Cleaning 1980s horror house, here is the latest batch of weird crap I came up with from the VHS era that isn’t the usual slasher.
THE ALCHEMIST (1983)
Directed by Charles Band, who would go on to create Full Moon Features, The Alchemist doesn’t quite have the wacky charm of his later work, although the score definitely captures that great whimsical horror sound we’d later hear in movies like Puppet Master.
All the best moments in The Alchemist are saved until the very end. Before that, we’re dragged through a lot of nothing. A woman in the 1950s is driving for reasons she doesn’t quite understand. She picks up a hitchhiker, and they almost get into accidents a few times as she has repeated daymares/visions.
Eventually, they stop, end up in a cemetery, and meet a man who takes them to his cabin where he and an old lady inform the girl of the usual—it’s no coincidence she’s there, she’s needed to stop the gates of hell from opening, yadda yadda yadda.
Finally, there are some actual frightening moments as the main girl and hitchhiker try to get away in their car on a dark road at night. A creepy assed creature attacks them and the fun begins.
Sadly, it’s all over quickly after some brief back and forth with a portal and a hell dimension.
Other than the horror perfect scene when the freaky face attacks their windshield, this one is totally forgettable.
When the fantasy board game craze of the 80s turns into a semi-slasher film, you get Skullduggery. This absolutely watchable mess—which has bizarrely gay undertones—begins with a horrible choral, jazzy rock song that sounds like something from the 1970s. Sadly, the song is used again later for an otherwise awesomely 80s dance scene at a party.
The film itself is mass confusion. People are playing a board game in the presence of a creepy puppet that appears frequently throughout the film.
Meanwhile, there’s a snarky college theater group that regularly exchanges campy quips, and most of the guys seem gay.
It’s during one of their performance that a magician curses one of the guys so he thinks he is a warlock. He then goes around killing people while wearing various costumes. He visits a fortuneteller. He kills someone in a hospital then goes home with a nurse. When she asks him if he’s gay, he chases her out of her apartment. She bangs on a church window begging for help, and inside, a Liberace looking dude playing piano ignores her.
The killer dresses as a rabbit at a costume store to claim another victim.
He then goes to a costume party where there are two really gay looking guys at the door—one dressed as a leather man.
Most of the guys at the party seem to be gay. A ballerina dances. The two door guys start sexually assaulting a woman, but one of the guys seems like he’s about to whip it out to bang the other guy. Before he can, the threesome is impaled in a very bisexual formation by the killer.
Finally, the police come in hunting for the killer (now dressed as a knight), after which there’s a big shocking twist that makes as little sense as everything that came before it.
NIGHT SHADOW (1989)
Night Shadow is sadly overlooked, probably because it’s more of a cheesy, late 80s werewolf slasher hybrid rather than a full-force, serious werewolf film.
A news reporter returns to her hometown for a vacation only to find that people are being mysteriously mutilated, so she teams up with the sheriff—her ex-boyfriend—to try to solve the case.
The reporter has several run-ins with the werewolf in human form (he’s a furry guy to begin with), and it’s almost like he glamours her—there are actually wicked cool 80s neon lightning bolt special effects when he stares at her. She also has a gothic nightmare, complete with classic horror music and yummy gore.
Meanwhile, the reporter’s scorching hot brother is a martial arts master, even taking on a gang of bikers single-handed.
He and his friends find a mysterious book the werewolf wants back. One of the friends is fricking Kato Kaelin of the OJ Simpson case—and his mullet is amazing.
In general, the film comes at the height of 80s fashion. Even Freddy Krueger’s fashionable glove makes an appearance.
There’s a cops and bikers chase scene, and everything moves randomly to alleys and warehouses for all the kills.
There’s a transformation sequence, and the werewolf is pretty damn cool looking, even if it doesn’t get the super terrifying treatment of the furballs from The Howling. It kind of reminds me of the werewolf from Cursed.
Anyone obsessed with 80s horror should own Night Shadow.
This silly vampire flick is the kind of movie you’d rent at the video store when you’d seen everything similar but much better (like Fright Night 2 and Once Bitten).
A vampiress begins a relationship with a doctor who can supply her with much needed blood. But it turns out her ages-old, jealous vamp lover has been unearthed, and he wants her back. He’s also the campy comic relief in this hybrid horror comedy love story.
When the jealous vamp begins stalking the couple hoping to destroy the doctor, the vampiress has her doctor move in with her…and sleep in her coffin with her so she can protect him all night long.
Despite having a noticeably minimalistic home (like…a coffin is pretty much it), she employs a funny maid that predates Rosario of Will & Grace by a decade.
The funniest moments happen between the doctor and the jealous vampire, which makes the final act of the film the best part.
The doctor shows up at the vampire’s castle to claim his undead woman, and the vampire chases him through foggy catacombs in his most ghoulish form, making this scene the strongest combination of humor and horror in an otherwise forgettable farce.
The one other highlight is the use of the classic “I Put a Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as an ongoing theme song for the film.