Horror films in 1984 brought us two holiday horror classics, the best Friday The 13th movie, and the birth of The Springwood Slasher. 1985 brings us the final part of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal trilogy, the final part of George Romero’s “Dead” trilogy, and a severed head performing cunnilingus.
As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1985.
Director: Rufus Butler Seder
Cast: Rufus Butler Seder, Eugene Seder, Katy Bolger, Cheryl Hirshman
Screamplay is possibly the greatest Troma movie you’ve never heard of before. Obviously, the film didn’t get a wide release. In fact, Troma was the only studio that would even pick up the film. Indeed, it is definitely not a “typical” Troma blood and boobs B-movie and it’s safe to say that it wasn’t fairly marketed during its initial release. So since then, the film has pretty much languished in obscurity.
The film tells the story of aspiring screenwriter Edgar Allen as he arrives in Hollywood carrying his most valuable possessions: a suitcase and a typewriter. Edgar Allen’s best attribute is his wild imagination. He imagines scenes so vividly for the murder mystery he is writing that they seem to come to life… and they do, quite literally. As the barrier between fiction and reality grows increasingly blurry, Edgar attempts to solve these murders. This results in a meta-mind-melt of epic proportions. Those that appreciate a good surrealist slasher with silent film-like aesthetics will no doubt fall in love with this underrated and little-known gem.
14. The New Kids
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Cast: Shannon Presby, Lori Loughlin, James Spader, John Philbin
Brought you by the helmer of the original Friday The 13th, Sean S. Cunningham, The New Kids is a teen romance/coming of age/stalker/home invasion movie… but instead of a home, a Florida hick gang invade an amusement park. Sounds nuts? Well, it is.
Abby and Loren McWilliams are teenagers who have just lost their parents in a horrible car accident. Their Uncle Charlie and Aunt Fay, who own and operate a gas station and amusement park in a small town in South Florida, take them in. Unfortunately for them, this town is also home to a gang led by the psychotic Dutra. When the gang members learn about Abby, they see her only as a new conquest on the horizon, but her repulsion for them and her brother’s brawn keep them at arm’s distance. Not liking this treatment at all, the gang starts to slowly pull out all the stops in expressing their hatred, and as their reprisals escalate, an all-out final confrontation seems inevitable. Points are given for decapitation by rollercoaster, crazy shotgun fight, awesome cursing little kid in overalls, creepy pitbull scene, and overall bizarre tone. This is definitely not a boring movie.
13. Cut And Run
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Cast: Lisa Blount, Leonard Mann, Willie Aames, Richard Lynch
Fran Hudson is a journalist with a strong stomach. She’s seen some bloody violence among the drug gangs in Miami and she thinks she can handle whatever the world has to throw at her. Chasing up a lead about a vanished teenager, she and her cameraman Mark venture deep into the Venezuelan jungle, where she hopes to interview the elusive Colonel Horne, a survivor of the Jonestown massacre. But Horne is now the leader of a native cult at war with the rest of the world. His army has tortured, raped and murdered its way through several local cocaine-processing plants, and he has no reason to respect the freedom of the press. Fran is about to find herself confronting a world whose real ugliness she never imagined.
Cut And Run actually began as an unmade Wes Craven screenplay titled Marimba. After initial funding fell through, the producers kept the screenplay, eventually leading to Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato being attached. Cut And Run is now considered the final part of Deodato’s so called “Cannibal Trilogy” preceded by the excellent Last Cannibal World in 1977 and the aforementioned Cannibal Holocaust. Here, the director’s signature trait of graphic unadulterated violence remains intact sprinkled throughout some very energetic action set-pieces with beheadings and rapes galore. There is plenty of naked female flesh on offer as well. Although there is not much here quite as nauseatingly disturbing and intense as Cannibal Holocaust, the director never shies away from depicting extreme human depravity.
12. Friday The 13th: A New Beginning
Director: Danny Steinmann
Cast: John Shepherd, Shavar Ross, Richard Young, Juliette Cummins, Carol Locatell, John Robert Dixon, Tiffany Helm, Debi Sue Voorhees, Jere Fields, Miguel A. Núñez, Jr.
Okay, put your pitchforks down! Yes, we are well aware of the general consensus of this film. For some reason people always seem to have nothing but bad things to say about the fifth entry of the adored Friday The 13th franchise. And we can certainly understand why. For one, it doesn’t even feature Jason Voorhees as the actual killer. The killer is just some guy named Roy who is upset that his son got murdered over a candy bar. Point number two… well, we don’t know what point number two is.
