My Top 20 of the ’80s

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) John Landis followed up his one-two punch of Animal House and Blues Brothers with this superlative horror-comedy about American backpacker, David (David Naughton), who, while hiking the English moors, is cursed with turning into a werewolf. Funny, touching, and scary, American Werewolf set the standard for the modern werewolf movie, and has yet to be matched. Rick Baker’s Oscar-winning special FX still pack a wallop.

THE BLOB (1988) Before he was handling Hollywood heavyweights Jim Carrey and Schwarzenegger, director Chuck Russell was one of horror’s most visually successful filmmakers, going from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 to this first-rate remake of the 1950’s cult classic about a man-made WMD gone horribly awry. Seamlessly mixing excellent special effects into its story and populated by well-written characters, The Blob is that rare remake that’s ten times better than its source material.

THE BURNING (1981) One of the best of the Friday the 13th rip-offs, The Burning is that rare slasher that presents both a fascinating killer arc and a satisfying protagonist story that converge at the end. An immensely likable cast of campers are terrorized by the creepy Cropsy, the former summer camp caretaker who’s seeking revenge for the prank which, five years earlier, left him a fire-scarred monster. A bleak atmosphere, some good scares, and ultra-gory splatter by Tom Savini make this a shining example of low-budget ’80s horror.

CREEPSHOW (1982) The teaming of George Romero and Stephen King paid off with this spirited tribute to the EC Comics of the ’50s. Spinning five tales of terror, Creepshow perfectly balances its scares with laughs, and each story delivers excellent acting and a sense of love for the subject matter. Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen, E.G. Marshal, and Viveca Lindfors are all first-rate, as are the Savini make-up effects, including the ultimate bug rampage.

DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) Zombie King George Romero’s last great film, and the pinnacle of Tom Savini’s stomach-churning gore FX, Day of the Dead might lack Dawn‘s epic sense of story and character arcs, but this strong entry in the Living Dead series is filled with good acting, intelligent story structure, and some truly suspenseful set pieces. Lori Cardille’s Sarah is perhaps the most underrated heroine of the ’80s.

DRESSED TO KILL (1980) Brain De Palma has often been criticized for imitating Hitchcock, and although Dressed to Kill is essentially Psycho turned inside out, De Palma here proved he’s a genuine filmmaker in his own right. From its opening shower dream sequence, to its mesmerizing tracking shots, to the shocking final twist, Dressed to Kill is a slasher fever dream wrapped in a blanket of visual trickery that only De Palma—and, well, Hitchcock—could get away with. It’s a film that’s always one step ahead of you, and it’s as polished and slick as they come.

THE EVIL DEAD (1981) The original cabin-in-the-woods movie, The Evil Dead single-handedly created a sub-school of demonic possession/zombie flicks that made up half of the horror titles of the 1980s. The simple premise of college students accidentally summoning ancient demons that possess them into disfigured zombies is taken to groundbreaking heights thanks to Sam Raimi’s brilliant handling of the material—especially the whiplash-inducing, guerrilla-style camera work that’s since been copied to death, and the wink-wink black comedy thrown in with the outrageous gore. Bruce Campbell’s Ash is the anti-hero of ’80s splatter.

THE FLY (1986) Cronenberg’s masterful remake of the 1958 Vincent Price film is the kind of “re-imagining” Hollywood can only dream of making these days. Jeff Goldblum gives a star-making turn as the doomed Seth Brundle, whose teleportation science project turns him into the titular monster. Equally devastating is his blossoming relationship with journalist, Veronica (Geena Davis), who’s forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. Thoughtful, shocking, and sad, The Fly works because we ourselves fall in love with the characters, and they’ll stay with you after the movie ends.

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) Initially looked at as nothing more than a Halloween clone, Friday the 13th has proven itself its own beast and is still one of the best slashers of all time. Set at the quaint, woodsy Camp Crystal Lake, New Jersey, an attempted reopening of the place is interrupted by a shadowy killer who bumps off most of the bubbly twenty-somethings until remaining counselor, Alice (Adrienne King), is the Final Girl standing. The murderer turns out to be the camp’s previous cook, Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), who’s taking revenge for the tragic drowning of her son, Jason, neglected by horny counselors years earlier. With a likable cast, terrific location, and an enjoyably memorable killer, Friday is, in many ways, the perfect slasher.

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) It’s ironic that the best sequel in the Halloween franchise doesn’t feature the masked maniac Michael Myers. Instead, this colorful entry spins a supernatural tale of witchcraft and robots in the small hamlet of Santa Rosa, where maniacal Irishman, Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), uses the powers of his ancestors to create Halloween masks that will kill all of America’s kids. Fast-paced and with a genuine comic book vibe—and a terrific score by Alan Howarth and John Carpenter—Season of the Witch is pure ’80s cheesy gold that works wonderfully.

THE LOST BOYS (1987) The best MTV movie MTV never made, The Lost Boys is possibly the quintessential horror movie—one that completely encapsulates the late 1980s. With a pounding rock soundtrack, flashy and colorful fashions, a first-rate cast (Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, Jason Patrick, Jamie Gertz, Kiefer Sutherland, Dianne Wiest), and terrific make-up effects, The Lost Boys took the dusty vampire movie into the roaring ’80s and infused it with exciting, fast-paced filmmaking. Sutherland makes for a seductive and scary vamp, while Wiest, Haim, and Patrick have a wonderfully affecting mother-and-sons subplot.

MANIAC (1980) The polar opposite of the post-Friday the 13th slashers, William Lustig’s brutal Maniac is perhaps the most unforgiving horror film of the decade. It also happens to be suspenseful, ugly, shocking, and packaged in a nearly-claustrophobic atmosphere that gets under your skin. Joe Spinell’s Frank Zito is a composite of the many types of serial killers that were predominant at the time, giving the movie a creepily authentic feel.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) You can’t write about ’80s horror and not mention Wes Craven’s brilliant take on the slasher. With Freddy Krueger, horror had a new iconic killer, brought to life by Robert Englund’s perfect handling of the material. Unlike Michael Myers or Jason, Freddy has a disturbing, unmasked, fire-scarred face, which Englund uses to his full potential. And with Nancy, Heather Langenkamp’s brainy, strong Final Girl, Nightmare delivers a rousing roller coaster ride of scares, laughs, and some spectacular FX set pieces—including the shocking murder of Nancy’s BFF, Tina (Amanda Wyss). There’s also a touching mother/daughter relationship rarely seen in ’80s horror, which is just another wonderfully written addition to a great film.

