The endless list of 80s slashers pretty much always leads to celebrating the most prominent films of the decade. Then there are those hidden gems you’d find in the video store that no one was talking about, yet they totally delivered the chills, thrills, and blood spills! Such as this foursome of goodies.
THE FAN (1981)
Almost a decade before she played the agent of a writer with an obsessed fan in Misery, Lauren Bacall had a similar problem. The Fan might be loathed by devotees of classic Bacall films, but for 80s kids, it was an awesome stalker slasher. It’s great to see the likes of Lauren, James Garner, and Maureen Stapleton in a gritty horror flick from the era.
But the real standout here is pre-Terminator Michael Biehn as the crazed fan. His incredibly sexy 80s pretty boy look is quickly washed away as his psycho side is revealed. His love letters to Bacall—who plays an iconic film legend about to star in a musical—turn threatening because he is pissed that her assistant (Stapleton) is the one responding to him. Before long, he begins proving his love to Bacall by slicing up all the important people in her life with a straight razor. It eventually leads to a final confrontation and chase scene in the empty theater after Bacall’s opening night. However, Biehn is the one who steals the show!
The stylish tone of the film (helped majorly by Bacall’s presence) elevates it above typical 80s slasher horror. However, I personally love the 80s vibe in the record store where Biehn works—especially a then unknown Dana Delany in her best Pat Benatar fashions. Also keep an eye out for the lottery-winning mom from Cujo as Biehn’s sister.
And finally, there’s the speculation about the stalker’s sexuality. He shows no interest in any other woman other than Bacall and even reads Delany to filth when she flirts with him. He insists in his letters that he is in love with Bacall, stressing that he has the right equipment to satisfy her. Yet…he has a Donna Summer Bad Girls album cover hanging on his wall as he admires himself in his mirror (been there, done that…actually, I had the On The Radio poster that came with the double record set). But most telling is when he picks up a guy at a gay bar. As the guy is blowing him, he looks disgusted…then looks like he’s really enjoying it…then slashes the guy’s throat…then looks like he’s enjoying it even more. Question is, was he just gay for slay?
ALONE IN THE DARK (1982)
Before the 1990s video game, before the 2000s horrible movie adaptation of the video game, there was…Alone in the Dark, the 1982 slasher. Things are just better when they come from the 80s.
Interestingly, Robert Shaye and New Line Cinema released this film a couple of years before A Nightmare on Elm Street, so naturally there’s a small role for his sister Lin Shaye. But more interestingly, it has a very Elm Street-esque dream sequence opener in which Donald Pleasence hacks Martin Landau right down the crotch!
Yep. A year after Halloween II and Donald Pleasence is back for more slashing. But this time he runs the mental institution. And his patients include veteran actors Martin Landau (who is unforgettable as a psycho) and Jack Palance, as well as a hulking huge dude who plays a really creepy and very powerful child molester.
Meanwhile, one of the new doctors at the hospital has moved into a beautiful old home with his wife and daughter. But when the couple goes out one night to a punk rock concert to see the Sic Fucks, providing the most awesomely 80s moment of the film, there’s a blackout. And this blackout shuts down the entire security system in the mental institution!
Conveniently for the three nuts, who leave some dead bodies behind when they walk on out of there, the entire town starts looting, so they simply have to walk into a hardware store to get their weapons. Then it’s off to kill the new doctor and his family at their home.
This often overlooked film has some great scenes, a ridiculously out of place daydream monster, and an awesome final act with the whole family fighting back against the baddies. But the bed scene has to be my favorite part of the whole movie, and that’s all I’m going to say.
This Italian slasher follows most of the rules, but throws in plenty of WTFery to remind us this is pure Euro insanity and no American slasher clone.
The 80s overload is fantastic, from the hair and fashions to the cheesy dance music and scary pulsing synth score. There are also plenty of over-the-top staged dance numbers that look like bad 80s music videos (aka: great 80s music videos), complete with fog machines and neon lighting.
The plot is…um…remarkable. A dancer with a leg sprain stops at the local mental institution to have a doctor check her out. One of the patients sees her, escapes the loony bin, and makes his way to the theater where her troop is rehearsing for an upcoming show. He dons an owl mask being used in the show and begins hacking his way through the cast.
Delivering eerie atmosphere, bizarre kill setups, odd character decisions, and even weirder killer behaviors, Stagefright is a slasher perfectly doused in combustive Italian horror. There’s killer POV, thunder and lighting, gore, some unique kills, a cat named Lucifer, a classic final body reveal, and…feathers.
Most of the film provides plenty of excitement and plenty of kills, including a series of wild sequences in which the entire cast makes its way through the theater while sticking together—and yet still getting killed. But then there’s some major slowdown in the last half hour as the final girl roams the theater. But things finally pick up for the final curtain.
Of course, Stagefright wouldn’t be a slasher about a theater group without a snarky gay queen on hand. And as one of the girls points out, he used to sell his ass in the men’s room at the bus station. He’s also the guy who is supposed to wear the owl mask in the play, so you know what that means. Gay fucker needs to die first so the killer can have his mask!
AMERICAN GOTHIC (1988)
American Gothic is a total classic backwoods horror flick of the 80s. It also gives me an April Fool’s Day vibe (one of the chicks even reminds me of Amy Steel). Six friends hop on a little private plane…that malfunctions, forcing them to land by a deserted island.
Conveniently, veteran actors Rod Steiger (The Amityville Horror priest) and Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster) live on the island with their two adult sons and daughter, who they treat like little children. The big burly daughter is creepiest of all in her little dress with red curls and a bow in her hair. And once this seemingly hospitable family starts allowing their strict religious beliefs to show, this bunch of friends is doomed!
Instead of relying on sex and blood, American Gothic actually delivers with creepy tone and atmosphere. Even issues such as incest and necrophilia are simply implied, not shown. Plus, the final girl’s actions give us a deliciously unique final act that makes this unlike most 80s slashers.