Horror films in 1985 brought us the final part of Ruggero Deodato’s infamous Cannibal trilogy, the final part of George Romero’s cherished “Dead” trilogy… and a severed head performing cunnilingus. 1986 brings us the original Hannibal Lecter, Jason Voorhees rising from the grave, and one of the greatest horror movie remakes of all time.
As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1986.
15. Deadly Friend
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Matthew Labyorteaux, Kristy Swanson, Michael Sharrett, Anne Ramsey
Wes Craven has always been an oddity of a film director. On one hand he’s made horror classics such as The Last House On The Left, to A Nightmare On Elm Street and the entire Scream series. On the other hand he has made some truly terrible films. These include; The Hills Have Eyes II, Chiller, My Soul To Take, Stranger In Our House, and Invitation To Hell (among others). 1986’s Deadly Friend falls somewhere in the middle.
Deadly Friend follows a young girl who is brutally beaten and left brain dead. She is brought back to life via a futuristic microchip and goes on a killing spree. It’s all pretty lame actually. However, the film does feature one of the most unintentionally funny moments of Craven’s career. The robotic menace, who now has super strength, gets revenge on her cranky old neighbor, throwing a basketball at her face which causes her entire head to explode like a watermelon hitting the ground. The scene is as awesomely ridiculous as you could imagine.
14. Maximum Overdrive
Director: Stephen King
Stars: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Yeardley Smith
Ah yes, Stephen King’s one and only directorial effort, Maximum Overdrive. The screenplay was inspired by and loosely based on King’s short story Trucks, which was included in King’s first collection of short stories, Night Shift. The film follows a group of people who try to survive when machines start to come alive and become homicidal.
Upon its release, Maximum Overdrive was a flop both critically and financially. The film was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards (including Worst Director for King). However, time has been kind to this odd little picture. Well, that may be a bit strong but let’s just say that all these years later it has found its following. King’s ability to spin out a horror story from everyday things is one of his best assets and he indulges in it here. Vending and pinball machines become deadly, water sprinkler systems an ominous threat in the background, and it’s the most sinister an ice cream truck has sounded in a while. A trip through suburbia and the wreckage that has been left behind including mutilated bodies and a blood-splattered lawnmower has a genuine malevolence to it. Oh, and there’s a glorious scene where a young child gets run over by a steamroller. It’s spectacular.
13. Slaughter High
Directors: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, Peter Mackenzie Litten
Stars: Caroline Munro, Simon Scuddamore, Carmine Iannaccone, Donna Yeager
Okay, here’s the basic rundown: Marty was the uber nerd back in high school complete with pocket protector and taped glasses, that everyone used to pick on. At the beginning we see the cool kids (actually, it seems they were the ONLY kids at the school…. and we’re using the term “kid” loosely here) humiliate a naked Marty and give him a swirly, just when the poor kid thought he was gonna get some pie for once. After another prank gone wrong at the hands of these kids, Marty inadvertently gets splashed with acid and becomes horribly disfigured. Years later a reunion is held at the same high school where each of the students face a stalker killer who may or may not be Marty out for revenge.
Okay, what really makes this little known slasher stand out is the kills. Point blank. They’re wonderful. The first guy gets it when he drinks a beer with acid in it and his stomach explodes outward. Shirley, the Asian chick, gets blood on her from this and when she decides to take a bath (um, a bathtub in a school? Sure. Why not?) and the water suddenly turns to acid too which proceeds to melt her body. She actually tries to turn off the water while still in the tub instead of like, trying to get out, which would have been anyone else’s first thought. There’s also death by lawnmower blades, drowning in a pit of what we can only presume to be poo, and an electrocution while a couple are enjoying some coitus on a bed in another room (um, a bed in a school? Sure. Why not?).
