Countdown to Halloween: My Favorite Films (1980-1989)

Aaah…my favorite holiday is here. I’ve been listening to Halloween Radio (Stay tuned for some 80’s Blasts, Halloween-style) and the songs they’ve been playing had me reminiscing about chillers, thrillers, magic, and things that go bump in the night…

So, I compiled a list of all the movies I especially like/love that contain elements of occult, fantasy, horror, sci-fi – or any combination thereof. Super-favorites are highlighted in RED and Diego has highlighted those films starring fab Felines.

This run-up to October 31st has me thirsty for something warm, thick, and red…

(Had you going for a minute, didn’t I?)

With glass in hand, today’s list is all about cult films or movies with a cult following.
Eleven of the 27 films here are labeled as such (that’s 41%):  An American Werewolf in London, Fright Night and Fright Night Part Two, Near Dark, Pumpkinhead, Re-Animator, Teen Witch, The Howling, The Hunger, The Return of the Living Dead, and They Live.

Now, without further adieu here are my favorite (Horror) flicks of the 1980’s.

Aliens Diego's pick
Based on characters by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, this action-packed sequel is the second in the Alien franchise. Once again, Sigourney Weaver plays Ellen Ripley – for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress (and won a Saturn Award for the same). Practical Effects Supervisor, John Richardson, won a Special Effects Oscar.
We get a good look at the xenomorphs in this film – and there are a lot of them! This is also the first time a Queen Alien was introduced to us (“Get away from her you bitch.” What a catchphrase). Stan Winston Studios (Predator, Pumpkinhead, The Island of Dr. Moreau) created the life-sized Queen which was operated by 14 puppeteers.
Directed by James Cameron, the cast is rounded-out by Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead, Alien 3), Bill Paxton (Near Dark, Predator 2), and Jenette Goldstein (Near Dark).
An American Werewolf in London Diego's pick
Rick Baker‘s special effects – especially the transformation scene – were ground-breaking at the time. (Up until An American Werewolf in London, transformation scenes were shot frame-by-frame. This was a laborious task that meant the actor had to sit motionless for hours while makeup was being applied for the next frame.) In 1981, Baker won the first-ever Oscar for Best Makeup.
Considered a horror-comedy this movie is both terrifying and quirky, using droll humor and songs with “moon” in the title…
Directed by John Landis and starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, Frank Oz, and John Landis in a cameo.
An American Werewolf in London is chiefly appreciated as a milestone in the comedy-horror genre and for its innovative makeup effects.” (Wikipedia)
Michael Jackson was a huge fan of the movie, and based on the strength of their work (in An American Werewolf in London) chose both John Landis (director) and Rick Baker (makeup effects) to work with him on 1983’s Thriller music video. It went on to become one of the most lauded music videos of all time. (Wikipedia)
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Tuned in smack dab in the middle of a very gory, bloody scene – and was hooked. Although considered a “slasher film”, Freddy Krueger (played by Robert Englund) is so much more horrifying than the villians of Friday the 13th and Halloween. He’s a serial killer who’s a ghost (dream demon) inhabiting your dream world where whatever he inflicts upon you happens for real. Including your death. (How messed-up is that?) Krueger has become an iconic figure with his fire-scarred face, slouchy hat, torn red-and-black sweater, and metal-clawed glove.
Written and directed by Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) the film also stars Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Johnny Depp (Sleepy Hollow) in his film debut.
“Critics today praise the film’s ability to transgress ‘the boundaries between the imaginary and real’, toying with audience perceptions” (Wikipedia)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Based on his characters from A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven also penned the screenplay. Along with returning actors Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, Patricia Arquette, Larry (Lawrence) Fishburne, and Craig Wasson star. Zsa Zsa Gabor has a cameo.
Angelo Badalamenti composed the score, with heavy metal band Dokken writing/performing it’s theme song, “Dream Warriors”.


Trivia:
Up until 1990, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors was banned in Queensland, Australia due to its drug references.

Beetlejuice
Director Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow, Batman Returns, Frankenweenie) and composer Danny Elfman (Batman Returns, Sleepy Hollow, Nightbreed, Frankenweenie, 2010s The Wolf Man) team-up for this wild-ride about ghostly spirits, the after-life, and a smarmy “freeland Bio-Exorcist” named Betelgueuse (played to the hilt by Michael Keaton). Burton employed stop motion, replacement animation, prosthetic makeup, puppetry, and blue screen for the special effects. The film won a 1989 Academy Award for Best Makeup.
My favorite scene was the dinner party during which Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” played. (Hilarious.) Another Belafonte song was used during the closing credits:  “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora)”.
Starring Keaton (Batman Returns), Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones (Sleepy Hollow, Ravenous, The Devil’s Advocate), Winona Ryder (Alien Resurrection, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Frankenweenie), Alec Balwin, Geena Davis (The Fly), and Sylvia Sidney – with cameos by Robert Goulet and Dick Cavett.
Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town
An all-female motorcycle gang (the Cycle Sluts) ride into a town inhabited by an evil scientist-turned-mortician, who (with the aid of his dwarf assistant) has been killing local townspeople and turning them into zombies to use as “cheap labor” at an underground radioactive mine.

