Every once in a while, a batch of films I select for a blog remind me that not even nostalgia can save a 1980s triple feature.
SHADOWS RUN BLACK (1984)
I can honestly say I had no idea what the hell was going on in this movie. It appears to have been marketed as a crime thriller back in the day because it’s essentially about a cop trying to track down a killer, but it’s structured mostly/sort of like a slasher film. I never saw it back then, and we did not carry it in the video store at which I worked, so I never laid eyes on the VHS box art to determine which section it should be shelved in.
The claim to fame for the film these days is that a young Kevin Costner is the main suspect. He really isn’t. Kevin Costner is in two scenes. He appears once in a party scene so we know he exists when he’s being interrogated by police later. Just like everyone else in this film.
People simply come and go…or get killed. There’s barely a character to cling to…including this stud, around just long enough to pump some iron and carry beer into a house from a pickup truck.
But there are a whole lot of naked woman walking around showing off boobs and bush, an unnecessarily long magic show, lesbianism, major drama over an interracial relationship…. Hello, people! This is no time for fun! There’s a fricking killer on the loose!
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of blood.
Most of the kills aren’t shown on screen, even though buildups to them deliver classic 80s slasher atmosphere.
But there are a couple of awesome death scenarios, including a cleaver through a door and the killer making a surprise appearance from a bed.
The killer also makes threatening calls to the main girl and eventually kidnaps her, which makes for a messy series of twists and a chase scene in an abandoned building at the end.
Sadly, this climax fails to deliver any shocks, suspense, or scares.
THE BLACK CAT (1981)
Before Stephen King’s killer canine Cujo could make it to the big screen, Lucio Fulci’s feline The Black Cat clawed its way through a bigger body count!
Yes, it’s a stalking psycho cat that can open doors, steal keys, dismantle air conditioners, and of course, scratch your eyes out, all with killer POV.
There’s also a medium dude attempting to communicate with the dead who has somehow established a volatile psychic connection with the evil cat, a crime scene photographer that begins to follow the trail of claws…I mean, clues…to the possible paranormal angle, and a detective who buys her theory.
This is the kind of film I only could have swallowed if I’d seen it back in the early 80s on cable before I reached the age of, say, fifteen.
By the end of the film, Fulci seems so desperate to make this film somehow scary that he throws in a random scene of the reporter being attacked by a swarm of bats.
And at the very last second, the movie throws in a concluding scene that lets it get away with calling itself an adaptation of Poe’s short story “The Black Cat.”
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CLASS REUNION (1982)
Slashers became so popular so quickly in the early 1980s that even National Lampoon lampooned the craze…as it’s second film, following Animal House!
Class Reunion was written by a man who would soon virtually define the era of 80s teen high school films: John Hughes. However, Hughes has gone on record saying he was fired from the film and was horrified to see when it was released that his script had been terribly rewritten but he was still being credited.
The first half of the film most closely spoofs the slashers of the time. It begins in 1972. Teens at a campfire play a cruel sex prank on one kid, convincing him he’ll score if he first puts a paper bag over his head. When the bag is removed, the reveal of who is pleasuring him lands him in the loony bin…
10 years later, everyone from Lizzie Borden High School is back together for the class reunion. EVERYONE. The kid they pranked has escaped from the mental hospital, is wearing the paper bag and a schoolgirl dress, and hides in the shadows just waiting to enact his revenge. He also happens to be played by the father of Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers.
There are plenty of familiar faces in the film, including Gerrit Graham (Chopping Mall, It’s Alive III, CHUD II: Bud the Chud, Child’s Play 2) as the main prankster, Michael Lerner (Strange Invaders, Anguish, Vibes, Omen IV) as the killer’s doctor, and Anne Ramsey (Deadly Friend, Love at Stake, Dr. Hackenstein) as the lunch lady.
Plus, rock ‘n’ roll legend Chuck Berry is the reunion entertainer and even does his classic “My Ding-a-Ling.”
But the person who steals the show and saves this movie is one Zane Buzby. All the returning students have their stereotypes—the bitch, the popular one, the stoner, etc. Well, Buzby is the psycho bitch from hell, literally. She’s possessed! And she’s fricking hilarious.
Shockingly, she has very few acting roles under her belt, and most of them are bit parts, because she went on to direct, with episodes of many popular sitcoms in the late 80s and early 90s on her resume.
The problem with Class Reunion is that while it gets some good slasher spoof momentum going at the start—the Anne Ramsey kill scene is a highlight if not a little too short, and there’s also a funny scene of the killer taking on a blind victim—it quickly begins to feel more like a mostly unfunny spoof of a conventional mystery.
All the major players end up sticking together on a stormy night, exploring their creepy location while there’s a killer on the loose. Considering when it was released, it falls flat both in terms of its National Lampoon humor and from a slasher standpoint.