12. Chopping Mall
Director: Jim Wynorski
Stars: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Barbara Crampton
In an unnamed American mall, the management has just installed a new security system involving robots and giant steel doors. Meanwhile, a group of randy youngsters have decided to stay after hours and party ’till dawn. What they don’t realize, though, is that a bolt of lightening has just hit the mall – causing the robots to go rogue and attack anything that moves. You know, because they gotta protect all that important mall crap AT ALL COSTS. As the flat-headed menaces stalk and, yes, kill their fleshy teen enemies, you will undoubtedly watch in awe. Particularly during a rather awesome head exploding scene, surely the holy grail of horror since David Cronenberg walked onto the set of Scanners and uttered the words “You know what would be cool, eh?”
The robots themselves look like a cross between Cyclops from the X-Men and a rolling version of that teleportation chamber from The Fly. Less eccentric fans of the film have compared them to Johnny Five from Short Circuit (a movie which, not for nothing, came out one year earlier). Though, really, more than anything, the Killbots, as they’re known, are a cinematic prelude to the ED-209, from Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Both are security measures prone to malfunction, both are peacekeeping agents with lethal tendencies, both warn their victims in calm robotized voices (although the Killbots, hilariously, have Long Island accents, voiced as they are by the film’s director).
Director: Stephen Herek
Stars: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy Green Bush, Scott Grimes
1984’s Gremlins can be blamed for a trend in horror movies that ran rampant throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. We are, of course, speaking of the “little killer monsters” subgenre. You have your Munchies, your Ghoulies, your Hobgoblins and to a lesser extent the Troll franchise, but the most highly revered of all the Gremlins knock-offs will forever be the Critters series. Probably the best thing to come from New Line Cinema since their Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, Critters is just good fun, plain and simple.
In the film, a small rural town in Kansas is being infected by little round spiky buggers. They look a bit like porcupines, but they’re actually from outer space! In fact, they’re Crites, a race of small, furry aliens who have a habit of eating flesh. These Crites in particular are wanted by a pair of bounty hunters, so said hunters travel down to Earth to see if they can find and capture them, dead or alive. During the climax of the film, two of the titular beasties are about to bum-rush a house, but there’s a problem. “They have weapons,” one says in their indecipherable language, right before a woman blows the other Critter away with a shotgun. The surviving one’s response: “Fuck!” Pure genius! The subsequent sequels may have diminished its legacy a bit, but there’s still no denying the greatness of the original Critters.
10. April Fool’s Day
Director: Fred Walton
Stars: Jay Baker, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Amy Steel
Hot-to-trot brunette Muffy (yes, there’s a “muff diving” joke in the movie) invites a bunch of her rich college friends to a secluded mansion which she’s about to inherit. The day is April Fool’s and she plans on throwing the party of a lifetime with jokes on them out the wazoo. Unfortunately, a happy-go-lucky psycho is also on the prowl and he has a party of his own organized – which involves slicing and dicing the guests.
Mischievously turning the conventions of the slasher film on its head a full decade before Scream did it, April Fool’s Day is a smartly written, too often overlooked slice of postmodern fun. Since the film was produced by Frank Mancuso Jr. and distributed by Paramount Pictures (both responsible for the Friday The 13th franchise), audiences naturally expected more of the same. What they got, instead, skewered the very rules they anticipated would be strictly followed, and the picture ended up being a box-office disappointment because of it. Watching April Fool’s Day all these years later, it reveals itself to clearly be ahead of its time and deserves our respect because of it.
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley
Over ten years after making the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper returns to his deranged family of reclusive cannibals for another round of chainsaw chases and non-stop screaming. Hooper brings a real budget this time (having recently “directed” Poltergeist for Steven Spielberg) and the talents of veteran make-up artist Tom Savini. This means he can make things bigger, louder, and gorier than ever before; and they are. He also brings a wacky, self-deprecating sense of humor, as if deliberately flaunting Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s status as one of the first and still greatest “slasher” movies. The result is an impish take-off on the original film (and contemporary horror movies in general) which elevates its own clichés (buckets of blood and gore, droll dialogue, the screaming female lead) to the level of high camp.
