What is it that makes a film catch fire at the box office? The filmmaking world has tried to figure that out for decades. A great script, successful director, and bankable cast does not always assure a hit. For every financial success or big blockbuster, many more films fail for one reason or another.
Sometimes a film’s failure can be head-scratching on different levels. Arthur Penn’s 1976 Western, The Missouri Breaks starred Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando and was poised to be a giant success, but audiences stayed home. John Carpenter was on a roll with a string of successes when his 1982 remake of The Thing bombed at the Summer box office. How could audiences ignore Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982? Wasn’t David Fincher hot enough after Se7en for moviegoers to trust his 1999 follow up Fight Club? How could the combined talents of lightening-hot filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino not solidify 2007’s Grindhouse an 80 million dollar opening?
The questions as to why a certain film is completely ignored by audiences or studios will never fully be answered. Perhaps it is the lack of promotion or the fact that studios get scared and only release a film in certain markets. Perhaps movie-going audiences are just too fickle. In this article, we will highlight 10 lost treasures of 80s cinema that readers may not have seen.
10. Night of the Hunted (1980)
Director Jean Rollin was known for giving his low budget Horror films an artful look that rivaled those with bigger budgets. The filmmaker would combine fantasy, horror, and sexuality to create his unique vision. As his type of Erotic Horror fell out of favor, Rollin fell into more exploitation work. With 1980’s Night of the Hunted, the filmmaker made something classy out of a film with one of his lowest budgets and a less than two week shooting schedule.
Rollin cast his film with a few of French Cinema’s most popular Adult Film actors (with Bridgett Lahaie giving a well-received performance) and made a film that is both a Science Fiction-esque Thriller and a gruesome Horror tale of a clinic whose patients are losing their identities because of an unexplainable accident. What makes it so special is the director’s attention to character and performance and the way Rollin creates a palpably sinister atmosphere through Jean-Claude Couty’s cinematography and the sublimely eerie score from Phillipe Brejean.
9. Still of the Night (1982)
Robert Benton was fresh off his Oscar wins for directing and writing 1979’s Best Picture winner Kramer vs. Kramer. His next project was 1982’s Still of the Night, a murder mystery about a psychiatrist who falls for a mysterious woman who is stalked by a killer. Roy Scheider and Meryl Streep starred but the film only received a small release with no fanfare and faded from cinemas after only a couple of underperforming weeks.
The critics were mixed on their reception, with too many of them focusing on Benton’s Hitchcockian homages. The film stands the test of time as the kind of thriller Hollywood does not allow today, a well-acted and extremely well-paced thriller with a smart screenplay. Sadly, Meryl Streep was once asked if she had ever done a bad film. Her answer was, perhaps, a residual of the film’s failure, Still of the Night.
8. A Breed Apart (1984)
In 1984 Rutger Hauer, Kathleen Turner, and Powers Boothe were hot properties in cinema with each one only a couple years out from their star making performances, Blade Runner, Body Heat, and The Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, respectively.
In A Breed Apart Hauer plays a conservationist who must stop Boothe’s character from stealing the priceless eggs of rare eagles. Kathleen Turner is the widow who falls for Hauer but is not immune from Boothe’s charm.
While never a filmmaker who played to mainstream audiences, Phillippe Mora assembled a popular cast and the reviewers noted how screenwriter Paul Wheeler brought both excitement and well-written characters to the unusual story. The studio, Hemdale, decided to release it almost straight to video after a mishap where an entire reel was lost, and the film had to be re-edited after losing some of its important subplots. Mora’s film is exciting and well-acted and one that holds up well.
7. Testament (1983)
Director Lynne Littman’ 1983 film Testament was praised by critics and earned lead actress Jane Alexander an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. To assure Oscar consideration, the film was screened for New York and L.A critics but premiered on PBS stations.
While respected, Littman’s film of a family surviving in a post-nuclear world has gotten lost over the years. Staying away from any FX spectacles of missile strikes, John Sacret Young’s powerful screenplay (based on the novel The Last Testament by Carol Amen) brings the focus of survival to a mother’s love and strength while keeping both her family and what is left of her community together, making the film a potent time-capsule of an era where the threat of nuclear war was a constant.
6. Sherman’s March (1985)
Writer/director Ross McElwee’s 1985 film Sherman’s March is both a documentary and a very funny relationship comedy. What started as a film that was to track the historic route of General Sherman’s famous “March to the Sea” during the final days of the American Civil War became a humorous and soulful examination of the filmmaker’s uneven love life.
The film was shown in cinemas but only in big city Art Film houses and college campuses, where it found a cult following. Critics praised the film’s unique quality and McElwee’s honesty as a director. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was chosen as Documentary of the Year by the New York Film Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics.