Between five and six and half stars on IMDB and an infrequently active message board, the ideal horror film from the 1970s or 1980s has a cult following. Although Roger Ebert called it a “good bet” for “genre obsessives alone,” it didn’t get much attention from critics. No big-name actors are in the cast, although there may be a supporting role on The O.C. or anything like that somewhere in there. If only Vincent Price had an appearance in this. In the greatest possible sense, it’s ridiculous and old, and it’s full of murders, people-eaters, and demons that dwell somewhere between Troll 2 and Poltergeist. Even if you’ve never heard of the film’s name, you’ll recognize its poster if you spent any time in a suburban video store during your high school years.
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In the spirit of Halloween, we’ve put together a list of our ten favorite neglected horror films from the 1980s and ’90s. They aren’t great movies by any objective standard, but they’re excellent in the horror realm. There’s not a single one of them on Netflix Instant Watch, of course. Sorry. For 50 cents at the garage sale of your eccentric neighbor, you can undoubtedly locate old VHS recordings of the film.
Bad Taste (1987)
Before he became a household name with The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson released Bad Taste in 1987. Following Bad Taste, it’s hard to believe that Peter Jackson would ever be allowed to direct a film again, much less one with the budget of Lord of The Rings. He wrote it, he directed it, he co-starred, he co-edited the film, he filmed it, he did the special effects & makeup. When I said Peter Jackson made this movie, I meant it: Tolkien couldn’t even claim plausible deniability when it came time to direct The Lord of the Rings because it was all his idea.
As the film’s narrative unfolds, giant space invaders land in a remote New Zealand town with the intent of harvesting locals and grinding them into hamburger meat for an intergalactic burger chain. Things get a little out of hand when people try to intervene.
Blood for Dracula (1974)
Udo Kier’s famous vampire portrayal of Dracula (Count Dracula) in Blood for Dracula (1974) tells the account of a world-weary Romanian vampire’s quest to find a virgin’s blood in order to save his sickly sister, who is also a vampire. According to Anton, Drac’s absolutely serious but mincing manservant, Italian women who live in the same geographic area as the pope are sexually pure. Drac flies to Italy in order to obtain virgin blood.
Rather than go into great detail about why you should see this Andy Warhol-produced camp gem, I’ll simply give you a taste of what it’s all about: When Saphiria Di Fiore, the second daughter of a poor Italian aristo at whose mansion Dracula reportedly arrived to find a virgin bride, screams in pain, Dracula snatches his fangs from her neck. After months of searching for a virgin’s blood, Dracula leans back, gasping and panting, his bloodlust/regular thirst (the entire film is an allegory for sex, or possibly capitalism) satisfied. Saphiria, it turns out, was anything but virginal after all. It’s deja vu all over again for Anton. At first his eyes are wide open, but then he stumbles over to the bathtub, vomits blood everywhere, and his face turns almost neon green in the process. A blood-vom-covered Drac screams, “The blood of zhese hoo-ahs is killing me!” before collapsing on the bathroom floor and passing out. T.J. Wofford—
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
This brief, made-for-TV goblin tale may best be remembered as the one that terrified Guillermo del Toro as a child, and not Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? He followed up with a 2011 remake, but it couldn’t achieve the subtle Victorian eeriness that was present in the original. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark tells the story of Sally, who inherits a home from her grandmother and soon discovers a scary band of whispering goblin monsters living in the sub-basement. Don’t Be Afraid, like the most of the films on our list, has garnered a devoted audience over the years. The figure of the blowhard husband, who dismisses Sally’s warnings until it is far too late, has also drawn significant feminist critique. Theodore Roosevelt
The Gate (1987)
What can one say about The Gate other than that it’s a picture with virtually no end to its campy pleasures? A kaleidoscope of 1980s demon pictures, The Gate is the hyper-speed throw-in-every special effect that we can afford magnificent disaster. An untested Canadian punk producer/director reimagines the film with an unknown teenage cast, $2.5 million in budget, and heavy metal tie-ins, which is what happened here. With Stephen Dorff playing the lead part as a young man discovering that a hole in his backyard is a portal to the underworld, the band he’s hanging out with discovers that sacrificing a dog body summons the demons they seek. Actors in rubber suits play underworld tormentors and biblical allusions in an irresistibly flashy swarm of chaos. Because of the film’s PG-13 rating, I was able to pick it up at Blockbuster and watch it with my friends, all of whom were frightened by it. According to a 2009 statement, a 3D remake of the film is supposedly in the works, although no actual filming has taken place as of yet. Theodore Roosevelt
Jealousy is a terrible green-eyed monster, while the small green terrors in Gremlins are sharp of hearing and stupid-looking. To make matters worse, inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) buys his kid Billy (Zach Gilligan) an adorable miniature monster (called a “mogwai”) from a Chinese antique shop. Gizmo, Billy’s latest oddball pet, is dopey but adoring. When he accidently spills water on himself, which is a no-no, Gizmo suddenly breeds five mogwai from his body.