TCM 2 is loosely concerned with a small-town disc jockey named “Stretch” (who does most of the screaming) and an embittered Texas Ranger. They team-up and decide to put an end to the murderous activities of the notorious Sawyer family once and for all (that is, of course, until Texas Chainsaw Massacre III). The tale is a strange, sweaty, uncomfortable mix of horror and humor and it’s completely brilliant. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
8. Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Stars: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, C. J. Graham, David Kagen, Renee Jones, Darcy DeMoss, Tom Fridley, Kerry Noonan, Ann Ryerson, Nancy McLoughlin, Courtney Vickery
By the time this sixth entry of the beloved Friday The 13th series came around, the filmmakers were pretty much out of ideas as to how to have everyone’s favorite hockey masked-killer, Jason, come back and kill some more. He had been hit by a car, stabbed and even taken an ax to the head and he just kept on coming back. The solution? Well, this is the film where Jason became a certified zombie, literally rising from the dead out of the grave to cause havoc.
In short, Jason Lives is one of the most purely entertaining entry in the entire F13 series. There’s a wider scope of machete targets here, and the palette of jokes, deaths, and overall interactions is much, much wider than in any other chapter of the franchise. Its screwball sensibilities (see: the death of the chauvinistic paint-ball commando) bind its wild, dark humor with a grotesque set of killings, including a woman getting her face crushed in the side of a winnebago, pin-art style. There’s a fuller sense of the world of Crystal Lake and although slasher aficionados might naysay the sillier bent of this entry, this boldness in tone makes Jason Lives genuinely memorable and giddily enjoyable where so many of the Friday The 13th films are only recalled for single murders or one-liners.
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Stars: William Katt, Kay Lenz, George Wendt, Richard Moll
Horror novelist Roger Cobb is a man on the edge, reeling from his recent divorce, haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his young son, and struggling with his new book about his traumatic experiences in Vietnam. But when he moves into the strange house left to him by his late aunt, Roger’s precarious sanity comes under siege by nightmares of his dead war buddy, visits from a nosy neighbor, and an onslaught of hideous creatures from another dimension. Horror has found a new home, and it’s fully furnished with murder, monsters and madness.
House is a marvelous excursion in the world of horror/comedy and is a master class in combining humor, drama and frightfully good scares. The movie borrows from all the right places, including Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. It’s great.
6. Night Of The Creeps
Director: Fred Dekker
Stars: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow
“The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is… they’re dead.” So ran the tagline for writer/director Fred Dekker’s Night Of The Creeps, and whether you’re a seasoned zombie fan or are beginning to suffer from burn-out on Hollywood’s current monster du-jour, this one remains a jewel worth checking out. Set around a college campus, this nutty gem shows what happens when slug-like alien parasites start turning frat guys and Summa Cum Laude geeks into killer, slow-moving cadavers.
The best thing about Night Of The Creeps is that it that it loves the fact that it’s a B-movie, Even more, it’s quite clear that this is a B-movie that actually strives to be the best B-movie it can be. This is evident in an early scene which takes place in 1959 when the alien slugs first come to Earth and attack a young man out on a date with his girlfriend. This part is shot in black and white and looks like a compilation of the most cliché ’50s drive-in movies ever. There are sweaters, ponytails, and words like “dreamy” and “neato,” plus the main guy in this story is named Johnny, just like every other hunky stud in the ’50s, apparently.
5. From Beyond
Director: Stuart Gordon
Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel, Ken Foree
Dr. Edward Pretorius and his assistant, the physician Crawford Tillinghast, a machine called the “Resonator”. This device creates a force field that stimulates a part of the brain, gives you pleasure, makes you a junkie and also opens the door for hideous creatures to slip into our world. When Pretorius gets his head eaten by one of those creatures he joins them on the other side while Crawford is sent to a loony bin, prime suspect to Pretorious’ murder. Dr. Katherine becomes Crawford’s shrink and decides to recreate the experiment with the help of Crawford and Shaft wannabe cop Bubba. Before you can say “acid trip” phallic monsters appear, Pretorius comes back in many hideous forms, somebody eats brains and Doc Kat slips into a leather bondage outfit… yum.
