Horror films in 1983 brought us three fantastic Stephen King film adaptations, Tony Scott’s blood soaked directorial debut, and the most shocking slasher movie ending of all time. 1984 brings us two holiday horror classics, the best Friday The 13th movie, and the birth of The Springwood Slasher.
As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1984.
15. Scream For Help
Director: Michael Winner
Stars: Rachael Kelly, Marie Masters, David Allen Brooks, Lolita Lorre
Scream For Help is a scream for help directed by the guy who brought you Death Wish and The Sentinel (Michael Winner), written by the fellow behind Fright Night and Psycho II (Tom Holland). It starts out like a hybrid of The Wonderful World Of Disney and an ABC Afterschool Special and it ends like a sleazy soft-core Cinemax home invasion chiller. It’s goofy and weird, it has no notion of good taste and yet is surprisingly suspenseful and engaging when the bossy and inappropriate soundtrack allows it to be. It’s about a young girl who figures out her stepfather is trying to kill her by adding up all the times he tries to kill her and it’s dark, campy and mean-spirited enough to have a dude slap his wife across the face and say, “That’s for every time I ever kissed you and wanted to throw up!”
This movie has remained in horror obscurity for the majority of its existence. Only ever released on VHS, two years after, what we can only assume was a dismal run in theaters, Scream For Help never gained the cult status it seemed destined for. You either happened to catch it at your local video store or perhaps even on late night cable, and that was either the end of it, or you loved it and wanted to spread the gospel. Loaded with the cheesiest of acting, horrendous pacing, blatant unnecessary exposition, a completely out-of-place, original score by John Paul Jones, and just the overall appearance of an episode of Melrose Place gone wrong… welcome to one of the worst, greatest movies you’ve probably never seen.
14. Poison For The Fairies
Director: Carlos Enrique Taboada
Stars: Ana Patricia Rojo, Elsa María Gutiérrez, Leonor Llausás, Carmen Stein
Mexico City circa 1965: Flavia is an aristocratic little girl, who is very lonely and bored. At school she meets and befriends a strange and beautiful girl named Verónica, who dreams of becoming a witch. Their games get increasingly sadistic and morbid, and escalate to involve the bloody murder of a piano teacher and macabre mayhem.
Poison For The Fairies is an eerie and poetic children’s horror that really gets under your skin. Here, childish flights of fancy are not a source of wonder but dread and adult logic has no place in a world that seems alien, yet unsettlingly familiar like some half-remembered dream, since we were all children once. Just as in Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoons, grownups are only glimpsed in the background, their voices heard but faces never seen. They are removed from the private fantasy world of children where petty grievances seem like life and death and an active imagination makes ghost and magic come alive. The filmmakers make inspired use of familiar childhood terrors: tree branches claw at the bedroom window, a museum full of mummies seem to come alive, witches haunt Flavia’s dreams, the girls candlelit trek through a haunted forests. Let’s just say that, thirty years before The Babadook warned us of the perils of neglecting to vet our bedtime reading in advance, Poison For The Fairies provided a similar cautionary tale against filling small children’s heads with unsuitable stories.
Director: Joseph Ruben
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw
Alex Gardner is a gifted psychic. When he is contacted by his old friend Dr. Paul Novotny for a secret government program which taps into people’s dreams, Alex teams with a researcher named Jane DeVries to explore the unknown by dipping into people’s subconscious. When Alex meets a rival in the program named Tommy Ray Galtman, Alex discovers that a government agent named Bob Blair is plotting something with Tommy… and the target could be the President of the United States.
Directed by Joseph Ruben, 1984’s Dreamscape was the second film to be tagged with the PG-13 rating (after Red Dawn). Indeed, some of the imagery, make up FX and scares push that rating to it’s limit. Ruben supplies us with a visceral story that is effective and has a cold war theme that runs through it’s meta-physical framework. It explores subterfuge, conspiracies and deadly clandestine elements that transforms the film, despite a little bit of camp and cheese, into something quite interesting. It’s a perfect B movie for its time: light and trashy, with political overtones and a blend of science fiction and paranoia, all calculated to provide fun for an audience disinclined to take matters seriously.