POLTERGEIST (1982) The film that brought the big budget special FX horror movie back into fashion, this influential Spielberg production became the blueprint from which all future haunted house flicks copied. The All-American Freeling family think they’ve bought their dream home, not realizing the California tract house in question harbors the vengeful spirits of the dead, whose graves were desecrated by the neighborhood’s development company. Despite its masterful special effects showcase, Poltergeist works because of director Tobe Hooper’s handling of the characters, who are always treated more importantly than the supernatural activity, making the film a first-rate thrill machine. It also reminded us why we’re scared of clowns.

PSYCHO II (1983) Unfairly criticized upon its original release, Psycho II is finally receiving the praise it deserves. Paying respect to Hitchcock, as well as updating the story for a modern slasher audience, the film shows how Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) has been declared sane by the state and released. Good ole Mama’s Boy Norman returns to the Bates Motel to find the place has been turned into a sleazy hangout for drug addicts and prostitutes, managed by a slimeball (Dennis Franz) who keeps referring to Normal as “loony.” It isn’t long until Mother starts beckoning (this time on the phone) Norman to do her dirty work and eliminating the sluts and weirdos who deserve it—including the beautiful Marion Crane-ish Mary (Meg Tilly), who’s shacking up with Norman and who might have a secret of her own. Conceived as a whodunit—is Norman really the killer, or is someone out to drive him crazy again?—Psycho II works wonderfully, mostly thanks to its cast (especially Tilly’s sympathetic Mary) and director Richard Franklin’s suspenseful set-ups and sequences.

THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) Taking all the rules of the Romero school of zombies and turning them on their heads, Return offers a wholly different take on the zombie movie by infusing its story with characters who’ve actually seen Night of the Living Dead—so when the dead crawl from their tombs, the survivors already know you gotta shoot ’em in the head. When an army-secured vat containing the remains of a corpse is accidentally opened by a couple of lunkheads, it releases a toxic green mist into the nearby cemetery, causing the neighborhood to overflow with the walking dead. And these zombies don’t just walk, but run and speak! Oh, and the whole “destroying the brain” thing doesn’t work in this universe. Written and directed by Dan O’Bannon, Return of the Living Dead is a film that’s pulsing with energy from beginning to end. It’s also extremely funny, and scary.

THE SHINING (1980) The perfect example of an artistic filmmaker at his prime, The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s definitive work as both a master storyteller and a brilliant director. Wisely excising a large portion of Stephen King’s mammoth novel, Kubrick sets up the basics of the book and delivers a chilling story about Jack Torrence (an unforgettable Jack Nicholson), a man struggling in life and with art; his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall); and young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), all of whom become victims of the sinister Overlook Hotel. The cast is excellent—especially Nicholson in a performance that would be mimicked for years to come—and Kubrick’s haunting tracking shots and use of wide open spaces gives the film a genuinely bone-chilling feel. An unsettling psychological slow-burn with a powerhouse climax, The Shining is in many ways the perfect horror movie.

SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983) An absurd slasher masterwork, Sleepaway Camp is the only rip-off of the 1980s to accidentally becomes a work of genius. In an attempt to mimic the success of Friday the 13th, the movie’s plot—about the gruesome murders of campers and counselors at a summer camp in upstate New York—becomes secondary to the larger-than-life characters and the overwhelming atmosphere of pure, unadulterated ’80s nostalgia. It shouldn’t, yet everything about the movie works, including Felissa Rose as Angela, who, in the film’s infamous twist ending, is revealed to be a teenage boy.

THE STEPFATHER (1987) Before he starred in the popular TV show, Lost, Terry O’Quinn gave a scarily realistic performance of a mentally unhinged serial killer in this nail-biting chiller. Both charming and unsettling, O’Quinn is Jerry Blake, a seemingly mild-mannered businessman whose recent marriage to single mom, Susan, (Shelley Hack), doesn’t sit well with daughter, Stephanie (Jill Schoelen), and for good reason. Jerry has a nasty habit of marrying into families and killing them when they don’t meet his Leave It to Beaver worldview. It builds to an incredibly intense finale between stepdad and stepdaughter. An underrated gem.

THE THING (1982) Much like The Blob remake, John Carpenter’s rebuffing of The Thing From Another World is a shining example of a remake done better. Kurt Russell gives one of his best performances as MacReady, the headstrong helicopter pilot stationed at Outpost 31 in the Antarctic. The U.S. research spot becomes a hotbed of paranoia when an alienoid parasite defrosts from its crashed spaceship and begins replicating and picking off the Outpost staff. Intense and claustrophobic, Carpenter not only builds suspense, but pushes it into your face when you least expect it. Added to the mix are some jaw-dropping Rob Bottin creature FX, which still hold up today.

Honorable Mentions: Friday the 13th Part 2, Fright Night, Hellraiser, The Howling, Humanoids from the Deep, Near Dark, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Re-Animator, Silent Night, Deadly Night

’80s horror-com Girlfriend from Hell is a treasure

There were a lot of horror comedies in the ’80s and ’90s. For me, none attain the charm, likability, and pure laugh-out-loud moments like 1989’s Girlfriend from Hell. Although it had its premiere at the Houston Film Festival in April, 1989, it wasn’t officially released (on video) until 1990. I first noticed it—sadly—in a sale bin at the local mall’s Saturday Matinee video store, circa 1993. Intrigued by the colorful VHS box art of star Liane Curtis with wild ’80s devil-hair, her oversized hand reaching to grab one of the men scrambling to escape, I immediately scooped it up and have since been a fan.

