Happy 35th Anniversary to 10 Great Horror Films
The year 1982 was a solid year for horror movies, with big-budget blockbusters, low-budget efforts, and everything in between making either immediate box office impacts or becoming influences on future fright-fare filmmakers and their projects — sometimes both. Here are my thoughts about 10 of that year’s top cinematic shockers. I have kept my synopses as spoiler-free as possible for readers who haven’t yet succumbed to the terror-ific charms of these movies.
Basket Case — Frank Henenlotter’s debut feature first found success on the midnight movie circuit and then grew even more popular with the advent of home video. This tale of a young man (Kevin Van Hentenryck as Duane) and the terrible, deadly secret that he keeps hidden in a basket is a grue-filled look at some of the seedier sides of life in New York City in the early 1980s. This outré film is rife with offbeat humor and gore galore. Its ultra–low-fi practical effects are part of its quirky charm.
Cat People — Director Paul Schrader, who had previously written the screenplays for such films as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and written and directed Hardcore and American Gigolo, obviously had a fascination with the dark side of human nature before tackling this remake of Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 classic. This version blatantly played up the eroticism in a way that the original only hinted at, and the same goes for the horrific attacks. Malcolm McDowell and Nastassja Kinski (whose career was red hot and still on the rise at the time) star as siblings who share a monstrous heritage, in more ways than one. David Bowie co-wrote and performed the haunting theme song.
Creepshow — This deservedly beloved anthology film was written by Stephen King and directed by George Romero. The result is a loving homage to 1950s EC horror comics, filled with dark humor. A top-notch cast that includes Leslie Nielsen, Adrienne Barbeau, and Hal Holbrook help bring the five stories to vivid life. Tales of vengeance from beyond the grave, hungry monsters, swarms of bugs, and more make this a fun, thrilling ride that has become a classic of the genre.
Death Valley — This thriller places a young boy — Peter Billingsley of A Christmas Story fame, as Billy — at the center of a serial killer story. Billy is on a vacation of sorts in Arizona with his divorced mother (Catherine Hicks) and her new boyfriend (Paul LeMat) when he happens upon a trinket that links a vicious killer (Stephen McHattie) to a crime scene. The murderer stalks the trio, determined to regain the piece of evidence. Though not as well remembered as some of its peers, the film has enough going for it to make it worth a nostalgic watch.
The Entity — Of the 10 films in this list, this one has the most gravity to it. Frank De Felitta based the screenplay on his novel; both are based on the 1974 Doris Bither case. Barbara Hershey gives a riveting performance as a woman who is raped and tormented by an invisible supernatural force. This disturbing film is not easy to sit through, but it is a well-made effort and offers its share of shocks and surprises for those willing to give it a try.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch — The movie that made legions of Michael Myers fans livid, this installment has nothing in common with the first two films in the Halloween series. Instead, it is a science fiction/horror story with elements of witchcraft and Celtic fairy tales. The plot concerns an evil toymaker’s plan to kill as many people as possible on Halloween using masks that his company manufactures. Although the film met with negative reviews during its initial run, time has been kind to it. Many fans now consider Halloween III: Season of the Witch to be a stand-alone classic.
Poltergeist — Co-written and produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper (though some controversy remains about how much Spielberg was involved in the directorial process), this film became the year’s eighth–highest-grossing film. Considered a horror classic, this tale of a family haunted by malevolent spirits inspired sequels, a recent remake, and a slew of imitators.
Q: The Winged Serpent — Independent filmmaker Larry Cohen — who had previously helmed the cult horror favorites It’s Alive, its sequel It Lives Again, and God Told Me To — turned his sights to a giant monster rather than baby-sized ones for this unique stop-motion creature feature. Michael Moriarty’s inspired method performance as a small-time crook with ambitions to become a jazz musician is reason enough to seek out this low-budget oddity, which is only partly about the titular character terrorizing New York City. The rest of the surprises are for first-time viewers to find. If you are not already to convinced to watch or revisit Q, who can argue with a cast that, besides Moriarty, includes David Carradine, Candy Clark, and Richard Roundtree?
Swamp Thing — Adrienne Barbeau makes the list again this time in Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, which is based on the DC Comics series. It’s rubber-suit-monster fun with lots of action, and sometimes that’s all you need — except for maybe a big bowl of popcorn and a soda to go along with it.
The Thing — I absolutely this remake of the 1951 The Thing from Another World when it was first released. I thought it was a loud, vulgar, showcase of special effects that had no soul compared with the quieter, more pensive original. I wasn’t alone, either, as critics blasted it and audiences didn’t flock to it as much as the studio expected. Like other films on this list, time has been kind to it, and it is now considered a classic, and rightly so, I can now agree. The practical effects stand the test of time, and Kurt Russell and the rest of the cast provide impressive turns in a tense tale of paranoia and isolation.
Besides contributing to When It Was Cool, Joseph Perry also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), the Gruesome Magazine horror movie website (gruesomemagazine.com), and several other print and online film critique and pop culture magazines.
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