14. Demons (Lamberto Bava, 1985)
Tagline: They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs.
A variety of people from around Berlin have been invited to a special screening in an isolated movie theatre. The film turns out to be a brutal horror film about demonic possession. Events in the theatre begin to mimic what is happening on screen.
A woman cuts her face on a demonic mask, just like one of the characters in the film, and just like the character in the film she turns into blood-thirsty monster. Soon other audience members are infected and transform into monsters. The audience find themselves trapped in the cinema as evil spreads in an orgy of bloodshed and madness.
An Italian horror film set in Berlin, produced and co-written by Italian horror master Dario Argento. The film is essentially a zombie picture, they have just made the zombie’s quicker, more agile, and called them “Demons”. A group of people must band together and fight off the malevolent hordes. Although it lacks social commentary, like the zombie films of George Romero, it still manages to stand up against the horror heavyweights of the eighties.
The film has genuine bone chilling moments and despite the low-budget the effects stand up well. The Demons themselves are truly grotesque and terrifying works of art. The effects looks so good, mainly due to the films stylish lighting and cinematography, something that always sets Italian horror apart from the rest. The films plot is nonsensical, but that’s only a minor distraction when you have so much carnage, mayhem, blood and sheer terror thrown at the screen.
13. Evilspeak (Eric Weston, 1981)
Tagline: Data incomplete… human blood needed.
The film is often described as “Revenge of the Nerds” meets “Carrie”, and that is a pretty accurate description. Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) is a computer geek at a military school, where he’s constantly bullied and tormented by his peers and teachers. He discovers a secret book of the occult in an old school chapel.
Fascinated by black magic, he inputs the information into his computer and somehow electronically invokes demonic spirits to help him exact revenge on those who have wronged him.
In 1984 the film was classified as a Video Nasty and banned for several years in the United Kingdom. Although looking at it today it’s hard to understand why, as it appears quite tame compared too many other films of the era.
The film is filled with bizarre and surreal moments, most notably, when Stanley is able to get a herd of demonically possessed pigs to do his bidding. The film also plays on the eighties paranoia of how computers in the wrong hands would destroy the world. A strong central performance from Howard allows the audience to sympathise and identify with him and revel in the gruesome end that comes to his tormentors.
12. The Lift (Dick Maas, 1983)
Tagline: Take the stairs, take the stairs. For God’s sake, take the stairs!
A lift in a large office building starts behaving badly. Firstly, it traps a group of party goers and nearly suffocates them, and then it decapitates a late-night security guard. Felix (Huub Stapel), the lift technician, can’t find anything wrong with the circuit boards. However, the lift continues to act errantly and claims several more victims.
Felix teams up with a newspaper reporter (Willeke von Ammelrooy) to try and get to the bottom of the mystery. Their investigation leads them to a company that manufacturers’ microchips for the military.
This little know Dutch horror is laced with macabre black comedy and contains some decent scares. It might be hard to imagine an entire film about a murderous elevator, but the film is surprisingly adept at creating tense situations from its limited location. The film plays on common fears such as being trapped in a lift and claustrophobia.
Tension is also built by the lift picking on the more vulnerable members of society, like small children and blind people. The Lift is a surprisingly vibrant piece of work with a dark sense of humour that deserves greater recognition. A poor American remake, entitled “Down” and starring Naomi Watts, was produced in 2001.
11. Alligator (Lewis Teague, 1980)
Tagline: At first, no one believed. But now, no one will ever forget!
Based on the popular urban legend of a baby alligator being flushed down the toilet and growing up in the sewers to become a fully sized killer. This alligator grows to be super-seized due to feeding on steroid-saturated animal carcasses dumped into the sewers by a scrupulous drug research company.
Local dogs begin to go missing, followed by several sewage workers. A tough cop (Robert Forster) and a reptile specialist (Robin Riker) team up to try and stop the beast before it decides to step out of the sewer and onto the streets.
The film is a throwback to the B movies of the fifties and is also quite clearly trying to imitate the recent success of “Jaws”. Forester’s character is one good cop trying to do the right thing, fighting against a sea of inept bureaucrats, corrupt politicians and sleaze ball journalists. The script is written by John Sayles, before he went on to an art-house directing career, he wrote this along with “Piranha” and “The Howling”.