Director: Douglas Cheek
Stars: John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry, Kim Greist
Ah yes, C.H.U.D.. Beneath the asphalt and the concrete, Manhattan is honeycombed with thousands of miles of tunnels — an insanely complex maze of subways, sewer and water lines, gas and steam pipes and tunnels whose original purpose has long been forgotten. Whispers that “Something is down there” have been around since at least the 1930s, when The New York Times reported that a group of boys had pulled an eight-foot alligator out of a manhole before beating it to death with shovels. Nobody had been expecting that, that’s for sure, but it started people thinking. Over the decades that followed the stories grew and evolved and it was only inevitable that the speculative menagerie living under the streets of NYC would eventually come to include people who were no longer fit to live topside.
This brings us back to C.H.U.D. – which follows a race of mutant cannibals, made this way via radiation spillage, living under the streets of New York. And as silly as it undoubtedly is, C.H.U.D. remains a fun slice of Reagan-era monster madness that embodies more than a few of its era’s political and environmental fears.
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Stars: Gregory Harrison, Arkie Whiteley, Bill Kerr, Chris Haywood
A vicious wild boar terrorizes the Australian outback. The first victim is a small child who is killed. The child’s granddad is brought to trial for killing the child but acquitted. The next victim is an American TV-journalist. Her husband Carl gets there and starts to search for the truth. The local inhabitants won’t really help him, but he is joined by a hunter and a female farmer to find the beast.
Before he directed the cult classic Highlander, music video creator Russell Mulcahy adapted this stylish, tongue-in-cheek horror film from the novel by Peter Brennan. Indeed, this movie does have a very unique vision, and clearly comes from the director of a great many ’80s music videos from Duran Duran, Ultravox and notably Bonnie Tyler’s’ Total Eclipse Of The Heart. The outback is presented as a Mad Max fever dream rather than a real representation of rural Australia. By day, orange, dusty and barren, by night, backlit with bright lights, causing dynamic silhouettes. The atmosphere alone makes Razorback a more than worthwhile creature-on-the-loose thriller. This is Jaws with a wiggly tail – ferocious and fun.
10. Children Of The Corn
Director: Fritz Kiersch
Stars: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R.G. Armstrong, John Franklin
In Gatlin, Nebraska there are no adults. All the children have killed them because a freaky youngster called “He Who Walks Behind The Rows” told them to do this. It was carried out to ensure a successful harvest. Unfortunately a young couple arrive at the town and get mixed up with the creepy kiddies who are told to sacrifice them. There are also internal politics brewing between the children which lands poor old Gatlin in some hot water, or should we say burning rows of corn.
Based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name, 1984’s Children Of The Corn heralded the beginning of Hollywood’s assault on his short story collection. Films like Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining and The Dead Zone had proved his name was bankable but the poor man could only write so fast. Luckily, he had written a slew of short stories that had yet to be tapped as film projects. It’s true, Children Of The Corn shouldn’t be held up with those aforementioned classic adaptations, but it’s still good fun for horror enthusiasts.
Director: Mark L. Lester
Stars: Drew Barrymore, David Keith, Freddie Jones, Heather Locklear
Based on Stephen King’s 1980 novel, Firestarter introduces us to Charlie, the young daughter of Andrew and Victoria, who years earlier had been guinea pigs for a top secret experiment. The experiment granted Victoria the ability to read minds; Andy can make people do and believe what he wants, but the effort gives him nosebleeds (the novel revealing them to be “pinprick” hemorrhages). And Charlie has the unenviable ability to start fires simply by willing them into existence. Naturally, the government takes a great interest in Charlie, and operatives from the secret department known as “The Shop” want to quarantine and study her.
Firestarter is essentially split into three parts. The first part deals with Andy and Charlie being on the run (which includes several flashbacks to let the audience know how these characters came to this point). The second part of the film deals with members of The Shop actually being able to capture the duo. Finally, the film deals with each character and how they handle being captured and experimented on. When all is said and burnt to a crisp, Firestarter is quite a fulfilling watch. It has a strong script, decent directing, a kick ass score (Tangerine Dream does it again), gripping drama, some interesting ideas and a badass finale that will likely have you grinning like a teenage boy who just received a confirmed DTF text in the middle of the day.
