18. The Hit (1984)
“Even Bad Guys Have Bad Days” . Willie Parker was a London gangster who took a deal to testify against his colleagues, ten years later he lives comfortably in Spain. He is found and kidnapped by two hitmen, one is an aged professional (John Hurt) and the other is his hot headed apprentice (Tim Roth). They are supposed to bring him to Paris for a trial, but it is a long way to Paris.
This is an excellent British gangster movie that doesn’t actually take place in Britain, essentially being a road movie that goes throughout Spain. It features absolutely brilliant performances from Stamp, Hurt, and Roth. Roth was nominated for a BAFTA for Most Outstanding Newcomer.
It also has great direction from Stephen Frears, good script, fast pacing, nice scenic shots, good dialogue and relationship building, and a great score and opening music by Eric Clapton. There is juxtaposition during the movie of the scenery and road traveling versus the impending fate of Parker.
19. Blood Simple (1984)
“Breaking up is hard” . A bar owner hires a private detective to find out if his wife is having an affair, once he finds out the truth and everything is out in the open he hires the detective again to kill the pair. Once the contract is out anything can happen, as each of the characters all have some sort of sordid business that they must deal with.
This was the directorial debut of Joel and Ethan Coen, who also wrote, edited, and produced the film. Their inspiration for the film was derived from several crime writers that they were fans of: Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain . All three were popular pulp writers and many of their stories were made into films during the film noir era.
The love triangle was taken from Cain and the title of the film was taken from Hammett’s novel Red Harvest, blood simple meant “to convey the state of confusion that plagues a murderer after he has killed, causing him to make mistakes” . They changed up the location from the major cities that are typically used to the more rural and cost effective countryside of Texas .
They were also intrigued with the idea of spinning around the preconceived notions of the rules that were already set in the genre . They set out and wrote the script in order and together, as opposed to writing their own separate scenes and then bringing them all together.
The film was a modest success, making a little less than 4 million versus a budget of 1.5 million. It received good reviews at the festivals and one critic stated that it’s “brutally violent and shockingly funny in equal measure, Blood Simple offers early evidence of the Coen Brothers’ twisted sensibilities and filmmaking ingenuity” .
20. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
“A federal agent is dead. A killer is loose. And the City of Angels is about to explode” . That’s the tagline for director William Friedkin’s 1980’s gritty dark action packed modern take on film noir. Maybe it’s my love of everything 80’s, but this is a must see film for fans of the action or crime genre. It is very much a cult film, forgotten by the masses. But it is an important piece of cinema history.
It is a predecessor for many of the modern action and crime movies that are beloved today; such as Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Silence of the Lambs, and Drive. There are many memorable scenes including the opening titles, a dance scene, and the counterfeiting scene. It also contains one of the top car chase scenes ever put on camera. The casting was really spot on. The actors truly became the characters that they were playing, which is one of the things that stand out in this film.
To Live and Die in L.A. was written and directed by Friedkin in 1985. It is based upon a novel written by Gerald Petievich, who was a United States Secret Service Special from 1970 through 1985 and was co screenwriter for the film. Friedkin is probably best known for directing The Exorcist and The French Connection.
The main characters are played by William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, and Debra Feuer, John Turturro, and Dean Stockwell. It also had famed stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker. The music for the film and the original soundtrack was composed by Wang Chung.
This film is a neo-noir tale that follows similar plot themes, devices, and visual elements of film noir from the 1940s and 50s. A central theme to the film is about how far someone is willing to go for revenge. Two secret service agents (Richard Chance and Jimmy Hart) are working on busting a large counterfeit money scheme run by Rick (Dafoe).
One is close to retirement and the other is a loose cannon (sounds very similar to lethal weapon there). The older agent Hart (Greene) goes to investigate a building on his own and ends up being murdered. The loose cannon Chance (Peterson) will now do anything in order to get revenge for his murdered partner, even break the rules.
One problem, he’s been assigned a new partner, John Vukovich (Pankow), to assist. Add to the mix Ruth (Fluegel), the lover and snitch working for Chance and Bianca (Torres), the lover and assistant to Rick. The loose cannon gets his new partner in some bad situations to where he cannot walk away, and has no choice but to see things through to the end. It’s a counterfeit world, with counterfeit relationships that these characters live in.
21. 52 Pick Up (1986)
“Greed. Extortion. Revenge” . Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider) encounters a group of blackmailers that are demanding $105,000 in exchange for a videotape showing him and his mistress. Worried about his wife running for city council and under his lawyer’s advice, he refuses to pay the money. They end up murdering the mistress in retaliation for his refusal to pay. Harry goes on the offensive and tries to turn each of the criminals against each other; will this be enough to stop the blackmailers?
Director John Frankenheimer read the novel written by Elmore Leonard and wanted to make the film, but the rights were already owned by Cannon Films . Cannon had a reputation for releasing low budget sleaze, but they were trying to go a different direction and produce better budget and quality films .
They signed Scheider for a million to star and switched the setting from the book of Pittsburgh to Los Angeles in order to make the required budget . Scheider, Frankenheimer, and Leonard got together and worked on the script, to make it better than the first version that had been written.
The result is a decent neo-noir film with good performances, cool cars, some shootouts, great dialogue, and an explosive ending. Roger Ebert praised the villain in the movie played by John Glover, saying that it “provides us with the best, most reprehensible villain of the year and uses his vile charm as the starting point for a surprisingly good film. … This is a well-crafted movie by a man who knows how to hook the audience with his story; it’s Frankenheimer’s best work in years” .
