15 Overlooked Movies From The 1980s That Are Worth Watching

8. Tapeheads (1988)

Tapeheads (1988)

Best friends Josh (Tim Robbins) and Ivan (John Cusack) start a music video production company “Video Aces” after being fired from their jobs as security guards. One night they meet their idols since childhood, RnB group “The Swanky Modes” (played by real soul artists Sam Moore and Junior Walker). Upset that they have almost entirely been forgotten, the pair hope to use the growing profile of their company to hijack an upcoming Menudo concert, replacing the act with them, thus bringing their heroes to new audience.

Why you should see it:

Director Bill Fishman began his career in music videos, so satirising the 80s music scene for his film debut was only fitting. Co-written with Sid and Nancy producer Peter McCarthy, the pair used their inside knowledge to great effect, creating a hilarious parody of the 80s music video industry.

The MTV style music video parodies are very funny, Josh and Ivan’s first shoot of a Scandinavian Rock group is a great send up cheesy 80s rock. Fishman also adds elements of surreal humour into the mix along with a couple of entertaining sub-plots, one involving a right wing presidential hopeful, whose sex tape just so happens to end up in the office of Video Aces.

Cusack, with his moustache and penchant for cigars, is hilarious as the little guy trying to be a big shot and Robbins is relatable as the creative but pessimistic film maker who had almost given up on perusing his passion. Together two have great chemistry, and their obvious enthusiasm for the material holds the action together, no matter how crazy events become.


9. Defence of the Realm (1986)

Defence of the Realm (1986)

Ambitious young reporter Nick Mullen (Gabriel Byrne) and his colleague Vernon Bayliss (Denholm Elliott) expose prominent MP Dennis Markham (Ian Bannen) as a possible spy with links to the KGB. However, the pair begin to doubt their findings when new information arises suggesting he was framed. After Bayliss mysteriously dies, Mullen enlists the help of Markham’s former secretary Nina Beckman (Greta Scacci) and together they discover a government cover up involving an American Nuclear base. With their lives now in danger, will they be able to make their findings public?

Why you should see it:

What makes this film so interesting is the political climate in which it was made. The US Nuclear presence in the UK was deeply controversial in the 80s, inciting many protests, possibly the most famous of these was the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. Set up in 1981, the group camped outside the RAF Greenham where US Cruise Missiles were held, and although the last warhead left in 1991, the last protesters left in 2000. Within this context Director David Drury and Screenwriter Martin Spellman made Defence of the Realm, their own anti nuclear statement, and commentary on cold war paranoia.

As a thriller the film is very well constructed, it is deeply suspenseful and the story is fascinating. The way the characters discover details of the conspiracy is consistently interesting. The facts are never straight forward, leading to a sense of confusion that keeps you guessing though-out. As with all good conspiracy thrillers, this one has a very real atmosphere of danger. As more details of the conspiracy emerge, it seems that the government will stop at nothing to conceal the truth and you cannot help but fear for Mullen and Beckman.

The performances here are a great part of what makes the film work. The actors add a believability to the film which makes the events even more frightening. Denholm Elliott exudes integrity and Gabriel Byrne is effective as the dogged reporter who will stop at nothing to find the truth. Gretta Scacci also stands out creating a strong and intriguing character.

With a strong political message and a deeply interesting story Defence of the Realm is another great 80s British film that deserves to be seen.


10. Society (1989)

Society (1989)

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a wealthy teen living the good life in Beverly Hill’s, but despite having it all, he still feels he doesn’t quite fit in with his family or their upper class friends. His sister’s ex boyfriend Derrick (Tim Bartell) has his own suspicions about what goes on behind closed doors in suburbia and secretly tapes one of Billy’s family’s parties. Derrick reveals the shocking contents of the tape to Billy, who takes it upon himself to investigate his family and find the shocking truth.

Why you should see it:

The privileged are the target in Brian Yuzna’s twisted horror that is not for the weak stomached. The script by Woody Keith and Rick fry is a sharp and merciless satire of societies elite, influenced in part by Keith’s own upbringing in Beverly Hills. With Society, Yuzna and his team proved, just as Romero did with Dawn of the Dead, that horror can been an effective vehicle for social commentary.

Society works as a horror also, with some truly shocking moments. As Billy delves deeper into what is going on behind closed doors a real sense of paranoia is created, which only adds to the effectiveness of the outrageous, horrifying climax.

Yuzna previously worked on Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, so viewers will not be surprised that prosthetic effects play a great part in what makes the film so shocking. Here, special effects legend Screaming Mad George does some of his best and most demented work, it simply has to be seen to be believed.


11. Christiane F (1981)

Christiane F (1981)

13 year old Christiane (Natja Brunckhorst) thinks she has found the cure for her boredom when she discovers a disco called “The Sound.” Entranced with the place and those who attend it, she soon meets Detlef (Thomas Haustien) who is deeply into drugs and it isn’t long before she has developed a Heroin Addiction. Together they fall deeper and deeper into the Berlin drug scene.

Why you should see it:

Based on the true story of Christiane Felscherinow, Christiane F is noted for its harrowing and deeply realistic portrayal of Heroin addiction. Felscherinow became somewhat of a celebrity in her native Germany and across much of Europe when the book based upon her teenage drug use, and experience of the Berlin drug scene was released in 1979.

Director Ulrich Edel presents an uncompromising look at the reality of Heroin addiction. Following Christiane’s progression from a sometime user to a full blown addict, who, along with her partner Detlef, descends into prostitution to fund their joint habit. The fact that the characters are so young, and the depiction of drug use so real, makes for a deeply disturbing watch. Edel takes a visceral approach, and the harrowing cold turkey scenes come complete with sweating, shaking and vomiting.