Cute preppy couple, Diane (Lezlie Deane) and David (James Daughton), decide to fix up their respective friends, Maggie (Curtis) and Carl (Anthony Barrile), on a blind date. The thing is, both Maggie and Carl suffer from extreme self-esteem issues and are unbearably shy. Carl’s shyness is so crippling that it prevents him from getting ready for his date—at which point his father (James Karen) tells him to “give up and go get it from the neighborhood slut,” like he did. Moments later, Carl’s enlightened dad is punched out by his loving, hair roller-wearing mother.

Only slightly more outgoing, Maggie is so nervous about meeting Carl that she’s constantly on the verge of puking. She, Diane, David, and Carl converge at a birthday party for Rocco (Ken Abraham), boyfriend and punching bag to Alice (Hilary Morse). While Alice and Rocco throw food at each other—admittedly, I named a goldfish after Rocco!—the Devil himself arrives and slams right into Maggie, along with devil-bounty hunter, Chaser (Dana Ashbrook). Maggie becomes possessed, sheds her shy, good-girl act, and becomes a busty, big-haired party woman who knocks Chaser out and hides him in the closet.

It isn’t long until Maggie/the Devil becomes the life (and death) of the party by drinking all the booze (“Maggie, when did you start drinking?”), playing loud rock music, and seducing all the men. The comedy gets amped when Freda (Sarah Katie Coughlan) and Teddy (Brad Zutaut) arrive after having been at Bible camp for two weeks. Everyone watches slack-jawed while Maggie breaks out into a diatribe against Jesus and Christianity. “I doubt the Lord would find that amusing,” remarks Teddy. Moments later Maggie possesses a baby to viciously attack its mother.

Maggie eventually (and literally) sucks the souls out of most of the men at the party before Chaser awakens and informs Diane that, decades earlier—when he died—he was awarded the role of Devil-chaser by God to atone for his sins. With his handy transporter device, Chaser teams up with Diane to capture Maggie and send the Devil back to Hell. Unfortunately, Diane breaks the transporter, sending the two through time while Maggie continues to collect souls—including Teddy’s, who’s turned into a zombified sex-fiend after Maggie, in the words of Freda, touches his “pee-pee.” (Maggie later turns Freda into a goldfish.)

The reason Girlfriend from Hell works is mostly because of the cast. Deane and Ashbrook play well off each other, while Abraham and Morse have some truly gut-busting moments together. Coughlan steals most of her scenes as Freda, who comes off as a sort of nerdy Daryl Hannah. The entire film rests on the shoulders of Curtis (Sixteen Candles, Critters 2), whose comedic timing is pitch perfect; her scenes with Barrile (Vinnie from Friday the 13th Part V) are some of the best in the movie, particularly in a moment when, after nearly running over gun-carrying nuns named Sisters Franks and Beans, Barrile states, “I like her! I really do!”

Having finally gotten a Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome, Girlfriend from Hell is alive and well, and ready for rediscovery!

VHS Horror Part 2: Cannibal Campout, Video Violence, and Woodchipper Massacre

Cannibal Campout – 1988, US, 88m. Directors: Tom Fisher, Jon McBride. Streaming: Tubi

Video Violence – 1987, US, 90m. Director: Gary P. Cohen. Streaming: Tubi

Woodchipper Massacre – 1988, US, 80m. Director: Jon McBride. Streaming: Tubi

CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988) A quartet of likable-enough teens get more than they bargained for in this over-the-top gorefest from the co-director of Woodchipper Massacre. While on a weekend excursion in the New Jersey wilderness—the location of which just happens to be the site of several brutal and unsolved murders—four high school friends become the main course for a trio of redneck, cannibalistic killers, one of which wears a fighter pilot helmet and visor (the product most likely the result of someone in the crew having recently watched Top Gun). The usual gory hijinks ensue, with several of the cast members being viciously slaughtered and dismembered, with mostly gross results—the Savini-like FX are fairly good despite the lunchbox budget. A harmless bit of homemade horror, this is hampered by too many scenes of characters roaming aimlessly through the woods to fill out its 88 minutes. Recommended only for SOV enthusiasts. C+

VIDEO VIOLENCE (1987) The plot of Video Violence is so clever, it’s surprising it wasn’t made by a big studio. Instead, this shot-on-video slasher-satire was filmed by a group of friends in Bayonne, New Jersey, and the final product is a work of creative, if low-tech, zero-budget filmmaking. Steve (Art Neill), the owner of a video rental store, discovers a real snuff movie has been accidentally sent to his shop and goes straight to the police, who immediately dismiss him. Rick (Kevin Haver), Steven’s new employee, is the obvious culprit, but the mayhem is actually the creation of a couple of beer-guzzling chowderheads who are kidnapping, torturing, and murdering victims on camera—all with the help of the small town’s residents, whose growing appetite for video splatter has turned them all into blood-thirsty wackos. With better acting and story structure than you’d expect from a SOV splatter flick, Video Violence is a nice addition to the sub-subgenre of low-fi horror—but like most of the ilk, it runs way too long. Just don’t expect much and you might enjoy yourself. B

WOODCHIPPER MASSACRE (1988) An absurd, occasionally funny shot-on-camcorder horror-comedy filmed in Connecticut concerning three siblings left alone for the week with their strict, gray-haired Aunt Tess (Patricia McBride), whose unreasonable demands and accusations make Mrs. Bates seem downright charming. Things get complicated when the youngest brother (Tom Casiello) accidentally stabs Tess to death with a hunting knife, resulting in—you guessed it!—the kids using their father’s backyard woodchipper to dispose of the body, which comes in handy when their nosy cousin starts sniffing around. Anyone going into this is most likely not expecting an unpredictable plot, deep character arcs, or intelligent writing, which is good because Woodchipper Massacre has none of those things—its one-sentence premise is stretched to a long 80-minutes. If the movie works at all it’s because of the kids, all of whom have energy and are clearly enjoying themselves. But, for a film with “massacre” in the title, this is surprisingly devoid of the red stuff. C

Don’t forget to check out Part 1 of VHS Horror!

