Yes, I’m guilty of saying (constantly) that anything 80s is perfect, but I will call out the occasional flaws. So here go three occasions.
BOARDING HOUSE (1982)
When the intro credits to an early 80s horror flick begin with a Carpenter-esque theme, your hopes are set pretty high. But as soon as you realize this is a 1982 shot-on-video movie for the VHS market, you just allow all expectations to cease. Boarding House is written by, directed by, and stars one John Wintergate, who spends a majority of the film in a tiny Speedo. He is one awesomely awful 80s sight to behold.
Even knowing this was going to be a disaster, I had to watch the “rare director’s cut” of the film…which runs two hours and thirty-six minutes! It soon becomes clear what needed to be cut for human consumption—most of it.
Like something out of Electric Dreams, A black computer monitor with green text types out a bunch of stuff (so 80s) concerning an old estate in which horrible deaths have occurred, while a narrator reads what’s being typed. We also get some gore by garbage disposal to keep us watching.
Then we meet Wintergate for the first time, and he’s sporting an incredibly early 80s power pop band ensemble. He learns he’s inheriting a big estate—that comes complete with a creepy gardener. We soon learn Wintergate has powers to move shit with his mind (he practices his powers in his Speedo).
He invites a bunch of girls to come live in his home. They spend the entire movie chatting, hanging by the pool, showering, walking in and out of the front door, occasionally experiencing supernatural situations, and flirting with Wintergate. Oh—they also question his sexuality, with good reason.
There are repeated flashes of a dark, hooded demon with red eyes, and to make things even scarier, there’s a frequent graphic overlay “effect” (aka: a block of color that fills in certain aspects of what’s on screen). One chick sees a vision of herself in the mirror as a pig hag eating a mouse. Another chick gets a levitating ice pick to the hand. A third rips out her own eyes.
Meanwhile, men cycle through the house and are usually killed off by supernatural forces—electrocution, self-inflicted shooting, stabbing. Loads of boys arrive for the climactic pool party, when we finally get to see the witchy demon—bathed in red light and a fog machine—that is behind all the chaos in the house.
I must say, there is one perfectly 80s horror sequence, which borders on looking like an old school, horror-inspired music video (think Ozzy’s “Barking at the Moon”). Boarding House needed a lot more of this to score classic VHS crap credit.
I MARRIED A VAMPIRE (1987)
If there was ever an 80s horror movie I didn’t see in the 80s and am glad I didn’t impulsively buy for my collection just because it came from the 80s, I Married a Vampire is it.
This purely amateur film has absolutely no energy or soul. We meet a woman who takes her overbearing parents out for lunch and breaks it to them that she married a vampire.
Next, we get to see what happened to her after she left home and moved to the city. It’s an hour and a half of her just meeting lowlifes who take advantage of her. However, the film doesn’t present them as super scummy, nor does it paint her as having any emotions as she’s supposedly going through all these hard times. This film doesn’t even try to be an exploitation flick to at least bring us some excitement. Even a “rape” scene is implied, and we only know it happened because after, she’s lying in bed and grumbles, “You raped me”…before going to work for the guy as his maid.
She eventually meets a dull, all-American white boy vampire, and in the last 15 minutes of the movie, he takes her on a killing spree to get back at all the people who wronged her.
Believe me, this is no horror movie, so there’s no violence or blood. The “vampire” just mimics the action of sucking somebody’s neck. They get married (we don’t see it, they say it), and then we return to the beginning of the movie. She brings the parents she always feels have wronged her home to meet her new husband. Wink wink.
This movie is deader than its vampire.
MERCHANTS OF DEATH (aka: B.O.R.N.) (1988)
The best thing about this one is the title (not the B.O.R.N. title, the other one). It fails to pull off horror just as badly as I Married a Vampire, is not exploitation, and doesn’t even go the horror comedy route.
A movie about a company that harvests then sells organs should deliver something worthwhile when the cast includes the likes of Halloween sweetheart PJ Soles (in a bad wig), Russ Tamblyn of West Side Story, Clint Howard, and b-movie king William Smith. Unfortunately, the most interesting thing about Merchants of Death is the trivial fact that PJ Soles and William Smith would reunite almost a decade later for the slasher Uncle Sam.
Anyway, the organization kidnaps three girls. There’s lots of footage of the girls tied down on beds, plus Clint Howard plays a weirdo (naturally) who rips one girl’s blouse open and fondles her. At the same time, Russ Tamblyn, one of the kidnappers, is keeping a woman and her young child hostage at a house.
Meanwhile, the girls’ cowboy father and his ex-cop buddy set out to find out who kidnapped them, beginning with a gay dude they think might be responsible. The cowboy and cop rough up the gay, who is wearing a pink button-down shirt open to the navel. To make matters even gayer, the gay slaps the cop for being fresh.
Eventually, the cowboy and cop get to the B.O.R.N. facility. There’s some shooting, a car chase, and then they get the girls back. The End.
Note that both I Married a Vampire and Merchants of Death are Troma releases. As such, they aren’t even up to the quality of 80s Troma films, which is saying a lot. Luckily, I didn’t make an obligatory 80s purchase of Merchants of Death either.