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Friday, October 31, 2014

Horror Movies I Grew Up With: The 1980s

Exploring a Memorable Decade for the Genre

By Chris Sabga

Oh yes, that's George Clooney!

I was in a film class a few years ago when the professor started running down the 1980s as a bad decade for movies. Needless to say, her words left me in a state of deep shock. How could this be? The '80s were great. Okay, they weren't the '70s, where so many classic films and directors emerged; and they weren't the '90s, which was the period of the indie renaissance. But I'll forever defend the '80s as an underrated decade for movies. Perhaps no genre was better represented in those years than horror. Here are some of my favorite fright flicks from childhood:

A Nightmare on Elm Street (series – 1984-1994): A demented boogeyman goes around killing teenagers, but only in their dreams. Was I afraid to go to sleep afterward? Not at all! Freddy Krueger was cool. He had claws on his hands! I always wanted a Freddy costume for Halloween, but my parents said no. (They were probably right.) Ironically, the series became more kid-friendly as it progressed: Freddy was funnier by the third film. But I first discovered Freddy when he was still "scary." I saw the first two movies when I was only in the second grade. A friend recommended them to me. (What the hell were two 7 or 8-year-olds doing staying up late to watch stuff like this?) The series had its ups and downs, but I made sure to see all of them. My favorite: "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare." Poor Carlos!

The Fly (1986): My sister still can't bear to watch Jeff Goldblum in anything. His transformation in "The Fly" from man to mutation after an experiment gone awry is just that good, disturbing, and chilling. With great acting by Goldblum and Geena Davis, and even better makeup and effects, "The Fly" is one of the greatest remakes of all timeand one of the most memorable horror movies of the '80s.

Phantasm II (1988): The "Tall Man" from the first film is back. I jumped into this series with this sequel, and truth be told, it's still the only one I've seen. When you're a kid, you're able to fill in the blanks and be more open-minded. I didn't feel like I'd missed anything. Watching it seemed like being in a waking nightmare – a delirious fever dream. It ranks among the coolest horror experiences of the '80s. It definitely left an impression on me.

The Lost Boys (1987): Today's teenage vampires – such as the ones in the "Twilight" saga – are moody little pretty boys who sparkle. I weep for the current youth of America. "The Lost Boys" was one of the first modern teen vampire films – if not the first – and it's still one of the best. These vampires were cool, dangerous, even a little bit scary. They didn't shine in the yellow sunlight – they shed red blood when it was pitch black, and they loved it. "Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire." That was the advertising tagline for "The Lost Boys" and it's one of the most memorable of all time – and the movie itself lives up to it in every way.

Howling V: The Rebirth (1989): Don't expect Oscar-caliber acting, Oscar-caliber directing, or Oscar-caliber anything from this "Rebirth" to the "Howling" film franchise. Truthfully, I can't remember if I've ever seen any of the others, or whether this ties into those, but I doubt it matters much. The premise: A group of people are stuck together in an old castle, and one of them is the wolf. As the death toll deepens, so does the mystery. "Howling V" seems to be a loose take on the Agatha Christie novel "Ten Little Indians." A classic framework like that is almost impossible to screw up. Some stories just work no matter what, as this "adaptation" of sorts proves even with the barest of budgets.

Return to Horror High (1987): The dilapidated venue I saw this in – a rundown mall movie theater that had seen much better days – probably made this seem scarier than it actually was. I haven't revisited it since childhood, so I can't tell you how it holds up now. Somehow, I doubt it will have the same effect on me. I'd love to be able to claim that I noticed future megastar George Clooney and predicted great things for him based on his role here, but that would be a lie. I was only 8 years old at the time, and really, George probably wasn't exactly given Oscar-worthy material to work with. For years, I didn't even know if there was an original "Horror High" movie. (There was, but the two – oddly enough – appear to be completely unrelated.) I'll watch this again one day – if I dare.

Fright Night Part II (1988): I suspect this film has very few defenders, which is a shame, because it's actually the rare of example of a sequel that lives up to the original – and surpasses it, if you ask me. (I know I'm in the minority with that viewpoint.) The head vampire in "Part II" – the sister of Chris Sarandon's character from the first – is certainly much easier on the eyes. Ditto for the main character's girlfriend. It also features some pretty solid acting – especially from William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall – and a good script with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting.

Some honorable mentions:

The Serpent and The Rainbow: The Haitian voodoo setting is deeply unsettling.

Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II: I vividly remember a chalkboard and letters of the alphabet coming alive – creepy!

The Monster Squad: Technically, I didn't grow up with this – I only saw it for the first time a few years ago, and it's more of a comedy anyway – but it's great fun with some hilarious lines. "Give me the amulet, you bitch!" makes me laugh every time.

Gremlins and Ghostbusters: What list of '80s "horror" movies would be complete without them? You've seen them already, of course. If not, what are you waiting for?

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