The film has several moments of genuine tension, mainly when the reptile is stalking prey through the sewer system. It’s also blessed with countless humorous touches. One of the best being Henry Silva’s pompous big game hunter, who’s brought into the urban jungle to hunt the beast. The alligator effects are also good, the creature never looks clucky and unnatural like so many killers animals did in the eighties.
10. Galaxy of Terror (Bruce D. Clark, 1981)
Tagline: Hell has just been relocated!
A motley crew of space explores are gathered together and sent on a mission, to a distant planet, to rescue a crashed spaceship. When they get to the planet they find the ships wreckage but no survivors. They also discover a mysterious pyramid near the crash site. It turns out the pyramid hides a dark and sinister secret. It has the ability to read your mind and then manifest your worst fears and kill you with them. The crew members are picked off one by one in increasing inventive ways, the most memorable being a female crew member who is raped and then murdered by a giant maggot.
The film is quite obliviously inspired by the success of “Alien” (1979). That’s not its only connection the franchise, a certain James Cameron worked as a production designer on the film. There is a striking resemblance to the look of the film and that of Cameron’s later work “Aliens” (1986). The films set design, along with the inventive use of special effects are two stand out features of the production.
The film is a Rodger Corman production and he sure knows how to get his money up on the screen. The cast are mostly impressive, if slightly over-the-top, and include B movie royalty Sid Haig, Robert Englund and Grace Zabriskie. The film has a uniquely ominous and creepy tone as it successfully combines supernatural and alien horror.
9. Street Trash (Jim Muro, 1987)
Tagline: Things in New York are about to go down the toilet…
A celebration of bad taste and the darkest possible humour. A New York liquor store owner finds an old cobwebbed crate of booze in his cellar. He decides to sell it for a dollar a bottle to the local homeless population. When drunk the liquor, named “Tenafly Viper”, causes people to hideously melt into a puddle of human goo. The films thin plot revolves around the hapless hobo’s that come into contact with the toxic beverage and a cop who tries to uncover the source of the gruesome deaths.
The film revels in every taboo subject that you can imagine: murder, gang rape, racism, necrophilia, police brutality and melting tramps. There is actually a scene where a group bum’s play catch with a man’s severed penis. Director Jim Muro was only twenty two at the time the film was made, perhaps this is why the film is so fearless. Few filmmaker are able to toss all their inhibitions out the window and follow their imagination wherever it takes them, no matter how dark and twisted.
The human melting effects are brilliantly inventive and haven’t been equalled since. In one scene a man melts into a toilet and then flushes himself away. It’s very difficult to find any social commentary in the film, but if you try hard enough you might be able to find nods to, the plight of the homeless, the treatment of the mentally ill, and inner city decay. The film is a multi-coloured, grotesque, darkly funny work of art.
8. Scarecrows (William Wesley, 1988)
Tagline: Trespassers will be violated.
A group of criminal ex-soldiers steal three million dollars from army base payroll. They hijack an aeroplane, kidnapping the pilot and his daughter, and head for Mexico. On fight they are double-crossed by one of the criminals. He takes all the money and parachutes out of the plane, landing in a deserted cornfield.
The remaining criminals make an emergency landing and come looking for their loot. All they find is an abandoned farmhouse guarded by demonically possessed scarecrows. The heavily armed thieves and their two hostages soon realise they have one long night ahead of them.
Another forgotten gem of eighties B horror. The film is obviously a low-budget take on “Aliens” (1986) and “Predator” (1987). A group of tough soldiers trapped in an isolated location, and being hunted by a deadly and mysterious creatures. The film has a suffocating and creepy atmosphere. The paranoia and tension build up nicely as the soldiers get picked off one by one. The Scarecrows are hideously chilling, they are cleverly hidden in shadow for most of the time. But, when they do strike they are swift and ferocious.
The victims also return to life as Scarecrows to help finish off the remaining survivors. The film gives no explanation of what the scarecrows are or where they come from, instead it relies on nightmare logic and keeps the scares coming thick and fast so no one bothers to question such things.