Gremlins is all about food-shaming, therefore Billy is tricked into feeding the jerks after midnight (another no-no). The resultant five kids are jerks who turn around and become horrible monsters. Gringos attack the Peltzers, torment Kingston Falls, and are finally dispatched in a famous kitchen scene splattered in green slime, leaving this writer never again able to look at a food processor in the same way. Readers, be on the lookout in your kitchen this Halloween. —Paula Mejia’s statement
Invaders From Mars(1986)
Tobe Hooper, whose previous credits include The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist, took on the task of reviving the classic 1953 sci-fi film Invaders From Mars. Sadly, Hooper’s relaunch isn’t as well-received as it used to be after another three decades have elapsed. This is a bad thing, because the remake obliterates the original’s subtle Cold War-era fear with showy terror, stupid language, and awful special effects. The good news is that, yes, it is chock-full of gory, cheesy language and fantastically awful visual effects that terrified me as a kid considerably more than the original. While Timothy Bottoms and Laraine Newman do an excellent job as suburban parents whose bodies have been taken over by emotionless Martians, Karen Black shines as the school nurse who links up with the innocent son to fight back, eventually teaming up with the Marines for some insane reason. Invasion of the Body Snatchers and 1983’s Strange Invaders share certain themes, although this one is more campy and kid-friendly whereas Strange Invaders is more outwardly frightening. As a result, we have a hidden gem. Theodore Roosevelt
The New Kids (1985)
Sean S. Cunningham followed up Friday the 13th with The New Kids, a slasher film starring James Spader as a wild-eyed thug “You’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary? I’ll prove you wrong!” Abby (Lori Loughlin) and Loren (Shannon Presby) arrive as immigrants in a little town in Florida after their parents died in an accident. The horrific film revolves around their experiences. Abby is kidnapped by Dutra (Spader), the leader of a gang of drug-addled miscreants, who torment the group. An amusement park run by their aunt and uncle, complete with Santa-themed rides and a shower scene that seems to be lifted straight out of the pages of Psycho, is sure to leave a lasting impression on any newcomers to the neighborhood. —Paula Mejia’s statement
When it comes to horror, the 1970s saw the introduction of The Creepy Child in films like The Omen and Exorcist. In Parents, the Nice Suburban Parents are the ones who represent dark, creeping terror in this strange horror–comedy combination from the late 1980s. Every night, they serve their 10-year-old son, Michael, massive, bloody slabs of “leftover” meat that make him suspicious of the strange noises coming from the basement. One amusing moment shows him asking, “Leftovers from what??” As he investigates, he comes upon a horrific dream sequence and a tense score reminiscent of The Shining.
Despite its failure at the box office, the film marked Bob Balaban’s first foray into directing. Balaban has since gone on to star in several Wes Anderson and Christopher Guest films (he plays the progressively neurotic concert promoter in A Mighty Wind). As expected, the film failed to attract a wide audience since it is both too goofy and too gruesome and grim for an audience that would otherwise enjoy a slasher flick. It did much better in video stores, as expected. Anyone who has ever witnessed his parents having sex or eating human flesh has to read this book. Theodore Roosevelt
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Even though Wes Craven filmed A Nightmare on Elm Street on a shoestring budget of around $1.8 million, it’s interesting to note that Sleepaway Camp, directed by Robert Hiltzik, cost only $350,000 to make the year before. Summer at a sleepaway camp where chefs are boiled to death and mean girls are slashed to death in the shower is the subject of the narrative. There are certain clues you may pick up from there, but not all of them.
This is one of the most bizarre and memorable slasher films ever made, even if it isn’t the best of the decade. Sleepaway Camp features poor student film-style dialogue alongside some gory murder sequences and a storyline twist that is both unexpected and terrifying. As a cult classic, it spawned two sequels starring Bruce Springsteen’s sister Pamela Springsteen. However, director John Hiltzik, who left filmmaking to pursue law, was unaware of the film’s enduring popularity until he was invited to record a DVD commentary in the year 2000. It wasn’t long before he rejoined the ranks to direct a follow-up. By the time it was finally released, in 2008, no one knew that the previous sequels had ever been made. Theodore Roosevelt
Vampire Hookers (1978)
Despite the film’s “tasteful, scrumptious, pulse-pounding entertainment” tagline, the more accurate description is “tasteless, campy, and hilarious” in the film’s trailer. To bring back unsuspecting males for dinner, Richmond Reed, played by John Carradine, enlists the help of three vampy ladies: Cherish (Karen Stride), Suzy (Lenka Novak), and Marcy (Katie Dolan). Vampire hookers aren’t just blood suckers, though. The movie’s cringe-worthy theme song’s chorus screams at you: “They’re vampire hookers, and that ain’t all they suck.” In case the names “Night of the Bloodsuckers” and “Sensuous Vampires” have piqued your interest in the horrors to come, you’re not alone. You’ve been forewarned of this danger.