8. Kamikaze ‘89 (1982)
This “neon-noir” is a West German cyberpunk thriller overrun with 1980s aesthetics courtesy of co-writer and director Wolf Gremm, and based off Per Wahlöö’s outrageous 1964 novel, “Murder on the Thirty-First Floor.”
One of Kamikaze ‘89’s biggest coups is that it features the late, great Rainer Werner Fassbinder in his final screen role –– he tragically died of a drug overdose a month before the film’s release –– as Police Lieutenant Jansen, a detective in leopard-print duds who’s on the trail of a recent string of deadly bombings that are amounting to a massive corporate media conspiracy.
When not bowling or delighting himself at the police disco, Jansen finds life in the future of 1989 to be one dominated by reality TV, constant surveillance, and distrusting, furtive glances from doubtful factions, and danger at nearly every turn.
Gremm employs RWF’s longtime cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger, as well as Brigitte Mira in a memorable minor role as the Human Resources Director, making this an authentic farewell from Fassbinder that’s also a real hoot.
Kamikaze ‘89 also scores bonus cool points for having a synth-soaked OST courtesy of Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream), making this one of the strangest and most exalted of underground films. This one really is something else.
7. Meet the Feebles (1989)
Before he amassed his Oscars and rocketed to international fame with his brilliant J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations, Peter Jackson made a name for himself in his native New Zealand as a genre junkie, and one happy to offend with splatter comedies.
One of his earliest efforts is this musical black comedy, Meet the Feebles, which pays both hilarious homages and livid lip service to a Jim Henson-like cosmology of puppets. Though where Henson’s muppet creations were clever and cute, most of Jackson’s are mean-spirited, horny as hell, fame-obsessed, and foul-mouthed.
One part parody of show business sleaziness, and one part OTT outrageous juvenilia, the procession of hedgehogs, hippos, poodles, walruses, and the like, will definitely tickle many movie fans (a Deer Hunter parody is particularly memorable), but this is certainly a misanthropic movie, and as such will not work for sensitive or serious viewers. This is a warped WTF of a film, worth watching if you’ve got a strong stomach, and perhaps not at all, if you don’t.
6. Erik the Viking (1989)
Monty Python’s Terry Jones wrote, directed, and co-stars in this quotable, comical tour de force, inspired by his 1983 children’s book “The Saga of Erik the Viking” and the results are hugely entertaining and occasionally rather exciting, too.
Tim Robbins is Erik, a conscientious Viking, he has grown weary of all the pillaging, ransacking, and raping, and yearns for something more. Soon Eartha Kitt’s wisewoman Freya sends him on a quest that will take him to Asgard, home of the Norse gods, to end the age of Ragnarök. Erik’s alternately harrowing and hilarious adventure will incorporate an invisible cloak, a beautiful princess (Imogen Stubbs), a wicked insurgent named Halfdan the Black (John Cleese), a dangerous dragon, and more.
5. Shock Treatment (1981)
While originally upsetting fans of their previous cult classic musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), also directed by Jim Sharman, who co-wrote this follow-up film along with Richard “Riff Raff” O’Brien, partially due to the latter’s tagline; “It’s not a sequel… it’s not a prequel… it’s an equal,” well guess what? The years have been kind to Shock Treatment, and it’s a giggle to catch up with the still square and decidedly stuffy Brad Majors (Cliff De Young) and his wife Janet Majors (née Weiss) –– brilliantly brought to life by cult movie queen Jessica Harper (most notably from 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise, and 1977’s Suspiria).
As the two are now denizens of Denton, USA, they find themselves forced into being contestants on the TV game show “Marriage Maze”, hosted by the eccentric Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries). Thrown into the mix directly from Denton’s local mental hospital are brother and sister Cosmo (O’Brien) and Nation McKinley (Patricia Quinn, who was Magenta in Rocky Horror) and most certainly a conspiracy involving the DTV (Denton Television) network.
The songs are fun, the comedy decidedly cruel, and every character is eccentric as can be. Shock Treatment is an underrated camp classic, and a testament to O’Brien’s harebrained genius.
4. Suburbia (1983)
Writer-director Penelope Spheeris’ first narrative film, 1983’s Suburbia, presents what New York Times critic Vincent Canby called: “A clear-eyed, compassionate melodrama about a bunch of young dropouts… [and] probably the best teen-agers-in-revolt movie since Jonathan Kaplan’s Over the Edge.”