Indeed, if you can get beyond the fact that Jason is nowhere to be found then you might find yourself enjoying this film immensely. The kills are just as impressive as its predecessors. It’s actually pretty hilarious (the enchilada scene, in particular, is a standout). Punk-rock-goth-girl Violet gives us the best version of the robot dance ever put to film. It’s the last movie of the franchise that was still realistic and didn’t feature its antagonist as an unstoppable killing machine. And on top of it all, it features, until she gets her eyes gouged out, the hottest female character of the entire F13 franchise. Enough said.
11. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Director: Jack Sholder
Cast: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund, Robert Rusler, Sydney Walsh
Freddy’s Revenge is another movie that gets a lot of flack thrown its way that it doesn’t really deserve. Many fans look at this sequel as such a weird turn from the original NOES and ignoring a lot of the rules that were established previously. While all the other films are all pretty directly related, the only connection in Freddy’s Revenge is the fact that the protagonist, Jesse, lives at 1428 Elm Street and is plagued by Freddy Kruger. But he’s attacked in a completely unusual way. Unlike every other film in the franchise, Freddy isn’t murdering teens in their sleep; he’s slowly possessing Jesse and using him as an avatar to enact his murderous desires. Oh, and that whole pesky homosexual subtext thing that the film has going on. If Sigmund Freud were alive today he would’ve had a field day trying to figure this one out.
And while many might not agree, this is a solid – indeed, far better than average – entry in the Freddy canon. However, we have to admit that the dance scene and the shower scene collectively still make up the two most cringeworthy moments of the entire NOES franchise.
10. The Stuff
Director: Larry Cohen
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino
Writer and director, Larry Cohen, has brought us fun fare before (It’s Alive) and he does it again with The Stuff; a surreal, violent horror spoof that features a sweet-tasting white confection that looks like ice cream oozing up from the ground. A hamburger-chain operator, Colonel Spears, teams up with an ice-cream maker, Chocolate Chip Charlie, to tap into the sticky blob’s commercial potential by turning it into a best-selling confection. The trouble is, the stuff turns people who consume it into addicts and then into zombies, as it eats away at them from the inside.
First off, there are some epic kills in this movie. Once a person’s body has been used up by The Stuff, they’re basically shells. So when they get run over by trucks, let’s say, they look like dolls shattered against the pavement with just a bit of red pulp to make things colorful. They sometimes even spray white goop instead of blood when shot. Maybe that won’t satisfy the gore hounds out there but it sure makes things a bit more interesting. The Stuff isn’t a genre defining B-movie by any means, but it’s a rather unique and fresh example of the crazed originality such a genre possesses. You just can’t get enough!
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Steve Railsback, Mathilda May, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay
Released to critical scorn and near-total commercial indifference, the sci-fi/horror hybrid Lifeforce has spent most of the following 30+ years languishing in obscurity. If it was remembered at all, it was either because of its massive financial failure – which helped doom the futures of both its producing company and its director – or because of its status as one of the all-time favorite films of Mr. Skin, that beloved repository of on-screen nudity.
Indeed, Lifeforce is the movie that pretty much killed Tobe Hooper’s mainstream directing career. The first of his three-movie deal with the great Cannon Films, the film recouped less than half of its $25 million budget (which, for Cannon, might as well be Avatar money) upon its theatrical release and made Hooper something of a laughingstock in the process. Maybe because his previous movie, Poltergeist, had been so commercial (which has more to do with Steven Spielberg’s influence than Hooper’s), a lot of the audience for Lifeforce assumed Hooper didn’t know what he was doing — they concluded that the movie just got away from him. Nope. Tobe Hooper knew exactly the movie he was making. Lifeforce is a crazy movie. It was designed as a crazy movie. It succeeds at being a crazy movie. Written by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby, based on Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel, The Space Vampires, the film portrays the events that unfold “after a trio of humanoids in a state of suspended animation are brought to earth after being discovered in the hold of an abandoned European space shuttle.” Yes, it’s pure insanity.
8. Cat’s Eye
Director: Lewis Teague
Cast: Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Kenneth McMillan
Three horror-thriller tales revolve around a mysterious stray cat which is attempting to find a little girl in trouble. In Quitters, Inc.: the cat is picked up by a shady New York “doctor” who uses experimental techniques to get people to quit smoking. His latest client is a man named Morrison, who learns he’ll suffer some terrible consequences if he tries to cheat. In The Ledge: the cat is picked up by Cressner, a shady Atlantic City millionaire who forces tennis pro Norris (his wife’s lover), to walk a narrow ledge around his high-rise penthouse apartment.
