I’m close to being tapped of any 1980s horror in my collection that I haven’t yet blogged about, and I cross three more off the list with this nostalgic triple feature.
GHOST STORY (1981)
I read Peter Straub’s novel in the early 80s before I saw the film on cable (I can’t believe I was reading Straub and King when I was thirteen), and it is a truly chilling, classic ghost story…about old men who get together to tell ghost stories.
While I appreciate the all-star cast of classic actors playing the roles—Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman—it’s hard to fathom that casting didn’t instead go after the likes of Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, and Christopher Lee. But I guess that would have been too horror novelty for them, and this is more of a serious Hollywood movie.
The story-telling club is a form of therapy for the men to cope with something that happened back in their school days. But suddenly they begin to have disturbing nightmares. Clearly their plan is backfiring.
Meanwhile, Craig Wasson (Body Double, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3) is obsessed with finding the woman he believes killed his brother (also played by Wasson, with a bad mustache and bad green screen in a scene that also gives us a shot of his bouncing wiener).
Masterfully creepy Alice Krige (Silent Hill, Sleepwalkers, Stay Alive) plays the haunting female lead, whose existence crosses generations to affect both Wasson and the older men, so they realize they must work together to put an end to her evil.
It’s a generally cliché plot by today’s standards…and a little confusing at times due to extraneous characters that are somewhat unnecessary to the main ghost story. This evil bitch seriously doesn’t need henchmen…and henchchildren.
But the film has an old school gothic horror charm and eerie atmosphere, even if the appearance of a corpse woman loses its potency after the first few appearances.
THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR (1983)
This is more an historical occult film rather than a scary horror film. 300 years ago a town killed 3 women believed to be witches, in gruesome ways. While the deaths aren’t gory, it’s the power of suggestion that makes them heinous. Well, that and the fact that a mob of human beings could and actually did do things like this to other human beings.
In the current day, three progressive women show up in the same town at the same time, and the conservative townsfolk (men) react very negatively. We’re talking men who justify themselves by saying things like “God made Adam first,” “those girls must be queers,” and “all the presidents have been men.” That last one hurts the most these days.
Indeed, this simple little film is actually a pretty smart, contemporary look at women’s rights and women’s issues in our society…and how much the ghosts of our country’s past (aka: religion) are still ingrained in the way we treat women today.
Donald Pleasence makes a brief appearance as a doctor (and examines a pretty boy), there are a few creepy scenes with demons and horned beasts, there’s a melting face scene right out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, there are more gruesome kills shadowing the original ones, and there’s a juicy twist at the end.
DREAM LOVER (1986)
Shockingly, the director of Sophie’s Choice followed up with this thriller. It was a cable fave of mine back in the day, but watching it now I can see just how much power the thrill of Freddy’s dream world had on movie audiences and filmmakers at the time.
These days, I can overlook the dream scream allure, and that makes me realize this movie is kind of terrible…and way too long at 105 minutes.
Kristy McNichol is a flautist who goes to study in a master music program much against her controlling father’s wishes, subletting from a friend…who soon becomes a lover.
She’s plagued by both gothic dreams and dreams of people in her current day life in period piece sequences that are absolutely pointless. BLECH. There are some references to the loss of her mother and the way the father treated her that never pan out either.
The focus is on Kristy suffering from PTSD after a guy breaks into her apartment with a knife and terrorizes her. It’s the best scene in the film, but it’s all downhill from there.
She’s racked with guilt about fighting back. It infiltrates her nightmares. So she starts working with…brace yourself…an animal dream therapist. And after their entire first session is over, they’re both like, I don’t even know your name. WHAT? This movie is sooooo bad.
All the suspense and scares are supposed to be packed into her nightmare sequences, but it’s all repetitive and…pointless. But at least Kristy turns into a raging killer in her dreams as she unleashes her defenses on her attacker.
It all leads—like countless 80s thrillers did—to a ledge on the top of a high-rise building. Of course in her mind it’s a castle because she is sleepwalking in her period piece world (she has so many periods in this movie). It’s painfully melodramatic and makes no sense.