Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It Came From the Eighties (part I)

This is a post from last year.  I'm too busy to get into the Halloween spirit this year which is a shame.

(*Guys, I need a break from covering politics and I just noticed it's the middle of October. The reason  I noticed that it is the middle of October is because I just heard Jingle Bell Rock for the first time in ten months.  So I think a horror movie listicle is in order.*)

Ah, Horror, the "lesser genre".

Eternally demeaned, abused and snubbed by the elders of the film industry.

Yet almost all of the major film makers started out in it.  The only genre that produces more directors is no shit porn and I am not kidding about that.

Rather than do some best of all time horror movies list  I will just concentrate on the 1980s.

The Eighties represent a unique period in the genre.  You can't mistake those films for anything else.

For one thing there was money on the table.

The 1930s were genesis for the genre and they had been expensive movies for their day.  The much maligned Studio System actually had quite a few things going for it.  It was often quite daring and innovative.  It was capable of putting a lot of resources behind something new and seriously drive it.

By the 1940s there were enough real monsters out there that interest in fake one died out.

The genre was kept alive in postwar Britain; Dead of Night, Quatermass...Anything written by Nigel Kneale really.

This lead to the next boom in the field.  The Hammer Films revival in the fifties.  The blood was in gorgeous technicolor and the English came up with a innovation  that had been missing in the first run of monster movies.

Hammer introduces that famous couple;
Left and Right

Eventually Hammer films drifted into self parody in the sixties and the genre died yet again.

The 1970s saw a minor revival of studio driven horror. The Howling.  The Hunger.  Rosemary's Baby and so on.  Everything was always hopeless for the protagonists and the ending was always bleak.  The characters were unlikable and doomed from the start. The production value was there but these films took themselves a little too seriously.

1980s horror films did not.

They were their own thing.  Pretty much a genre unto themselves.  It wasn't just big hair, head bands and tight jeans.   There were laughs as well as scares, the heroes may have been faced with an utterly hopeless situation but they always took whatever they could find...and fought back.

The quality was good but not great.  The budgets were low but not basement dwelling.  The makeup and special effects innovations of the 1970s were cheap enough by then to be within the reach of most producers.

Now I am going to confuse a lot of you with this next statement but I don't regard every horror movie made in the eighties as an Eighties Horror Movie.

John Carpenter's The Thing while produced in 1982 carries the hopeless ennui of a 1970's horror film as does his Prince of Darkness. Yet, Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China is damn near the quintessential Eighties Horror Film except for the fact that it is never scary in the least.

It's a fine line I  know...It's tricky.

And now on with my completely arbitrary click-bait listicle.

First up.

The Gate

An under rated and nearly forgotten film, yet it is genuinely good.  The reason it's succeeds is that it is respectfully aimed at it's core audience.  Boys aged 8-13.  It isn't condescending to them.  It comes up with the kind of fears that boys that age have.  The Thing Under the Bed.  The Thing Under the Stairs.  Your Older Sister's Bitchy Friends.

The Plot is that Glen is alone in the house.  His sixteen year old sister Alex (who is no longer to be called "Al" has been left in charge.  Methodology of fear in this film is the betrayal of the familiar.  "Mom eating snakes on the kitchen floor."  Glen isn't quite ready to be separated from his parents yet that is coming quickly.  He and his big sister were clearly closer at one time but now she is actively pushing him away.

The tree that held his treehouse falls over and the hole it leaves behind leads somewhere...else.  Glen as his metalhead nerd best friend Terry accidentally begin the ritual that will open the Gate and unleash the forces of Hell on Earth.

Terry figures out what has happened and discovers the secret of reversing it. The Closing Ritual is on a metal album that can only be heard if it's played backward, which is a nice eighties touch that inverts one of the of the standard tropes of the Metal-Demonology panic from that time.

The Gate has in my opinion stood up well to time. It is still a good Goosebumps level horror flick that is way scarier than anything R.L. Stine ever came up with

Vamp (1987)

Vamps is very much dumb fun.  It worked in it's day as horror and is still worth a laugh today.  The theme of this one is, "how do Vampires get away with feeding in the modern world?"  Now this has been explored so much by now that it has become cliche but it was still a pretty new concept when it was released.

It starred Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler and Deedee Pfeiffer.  These actors are all still working and have decent enough resumes but in 1987 it looked like they were all about to make the jump to the big time.  It never happened for them and I'm afraid this film is probably why.  

The reason it failed at the boxoffice was the inexplicable choice of Grace Jones as the lead Stripper/Vampire Queen.  Honestly I don't know what the hell they were thinking.  Even in her prime she just wasn't that hot.  Her "sexy performance artist stripper" routine in this film was weird and off putting.  It wasn't even in the same ballpark as Salma Hayek's famous snake dance ten years later.  It just didn't work and it needed to in order to carry this film. That one scene was critical. The bottom line was you just didn't want to have sex with Grace Jones.  The general insistence at the time, that Jones was actually sexually desirable when she obviously wasn't was one of the first hints of reality denying SJWism entering the world.

