There was no resisting the video box art when Scanners, The Beast Within, and The Stuff were lined up on video store shelves with all the other horror films of the day. But are they all worthy of their 80s status?
In the tradition of The Fury and Firestarter—an innocent with psychic powers gets suckered into government testing and an evil plot—80s horror classic Scanners gets its reputation from two scenes: the first major “scanning” scene and the final scanning battle. Honestly, those two scenes are all this movie has going for it for a horror fan of my tastes.
The lead guy, Stephen Lack (who went on to appear in Dead Ringers, another David Cronenberg film) is drawn into a government plot to hunt down an evil scanner…played by Michael Ironside! Awesome. That unforgettable head explosion comes courtesy of Ironside, who blows some dude up with his mind while performing for an audience. After that, he’s on the run, so scanner Lack is called in to hunt him down.
And hunt. And hunt. And hunt. Lack eventually meets Jennifer O’Neill then continues hunting. People explode, get set on fire, and most often get shot. Re-watching the film for the first time in decades, it’s no wonder I never opted to add it to my extensive collection of 80s horror. YAWN.
But finally, there’s the awesome battle of the bulging blood vessels as Lack and Ironside try to blow each other’s brains up…using their brains. Gross, awesome, classic scene. And there’s even a twist after the war is won.
Shocked this hasn’t been remade.
THE BEAST WITHIN (1982)
This is my kind of trashy 80s creature feature. After a woman is raped by something in the woods when her car breaks down on a dark road in 1964, we flash ahead seventeen years and meet a couple and their teenage son, who is suffering from health issues. And that’s all the character development we’re going to get.
While the couple heads off to find out more information about the teen’s “real father” so the doctors can better understand his medical history, he just starts roaming around the woods wearing his cool high school jacket. Oh, and eventually, he meets a cute girl and they start a budding relationship…in the woods.
He also keeps having attacks in which his face gets a little deformed and he kills people while hearing the sound of cicadas. This movie is so fucking stupid but so awesome. It’s all about his final transformation into a big cicada monster! Wahoo! These were the days of The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, when the special effects industry had just figured out how to create an actual transformation on screen, flipping a finger at that silly overlapping video technique that the Wolfman had started decades before.
Therefore, the transformation goes on FOREVER. Perfect.
THE STUFF (1985)
Larry Cohen’s The Stuff is The Blob of the 80s…before The Blob of the 80s. Move over Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, there’s a new tacky white yummy killer food product on the market! And people are totally addicted to it.
Naturally, a rival corporation wants to know what’s in “The Stuff,” so former FBI man Michael Moriarty is hired to find out. Damn, I miss Moriarty. He ruled in his eccentric roles taking on monsters in 80s sci-fi and horror films before he went off the deep end and became a political loon.
Other familiar faces include Danny Aiello in a small role, Paul Sorvino as a pretty funny army colonel—until he acts like a racist asshole to fricking Earl from 2 Broke Girls! Love me some Earl, who plays a pivotal role in the film. Even fricking Abe “Fish” Vigoda makes a tiny cameo on a television set, and not in a rerun of Barney Miller.
Moriarty teams up with a chick who did the ad campaign for The Stuff and the featured commercials in the movie are classic 80s music video garbage with beautiful women, neon lights, and the drum machine driven jingle “Enough is never enough with The Stuff.”
So sad this kind of absurdity can’t be included in horror movies these days. Horror was just more fun in the 80s. Check out Abe Vigoda and the theme song!
So anyway, there’s also this little kid with stunning blue eyes who becomes convinced The Stuff is moving in his fridge. His family, including his real life brother (actors Scott and Brian Bloom), is eerily obsessed with him loving The Stuff as much as they do, but he goes on a one boy mission to destroy every last container of it.
Naturally, he ends up on Moriarty’s team and they head to the very town where The Stuff is manufactured.
The Stuff becomes Halloween III: Season of the Witch meets The Blob. Sure it rules, but I would still rather have had a little more of The Stuff attacking at the end and a little less army intervention. Because when The Stuff strikes…without the use of CGI…it’s 80s magic.