I’m always filling in the gaps in my horror collection, especially any holes that show in the decades of my younger years. So here is a look at four I’ve recently added to my collection from the 70s and 80s.
When you realize that Spielberg’s first film was a made-for-TV movie that was then released to theaters after the studio requested he extended it in length, it’s no surprise now that he had a big future ahead of him. Heck, Jaws was only four years away.
Duel is written by horror master Richard Matheson. If you don’t know the name, look it up, because this fiction and screenplay writer has written many of the classics.
The plot is simple. Dennis Weaver of Gunsmoke and McCloud TV fame is on a business road trip on a desolate strip when he gets dragged into a long, drawn out case of road rage with a mysterious driver in an oil truck.
The opening scene, which was added for the theatrical release, is pure perfection, with a car POV as it backs out of a driveway and begins its journey. This goes on for five minutes while the credits role and various news stories play on the radio before we finally see Weaver driving the car.
What’s quite interesting is that this scene feels very much like something from the 1977 film The Car, which was like Jaws on wheels. So actually, The Car was more like Duel on wheels again.
Duel also feels like it could have been the inspiration for numerous road terror films over the decades, including The Hitcher, Road Games, and even Jeepers Creepers. Just look at the front of this truck.
Weaver really carries the film, for we never see the driver of the truck, and there’s very little interaction with other characters. While the road rage sequences could easily get repetitive, there are some great pit stops along the way, like one in which Weaver is at a diner playing out the possible scenarios if the driver walked in, and one in which the truck goes after Weaver when he’s in this old school thing called a phone booth.
And naturally, the final battle is just…explosive.
THE DARK (1979)
Tobe Hooper started directing this film, but was supposedly replaced quite quickly. So basically he didn’t direct it. And according to IMDb, the killer was originally an autistic guy locked in an attic since childhood who escapes when the house burns down, and then goes on a killing spree in which he knocks the head right off his victims’ bodies.
But after Alien became a success, it was decided that some alterations would be made to the film so that the killer would be an alien instead…so they added cheesy laser beam eye effects and explosion kills.
It is those effects that make an otherwise freaky humanoid monster into a disaster. His stalking scenes are really the only creepy good part of this messy film.
The whispering monster effects that accompany every death scene are the bomb.
We have Cathy Lee Crosby of 1980s TV show That’s Incredible as a reporter. William Devane of Knots Landing is her love interest and father of one of the victims.
There’s a detective. There’s a psychic. And there are so many details about the murders left in place that aren’t about an alien making people burst with his laser eyes that it’s not even worth trying to follow the plot. Just watch it for all the kill scenes that always start off eerie and end up hilarious thanks not only to the awful special effects added in later but also the way this alien just tosses men around.
This is an odd little film from the director of the Omen installment The Final Conflict and Alien Nation.
A small town experiences a minor quake. Soon after, Meg Tilly and her man—Tim Matheson, one of my many adolescent crushes—are forced to come to the town because Meg’s mother called her ranting like a lunatic before doing something awful to herself.
With mom in the hospital, Meg and Tim stay with Meg’s father and weird brother, played by the one and only Bill Paxton. And every time they go out on the town, people act out, stealing, fighting, inflicting harm on themselves, and inflicting harm on others.
It’s just a mild case of the crazies, so it’s not exactly the most suspenseful or fast-paced film, but it does keep you wondering what’s going on, and there is a definitive sense of isolation in the small town.
The final act, involving Meg and Tim being directly affected by the weirdness just as they’re learning what may be causing it, is somewhat of a gloom and doom scenario. What’s really funny is that in this day and age when all the “woke” hating horror fans bitch about any horror flick that has a message, this little film is a reminder that horror films big and small have always been woke. The message in this film is that we’re fucking up the environment, and if we do, we’re all going to go nuts and start turning on each other out of desperation. Silly horror movies from 40 years ago thinking they could predict the future….
MASK OF MURDER (1988)
Mask of Murder definitely has all the sleaze and slashing necessary to get a bad 80s video rental reputation, but it tries too hard to be a serious detective story to be much fun as a horror movie. And Christopher Lee feels bizarrely out of place, which may explain why his detective character gets shot at the beginning and spends most of the film in a hospital bed just giving out advice, leaving the starring detective role to hottie Rod Taylor of The Birds.
Opening on a cold snowy day in a small town, the film notifies us on screen of two kills within a couple of hours of each other as we see two different women get their throats sliced by a killer in a mask that’s practically a paper bag. And I’m not talking strong brown grocery bag. This is more like cheap, thin white fast food paper bag.
After a dinner party in which we learn Rod Taylor’s wife is played by Valerie Perrine, known for her role in the Village People classic Can’t Stop the Music, our detectives go on a man hunt that goes horribly wrong when law enforcement gets trigger happy.
Then for most of the movie Rod walks around talking to himself as he follows clues while we get more of the same uninspired kills. The most intriguing death scene has the killer going home with a stripper after she performs a whole dance number onscreen, and then after he kills her, he just walks casually by her young son on the way out the door.
That one scene leads to a very bizarre finale involving the detective nonchalantly exposing the kid to some fucked up shit in his effort to stop the killer. This movie is just weird and fails on every level, from not delivering any true thrills, suspense, or scares, to poorly attempting to create a profile of a sexually inadequate killer.