The hits and obscurities just keep coming to Blu-ray – in many cases films that never even made it to DVD – thanks to some great companies digging into the vaults. And if it came from the 80s or 90s, for me it’s a must-buy, so I look at 4 recent releases that take us from 1982 – 1991: The Slayer thanks to Arrow Video; Tenement thanks to Shriek Show; Amsterdamned thanks to Blue Underground; The Resurrected thanks to Shout! Factory.
THE SLAYER (1982)
The film is a hodgepodge of horror clichés of the time – people stranded on an island are killed off slasher style by an unseen creature as one woman has paranoid premonitions about the danger.
Actually, she’s the reason they’re there. The excursion is supposed to be a form of therapy. Why she doesn’t run screaming when she enters the very cabin she dreamed about being attacked in during the opening scene is beyond me. Whatever. But hey, the hideous claw in that opener is what kept me watching.
The island is isolated and creepy. The atmosphere is great. There’s killer POV. There are gruesome body reveals. There are some unique and gory kills, like a head severed by a trap door and a chick stabbed through the tits…from behind.
On the downside, the boring characters are forgettable (80s horror should never be about middle-aged people), a huge chunk of time is spent looking for the first victim, and the main girl is such a mess you can’t connect with her. I mean, after she sees all her friends dead (which includes her husband and her brother), she runs back to the cabin to have a ciggie and a cup of tea.
Plus, you would think her premonitions would have clued her in to the fact that the monster is going to come get her when she’s alone in the cabin.
And finally, The Slayer does something so obnoxiously 80s I don’t know how I put up with it for a decade…the second you finally see the monster you’ve been waiting the whole film to see, the movie ends.
Director Roberta Findlay will probably never get recognized for playing hardball in the male dominated world of exploitation cinema from the 1960s through the 1980s, but I give her even more credit for exploiting the 80s so perfectly in Tenement, beginning with the wannabe Grandmaster Flash theme song.
And as always in the 80s, no matter how vicious a street gang was supposed to be, they all looked really, really gay.
This particular gang decides to terrorize the tenants of a big apartment building. They kill a guy’s pet, cut the phone wires and then…well…what begins as a gang rape gets really ugly when the woman fights back – with a knife to the eye. In return, she gets…a broom handle…
The weird thing about watching movies like this now is that exploitation cinema has gotten so detailed in its depiction of violence since back then that a scene like this feels terribly amateur. From the camera angles to the audio to the quick execution, it’s so clear the act is simulated that it feels like the film is afraid to dwell on just how horrific it would actually be to do such a thing. Which is why 80s movies were so much fun! You know, even when a chick gets fucked to death by a broom handle, it still kind of feels like you are just watching The Outsiders.
The gore and violence do ramp up as the tenants – from little kids with pots of boiling water to an old lady with a bat – start to fight back, setting wicked booby traps for the baddies. And the baddies show their bizarre sadistic sides as they revel in spilling blood and even rubbing it all over themselves during sex.
But like I said, even with some gruesome kills, the cheesy 80s low budget feel (like a falling lady’s scream continuing even after you hear the thud of her hitting the ground) makes Tenement seem pretty campy these days.
Amsterdamned is really cool because it blatantly rips off Jaws…in a slasher. See, the killer wears a diving suit and mask and swims around the canal of Amsterdam (there’s literally Jaws POV) yanking people into the water.
The kills are highly entertaining, and the body reveals the next morning are even better, but it is the same thing over and over. Murder, body reveal, detective on case does some investigating. Rinse and repeat.
Occasionally this is interrupted with a high-speed chase on a motorcycle or speedboat, plus a few diving scenes with Jaws copycat scares (copyshark?), but having the detective as main character constantly takes you away from the horror.
Even with many kills, body reveals, and a masked killer with a knife, this doesn’t feel like a slasher because there’s no set group of targets (aka: kids partying and having sex), and I didn’t care one way or the other about the woman shoehorned into a “final girl” scenario.
There is a hideous reveal when the mask is finally removed, but it comes with a lot more exposition than I generally need from a 1980s flick about a killer in a mask.
THE RESURRECTED (1991)
Dan O’Bannon wrote a bunch of horror screenplays in the 80s, but also did some directing. Actually, he only directed two films, which is shocking considering one of them is the cult classic The Return of the Living Dead.
The other was this film, based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. There’s almost a film noir tone to it as Ross Geller’s lesbian ex-wife hires and works with a detective (who narrates) to find out why her husband has run away from home and locked himself up in a family cabin.
Chris Sarandon plays the husband and spends most of his time acting like he’s the vampire from Fright Night once again. The film is rather slow – he becomes noticeably more decrepit each time they visit, while the detective is distracted by some grisly murders around town and his assistant (that jerk who knocked up Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times) is uncovering links to the occult.
For me, the film is worth watching for the final act, when the detective, his assistant, and his client discover tunnels beneath the cabin. This is when the horror really begins (and ends too soon).
They learn the grisly truth of what the husband is up to (complete with cheesy period piece flashbacks), and finally encounter the monstrous mutations that have resulted from his experimentation.
And the nightmarish scenario is all played out between desperate attempts to keep striking matches so they’ll have some light by which to see in the dark. EEK!
On top of that, there’s a fun twist at the end.