If there’s one thing that 80s horror taught us—aside from don’t go camping in the woods—it’s that you don’t mess with science! Because you just might end up with some really bad 80s horror movies! Here are six of varying degrees of worth from between 1980 and 1990.
ALTERED STATES (1980)
The movie that’s as trippy as its name. William Hurt is a scientist using hallucinatory drugs and an isolation tank to attempt to regress genetically. And it works. Psychotic visions include lots of religious imagery, sexual encounters, satanic practices, and a big tribal voodoo experience in Mexico.
All the religious imagery is thrown out the window when Hurt becomes a vicious, hairy caveman! Evolution, baby, and it’s the best part of the movie! He attacks people at the lab then goes all savage in a zoo.
Eventually, he ends up having a really bizarre genetic throwback experience, complete with a computer animation tantrum later stolen by a-ha for the “Take On Me” video.
The movie should have stuck to the killer caveman. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll spy little Drew Barrymore as his daughter.
THE SENDER (1982)
The Sender is another bizarr-o flick. A young man tries to drown himself and ends up in a mental institution with little memory. Pretty soon, his doctor is convinced he’s getting out of the hospital and following her at night, which makes for some very creepy scenes.
The doctor is also being visited by a woman who claims to be the patient’s mother—only, no one else actually sees her. The doctor concludes that this young man is telepathically projecting visions to her mind. She sees rats, bugs, bleeding mirrors, and more. But soon, the patient’s telepathy is terrorizing fellow patients as well.
When the hospital tries to give the patient electric shock therapy, his powers become combustive! So it’s surprising how utterly low-keyed the climax of this film is, leading to the big reveal about the patient’s mother…which still may leave you dazed and confused. It’s a dark, gloomy psychological horror film for sure.
THE HUNGER (1983)
Just as David Bowie was having huge success with the Let’s Dance album, he appeared in the stylish vampire flick The Hunger, based on a novel by popular horror author Whitley Strieber. Visually, it’s awesomely 80s. It even begins with a club scene that is essentially a music video of Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” complete with Peter Murphy lip syncing.
Catherine Deneuve plays a wickedly old vampire who keeps her lovers young for a few hundred years, until they begin to age into immortal corpses! Her latest lover, David Bowie, wants to prevent that from happening, so he goes to a scientist, played by Susan Sarandon, who is studying the aging process. But it’s too late. Bowie shrivels up, so Deneuve sticks him in a coffin in her attic to live out eternity with all her other former lovers!
She sets her sights next on Sarandon. After a long lesbian love scene, Sarandon insists she’s not into this lifestyle (she could be referring to vampire, lesbian, or both). But she’s under Deneuve’s spell. However, all the undead corpses in the attic come out to play in pretty much the film’s only horror scene.
Holy crap, that looks like Patsy on the right!
More than a traditional “horror” movie, The Hunger is a melancholy, tragic, artsy goth film that’s also a bit fractured. First it’s about Bowie’s dilemma, which is abruptly cut short! It then shifts completely to a very brief (other than the sex scene) lesbian romance before tossing in a final dose of horror to appease scare fans.
Keep an eye out for a brief appearance by William DeFoe and Cousin Ira from Mad About You.
INVITATION TO HELL (1984)
It’s unfathomable that this TV movie was made by Wes Craven the same year Elm Street came out.
Robert Urich (on break from Vega$ and not yet on Spenser: For Hire) is a scientist who moves to a new town with his family, which includes Punky Brewster as his daughter. Urich is creating a special suit for the new millennium. Meanwhile, Susan Lucci is the town socialite, desperately trying to get the new family to join an exclusive health club…that happens to contain a sauna, which is the gateway to hell! I am not making this shit up.
As Urich resists joining, his wife is desperate to become a part of the community. By the night of the big Halloween ball at the health club, Urich is forced to wear his futuristic suit to save his family from Lucci’s evil clutches. Urich leaps into hell through the sauna, all the while being chased by Lucci with her devilish teased hair and glitter blush.
Okay. So maybe it’s not Elm Street. But it does kind of make sense if you consider that Craven’s next big film would be the robot neighbor classic Deadly Friend….
This one has a very cool, totally 80s premise. Pierce Brosnan is an anthropologist who determines that a gang of L.A. punk rockers is essentially possessed by the spirits of an ancient nomadic tribe that was drawn to places of death and violence. Following stories of awful crimes, Pierce takes to the alleys of the city to observe the punks. This gang includes new wavers Adam Ant and Josie Cotton of “Johnny, Are You Queer?” fame, as well as 80s b-movie queen Mary Woronov, whose big moment in Nomads has her dancing on a car to a Ted Nugent track.
Adam Ant is one pretty punk.
Yes, it pains me to admit that, in my quest to own pretty much every 80s song ever recorded, I was forced to buy a Ted Nugent CD. You can get “Strangers,” the theme song to this movie, on Ted’s album Little Miss Dangerous. And here I thought “Cat Scratch Fever” would forever be the extent of Ted Nugent in my music collection….
There are some creepy scenes, including Pierce’s run-in with a nun in the alley, plus, we get to see both Pierce butt and Pierce penis (but not pierced).
The downside is that there’s a pointless “wraparound” to Pierce’s story. He is actually brought into a hospital at the beginning of the movie and somehow passes all his memories on to a female doctor by whispering in her ear. So occasionally, we see scenes of her experiencing flashbacks. It’s absolutely absurd, and seems to serve only to enhance the shocking truth of Pierce’s fate at the end of the film.
Another scientist studying the process of aging! This one’s a sexy young guy who is about to lose his funding at his university. To prove to the board that his research is worth it, he injects himself with his own serum. Before long, he begins to have “dreams” (while shirtless) of attacking women. Turns out they’re not dreams. He’s been blacking out and actually terrorizing the ladies.
It’s also clear that our handsome scientist is mutating into something hideous. At least it’s hideous right up through an awesome chase scene involving his girlfriend and her son in the lab. It’s revealed he’s actually tapped into some evolutionary gene…and before the film is over, has transformed into what’s basically a man-sized Godzilla monster. Now that’s classic 80s creature feature crap.