In The General: the cat arrives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where it is found by Amanda, the young girl it has been sent to protect. What she needs protection from is a tiny, evil troll who lives behind the skirting board in her bedroom. The final showdown between General (as the cat is now named) and the troll is what truly makes this film memorable. Crayons are hurled like javelins, backflips are employed, and a roller skate is used as a weapon and a mode of conveyance. How often do you see a cat dueling an evil gnome atop a child’s record player as a terrible cover of The Police’s Every Breath You Take plays in triple-time?
Director: Lamberto Bava
Cast: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento
Cheryl meets a man in a silver mask who gives her two free tickets to a movie premiere at the Metropol theater. Cheryl convinces her friend Kathy to attend the premiere with her. At the theater, the two meet George and Ken; also in attendance are Tony the Pimp and his two prostitutes, Rosemary and Carmen, along with some other characters simply here to up the body count. Rosemary tries on a silver mask and accidentally cuts herself. While watching the film, Rosemary begins feeling ill and runs to the restroom. Shortly thereafter, Rosemary transforms into a hideous demon and attacks Carmen, who becomes a demon as well – and they both set their sights on the other moviegoers. With the doors bricked up and no windows in sight, George, Cheryl and the others must fight to stay alive.
There’s really only one thing to say about Demons: it is pure 80s Italian horror gold! There is much to talk about, but let’s focus for a minute on the special effects. Demons is a prime example of why we should collectively hate the excessive use of CGI that we see nowadays. ’80s Italian horror (and most ’80s horror in general) did more convincing work of things like demon transformation and body maiming with practical effects than many of today’s CGI filled messes we’re forced to endure. And Demons doesn’t hold back either. We get to see the following: people turn into demons, throats ripped out, fingers blown off, eyes gouged out, scalps torn off. And the vast majority of what you see looks superbly convincing. It’s great.
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence, Daria Nicolodi, Fiore Argento
American-born Jennifer Corvino arrives at a boarding school in the Swiss Alps. Within minutes of the film’s opening, we learn that there’s a psychotic killer on the loose looking for girls like her. But there are no girls quite like Jennifer, because she has a secret of her own – a strange ability to communicate with insects and understand the world from their perspective. Unfortunately, she’s also a sleepwalker, which leads her straight into trouble. One night, Jennifer sleepwalks out of the school and subconsciously witnesses a brutal murder. When she snaps out of it, she comes face to face with Professor John McGregor, and learns that she can use her bug-communicating power to solve the identity of the murderer.
In short, Phenomena is by far Dario Argento’s most offbeat work. All of the director’s trademarks are on full display, but he cranks them up about a thousand notches here. The typical black-glove-wearing serial killer is present again, Argento’s love of animals shines through like gangbusters with the many insects and an angry chimp taking very active parts in the story. The theme of childhood also pops up, but this time it’s communicated through a pint-sized “demon” looking child. The atmosphere bursts through the screen with tree branches dancing in the wind, breathtaking scenery, eerie sleepwalking flashes and fairytale-like sequences. The gore is scaled-back but still quite plentiful, with heads crashing through windows in slow motion and one awesome surprise beheading. It’s great entertainment all the way through.
5. Silver Bullet
Director: Daniel Attias
Cast: Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Corey Haim, Megan Follows
Based on Stephen King’s novelette Cycle Of The Werewolf, Silver Bullet follows teenage girl Jane Coslaw and her paraplegic brother Marty as they go on the hunt for the werewolf that they believe is responsible for the murders that are happening around their town. Luckily, they have a loveable uncle named Red who is willing to not only believe them, but help them hunt the beast down.
One of the few Stephen King adaptations in which the script was actually written by King, Silver Bullet captures the writer’s rich, nostalgia-strewn portrait of small-town life and the paranoia, anguish and anger caused when a werewolf begins picking off residents right and left. At its heart, though, it’s a good old-fashioned murder mystery with just enough humor to lighten the mood. Jay Chattaway serves up a nice piano/synth score that’s at turns tender and foreboding. There’s just enough gore and violence to warrant an R-rating, and the werewolf effects by Carlo Rambaldi aren’t too shabby.