The team behind Re-Animator offers us another grisly scientist horror flick based on another HP Lovecraft tale. And what can we say… this is one messed up movie. From Beyond is one of those rare films that manages to both work on a metaphorical level and as pure entertainment. By translating Lovecraft’s brand of horror into real-world terms, director Stuart Gordon manages to once again strike gold with a subject that is frequently a minefield of unwatchably awful films. Now if only the directors still churning out Lovecraftian crap would figure it out and do the same.
4. The Hitcher
Director: Robert Harmon
Stars: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey DeMunn
With The Hitcher, we are presented with one of the most disturbing antagonists in movie history. Apparently polite and affable when young driver Jim Halsey finds him hitching a lift by a quiet road one night, John Ryder gradually reveals himself to be a complete and utter maniac. And try though Jim might, he just can’t get away from this knife-wielding killer, who murders numerous innocent people, blows up a petrol station, and leaves a severed finger in Jim’s chips. And that’s just the beginning of the madness.
How great is The Hitcher? Well, Roger Ebert gave it zero stars and called it “diseased and corrupt,” that’s how great it is. It’s definitely one for the books. A thriller with brains, an action flick with soul, a horror film with purpose, sporting a captivating baddie to boot. Engagingly vague, razor directed, well acted and heavy on the suspense, it’s one of those rare genre films that simply works on every level.
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox
Although it underperformed with audiences and critics upon its release in August 1986, the cult of Michael Mann’s clinically stylish serial-killer procedural, Manhunter, has grown steadily over the years (its status as the first Hannibal Lecter—sorry, Lecktor—movie has also helped secure its place in cinema history). Manhunter’s acolytes fetishize it for its meticulousness and painstaking attention to color and composition; each is carefully calibrated to the emotional needs of a scene, although the prevailing emotion is “detached.”
Favoring faraway, symmetrical mise-en-scènes, Manhunter keeps its distance from its blood-stained subject matter, in line with the theme of voyeurism that runs throughout. FBI profiler Will Graham is still recovering from the last time he got inside a killer’s mind, and a key piece of evidence in his latest case comes when the killer can’t resist the urge to touch his victim without gloves on. Watching from afar is fine; it’s when you get too close that things become dangerous. Here, you can see the birth of such popular forensics shows as CSI in this film’s blend of the police procedural and the horror film. Eminently worthy and stylish, Manhunter is a slick and glossy chiller that still holds its ground extremely well.
2. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer
Director: John McNaughton
Stars: Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, Tom Towles
Viewing Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer is not for the faint of heart. Stark and unyielding, the film is a deeply unsettling look into the mind of an unrepentant murderer. The film centers on pathological murderer Henry, who discovers a kindred spirit in his roommate, Otis. The two engage in vicious murders as Henry schools Otis on the finer points of evading capture. Their relationship is tested when Otis’ sister Becky comes to visit and becomes enamored of Henry. Based on the life of Henry Lee Lucas, the film is both a psychological exploration as well as an explicit foray into gore
Despite its eye-grabbing title, Henry is not really about a killer, but about killing – the way killing is depicted in the movies and the way movie audiences have been conditioned to react to such violence. Henry doesn’t so much entertain as it shines a light on deep perversions couched in normality. In a world in which eight nearly identical Friday The 13th movies offer the adventures of Jason the ax-murderer as entertainment for teenagers, maybe we needed a sobering alternative.
1. The Fly
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
Directed by Kurt Neumann, and based on author George Langelaan’s 1957 short story, the original version of The Fly was a great drive-in-movie, a product of its humble time that features some dated yet still effective creature makeup and an overall lightness – it’s fun, not frightening.
David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake, however, is unquestionably the latter. Cronenberg took the driving force behind Langelaan’s tale – the nightmare of a man slowly turning into an insect – and squeezed gore out of every possible orifice, all before turning our antagonist, Seth Brundle, into an extremely hideous specimen of practical makeup effects. More importantly, though, Cronenberg’s The Fly skillfully invests time and emotion into its characters; as Brundle, the ill-fated scientist, gets closer to his tragic fate, it’s impossible not to sympathize. Believe it or not, you’ll want to hug a man-sized, slimy, grotesque bug by the film’s end.
What was your favorite horror film of 1986? Let us know in the comments below.