They’re good. They’re bad. These five are some of my favorites from the VHS slasher era, for better or worse.
FUNERAL HOME (1980)
Directed by William Fruet (The House by the Lake, Spasms, Killer Party, several episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series), Funeral Home was scream queen Lesleh Donaldson’s only opportunity to be the final girl in the 80s, after which she got the axe (and scythe, and knife, etc…) in movies like Curtains, Happy Birthday to Me, and Deadly Eyes.
Lesleh is off to grandma’s house—actually, grandma’s funeral home. Grandpa died, and now grandma has turned the place into a bed & breakfast to stay afloat. We meet Lesleh’s boyfriend. We meet a handful of random guests. We meet a weird caretaker dude. We meet a couple of cops. We get the POV—and babbling—of something living in the basement.
Funeral Home has great atmosphere and a creepy sense of dread (thanks to the talking thing in the basement), but it’s not held together all that well. Scenes feel detached and random, merely hitting plot points rather than carrying us through a story: grandma’s weird; the cops have a bunch of missing persons cases; Lesleh is convinced something is in the basement; her boyfriend tells her a story about his childhood encounter with her crazy grandfather. And every once in a while, someone is killed.
Most of the kill scenes are quiet generic and forgettable, although there is a goodie with an embalming tool.
It’s grandma’s increasingly odd behavior and Lesleh playing detective around the house that provide all the suspense in the film, climaxing when she finally finds out exactly what’s in the basement. By now, the big twist is sure to seem cliché to horror veterans, but the way it’s presented is still pretty dang effective.
But, as a final reminder that the plot itself wasn’t all that cohesive, we get a slapped on tag of a cop telling a reporter exactly what the circumstances were that led up to the murders.
THE FUNHOUSE (1981)
Because so many slashers flooded the market soon after Friday the 13th, most never really got the credit they deserved. It’s shocking to think that The Funhouse, directed by Tobe Hooper at the height of his career (between Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist), only has a cult following after all these years. It’s one of my all-time favorites of the era, and pretty much every aspect of it gets recycled in slashers to this day. Not to mention, Dean Koontz originally wrote a novelization of the screenplay under a pseudonym…then expanded it into a full-length Koontz novel later on.
Creepy carnival music and visuals during the opening credits totally set the tone. Immediately after, we get killer POV, then killer POV through mask eyeholes, which leads us directly to boobs in a shower! It’s Halloween and Psycho all rolled into one.
Next we meet our main girl, who’s going on a double date…to a carnival! First, she fights with her bratty little prankster brother, who then sneaks out of the house to follow her to the carnival. And since it’s the kid from Something Wicked This Way Comes, he’d be sneaking into a carnival again two years later.
The carnival atmosphere is perfect, from the sideshow freak attractions, to our main girl’s consultation with a fortune teller, and finally, a trip through the horrors of the funhouse. But things go very wrong when the couples decide to stay in the funhouse overnight for kicks. They soon discover that the most hideous creature in the funhouse isn’t fake.
The body count is quite low, but the pacing is quick, and the dark, eerie location with all its horror props, the clever ways in which the group gets separated, the jump scares, the body reveals, and the gruesome monster totally rule. Not to mention, actress Elizabeth Berridge makes the perfect sweet and innocent final girl, scoring a chase scene before she finally has to take on the killer single-handedly. Sadly, after just this one horror film, Berridge went on to star in crap movies like Academy Award-winning Amadeus.
VISITING HOURS (1982)
At tonight’s performance of Halloween II, the role of Laurie Strode will be played by Lee Grant, and the role of Michael Myers will be played by Michael Ironside.
Seriously, Visiting Hours is basically the adult contemporary version of Halloween II. In a ridiculously fleeting and forced intro, we learn during a television broadcast that Grant is a reporter speaking out for a woman who killed her abusive husband in self-defense. After her segment, Grant goes home, and we get a chilling, intense scene of her being attacked, chased, and slashed by Ironside!
Grant wakes up in the hospital. Still intent on finishing the job, Ironside arrives, but first murders various patients and nurses, mostly for kicks it seems. Just go fucking find Grant and kill the bitch. Jeez!
Instead, he picks up a chick off the street so she can make some remark letting us know he hates blacks and Jews. No idea how his bigotry is relevant to the story. He has flashbacks of his father abusing his mother, which ended with her throwing hot oil in his face. Wait. So…Ironside wants to kill Grant because she supports a woman who fought back against her abuser like his mother did? Stupid fucking movie.