8. Night Of The Comet
Director: Thom Eberhardt
Stars: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran, Sharon Farrell
In a post-comet world where zombies have taken over, the fate of human civilization rests in the hands of two teenage Valley girls and a guy from San Diego named Hector. As quite literally the last man on Earth, he’s partly central to the siblings feuding and bickering over what matters most for the survival of our species. Equally important are decisions on what music to play over the radio, whether a feather boa is more fashionable than a shawl, shopping sprees at the mall, and is it really necessary to wait for the light to change at a crosswalk. Humanity is on the brink of extinction, and these issues are, like, totally crucial.
The notion of a couple of Debbie Gibson-types being mankind’s last chance is beautifully absurd, and Night Of The Comet makes the most of this, mocking spoiled daughter stereotypes and poking fun at the shallow materialism of the day. It’s a quirky, charming film that acquits itself well. Like, seriously.
7. Silent Night, Deadly Night
Director: Charles Sellier
Stars: Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero
Released on November 9th 1984, Silent Night, Deadly Night was a movie that was surrounded by controversy. The TV spots depicted a man dressed as Santa carrying an axe and murdering people, causing enraged parents to picket the movie during its opening weekend and subsequently got the movie banned. Although they clearly had not seen the film, many felt that it was wrong for Santa to be portrayed as a killer – not knowing the fact that it was actually a deranged and psychologically tortured man dressed as Santa doing the killing as opposed to Kris Kringle himself. It’s a classic tale of morons being told they should be offended by something as opposed to being genuinely offended.
The reason why this movie works so well is that it doesn’t need to focus on Christmas to make the story interesting. Whether it was Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the idea of Santa wasn’t intrinsic to the plot so much as a mascot, which normally makes people happy, was being corrupted.
6. The Toxic Avenger
Directors: Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman
Stars: Andree Maranda, Mitch Cohen, Jennifer Babtist, Cindy Manion
The film that more or less solidified Troma as a Z-movie powerhouse, The Toxic Avenger follows Melvin, a 98 pound weakling janitor in a health spa who is constantly persecuted by a bunch of bullies. After tricking him into thinking a girl is interested in him, a prank with a pink tutu and a stuffed goat (don’t ask) goes horribly wrong and Melvin falls out of a window into a vat of noxious chemicals. He is transformed into the hideously disfigured Toxic Avenger who has considerable superpowers. He uses his powers for the good of Tromaville – mainly kicking the asses of the jocks who bullied him.
Toxie’s vigilantism is a thing of beauty to watch as he knocks off all of the obnoxious people in Tromaville in super violent ways. Yup, unlike most cinematic heroes Toxie actually kills people, which is a far better deterrent against crime than simply sticking them in a jail they’ll inevitably break out of. Oh yeah, and a mop is his weapon of choice. It’s great.
5. Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter
Director: Joseph Zito
Stars: Ted White, Corey Feldman, Kimberly Beck, Erich Anderson, Crispin Glover, Peter Barton, Barbara Howard, Lawrence Monoson, Judie Aronson, Camilla More, Carey More
If somebody was unfamiliar with Jason Voorhees and the Friday The 13th films and you could only play one movie for them, which one would it be? Answer: this one.
Friday The 13th Part IV is like a “best-of” compilation of the entire F13 franchise – the perfect distillation of everything the series had achieved up until that point. Everything that the series is known for is presented without restraint; horny teenagers, drug partaking, skinny dipping and machetes to the face. The film enjoyed the luxury of a much bigger budget than its predecessors. It also was the last entry of the series to present Jason as simply a masked killer, before he more or less became an unstoppable monster who couldn’t get hurt. The film has memorable kills, great characters and an irresistibly amiable atmosphere. Don’t let Roger Ebert tell you otherwise.
4. The Company Of Wolves
Director: Neil Jordan
Stars: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Graham Crowden
In films like Interview With A Vampire, In Dreams, and Byzantium, director Neil Jordan has shown a keen interest in gothic atmosphere and classic myths reimagined. But it all started with 1984’s The Company Of Wolves, a lush, ambitious, strikingly outsized play on Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood that makes explicit the dangers of a budding young woman straying from the path. A dream within a dream — and with dreams within it, too — the film takes place in the mind of a ruby-lipped adolescent who has a nightmare about her older sister getting eaten by wolves. While her parents mourn, Patterson goes to live with her sweet, protective granny, but despite the old woman’s warnings, the girl’s curiosity gets the better of her and leads her to an encounter with the Big Bad Wolf.
