Here are four examples of why the biggest mistake 80s horror made was in trying do something other than formulaic slashers.
ETERNAL EVIL (aka: The Blue Man) (1985)
Four years after bringing us the holiday slasher classic My Bloody Valentine, director George Mihalka took a novel approach to bringing us a body count. BAD IDEA. Eternal Evil sux despite being from the 80s. Watching it again, I can see why I couldn’t remember a thing about it.
This guy who works on commercials is unhappy with his career, so he’s been taking astral projection lessons from Karen Black.
But now, it appears he’s killing people in his life while astral projecting. And based on their reactions to the flying first person perspective, they apparently see him coming. It’s so bad. And there’s not even any gore.
Meanwhile, his son is drawing pictures of “The Blue Man” (the original title of the film) and acting weird. That shit never pans out though. Some detective investigates the case. Karen Black engages in a totally 80s lesbian kiss at a club.
It’s just boring as fuck. But during the pointless scenes that follow the climax of the film, a couple of dudes sport totally awesome 80s short shorts.
WARNING SIGN (1985)
The horror of 1985 strikes again with another boring as fuck film. Warning Sign has Kathleen Quinlan (Nightmare in Blood, Twilight Zone: The Movie, The Hills Have Eyes remake) as a security guard at a chemical lab who must survive when a toxin is released, turning all the scientists into raging lunatics.
Warning Sign has a great cast, including Sam Waterson (Law & Order), Yaphet Kotto (Alien, The Puppet Masters, Elm Street 6), GW Bailey (Police Academy franchise), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale of The Walking Dead), and 80s hottie Rick Rossovich (The Terminator, Roxanne, Spellbinder).
But none of that helps the fact that nothing fricking happens! The movie focuses more on the “big men in power outside building try to figure out what went wrong” aspects than the “Kathleen Quinlan kicks ass when trapped inside building with infected people” possibilities.
It’s not until 70 minutes into the film that the infected really come for Quinlan for a moment of good suspense. Before that, they’re kind of just a bunch of assholes with red fire axes.
Seriously, I never saw so many red fire axes in one building. Yet you can forget that meaning there’s any gore. Like I said, nothing happens in this movie. YAWN.
Anguish would be such a great film if the headache it causes by jumping all over the place didn’t far outweigh the highly effective moments of horror.
The opening title cards seem to promise a cinematic experience of William Castle caliber, warning of subliminal messages in the film and offering viewers an opportunity to leave before it’s too late.
Next, we are introduced to a mother and son, played by little Zelda Rubinstein of Poltergeist 1982 fame and veteran actor Michael Lerner (Strange Invaders, Vibes, Maniac Cop 2, Omen IV, Tale of the Mummy). They have a creepy house that’s like a zoo for small animals (snails, birds, etc.), the son works as an eye doctor’s assistant and is going blind, and the mother has psychic powers, so she uses them to get the son to kill patients and bring her their eyes.
Sounds cool, right? Well forget that plot, because it gets lost in the movie’s gimmick. All of a sudden, we discover that their story is a movie being watched by a theater full of people. We finally meet our main girl, who is so scared by the mother/son movie she’s watching that when the son in the film sneaks into a movie theater to go on a killing spree (so much for that eye collecting plot), the main girl is convinced he’s actually in her theater.
Anguish delivers creepy atmosphere and plenty of tension within its movie theater setting. The problem is, it so wants to play up the mind-warping effects of the film-within-a-film scenario that it becomes impossible to distinguish which movie we are in at any given moment, which would have been awesome if they did eventually meld. Instead, the main girl’s theater ends up having its own killer…a fricking mass shooter. I watch horror to escape from reality.
BAD DREAMS (1988)
Before doing gay/bi film Threesome and horror classic The Craft, director Andrew Fleming got his start in 80s horror with Bad Dreams.
There’s no way to talk about this film without addressing the red and green striped elephant in the room. It stars Jennifer Rubin – who played a recovering drug addict in group therapy at a mental hospital, being terrified by dreams of a man with a burned face in A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 – as a recovering cult member in group therapy at a mental hospital, being terrified by visions of a man with a burned face.
So is there any value to this seeming rehash of a box office hit Rubin did a year before? For starters, it’s the best of the four films in this blog. It’s loaded with familiar 80s faces: Bruce Abbott (Re-Animator), EG Daily (Valley Girl, One Dark Night, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure), and Dean Cameron (horror-loving “Chainsaw” in Summer School).
Plus, ever-creepy horror actor Richard Lynch is the “killer” – the leader of the suicide cult Rubin survived. He now appears to her, beckoning her, often showing his true, burned face to terrify her, and systematically killing off all the members of her group. I know. It’s Elm Street 3.
Keep an ear out for a cool cover of Sinatra’s “My Way” by Mamby Pamby & The Smooth Putters during an awesome scene in which Dean Cameron steals the show.
Plus, the closing credits are accompanied by “Sweet Child Of Mine” by Guns N’ Roses.