Blood Hook, Curse of the Blue Lights, Horror House on Highway Five, and Slaughterhouse Rock

Blood Hook – 1987, US, 92m, 111m (extended cut). Director: Jim Mallon. Streaming: Tubi

Curse of the Blue Lights – 1988, US, 93m. Director: John Henry Johnson. Streaming: N/A

Horror House on Highway Five – 1985, US, 88m. Director: Richard Casey. Streaming: N/A

Slaughterhouse Rock – 1988, US, 85m. Director: Dimitri Logothetis. Streaming: AMC/Prime, Shudder, Tubi

BLOOD HOOK (1987) A sprightly, slightly juvenile slasher-comedy about a group of twenty-somethings spending the weekend at their yuppie friend’s (Mark Jacobs) family lake house who end up fighting for their lives against someone killing the locals by dragging them into the water with a fishing hook. The obvious culprit is a muttering, Crazy Ralph-like coot, but the actual killer is the seemingly-friendly bait shop owner (Don Winters) who’s grinding the victims into pieces and selling the remains as fishing bait. A Troma splatter-romp filmed in Wisconsin—with some actual laughs and a cast of likable characters—this was originally given an X rating and shorn of nearly 20 minutes of footage when released theatrically. I seriously doubt the movie loses any character development or plot points in those precious extra minutes, but for what it is, Blood Hook is harmless, yet overlong at any length. C+

CURSE OF THE BLUE LIGHTS (1988) This regional creature feature might be subpar in the acting and photography department, but it thrives on unbridled imagination and impressive low-budget make-up FX. A group of teens looking for a little excitement in their quiet, cornfield-lined town drive to an isolated piece of land called the Blue Lights to party and have sex—but end up getting caught in a centuries-old plan by a monstrous warlock (Brent Ritter) to resurrect the Muldoon Man, a legendary, all-powerful being that once ruled the primeval world. A curious movie, Curse has the feel of a backyard, family-made flick, but is handled with so much care and attention to detail it’s surprising this hasn’t attained a cult following. The pacing wanes here and there, but everything about the movie is so impressive it’s difficult not to enjoy it all. A little movie with big aspirations, this is recommended to anyone who found Spookies to be their cup of tea. Funny bit: a license plate that reads, “IM2CUL.” B

HORROR HOUSE ON HIGHWAY FIVE (1985) A hodgepodge of slasher movie clichés, bizarre comedy, and incoherent storytelling, this bargain-basement oddity feels like the bastard child of John Waters and Herschell Gordon Lewis—on acid. College students assigned to do a study on a Nazi serial killer(!) get stranded in the middle of nowhere and are terrorized by a couple of demented brothers whose father just happens to be the Nazi in question. And that’s about as logical as I can make this movie sound. Thrown into the confusing brew are actors flubbing their lines, slap-happy, cartoonish fist fights, a man who falls face-first onto the spikes of a garden rake, and for those who like their pot of crazy fully stirred, a killer in a Richard Nixon mask. The debut feature film of music video director Richard Casey. Stick with your day job, Richard. D

SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK (1988) College student Alex (Nicholas Celozzi) is plagued by nightmares about a demonic figure killing people in a dungeon-like setting. When Alex’s dreams begin to spill over into reality, his friends and a teacher—who just happens to be an occultist!—discover it might have something to do with a former Alcatraz prisoner/serial killer. Thinking it might break Alex’s curse, they travel to the island, where Alex is confronted by the ghost of a dead rocker (Toni Basil) whose suicide summoned forth Alex’s dream demon—which winds up possessing Alex’s brother (Tom Reilly), turning him into a yellow-eyed monster. The script never bothers to explain how these one-dimensional characters come to the conclusion Alex’s nightmares are coming from Alcatraz—one of many plot inconsistencies. It just reeks of a way to satisfy the producers’ appetites for the jailhouse-set slashers that were popular at the time. There are a couple of good FX sequences, but they’re not enough to recommend this soulless Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off. C

Summer Camp Slashers Part 2: Cheerleader Camp and Sleepaway Camp

This post contains spoilers!

Summer camp has long been a traditional place for deformed, masked killers to do their slicing ‘n’ dicing. Thanks to Friday the 13th, the slasher film found a home away from home, an isolated location where there would be 1) plenty of nubile young people roaming the area, 2) separation from any sort of protective adult authorities, 3) forest terrain in which the mysterious killer could massacre a handful of pretty, bikini-clad cheerleaders and their horny boyfriends without anyone catching wise—until it’s too late.

One of the most (in)famous summer camp slashers is undoubtedly 1983’s Sleepaway Camp. Several years after witnessing her father’s death in a boating accident, mentally damaged teenager, Angela (Felissa Rose)—now living with her kooky aunt (Desiree Gould)—is, along with her cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten), sent to Camp Arawak for a summer of fun and sun. Once there, Angela is introduced to an assortment of characters: Judy (Karen Fields), the camp tramp; Meg (Katherine Kamhi), the eternal sourpuss; Paul (Christopher Collet), the love interest; Mel (Mike Kellin), the camp owner; and Artie (Owen Hughes), the cook-slash-pervert.

Most of these lively characters exist to make the severely shy Angela’s time at camp a living hell, especially the bitchy duo of Judy and Meg. But when those who are mean to Angela—which seems to be just about everyone—begin turning up mangled and dead, all fingers point to Ricky, Angela’s protector. It’s no surprise to anyone reading this that the assailant is Angela, who’s actually a boy named Peter, a secret revealed in the film’s shocking twist ending: Angela, standing butt-naked on the moonlit lake shore, bloody knife in one hand, a decapitated head in the other. . . dick and balls out. The shot has become the stuff of slasher movie legend. (Interesting tidbit: Sleepaway Camp might be the only ’80s slasher to feature exclusively all-male nudity.)

Sleepaway Camp is in a category by itself. It took a theme Friday the 13th introduced—a killer at summer camp— which SC mirrors, but elevates it to the level of absurdist masterpiece. No other slasher flick of the time period captures the wonderfully ostentatious essence of the pure, unadulterated ’80s like Sleepaway Camp. The movie doesn’t try to be another Friday, yet it’s obviously aware of the footsteps its following. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime work of genius that can’t be replicated. Director and writer, Robert Hiltzik, wisely handed over the Felissa-less Sleepaway Camps 2 and 3 to Michael A. Simpson and Michael Hitchcock, possibly with the realization that he wouldn’t be able to top himself—and he didn’t. Hiltzik returned in 2008 to direct the “official” sequel, Return to Sleepaway Camp, which is, despite Rose’s participation, an unfortunate failure.

