular in the early ‘80s that even the action genre wanted in on the…uh, action. Chuck Norris haiyah’ed a Michael Myers wannabe in Silent Rage (1982), so next up it was granite faced Charles Bronson’s turn to take on slashers with 10 to Midnight (1983), a sleazy yet fascinating trip through the mind of a serial killer. While it’s never as deep as it thinks it is, it’s smarter than it has any right to be.
I love wordplay, and portmanteaus are my favourite. Come on over and I’ll tell you about The Manster (1959), part man, part monster, all good B movie madness. Two-headed Americans abroad in Japan is a very specific sub-genre, and underappreciated at that.
I’ve always had a great appreciation and fondness for horror anthologies, and I devoured horror comics as a kid; whether it was House of Mystery or Creepy magazine, they never failed to fire my imagination in short, sharp bursts. When the Romero/King collaboration Creepshow (1982) came out, my dream of seeing these kinds of stories translated to film was nothing but revelatory. I soon discovered it was not the first of its ilk, and began a journey through dusty video store shelves looking for its long-lost relatives. One of my first (and favorite) finds was Vault of Horror (1973), a five-fingered punch to my nascent, pubescent, omnibus-loving heart.
Until you start watching killer rat movies, you don’t realize how few killer rat movies there are. It’s not a sub-genre that sparked off franchises (does Willard and its sequel Ben count? Let me know) or inspired Funko toys, but rather has films strewn here and there throughout horror history. Today we’re scurrying back to my particular turf for Deadly Eyes (1982), Golden Harvest’s Canadian-lensed attempt to move over from Kung Fu to Rodent Fu. (Sorry Joe Bob Briggs, I couldn’t resist.)
Larry Cohen: Party of One. That’s the way I see him, anyway; he’s always made the films he’s wanted, the way he’s wanted – with varying results, sure, but at the end of the day they are nothing less than Larry Cohen Films: unique, challenging, quirky, funny, and almost always a blast to watch. Which brings us to Q: The Winged Serpent (1982), his tribute to the AIP monster movies of days gone by, overshadowed by his patented blend of offbeat characters and intriguing dialogue. The flying lizard? Merely a delightful distraction.
The Creative Death sub-sub-genre took flight in the ‘70s with The Omen (1976), as that little imp Damien (and his dad) dispatched the cast in different macabre and entertaining ways. (Variety is the spice, and all that.) The ’78 sequel continued the burgeoning tradition, leading us up to The Legacy (1978) - a film that takes its own stab at variety by marrying The Old Dark House to The Dark Underlord and delivering a fun, wicked (albeit goofy) little offspring.
“Charming” is not often a word associated with horror films; it’s counterintuitive to what the genre usually stands for—you know, terror and tension, followed by release and a sense of ease, then repeat—but yet here we are with a romantic tale about a boy, a girl, a teleportation device, and the insect that comes between them. Welcome to the world of The Fly (1958), where the hosts are welcoming, the police polite, and the monster bug-eyed.
Brian DePalma has always come under the gun of the Movie Police, whether it’s for charges of Hitchcock “homages” or misogynistic attitudes towards his female characters. Well round up the paddy wagons for Body Double (1984), the clever thriller that mixes Vertigo, Rear Window, and the adult film industry into one heady stew that audiences took a hard pass on at the time. Maybe it was too classy?
In regards to his filmic output, director Michael Winner was wildly inconsistent at his worst and wholly divisive at his best (and vice versa). The remarkable thing is that those two extreme opinions can be about the same film; some find the kinetic sleaze of Death Wish (1974) powerful and disturbing, others find its ham-fisted social grazing problematic and off-putting. But it was a big hit, so naturally Universal let him ride the satanic tide with The Sentinel (1977), a Good vs. Evil, Portal to Hell potboiler that warms this Fulci-loving heart three years before Lucio even set foot in New Orleans.
Filmed in 1959 but not released until AIP picked it up in ’62, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a weird little treasure that deserved to be saved from the wreckage. It surpasses all yardsticks of measurement such as taste or talent, and instead floats to the surface on sheer strangeness and a stringent commitment to sleaze. Man cannot live on refinement alone.
Redemption can be a hard ticket to punch, in real life let alone on film. An arc has to be convincing in a short space of time and make us believe our protagonist’s journey. Thanks to a brilliant performance by Karen Black and a meticulously unfurled plot, The Pyx (1973) offers sorrow and resolution in a gripping package.
Everyone needs an escape from time to time. A place apart from reality, where the strange whisper with the miraculous, and cheap trinkets are bartered with greasy denizens of the night. What better place to set a horror film than the carnival, where the potential for mystery awaits around every crimson tent and distorted mirror? If you’re so inclined, step right up and buy a ticket to The Funhouse (1981), the late Tobe Hooper’s wonderful tribute to the seedy shadowed world of carnies, caramel apples, and Universal monsters.