Breaking the slasher, werewolf, and vampire molds, it’s Fade to Black, Wolfen, and The Living Dead Girl.
FADE TO BLACK (1980)
Fade to Black totally caters to movie geeks, with nonstop horror film references, movie posters, and actual film clips sprinkled throughout. Yet the movie sends a really clear message: watching horror movies makes you a psycho killer. Tim Thomerson of the Trancers franchise plays a doctor working for the police force to study the link between killers and the films they watch.
Dennis Christopher, who went on to appear in horror movies like Stephen King’s It, Doppelganger, Alien Predator, Necromonicon: Book of the Dead, and the gay themed horror flick Skeletons, stars as a movie nerd who gets no respect. He’s mistreated by his aunt at home, by his boss at the film studio at which he works, and by his co-workers.
Then he meets a Marilyn Monroe look-alike at a diner, and she agrees to go on a date with him. Then…she stands him up. So begins his mental unraveling. He steps into a fantasy world of cinema. He dresses as Dracula to go see Night of the Living Dead. He reenacts the Psycho shower scene. He commits murder while in mummy costume, creepy cowboy costume, and gangster costume. Eventually he holds Marilyn Monroe girl hostage for a final showdown with the police at Grauman’s Chinese Theater (that was its name back then) in Hollywood.
Considering we’re mostly following the POV of the killer, Fade to Black isn’t a “scary” movie, although it does use traditional slasher styling during kill scenes. Despite being about the tragic mental state of a young man, it has an edge of dark humor to it. But the big kicker is that at the end of the film, after Dennis has killed several people, kidnapped a chick, and is running around with a gun in a movie theater…the order by police is not to shoot him because the doctor wants to help him. Shoot the crazy fucker, I say.
Fade to Black also features early appearances by Mickey Rourke and Peter Horton.
Wolfen totally Lycanthrope-baited us in the era of films like An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. But despite some deliciously gory kills and super suspenseful segments, Wolfen is much more complex than your average horror movie.
The film opens with an incredibly stylish kill scene of a couple being attacked in a park at night. It’s viewed through negative image POV to imply some sort of creature as the culprit. After that, the film turns into a mystery. Albert Finney comes on the scene as a detective to investigate the attack, which appears to be the work of some sort of animal. He even gets some help from mortician Gregory Hines and a few other people.
With its unsettling look at the seedier side of the city, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wolfen influenced films like Q: The Winged Serpent and Candyman. The bulk of the movie takes place in a derelict part of town that is being demolished to make way for a rebuild. And as the film progresses, it explores voodoo and Native American folklore, adding to the creep factor. A Native American with a nice tight bod even gets naked and runs around howling at the moon to demonstrate shapeshifting to Finney.
But the truth is, this horror movie turns into a bizarre National Geographic lesson. The big bad monsters prove to be nothing more than wolves, misplaced and desperately defending their territory. WTF? I remember being hugely disappointed when I saw this one as a kid. Nowadays, I’m a little more forgiving. But things do get kind of ridiculous at the end. Finney and friends set up a sting operation complete with sniper rifles. And eventually the wolves move on up like The Jeffersons, taking the battle to a luxury apartment. I know it’s a serious subject, but come on. How do you not laugh at that kind of climax?
THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (1982)
This French film definitely has that European horror touch, complete with nude women, pseudo-lesbian situations, and a whole lot of crotch bush. Adding to the fun is oodles of blood. At the same time, this is a fairly melancholy film that brings to mind a combination of Let the Right One In and Hellraiser.
As to be expected from a European horror flick, some of the characters and situations that set the stage are just plain bizarre, giving it a trippy, surreal atmosphere. Some guys trying to rob a crypt under a castle and dump toxic waste at the same time (WTF?) bring to life a young dead woman’s corpse. And she’s thirsty for blood. But this vampire can go out in the light, so she roams a field—at which point some photographer woman takes a picture of her and then becomes intrigued by her.
Meanwhile, the vampire returns to her castle. Conveniently, a real estate agent is bringing various people to the castle in order to sell it, which makes for some yummy gore and sex. But when the vampire randomly answers a phone that rings in the castle, it happens to be a call from her best childhood friend and blood sister. So the blood sister visits for a reunion, discovers what her friend has become, and helps keep her alive by bringing her more victims. Pretty soon, the friend seems more bloodthirsty than the vampire, making for even more insane bloodshed!
This isn’t a scary film, but it sure is a sleazy good time with a tragic twist.