Coming on the tail end of the Golden Age of slashers is 1988’s Cheerleader Camp. Set at an isolated, pom-pom-waving getaway called Camp Hurrah, a competition for the upcoming state finals is interrupted by the apparent suicide of popular Suzy (Krista Pflanzer), which is followed by a series of murders. Could the killer be Pop (George Flower), the creepy camp custodian? Or maybe Pam (Teri Weigel), the jealous, booby-flashing Queen Bee? There’s also Brent (Leif Garrett), the horny cheer coach whose advances were turned down by Suzy hours before her death. But what about Alison (Betsy Russell), the nightmare-plagued, emotionally fragile protagonist who just happens to be Brent’s girlfriend?

The story crescendos during the crowning of the Camp Queen when bodies start piling up, including amateur videographer, Timmy (Travis McKenna), whose disemboweling is recorded over his homemade porn. The major red herring is Brent, but the killer is actually Cory (Lucinda Dickey, Ninja III: The Domination), the dowdy team mascot who, in the final scene, frames Alison for the murders before donning a cheerleader uniform and breaking into a cheer, asking the audience to, “Give me a C-O-R-Y!”

Filmed as Bloody Pom-Poms, Cheerleader Camp is a cheesy good time. Never taking itself seriously, the movie functions as a whodunit, all the while being playfully humorous—this is a flick that knows it’s silly. All the characters are fun and likable, and the plot moves quickly. Russell (Saw III-V) makes a sympathetic leading lady, and McKenna is a lovable horn-dog. It’s not going to be remembered in the annals of slasher movie history, but for us hardcore ’80s slasher aficionados, Cheerleader Camp is a cheerfully trashy delight. Cheerleader Camp: B Sleepaway Camp: A

Please check out Part 1 of Summer Camp Slashers

And, let’s not forget the Sleepaway Camp sequels…

SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2: UNHAPPY CAMPERS (1988) The years after the massacre at Camp Arawak have been enlightening for Angela, a.k.a. Peter Baker, the 14-year-old who killed all those who made his/her life hell at camp. Having seen the errors of her ways, Angela is now more of a Puritan killer, bumping off teenagers who indulge in swearing, drinking, fornicating, drug-taking, and generally bad behavior. Moments after cutting out a girl’s tongue, Angela cheerfully tells someone, “There’s plenty of good kids. You’ve just got to weed out the bad!” Having had gender reassignment surgery and using the surname Johnson, Angela is now a counselor at Camp Rolling Hills, where the usual assortment of foul-mouthed campers become fodder for Angela’s array of weapons, including knives, drills, battery acid, and a guitar string she uses to garrote a poor girl who talks too much. Tonally different from Sleepaway Camp, Unhappy Campers is a straightforward parody of ’80s slasher movies—and of itself—right down to its jokey, self-referential nature; in order to give Angela a scare, two boys dress up as Freddy and Jason, but end up on the wrong side of Angela’s Leatherface-inspired chainsaw. And it all works extremely well, offering plenty of laughs and some juicy deaths. The cast is first-rate, with Renée Estevez (Emilio’s sis) a sympathetic Final Girl, but kudos goes to Pamela Springsteen (Bruce’s sis), whose adult Angela is both likable and nasty. B+

SLEEPAWAY CAMP 3: TEENAGE WASTELAND (1989) Having “slummed it” in the year following her bloody escape at Camp Rolling Hills, Angela (Pamela Springsteen), runs over a city girl on her way to camp with a Mack 10. The eternal moralist, Angela impersonates the dead girl and immediately goes to work eliminating those she feels are a bad influence, including a drug-taking news reporter to whom Angela gives a gram of Ajax while informing the TV correspondent, “It’ll really clean your pipes!” The camp in question is an experimental program mixing inner city and suburban teens, operated by a stingy layabout (Sandra Dorsey) and her lecherous husband (Michael J. Pollard), whose fling with one of the camping bimbos sends Angela into a tizzy—so she mutilates him with a tree branch. One of horror cinema’s most prolific serial killers, Angela wipes out the entire cast until a showdown with Last Woman Standing, Tracy Griffith, sends Angela off in an ambulance. Even more of a comedy than Part 2, Teenage Wasteland doesn’t contain the magic of its predecessors—the exhausting back-to-back shooting of this film with Sleepaway Camp 2 results in a clear disintegration in quality—with a majority of the characters being too imbecilic to care about. Most of the gore FX were trimmed, making the death scenes less enticing than Angela’s post-kill quips, the best of which comes after she rips the arms off an S&M enthusiast who plans on running for office: “Thank God there’ll be one less idiot in politics.” B

Crawlspace, Fear No Evil, FleshEater, The Majorettes, and Primal Rage

Crawlspace – 1986, US, 80m. Director: David Schmoeller. Streaming: Tubi

Fear No Evil – 1981, US, 99m. Director: Frank LaLoggia. Streaming: Shudder

FleshEater – 1988, US, 89m. Director: S. William Hinzman. Streaming: N/A

The Majorettes – 1986, US, 92m. Director: S. William Hinzman. Streaming: Tubi

Primal Rage – 1988, Italy/US, 91m. Director: Vittorio Rambaldi. Streaming: AMC/Prime, Shudder

CRAWLSPACE (1986) Infamously volatile thespian, Klaus Kinski, gives a typically creepy/looney performance in this slick Charles Band-produced Hitchcock riff. The one-time Herzog muse plays Karl Gunther, a former Nazi youth and overall medical deviant who owns and maintains an apartment building occupied mostly by beautiful young women. That’s because quiet Karl likes to spy on his nubile tenants in varies stages of undress through the air ducts; he even lets rats loose in their quarters and delights in their screams of terror. When he’s not watching from a distance, Karl is playing Russian Roulette with his gun, creating diabolical devices of death, and cutting off body parts of his tenant’s lustful boyfriends. This is bad news for new arrival, Lori (Talia Balsam, Mad Men), who becomes Karl’s newest subject. Solid direction from David Schmoeller (Tourist Trap), a terrific Pino Donaggio score, and a suspenseful cat-and-mouse finale make Crawlspace a nice surprise. B