4. Fright Night
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys
Fright Night centers on young Charlie Brewster, a high school student who lives with his Mommy and has problems with the next door neighbors, Jerry Dandridge and Billy Cole. After the new neighbors move in Charlie begins to notice there is something a little strange about them. Maybe it’s the coffin they put in the basement, maybe it’s the prostitutes who are in their house one night and on the evening news reported dead the next night? Could be anything. Charlie begins to suspect that Jerry is a vampire, and his obsession begins to worry his girlfriend Amy and his only friend “Evil Ed.”
Tom Holland’s classic vampire tale is full of gloriously campy old-school touches, feeling almost like a traditional Hammer or Universal horror dragged into the eighties. Our villain, Jerry the vampire, seems like a walking dry ice machine. When Charlie stabs him through the hand with a pen, he doesn’t just recoil – he literally spins away from the young boy. Characters are prone to make dramatic entrances and exits, with the set design looking like something from a vintage studio piece. None of this, of course, is bad. It just means that the film has to be looked at in a particular way. This is, after all, cheesy and campy horror, but it’s lovingly crafted cheesy and campy horror. Those looking for a more serious or a grittier horror film might be better served to look elsewhere. Those who can embrace, and even relish, those old studio-bound horrors will be in for a treat.
3. Day Of The Dead
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Lori Cardille, Joseph Pilato, Terry Alexander, Jarlath Conroy
Day Of The Dead is the third in George Romero’s classic “Dead” trilogy and perhaps the last film he produced that has been universally accepted. While he has, to date, produced three more zombie films (Land Of The Dead, Diary Of The Dead and Survival Of The Dead), Day Of The Dead is considered something of a closing note on Romero’s epic zombie apocalypse saga – perhaps the other three acting as appendices. Either way, it’s a strong little film which holds together relative well. It will never be as iconic as the two earlier films produced – The Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead – but it still feels like a fitting companion piece.
Set in a now completely overrun world of the dead, a small band of human scientists and soldiers hunker in an underground bunker and try to figure out how to live with the zombies rather than destroy them. Things don’t work out well. And the film’s climax, in which the zombies gain access into the bunker and get to finger-ripping, eye-gouging work, is a thing of visceral, and viscera-packed, beauty.
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale
Taking cues from The Evil Dead’s innovations in gore but prefiguring the splatstick zeitgeist ushered in by its sequel, Stuart Gordon’s Re-animator is one of horror’s great one-offs and undoubtedly the best HP Lovecraft adaptation to date (even if it is based on an underwhelming serial that’s not especially representative of the esteemed author). The story, of course, follows two med students who discover a way to re-animate dead things, but not how to make anything more then mindless and bloodthirsty brutes.
For gore-hounds, Stuart’s cult favorite truly has it all: blood, guts, boobies, cunnilingus with severed heads, and the darkest of comedy. And, surprisingly, critics such as Roger Ebert and old New York Times writer Janet Maslin loved Gordon’s flick, the latter going so far as to call Re-Animator “ingenious.” Filled to the brim with black humor, to call Re-Animator campy and leave it at that seems like a knee-jerk reaction to discredit, or disregard, the clear skill behind a truly excellent horror movie. Even at its most outrageous, it’s controlled by a steady, confident hand with a plan.
1. The Return Of The Living Dead
Director: Dan O’Bannon
Cast: Thom Mathews, Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Beverly Randolph, Miguel A. Nunez, Jr., John Philbin, Brian Peck, Jewel Shepherd
After decades of zombie movies getting released to the masses, along with numerous video games, comic books, novels and hit TV shows, we’ve certainly had an ample sampling of what is good (and not so good) in the genre. After seemingly claiming the crown as king of zombies, there is a strong case to be made that George Romero absolutely did not make the best zombie movie(s) ever with his filmography but rather it was Dan O’Bannon’s The Return Of The Living Dead.
In the film, when two bumbling employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, the vapors cause the dead to rise again. Going all out with the film’s inside joke, O’Bannon posited The Return Of The Living Dead as “based on true events,” and had his characters directly reference 1968’s Night Of The Living Dead only to have them subsequently abandon all of Romero’s ideals. The film is severely re-watchable and is as funny as it is frightening. It delivers buckets of blood, tons of zombie carnage and it has one of our favorite scream queens ever stripping naked in a cemetery. What more could you ask for?
What was your favorite horror movie of 1985? Let us know in the comment section below.