In a film populated by subjugated suburban punks who squat in abandoned tract homes––which they’ve dubbed “TR homes” after their “The Rejected” moniker––these neglected and rejected kids form a family, of sorts. The largely likeable rabble are portrayed by Bill Coyne, Timothy O’Brien, Chris Pedersen, and Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame).
So many aspects of this gritty, ugly, determined, and credible punk rock chronicle works, the cast of actual punks, almost all non actors, adds an honesty and a palpable nostalgia that other Los Angeles-set films of the period lack. Angry, violent, and unfeigned, Suburbia is the real deal.
3. Basket Case (1982)
In writer-director Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case, Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) is a normal, even pleasant looking fella who carries around a wicker basket and oh, his monstrously deformed gristly little jealous twin is in there, and he scuttles around killing people. It really can’t be understated enough: this is an amazing movie, you guys.
The schlock and sleaze on brutal display as Duane checks into a sleazy New York City hotel and allows his deformed twin Belial –– with whom he has a psychic link –– to go on a jealousy-fuelled killing spree, is a lot of gross out fun, frankly. And Henenlotter would ride the cult success of the film into two sequels oddly enjoyable sequels; Basket Case 2 (1990) and Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991).
Basket Case is the film that Rex Reed referred to as being “…the sickest movie ever made!”, and Henenlotter wisely took this as a compliment. To miss this would be to miss out on a shit ton of disgusting fun.
2. Bride of Re-Animator (1989)
While the H.P. Lovecraft purists have never had a full-on affection for the cinematic adaptations of the Herbert West–Reanimator stories, this sequel continues less with the Lovecraftian serials and more with the Stuart Gordon 1985 Re-Animator (itself one of the list toppers of our previous 25 Best Cult Films of the 1980s).
Written by Rick Fry, Woody Keith, and Brian Yuzna, and directed by Yuzna, Bride of Re-Animator picks up where Gordon left off (while also loosely acknowledging Lovecraft’s “The Horror from the Shadows” and “The Tomb-Legions”), and brings back most of the original cast (though sadly Barbara Crampton did not return).
Jeffrey Combs sizzles in his fevered and fun return as Dr. Herbert West, and while Bride of Re-Animator is silly and less cohesive as the first film, it’s a hoot to catch up with our exiled scientists as they inexplicably hide out in Peru in order to maintain their unorthodox experiments with the undead.
This tasteless, gloriously gory, endlessly comedic (Combs is the king of the throwaway quip), is crazy fun that works best if you just go with the giggly, gross-out flow and don’t overthink all the nonsense silliness. “Make a note of it, Dan! Tissue rejection!”
1. Strange Brew (1983)
Originating from the maple tundra of Canada comes the beer-swillin’, easy-goin’, all too laid-back, and forever bumblin’ McKenzie Brothers, Bob (Rick Moranis) and Doug (Dave Thomas). First rising to cult status for North American audiences via the sketch comedy show SCTV (itself an offshoot from Toronto’s Second City, where many world-class comics and Saturday Night Live alum got their start), it was inevitable that they’d get some kind of cinematic treatment, thus Moranis and Thomas, inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I shit you not, would co-write and co-direct this sudsy spectacle.
“What’s terrific about the McKenzie Brothers is their offhand depiction of two English-Canadian working-class dimwits,” wrote the Globe and Mail’s Jay Scott, “and what’s terrific about the movie is it’s equally offhand surrealism.”
As Bob and Doug find themselves gainfully employed at the Elsinore Brewery, hoping to scam as much free beer as possible, they uncover an evil ploy to mind-control Canadian beer drinkers via the nasty Brewmeister Smith (Max von Sydow). A whole lot of good-natured fun ensues.
“Anyone who’s partial to the McKenzies’ humor doubtless has a fondness for beer,” remarks NY Times; Janet Maslin, adding: “The price of a ticket could buy enough beer for an experience at least as memorable as this one”.
Speaking as a proud Canuck, it’s somewhat essential that, to know Canadian culture means to at least, on some silly level, acknowledge the quirky camaraderie that Bob and Doug generously and joyously display. So sit back, grab some corn, and watch this beauty movie, eh?
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.