FEAR NO EVIL (1981) An overwrought mess, this directorial debut of actor Frank LaLoggia is one of the most misguided horror films of the early 1980s. Eighteen-year-old Andrew (Stefan Arngrim) has more on his mind than graduating high school and dating girls. You see, Andrew just happens to be the Antichrist and he’s been keeping his parents hostage in their dilapidated seaside house since his birth. But fear not; God’s archangel, Gabrielle, has been reborn as a beautiful teen (Kathleen Rowe McAllen) who just happens to go to Andrew’s school. When Andrew’s classmates and teachers annoy him, he uses his ever-growing powers to cause creative deaths. The movie is striving to be more than another teens-in-peril flick, but when you strip it of its pretenses it’s just an Omen rip-off, with elements taken from Carrie, The Exorcist, and Dawn of the Dead. In the end, Fear No Evil doesn’t know what it is, but it’s filled with hammy acting, long stretches of boredom, and some dismal make-up FX. It get slight points for a completely bizarre and out of nowhere homoerotic all-male nude shower sequence where the local bully (Daniel Eden), under supernatural influence, kisses Andrew in front of their peers. Also, once fully overtaken by Lucifer, why does Andrew look like Gary Glitter? D+

FLESHEATER (1988) Bill Hinzman—the original graveyard zombie from Night of the Living Dead—wrote, directed, and stars in this spirited semi-remake/tribute to the Romero classic. When a farmer unearths a satanic tomb on his property, he lets loose an ashen-faced ghoul (Hinzman) that bites a chunk out of the farmer’s neck, transforming him into a zombie. Soon the living dead multiply and take over the land, which is bad news for a group of friends celebrating Halloween in the nearby woods. In Living Dead fashion, the survivors hold up in a farmhouse and try to fend off the hungry horde, ultimately realizing you gotta shoot ’em in the head! Since FleshEater is an ’80s zombie flick, the gore runs thick and fast, with plenty of juicy flesh-ripping, a disemboweled cop, and one poor schlub who gets his head cracked open with a hatchet. Even little trick-or-treaters aren’t safe from the zombie mayhem, including Bill’s real life daughter, Heidi Hinzman. The acting is strictly amateur and Hinzman’s direction lacks punch, but in terms of nonstop zombie action, the movie delivers. Technically unimpressive, FleshEater is a fun little gore flick, but recommended only for the low-budget zombie enthusiast. Funniest scene: a man at a costume party mistakes a zombie for a guest and gets his nose bitten off. B

THE MAJORETTES (1986) The members of a high school majorette squad are being targeted by a knife-happy killer in this very mid-80s slasher/crime thriller, which is based on the book by Night of the Living Dead‘s writer, John A. Russo. Shot outside of Pittsburgh, the story centers on a handful of students from said high school whose lives are complicated by the sudden murder of their friend, who was pregnant by local drug dealer, Mace (Tom E. Desrocher). Mace, and his T-Bird-wannabe leather-clad posse, spend their days plotting revenge against the school quarterback and harassing the janitor-slash-idiot, whose mother (Denise Huot) is scheming to murder one of the majorettes and steal her inheritance. This flick juggles more subplots than it knows what to do with, which is a shame because the cast is likable and the kill scenes fairly well-executed. Inevitably, The Majorettes gets lost in a sea of confusing character arcs and unfocused story structure. This does gets points for trying to add some suspense to the mix. C+

PRIMAL RAGE (1988) Strange things are going on in the science lab at a Southern Florida university. Lorded over by the unethical Dr. Ethridge (Bo Svenson, in weird ponytail), the lab is researching restorative brain tissue by doing the usual diabolical experiments found in these types of films—in this case, a baboon infected with some kind of rage virus. When campus journalist, Frank (Mitch Watson), breaks into the lab to document Ethridge’s work, he’s bitten by the baboon and turns into a blood-oozing psychopath who spreads the virus to his date (Sarah Buxton), ad nauseam. You can see where this is going. Goody Two Shoes Sam (Patrick Lowe) seeks the help of Ethridge to stop the virus, but the good ol’ Doc just ends up getting his eye gouged out by an infected student. Oh, well. Primal Rage is so well made it’s a shame the story doesn’t live up to its potential. The script (written by Umberto Lenzi under his American alias, James Justice) borrows elements from Demons, The Evil Dead, and several zombie movies, but at its heart it feels like a typical slasher with the rage virus simply being an excuse for a gory body count. Cheryl Arutt makes a spunky Final Girl, but boyfriend and hero, Lowe, is too pompous and whiny to care about. A well-intended but somewhat lackluster Italian-made gore job. Look for Ted Raimi. C+

Don’t Answer the Phone while Going into the House in the Woods…

Don’t Answer the Phone – 1980, US, 94m. Director: Robert Hammer. Streaming: N/A

Don’t Go in the House – 1980, US, 82m, 92m (integral cut). Director: Joseph Ellison. Streaming: Roku Channel, Tubi

Don’t Go in the Woods – 1981, US, 81m. Director: James Bryan. Streaming: Tubi

DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (1980) Kirk Smith (Nicholas Worth) is a giggling, mentally disturbed, father-obsessed Vietnam vet who goes around Los Angeles strangling and raping woman, and then calling and tormenting radio psychologist, Dr. Gale (Flo Gerrish), with his exploits. When Smith murders one of Gale’s patients she’s partnered with brutish cop, McCabe (James Westmoreland)—who just happens to hate psychology—to try and catch him. Much like Lustig’s Maniac, Don’t Answer the Phone tries to make us sympathize with the killer by painting him as a victim of society; war and toxic masculinity are the obvious themes the screenplay (by director Robert Hammer, and Michael D. Castle) is kicking around. Despite its limitations, DATP is surprisingly tense and much grittier than your post-Friday the 13th slashers. The acting is above par and the L.A. locations lend the film a sense of authenticity. Unfortunately, a needless subplot involving an investigation into a drug ring and a stupid romance between Gale and McCabe—surprise!—kills a lot of the momentum. C+

DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (1980) The Psycho influences run thick and fast in this bleak slasher. Donny (Dan Grimaldi) is an emotionally scarred man-child who lives in a decaying hilltop house with his sick mother. Sound familiar? When Mommie Dearest dies in her sleep it sends Donny into a tailspin of emotions. Naturally, he builds a fireproof room in his house for which he can burn alive women who remind him of mother—cue the flashback of Mom holding young Donny’s arms over an open flame. A particularly brutal flick, Don’t Go in the House doesn’t tread lightly and presents its subject matter seriously, with Grimaldi giving a restrained but effective performance, even when delivering a ham-fisted monologue about his bullied existence to a room of charred corpses. Like Don’t Answer the Phone, the movie spends too much time trying to paint Donny as a victim of his environment, but nobody watching is going to sympathize with someone who kills simply because the screenplay calls for it. A flawed but gripping shocker. Also known as The Burning. B

DON’T GO IN THE WOODS (1981) A good example of the term “so bad it’s good.” Filmed in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Utah, the movie follows four backpackers who run into a murderous wild man while camping in the nearby forest. The movie jettisons story and character and goes straight for the jugular, delivering a badly directed and edited mess of nonstop carnage and misplaced humor—within the first ten minutes four hikers are hacked to pieces, including a poor birdwatcher who gets his arm lopped off. Within this bloody hodgepodge is a genuine sense of joy from the filmmakers and cast, all of whom seem to be having a great time. Among the many OTT moments include an artist who is repeatedly stabbed and pinned to her canvas, a camper strung up inside her sleeping bag and impaled multiple times, a man beheaded in his own wheelchair, and a victim who stumbles upon the maniac’s dilapidated cabin and is shish kabob’d with a machete. Continuity errors and some truly bizarre music aside, DGITW is too much fun to ignore—it’s actually very hard not to like. Make sure you stick around for the closing credits song. B+

The Curse, The Dead Pit, Ghoulies, and Prom Night

The Curse – 1987, Italy/US, 92m. Director: David Keith. Streaming: Tubi

The Dead Pit – 1989, US, 95m. Director: Brett Leonard. Streaming: AMC/Prime, Shudder

Ghoulies – 1985, US, 81m. Director: Luca Bercovici. Streaming: Tubi

Prom Night – 1980, Canada/US, 92m. Director: Paul Lynch. Streaming: Peacock, AMC/Prime, Roku Channel, Shudder

THE CURSE (1987) An adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story, The Colour Out of Space, about a glowing meteor that crashes on a small Tennessee farm owned by a religious coot (Claude Akins) and his family. When the meteor liquifies and gets into the water supply, it turns the crops into putrified mush, the livestock violent, and slowly transforms most of Akins’s family into disfigured whack-jobs. An Italian-American co-production—Lucio Fulci served as associate producer—The Curse definitely lives up to its bad reputation. Flatly directed and poorly paced, the story never achieves any momentum, which is hindered further by uninteresting, unlikable characters, an inapt musical score, and some truly dismal make-up effects. A good cast is wasted, especially Wil Wheaton and Cooper Huckabee. Followed by three unrelated sequels, including Curse II: The Bite, which is far superior. Truly Dumb.

THE DEAD PIT (1989) This film has so much energy, imagination, and an inventive, low-budget filmmaking style, it reminds of Sam Raimi and The Evil Dead. Psychopathic M.D., Ramzi (Danny Gochnauer), who was shot dead by a colleague 20 years earlier in the basement of a mental hospital, resurrects as a red-eyed demon after the arrival of amnesiac, Jane Doe (Cheryl Lawson). Ramzi kills several hospital staffers and patients, and hides the bodies in a pit secreted away in the basement, where he eventually raises them as brain-tearing zombies. It sounds tacky, but The Dead Pit is handled with enough care by director Brett Leonard (The Lawnmower Man) to make it all highly effective. Fulci, Lovecraft, and Romero were possible inspirations, but the movie as a whole feels genuinely original, and features some impressive make-up FX. A longer than necessary runtime kills some of the pacing, but that’s a small price to pay for this slick production. B

GHOULIES (1985) “They’ll get you in the end!” So promised the tagline of this cheap Gremlins rip-off about the world’s oldest college student, Jonathan (Peter Liapis), who inherits a mansion that was once the site of a Satanic cult run by his father (Michael Des Barres). Naturally, Jonathan plays around with a dusty spell book he finds in the basement and becomes possessed—while also summoning forth several furry little creatures to do his bidding. But that’s not all! Jonathan also calls forth a pair of magical dwarfs who inform him he must make sacrifices in order to obtain the power he desires. One of Empire Pictures’ more famous titles, Ghoulies is at times amusing, but it’s also massively stupid and technically inept—at one point, the green contact lenses Liapis wears to suggest his possession are mismatched. The “ghoulies” are supposed to balance the scares and comedic factor just like the mutated mogwai of Gremlins, yet unlike Stripe and his fellow gremlins, these ghoulies lack a shred of personality. Budget restraints obviously played into the limitation of the creature FX, which look like hand puppets. Popular enough to be followed by Ghoulies II and Ghoulies Go to College. Go figure. C

PROM NIGHT (1980) From it’s “killer-seeking-revenge-for-a-childhood-incident” storyline, to the decapitated head rolling on the disco dance floor, to iconic ’80s Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis, Prom Night is a quintessential slasher classic. The seniors of Hamilton High are being targeted by a balaclava-wearing killer, with the would-be victims all having a secret connection to the accidental death of their friend, Robin (Tammy Bourne), when they were children. The main suspect is an escaped murderer who was originally arrested for Robin’s death six years earlier, but the real maniac is most likely: a) Mr. Hammond (Leslie Nielsen), Robin’s father and Hamilton principle; b) Wendy (Anne-Marie Martin), the Queen Bee and organizer of Robin’s cover-up; c) Mr. Sykes (Robert Silverman), the horny groundskeeper who likes his tree saw; and d) Alex (Michael Tough), Robin’s younger, violent brother. The plot crescendos on the night of the spring prom when the maniac goes axe-happy, chopping the cast to pieces and going head-to-head with prom queen, Curtis. A good cast—Curtis gives one of her better post-Halloween performances—and well-paced direction by Paul Lynch help rise Prom Night above the typical psycho-horrors of its time. B+