Back to the movie.  This flick almost feels like a John Hughes horror film, if Hughes had ever made a horror film.  It's that Eighties.

The plot: two frat pledges go on a mission to collect some strippers for their fraternity.  They don't have much money so they look for a down at the heels titty bar in the wrong end of town and find the wrong strip club.  The vampire strippers drain their low rent clientele on skid row because no one would ever miss them.

Basically it was the Dusk til Dawn, although I don't know if Tarantino ever gave it a thimble of credit.

This movie was the eighties in full swing.  I still recommend it.

Fright Night (1985) & Fright Night II (1987)

We are now into much better known territory.  At least for the first one.

The Plot: horror movie geek Charlie, thinks that a real life vampire has moved in next door to him.  Everyone thinks he's nuts on this point including the has-been Hammer-Horror actor turned Monster-Chiller-Horror-Theater UHF TV host, Peter Vincent (perfect name by the way).  Peter Vincent is hired by Charlie to hunt the Vampire Next Door.  Peter thinks it will be much easier just to prove that Jerry Dandrige is not a vampire at all.  Peter manages to accidentally  proves the opposite.  Things escalate from there.

The effects were good for it's day and the tone was a balanced mix of scares and laughs. It had some memorable scenes.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer owes a lot to Fright Night.

This is one of the films that pretty much everyone mentions when you talk about 1980s horror.  At 24 million it didn't have a monster boxoffice return but it was good enough to spawn a sequel.

Fright Night 2 was virtually unreleased and went straight to video, which was a pity because the sad thing is, that this second picture was one of those rare sequels that is actually better than the first film.

They didn't make a beat for beat remake but instead inverted the plot of the first film while building on that story arc.  That is how you make a good sequel.

The plot: after two years of therapy Charlie Brewster is now convinced that the whole thing had been in his head.  He is now the skeptic that has to be convinced and Peter Vincent is now the believer who is trying to convince him that the Thing Under The Bed is real.  The girlfriend is frankly quite a bit hotter and is much more engaging as character than the first one.  The setting is more interesting as Charlie is now in college.  The plot is more intricate and better constructed.

They also inverted the Dracula mythos as well.  The vampire is now a woman and her husband/slaves(?) are men (or at least two men and insect powered flesh golem). And Charlie is now filling the role of Mina Harker, the victim who is slowly being turned into a vampire. Regine the Vampire Queen was Jerry Dandrige's sister and she means to extract a prolonged revenge on Charlie after she turns him into a vampire.

On the whole it's simply a better film than the original and it's shame the studio shelved it.  Although I don't get the part about vampires and bowling.

Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Honestly I only included this one because I have to.  Return of the Living Dead was very much an homage to Night of the Living Dead.  As such it comes with some tonal baggage (which the film was true to, I have to give it that, it knew what it wanted to be and it succeeded at it). However, it doesn't really feel like an eighties movie. Although it is remembered as one because of all the Punk stuff.

Gentle reminder, Punk started in the mid seventies but by 1985 it had begun morphing into grunge.

However this happened

So I am obliged to include this movie against my will.

It did add one other significant thing to the zombie genre, "BRAAAAAAINNSSS".  Zombies wanted to eat pretty much everything before then.  Still a decent enough movie, and it does come with some good laughs.  The screaming manager still makes me laugh.  The zombie gross out effects still work and as I said it significantly added to the myth of the genre.  The thing that bothers me is the fatalism, you knew from the start they were all going to die.

This was ultimately a film made by Boomers to display their contempt for Gen X. 

I enjoy it but I don't like it.

Count down continues tomorrow.


Jew613 said...

I never really got whose idea it was to push Grace Jones as a sex symbol. By the time she had her so called breakout role in Conan she was already pushing the wall and she wasn't a great beauty to begin with. I suppose most people looked at her as just a odd casting choice. But you're probably right she was the beginning of Hollywood pushing "alternative" beauty.

Cataline Sergius said...

The insistence that she was intensely desirably in the face of all available evidence said something...

...and that something was, "I am turned on by a dominatrix vibe and don't understand why you aren't."

exfarmkid said...

Grace Jones did wonderful things for bile levels. Thanks for bringing back the memories. Had those thoughts as well at the time, i.e., "This ... is supposed to be attractive?"

Saw a film "The Boogens" the same night after "Gallipoli" and "Whose Life is it Anyway" (1982). Which may have predisposed me to find almost anything uplifting in comparison. And I probably never saw enough horror films to recognize quality, either, but WTF.

Does Poltergeist (1982) make your list? I couldn't stop laughing.

Perhaps Lifeforce (1985) is on your list. But it needed more naked Mathilda May. Just sayin....