22. Sonny Boy (1989)
This film may be the weirdest cult film ever made; this dark comedy is offbeat, surreal, bizarre, disturbing, macabre, unique, and somehow hilarious as well. Paul L. Smith and David Carradine play a group of criminals that accept a stolen car that has a baby inside of it; they cut out its tongue and raise it to be a vicious animal in the outskirts of a small New Mexico town.
Smith plays the father and you know that whenever he’s in a film that his character is going to be some over the top monster that’s batshit crazy. Carradine takes it a step further in his role, playing the transvestite wife and mother to the boy. He has several scenes that stand out including swinging the baby while singing, singing on a piano at the boys sixth birthday, and jumping out of a window in a dress with a handgun and shotgun.
Since this movie is all sorts of weird, there a ton of strange and unusual moments; these include Sidney Lassick and Brad Dourif’s appearances as local thugs, the banjo music that plays through most of the film, a howitzer, explosions, sex, nudity, a cop exploding, an Elvis velvet painting, weird facial close-ups of Carradine, Smith’s character making weird paintings, weird birthday masks, cutting out the boys tongue on his sixth birthday, dragging the boy behind a car tied to a chain, tying the boy to a pole and lighting a circle of fire around him, having the boy kill people like a vicious animal, an ice cream truck jail cell, a battle with a biker, the boy being hunted down, and a finale that involves an giant gun and car battle with the town out to kill the whole family.
The film is similar in some ways to Unleashed 2005 with Jet Li, where he is raised by the mafia to be a killing machine.
23. The Killer (1989)
“One Vicious Hitman. One Fierce Cop. Ten Thousand Bullets” . . Chow Yun-Fat teams back up with actor Conan Lee in the action film The Killer switching up roles from their successful film City on Fire, with Lee playing the cop and Yun-Fat playing the gangster.
Yun-fat plays a hitman who feels guilty and wants out of the business after blinding a woman, he agrees to one final job to pay for her new corneas but is double crossed. The cop is trying to catch him throughout the film, but through various events develops a strong friendship and bond with the hitman. This leads to a large Mexican style standoff in a church, where together they take on a large group of gangsters.
While some of Woo’s movies may have had either better drama or action, this is the one that really got him and Yun-Fat noticed around the world through festivals, midnight showings, and VHS rentals. There are multiple action scenes. The final action sequence alone is one of the best gun battles ever caught on film; with the final scene taking 36 days to complete shooting.
In a TimeOut poll, a series of experts and critics weighed in on the best action films to create a top 100; these included directors, actors, and stuntmen that have experience in the action film field . This film ranked 24th on that list .
24. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)
“Before “The Silence of the Lambs” comes the most highly acclaimed and controversial film of the year” . For some reason, the theme song to Beauty and the Beast comes to mind when watching this film; “Tale as old as time. True as it can be. Barely even friends. Then somebody bends. Unexpectedly. Just a little change. Small to say the least.
Both a little scared. Neither one prepared. Beauty and the beast” . Michael Rooker plays Henry, a sadistic serial killer that mostly drifts around in order to kill and not get caught. He meets Becky, his roommate’s sister, and they develop a special bond that is bordering on love. In the end, her brother tries to rape and murder her, but Henry saves her and kills him. They run away together, will it end happily ever after?
This film is one the most horrifying, disturbing, graphic, violent, and frightening movies to come out about a serial killer, trying to show an accurate depiction of that type of person.
It featured multiple graphic scenes of dead women, plus scenes where several murders are show on screen. It was a low budget film and is shot almost documentary style in order to give that extra sense of realism. The film was shot over 28 days on a budget of $110,000 during 1985, but didn’t receive a true theatrical premiere until 1990.
The film had a powerful performance from Rooker and some powerful scenes with him, most notably a conversation that he has with Becky, and the hooker death scene and conversation afterward. While they are attempts to show a possible change in Henry, he is one of the truly disturbing and unrelenting killers ever put on film. What makes him so scary is that he is real and could be anyone that you know, work with, or run into in your daily lives. Many critics called it one of the best films of 1989.
25. Man Bites Dog (1992)
This is a Belgian dark comedy mockumentary that involves a group of documentary filmmakers following around a witty and charismatic serial killer named Ben; watching him kill people, learning about the trade, and eventually becoming unwilling participants and henchmen in his crimes. Ben is just a rising star in the burgeoning serial killer scene that is growing in Europe.
The film is a dark and hilarious take on the sensationalism and fascination that people and the media have on murder and crime, with the black and white grainy film stock adding to the overall documentary feel of the film. Ben is charismatic and likeable and downright hilarious at certain times, he is reminiscent of Italian comedian Roberto Begnini, but then we witness his dark side when he ends up killing someone.
There is a hilarious and dark scene involving Ben’s birthday party, when he isn’t getting the proper amount of attention his gun “accidently” goes off and shoots a party member in the head. Everyone is covered in blood and somewhat shocked by these events, while Ben just sits down and continues to eat his cake.
This movie isn’t for everyone and many people are just going to find it disturbing and not funny, but if you get it then the humor is fall on the floor hilarious. This film is most likely the inspiration for the horror mockumentary Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon 2006.
All the works cited can be found here.
Author Bio: Raul J. Vantassle is a jazz musician whose key strokes move about the page creating an explosion of formlessness to form, or just total bullshit. His heroes include John Waters, Robert Crumb, Charles Bukowski, and the Cobra Commander. His Knowledge of film goes across the board but he specializes in Asian and cult cinema. He may be the filthiest person alive. You can visit his blog here.