Edel Took the decision to cast unknown first time actors in the roles of the young drug addicts. Brunckhorst was only 14 when she took the role of Christiane, her age, along with her heartbreakingly convincing performance only adds to the sense of realism. Haustien is equally effective, projecting a depressing air of lost innocence.

Many films have been made about drug addiction, but few have achieved the realism of Christiane F. Edel’s no holds barred approach is so effective that you may only want to watch it once.


12. Intruder (1989)

Intruder (1989)

Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox) is working overnight shift at her local supermarket when her violent ex boyfriend Craig (David Byrnes) arrives and begins harassing her. The other staff members soon intervene and Craig is thrown out. Shaken, Jennifer joins the rest of the staff in restocking the shelves, unaware that her troubles are not over, for a crazed murder awaits her and her colleagues.

Why you should see it:

Intruder is great example of low budget 80s horror cinema. Written and directed by Scott Spiegel and co-written and produced by Lawrence Bender (Who went on to produce Pulp Fiction among others) it is a wildly inventive and entertaining slasher. Intruder showcases some very early work from the K.N.B Effects Group, who provide some excellent gore make up.

Intruder is interesting for many reasons, the strange camera work being just one example. Here we view the characters from inside telephones, bins, behind products and we get the view from inside a moving Trolley. These techniques create an eerie atmosphere, as if the killer can lurk almost anywhere. Spiegel also brings a sense of humour to the film, and in amongst the gore are some genuinely funny moments, Burr Steers as the stereotypical stoner Bub has some pretty priceless lines.

Intruder is a unique entry into the slasher genre, made with real passion and enthusiasm, which sadly came just a little to late in the 80s to be successful.


13. Jacknife (1989)

Jacknife (1989)

Falling deeper into alcoholism and depression, troubled Vietnam veteran Dave (Ed Harris) has become increasingly reliant on his sister Martha (Kathy Baker.) Megs (Robert De Niro) concerned about his old war buddy, takes on the responsibility of bringing him out of his shell, but along the way falls in love with Martha. This leads to a conflict between the two men, where hard truths are learned and old wounds opened.

Why you should see it:

From the 70s onwards film makers visited the subject of troubled Vietnam Veterans time and time again. As a formula it had become tired, but Director David Jones and Screenwriter Stephen Metcalfe managed to approach the subject with fresh eyes and produce a compelling character driven drama.

Which a character piece such as this, the commitment of the cast is essential. As the put upon sister, Baker elicits real sympathy, her life is completely on hold as she cares for her increasingly unstable brother. Harris brings the tortured Dave to life, if he loses his sister, he will have to get by on his own, his unwillingness to change his situation shows the real fear he has of confronting his dark past. De Niro rounds off the excellent cast, portraying Megs as a reserved yet charming character who is trying his best to live with the traumas he suffered during the war.

Jacknife is a great character piece that focuses on real people with real problems. David Jones wisely refrains from sensationalising the subject matter or providing the audience with easy answers. The result is a mature, emotionally resonant film with truly powerful moments.


14. The Company of Wolves (1984)

The Company of Wolves

Beginning in the present the story quickly enters the dreams of Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) a young girl transported to a fairytale world. This fantastical place is replete with dangers, including wolves who claim the life of her sister (Georgia Slowe). Rosaleen decides to live with her grandmother (Angela Lansbury) so that her parents have space to mourn. Grandmother warns her to “Never trust a man whose eyebrows meet” and tells her a number sinister cautionary tales.

Why you should see it:

The Company of Wolves was adapted by Angela Carter and Director Neil Jordan from her short story of the same name. Together they create a hypnotic film which is both beautiful and ominous. The film is thick with atmosphere, which is partly down to the excellent set design by Anton Furst, the forest looks as you’d imagine it when being told “Little Red Riding Hood” as a child.

Sarah Patterson was only twelve when she won the role of Rosaleen, and she does a remarkable job. Her age definitely played a part in the authenticity of her portrayal of a girl at that tricky stage where innocence begins to fade.

Many have commented on how The Company of Wolves is hard to categorise, it is not really a horror and at the same time it is too violent to be a children’s film, many elements were combined which in theory shouldn’t have worked. The result is a unique film that almost belongs to its own genre.


15. Self Defence AKA Siege (1983)

Self Defence

A fascist gang seize the opportunity to enforce their own brand of law and order while the police force are on strike. The group begin by terrorising the patrons of a gay bar, but in the process the owner is killed. Their leader orders all of the witnesses to be killed, but in the chaos a survivor manages to escape and takes refuge in a block of flats. The gang order the tenants to hand him over but they refuse, leading them attempt a siege of the building, but they get more than they bargained for when the residents fight back, barricading themselves in using all at their disposal to set traps and defend themselves.

Why you should see it:

This low budget Canadian thriller is like a mixture of Assault on Precinct 13 and The Warriors. The story was inspired by the real 1981 strike undertaken by police officers in Nova Stotia. The limitations of the budget do show through but Directing team Paul Donovan and Maura O’Connell do a great job with what they have. The pair make some inventive choices in order to make the action effective and suspenseful.

The idea of a break down in law and order giving rise to a Neo-Nazi gang in itself should be enough to attract curiosity. But there is another reason why the film is unique, many the people who vow to protect our hero are suffering from a disability, the creative way they defend their home, and courage in the face of danger prevents Siege from being just another nuts and bolts thriller.

A good story, creatively told, Siege is an unjustly obscure low budget gem.

Author Bio: Glynn Thomas has been obsessed with cinema from as early as he can remember. When not watching films he’ll be living the horrors of looking for a new job, the whole time wishing he was watching films.