Red Riding Hood has always been a good source for nightmares, and The Company Of Wolves is one of the more compelling of those bad dreams. To sum it up in a few words would be to call this a surreal nightmare filled with fever like imagery with droplets of blood and one of the best werewolf transformations put to celluloid film. The soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful, as well.
3. Body Double
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton
In Body Double, director Brian De Palma pays homage to the Alfred Hitchcock movies Vertigo and Rear Window, adding a few grotesque touches all his own. In the film, we meet Jake, a struggling actor who keeps losing jobs because of his claustrophobia. To make matters worse, his girlfriend has walked out on him, so he has no place to sleep. His pal offers him the use of his apartment for the evening. The apartment happens to be equipped with a huge picture window and telescope, enabling him to spy on his beautiful neighbor Gloria while she undresses. He also bears witness to her brutal murder. And then he meets a porn star, who has just taken a job posing as the late Gloria.
Body Double switches gears quite often: grisly, erotic, funny, suspenseful and just plain scummy but, somehow, it never feels confused. It’s all just a part of the ride – one the viewer isn’t likely to forget. It’s also home of some of the best visual set pieces in the Brian De Palma’s filmmaking career: the power drill murder, the strip tease, the beach encounter, the mall scene and the climactic traffic jam. And one doesn’t mention this without drawing attention to the delightful Frankie Goes To Hollywood cameo. True to form, De Palma misdirects the audience as often as he manipulates his characters – keeping all of us in the dark until the mystery is ready to be revealed.
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain
Gremlins, the classic fright comedy about morphing little menace-monsters wreaking merry mayhem all over small town America during the holidays, actually opened in theaters on June 8, 1984. The movie became an immediate summer blockbuster, but given its very specific yuletide setting — e.g., Gizmo himself, the original gremlin, enters the film as a Christmas gift — Gremlins has endured as a beloved December viewing tradition. In fact, enough with Ralphie, that Red Ryder BB gun, and the joyful yet overplayed A Christmas Story already. From here on out, we’re starting a new holiday tradition: a 24-hour marathon of Gremlins. It’s fun for the whole family, especially if your parents and siblings are the types who find the sights of hideous little creatures joyriding in snowmobiles and terrorizing sporting goods stores to be hilarious, like we do.
So what if Gremlins is never actually all that scary for anyone older than the age of nine? At its core, director Joe Dante’s energetic romp is a monster picture, one in which the villains, in the tradition of Freddy Krueger, are the coolest mofos in the room.
1. A Nightmare On Elm Street
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp
When writer-director Wes Craven first imagined dream-stalker Freddy Krueger, the ideas bouncing around in his head were equally sick and clever. While sleeping, people are at their most vulnerable, making it nearly impossible to stop Krueger from offing whomever he pleases in gory, imaginative ways. Furthermore, nobody can stay awake forever, so, eventually, whether it’s after a week or two months or longer, you’re going to enter Freddy’s domain. And the outcome won’t be ideal.
We all know the story: Freddy was a child murderer, the parents of his victims burn him alive and about a decade later he comes back and starts killing the remaining children of those parents in their dreams. There are just so many things that make the original Nightmare On Elm Street great, it’s hard to pinpoint just one. The lead, Nancy Thompson, is still the quintessential horror movie heroine. She’s brave, clever and actually turns her back on Freddy and lives to speak about it. All these years later, there are horrific moments of helplessness that still resonate – a geyser of blood shooting out of the bed that sucked up poor Glen Lantz, Freddy’s glove emerging from the still waters of Nancy’s bath, Tina Gray writhing around on the ceiling, Nancy’s feet sucked into the stairs as she tries to run away. They’re all so simple, so primal, but so clever and impeccably executed. From the concept to the imagery to the characters, Craven crafted a horror film that attacked the visceral and the cerebral in equal measure.
What was your favorite horror movie of 1984? Let us know in the comments below.