Luther the Geek, Maximum Overdrive, and Phenomena

LUTHER THE GEEK (1989) After 25 years inside, convicted murderer—and obvious psychopath—Luther Watts (Edward Terry), who uses homemade dentures to chomp his victims, is released for being a model prisoner. Minutes later, Luther viciously kills an elderly woman and then goes about terrorizing a family at their isolated farmhouse. So much for the parole board’s wise decision! Luther does all this while clucking like a chicken, because when he was a child Luther witnessed a circus performer biting the head of a live chicken. Luther the Geek has a paper-thin plot and transparent characters, but it’s surprisingly gripping. It’s also well-acted and directed (by Carlton J. Albright), and much bleaker then you’d expect from an ’80s slasher. If you can believe the sprightly Terry is supposed to be in his mid-50s, you might enjoy this 80-minute oddity. B

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) A ragtag group of people trapped inside a truck stop outside of Wilmington, North Carolina, are terrorized by all manner of self-driving automobiles when the planet’s machines begin to think for themselves—a phenomenon apparently caused by a passing comet—in this absurd but extremely entertaining adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Trucks.” Directed and written by King, the movie makes no pretense of being anything other than what it is: a popcorn flick about killer trucks. After a spectacular opening depicting a malfunctioning drawbridge causing a massive pile-up, the movie is nonstop havoc as helpless people are picked off by trucks, lawnmowers, vending machines, and arcade games—until scrappy hero Emilio Estevez figures out a plan to escape the mayhem on an engine-free sailboat. King has called Maximum Overdrive “the cinematic equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.” I wholeheartedly agree. B+

PHENOMENA (1985) A joyful sense of the absurdly fantastic keeps this silly but undeniably entertaining Dario Argento opus from collapsing on itself. Much like Suspiria, Phenomena feels like it takes place in a heightened, dream-like reality where nothing is what it seems. A small Swiss town lives in fear of a brutal killer who’s cutting off the heads of young women. This bodes badly for new arrival, Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly), an American sent to live at a nearby boarding school, who has a psychic connection with insects. Thinking her power can help catch the killer, Jennifer seeks the advice of an entomologist (Donald Pleasance), who just happens to live close to the school. Also, Jennifer can seem to do a form of astral projection, but the film never bothers to explain why, other than to offer a scene where she sleepwalks and witnesses a gruesome murder, all to the pounding rock score of Goblin. Oh—there’s also a chimpanzee wielding a razor! In other words, Phenomena is a beautifully photographed, typically bonkers Argento chiller that, made by any other filmmaker, would be classified a turkey. Funniest scene: when a teacher asks about the importance of Richard Wagner, a student shouts, “Richard Gere!” B

Parents, Puppet Master, Rabid Grannies, and Rawhead Rex

PARENTS (1989) Committing to neither the horror nor comedy aspects of horror-comedy, Parents is a curious movie that skates the border of its genres by being consistently weird. In the 1950s, a morose kid, Michael (Bryan Madorsky), moves into a cheery suburban home with his aggressively oddball parents, Nick (Randy Quaid) and Lily (Mary Beth Hurt), both of whom are large consumers of meat. When Michael witnesses his parents performing a bizarre ritual involving blood, he comes to believe they’re cannibalistic killers. An unfocused satire on suburban Americana that never rises to the occasion, Parents feels sedate from beginning to end, with a particularly emotionless performance by Madorsky that makes the viewer not care what happens to him. Quaid and Hurt are good, as is Sandy Dennis as a school social worker who, in the film’s only energetic scene, is attacked with a knife while locked in Lily’s pantry. Better written characters and some actual suspense (or laughs) might have made this a winner. It’s not. C

PUPPET MASTER (1989) One of the first of the Child’s Play clones, this expensive-looking production is easy on the eyes but it’s unfortunately saddled with an unnecessarily complicated plot. Four psychics are summoned to a cliffside hotel in California where they discover their friend, Neil (Jimmie F. Skaggs), has killed himself. While the psychics try to figure out what’s going on, they’re attacked by a horde of murderous puppets that were secreted away decades earlier, when their maker (William Hickey) committed suicide to avoid capture by the Nazis. The puppet FX are good and fun to watch whenever they’re on screen, but weak acting and uninteresting characters make the first half of the movie drag considerably. Thankfully, the last 30 minutes come alive as the demented puppets pick off the boneheaded cast—most memorably a man (Matt Roe) tied to a bedpost who’s forced to watch the Leech Woman puppet vomit a load of bloodsuckers onto his chest. Followed by several sequels. C+

RABID GRANNIES (1988) This bait-and-switcher was marketed as a Troma-released, American-style horror-comedy—but it’s actually a surreal French film resembling the early movies of Peter Jackson by way of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie). Two wealthy, elderly sisters are cursed by a witchcraft-practicing family member and turned into deformed, monster-like killers who go about terrorizing the rest of their family during a birthday party at their large country estate. There’s some truly unique and disturbing elements to the story, including a scene were a mother stumbles upon her child being eaten alive by the grannies. Unfortunately, the film is quite dull whenever the grannies aren’t on screen. We’re mostly forced to watch bad overacting (and dubbing) from uninteresting characters—one who looks exactly like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life!—and incessantly bad comedy. Good makeup FX, but Rabid Grannies should be put down. D+

RAWHEAD REX (1986) Removing a large stone from his field proves dire for a farmer and the surrounding Irish village when the act awakens a demonic creature from its ancient slumber. Known as Rawhead, the carnivorous beast (Heinrich von Schellendorf) goes on a rampage, tearing off human limbs and feasting on the remains—and even possessing people to do its bidding—until an American historian (David Dukes) doing research on the local church discovers the truth and tries to stop it. Adapted by Clive Barker from one of his short stories, Rawhead Rex is a fun monster flick with a good amount of energy and some nifty makeup FX and sequences—the caravan carnage scene is a highlight. A lack of interesting characters—protagonist Dukes is unlikable—and weak acting hinders the story of some suspense, but that’s a small price to pay. Be sure to stick around for the bonkers climax. B