So, yeah. That’s the plot. William Shatner plays Grant’s boss. The main nurse is essentially a second main girl, played by Laura Purl; you know her when you see her because she’s been around forever. Most notably, she played Fonzie’s girlfriend for a season on Happy Days (I think that makes her about the fifth jumped shark of the series).
Yes, those who didn’t abandon that sinking ship before season 10 got to witness Fonzie get into a committed relationship with a single mother…whose daughter was played by little Heather O’Rourke of Poltergeist. I was indeed one of the ones who went down with the ship and got eaten by that damn shark.
Oh shit. This is a blog about Visiting Hours. Okay. So, the messy middle of the film that made it easy for my thoughts to stray to memories of Happy Days is saved by a couple of great final moments. Purl has a chilling scene in which she comes home to find everything is not right in her house.
And of course, Grant gets her big hospital chase scene with Ironside. He is is by far the highlight of this film.
For all her experience, Grant fails miserably at letting out even one convincing scream for help, which is ridiculous considering how terrifying Ironside is opposite her.
BLOOD DINER (1987)
Blood Diner was apparently supposed to be a sequel to the classic Blood Feast, and I totally believe it. Instead, it became its own stand-alone, goofy horror comedy, making it seem like a rip-off of Blood Feast.
Two brothers dig up the body of their deceased uncle – who dabbled in the black arts – and put his brain (and eyes) in a jar. It talks to them and tells them they must create a woman out of the body parts of sluts and use it for a blood ritual to bring a goddess back to life. So they start collecting female vegetarians.
Blood Diner is loaded with adolescent humor: topless women jazzercising before being gunned down and hacked up by one of the brothers while he wears a Regan mask…
a big vomit moment in the diner; some gay innuendo (and panic); a club performance by a black singing group much like the guys in Streets of Fire; a naked chick going all Ninja on a brother’s ass; a wrestling match pitting one brother against a big muscular Nazi…
and a mooning scene complete with nasty farts.
Finally, the big sacrifice happens—at a rock concert headlined by 80s punk boy Dino Lee.
The goddess comes to life as a cool demon, shoots lasers from her fingers, turns people into zombies, and gets fed victims through a mouth in her stomach.
And just when you think it’s over, the goddess…becomes a street walker? Blood Diner is kind of cheesy late 80s garbage, but it has its charms.
Intruder came so late in the 80s slasher game that it was virtually overlooked back then. It finally gained a much deserved following in the age of DVD, thanks in part to the names Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi on the cover. Hell, at least Raimi has a role as one of the main victims. Campbell’s role as a cop is so insignificant that even though two cops appear at the beginning of the movie and then two appear at the end of the movie, he only managed to make the cut in the final scene.
The film doesn’t even need Bruce. The rest of the cast has its fair share of horror experience: Dan Hicks (Evil Dead II, Maniac Cop, Wishmaster); Renee Estevez (Sleepaway Camp II, Heathers); David Byrnes (Witchcraft 7, Witchcraft IX): Ted Raimi (Evil Dead franchise, Blood Rage, Candyman, Shocker, Maniac Cop 3, Wishmaster); and main girl Jennifer Cox (The Wraith, Night of the Creeps).
The setup is so ridiculous it’s a perfect way to end the 80s slasher era on a high note. A grocery store is going out of business, so a bunch of employees works the nightshift to help with the closing. The main girl’s ex-con ex-boyfriend comes and harasses her (even hitting her), has violent fights with the employees that stand up for her, and eventually disappears, leaving them to fear he’s still on the premises. So obviously, he is so NOT the killer.
The silly boyfriend drama is about the extent of the plot. It’s all about the repeated cheap jump scares, ominous setting, and rockin’ death scenes. We don’t see the killer so there’s no mask, and, well, a glimpse of a sleeve during the first kill pretty much gives away the killer’s identity, but the kills are some of the best of the decade: eye piercing, mouth on a meat hook, a head – and headphone – split, head crush in an hydraulic press, and a now famous practical effects scenes of a head being sawed in half. The gruesomeness of these last two kills is heightened by the fact that both victims know it’s coming and the actors scream bloody murder so realistic they deserve Oscars.
On top of that, we get harassing calls, killer POV, shopping cart POV (perhaps the inspiration for the amazing short film Killer Kart?), a whacko POV from inside a rotary phone (kids today will have no idea what the hell it means)…
body reveals, and an amazing chase in which the killer runs right alongside the final girl by hopping from one register conveyor belt to the next. The killer plays the perfect psycho (essential when a character has one of the dumbest motivations ever), and there’s a dastardly little zinger at the end, and I’m not talking about the two-second cameo by Bruce.