Former MTV VJ Martha Quinn stars as one of the Cycle Sluts.
Fright Night
Director Tom Holland envisioned a tale fashioned after “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” – or in this case, Who Cried Vampire. The effects/makeup are worth seeing – especially Amanda Bearse‘s transformation into a voluptuous vampire.
Cast:  William Ragsdale as Charley Brewster, Chris Sarandon (The Sentinel) as the vampire Jerry Dandrige, Roddy McDowall as vampire hunter Peter Vincent (who name is an amalgamation of Peter Cushing and Vincent Price), and Bearse as Brewster’s girlfriend, Amy Peterson.
Trivia:
“…in the scene when Amy and Evil Ed go to Peter Vincent’s apartment for help, you can see a white face mask on the wall. This is a life cast of roddy mcdowall’s face which was made/used for the makeup on Planet of the Apes.”  Behind the Scenes of Fright Night
Fright Night Part 2
The sequel to Fright Night, this time with Regine Dandrige (Julie Carmen) taking her brother’s place as a vampiric Femme Fatale. Regine’s joined by a band of vampires eager to do her bidding:  Jon Gries as Louie, Brian Thompson as Bozworth, and the very rock/punk Belle (Russel Clark) who floats around on skates…



William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall reprise their roles as Charley Brewster and Peter Vincent, respectively.
“The special effects makeups were designed by Greg Cannom and his crew at Cannom Creations. Cannom also worked the The Lost Boys and went on to do Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.”  Wikia
Gothic
Based on a story by Lord Byron & Percy Bysshe Shelley, Gothic is a fictionalized account of a summer spent at Byron’s home in Geneva which inspires the group to engage in a horror-story competition. True to Ken Russell‘s style of filmmaking it’s surreal, decadant, and subversive.
Stars Gabriel Byrne as Lord Byron, Julian Sands as Shelley, Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley, and Timothy Spall (The Bride) as John Polidori.
Trivia:
The theatrical poster is based on a famous painting by Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare – which is also referenced in the movie.
Lord Byron was a poet and leading figure in the Romantic movement and a member of the House of Lords from 1809-1824. His only legitimate child (Ada Lovelace) is regarded as the first computer programmer. Born with a deformed right foot, he advocated exercise and was a vegetarian most of his life. The “Byronic Hero” (literary character) and the vampire archetype were both modeled after him. In the Bride of Frankenstein, Lord Byron (played by Gavin Gordon) is depicted in the prologue.
Percy Shelley was another major Romantic-era poet who was married to Mary Shelley. He was a political radical and peace activist; and, like Byron, converted to vegetarianism.
Mary Shelley penned the classic novel, Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus (1818). The idea for it was conceived during that summer in Geneva. Her father was the political philospher William Godwin and her mother the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
Near Dark
A (modern-day) western-biker vampire tale directed and co-written by Kathryn Bigelow, with music by Tangerine Dream. These vampires are nomadic and vicious predators, but they do have some manners… One scene has Severen (Bill Paxton, Aliens, Predator 2) drinking blood from a beer mug. Joshua John Miller (Teen Witch) is particularly creepy as the pre-pubescent vampire Homer. Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Alien 3, Pumpkinhead) is their leader with Jenette Goldstein (Aliens) and Jenny Wright rounding-out the gang. When they happen upon a naive cowboy (Adrian Pasdar), Mae (Wright) takes a fancy to him and bites him on the neck, forcing him to join their merry little band of undead outlaws.
Nomads
Speaking of nomads, this one combines punk-rockers-on-bikes with the Inuit legend of the einwetok (pronounced in-oo-wad). According to the legend, einwetok are psychic vampires and tricksters; evil spirits that are unable to be photographed. This is an atmospheric, psychological horror film with an unexpected ending. Starring Lesley-Anne Down, Pierce Brosnan, Adam Ant, Mary Woronov, Josie Cotton (“Johnny Are You Queer?”, “He Could Be the One”), and Frank Doubleday. Directed by John McTiernan (Predator).
Predator
Picture a special forces elite military rescue squad in the middle of a central american jungle, who find themselves battling for their lives against an unseen enemy. (If you don’t already know the story I have one question for you: What remote island have you been living on?) Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, and Kevin Peter Hall (Prophecy) as the Predator.
Outside of the (typical) one-liners uttered by Schwarzenegger, the real delight here is the Predator. This creation is from the amazing mind of Stan Winston (Aliens, Pumpkinhead, The Island of Dr. Moreau).
Trivia:
After seeing Nomads, Schwarzenegger wanted John McTiernan as director on this film.
Alan Silvestri (Predator 2, What Lies Beneath) composed the score.

4 responses to “Countdown to Halloween: My Favorite Films (1980-1989)

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