Everyone has heard of Freddy, Jason, and Michael, but have they heard of the Guitar-Drill Killer, outlaw biker satanic werewolves, bum-melting alcohol, or Belial? Well, they should, especially if they are a fan of horror. A lot of great horror franchises have received worldwide theater releases and are known and loved by many around the globe.
Each of the aforementioned big franchises have had 10 plus releases, each spawning sequel after sequel, reboots, and remakes across decades for millions to enjoy. But have these horror freaks seen the criminally underrated 1988 sequel of the awesome Sleepaway Camp series? Do casual horror fans who enjoy modern zombie romps like “The Walking Dead” or “Zombieland” know that “Return of the Living Dead” revolutionized the brain eating undead in 1985? Probably not, but here are 10 cult classics every horror hound should watch right now.
1. Werewolves on Wheels (1971)
The earliest film on the list, “Werewolves on Wheels” is from 1971 during the explosion of the Bikesploitation era. Many outlaw biker flicks were made during the Vietnam/post-Nam era in which many veterans were coming home with no place or purpose, so they rode on the coattails of their forebears from World War II and joined motorcycle clubs. However, these bikers were nastier and rowdier than ever, giving rise to a great cult genre of film.
This one in particular mixes the grittiness of an outlaw film with the suspense and terror of a classic Universal monster film with a satanic twist. Director Michel Levesque began in film under grindhouse god Roger Corman, and it shows here. We meet the Devil’s Advocates cruising down the road in the desert to an awesome acid-soaked late ‘60s/early ‘70s rock n’ roll soundtrack. A truck driver runs one of the members off the road, so the gang meets up with them at a gas station and beats the one guy to hell. Inside the station we meet the members.
Adam is the leader, Helen is his woman, and Tarot is his right-hand man who sets the occult tone by reading cards for Helen and sealing her fate. The gang happens upon a desert satanic temple in which the monks dose them with drugged bread and wine and perform a ritual to transform Helen into the bride of Satan, but what the gang does not know is that some members have been transformed as well. Later after numerous mysterious deaths, the gang learns on a moonlit desert evening that certain members, including Adam, are the ones performing the claw-dragging ritualistic murders. The end is perfectly pessimistic akin to the feeling of post-war America for this grindhouse cult classic that would be awesome for any drive-in motorcycle rally.
2. The House on the Edge of the Park (1980)
This super sleazy, gritty picture is brought to us by Italian master Ruggero Deodato, who also brought us the super gory cult classic “Cannibal Holocaust.” “The House on the Edge of the Park,” akin to “The Last House on the Left” from American horror master Wes Craven, is Italy’s answer to the home invasion rape and torture phenomenon happening in grindhouse cult horror at the time. It even shares the same star, David Hess, who really brings that dirty, perverted, sleazy vibe to life.
The film opens with Hess running a woman off the road then raping and killing her in her car, and this is just the pre-credit sequence! As the credits roll, we are introduced to that sleazy New York of old that people talk about now as legend. Alex (Hess) is a mechanic getting ready to go out for the evening with his not-all-there buddy Ricky. A car with some nicely dressed young couples comes in to ask for help. Alex is hesitant as they are ready to go out, but Ricky finds a quick fix. Alex and Ricky invite themselves to the small get-together with their new ‘friends’ and away we go, but not before Alex goes and grabs a straight razor.
We arrive at the party and there is a weird vibe. Alex isn’t feeling it and he realizes these snobby folks are mocking and taking advantage of Ricky. Alex does not like this and all hell breaks loose. He beats the one kid bloody and holds everyone else hostage with the razor. From here until the extreme twist ending, it’s nothing but Alex being super sleazy, dirty, and ‘rapey’ until his ultimate demise. Lots of tension and grime mixed with elements of Italian Giallo make “House” a definite cult classic.
3. Pieces (1982)
This bonkers slasher from Spain’s J.P. Simon is exactly that – a bonkers slasher. We open on a kid doing a naughty puzzle of a naked lady. His mother walks in, sees it, and becomes furious and yells at him. He then hacks her up with an axe, chops up the body, then continues his puzzle until the cops arrive. They find her head in the closet. Flash forward to leather-gloved hands back in the house and we find the bloody puzzle box and the bloody dress his mother was wearing. Cut to a college campus and the madness begins. A girl is being chased and slashed throughout the campus and eventually runs into two men moving a large mirror and gets even more cut up, but we get a quick cut to the mother smashing a mirror.
The killings continue this way throughout the film with inserts of the killer attempting to finish the puzzle with other insanity thrown in for good measure. The next kill is a girl studying on some grass and a guy is trimming hedges with a chainsaw. She asks how long he’ll be and he says only a minute. He then chops her head off with the chainsaw. We then figure out his weapon of choice is indeed the chainsaw.
We also get a crazed janitor mistaken for the killer who fights off all the cops, a martial arts instructor who accidentally beats up a female professor, and one of the coolest horror movie kills of all time with a girl being chopped up in a bathroom stall by the killer. It all comes to a wild twist conclusion with no real build-up to a crazy dream-like ending, making “Pieces” one of the finest and most interesting cult slashers of all time.
4. Basket Case (1982)
NYC’s own Frank Henenlotter’s foray into the cult scene cemented him as one of horror’s beloved sons. This gritty, darkly comedic portrayal of New York is as much about the city itself in 1982 as the characters who occupy this strange Henenlotter universe.
The film opens on a doctor in his office being slaughtered by some unknown gnarly creature. We then cut to Duane Bradley walking with a basket through the grimy streets of late night New York City full of porno theaters, drug dealers, and hookers. He lands at the sleazy Hotel Broslin and gets a room. He grabs some food and throws it all in the basket while talking to it and he pulls out the bloody files from the doctor’s office from earlier. Duane goes around and meets up with doctors around the city and eventually meets a girl he likes, one of the secretaries.
Eventually the doctors start dying off due to the grisly murders by this mysterious creature, and only later do we figure out due to a drunken confession by Duane to his neighbor that the thing in the basket is his severed, conjoined twin Belial, who was separated from him when they were younger and doomed to be discarded due to his extreme deformities. Duane and Belial are seeking revenge on all the doctors who performed the secret rogue surgery. “Basket Case” really does capture the essence of early ‘80s gritty New York in this cult masterpiece ripe with awesome practical effects and blood galore, even spawning a few sequels.
5. Rocktober Blood (1984)
This awesomely absurd ‘80s hair metal cult classic will rock you to death. With a ripping soundtrack done by Sorcery and some awesome on-screen kills, “Rocktober Blood” has cemented itself into the annals of metal horror history.
We meet Billy Eye, the lead singer of the band, in the studio rocking out with some new recordings. He leaves to go have a late night booty call. His backup singer, Lynn, records something, but then decides to call it a night. People start getting killed in the studio by a mysterious figure. We then see Billy sitting in the booth menacingly laughing. He slashes Lynn, but a security guard comes in and Billy chases him out to a cut.
Flash forward to two years later and it is Headmistress’s 1984 Rocktober Blood Tour! Lynn is the new lead of the band, but things start to go awry when people end up dead and Lynn swears she sees Billy again, even though he had been executed for the murders years ago. The band decides to get away to a cabin, but the killing does not stop. They even go to dig up his grave to prove he is dead only to find a decaying corpse.
The big show of the tour is coming up and Lynn is still uneasy. Someone in a mask is in her dressing room, who drugs her and puts her in a coffin for her big reveal during the big show. A huge twist as the final rocking performance goes off awesomely in the finale of this metallic crushing cult hit.