20 Under-The-Radar 1980s Movies You Might Not Have Seen

14. Neon Maniacs (AKA Evil Dead Warriors) (1986)

Neon Maniacs

In San Francisco underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, an eclectic group of mutants emerge at night and attack unsuspecting victims. A group of teenagers are partying out in the woods and are mutilated, leaving only one survivor Natalie (Leilani Sarelle), the carnage of bodies and puddles of green mucus.

When the police arrive, they don’t believe her story and allow her to return home, despite being traumatized. While back at school, two of her schoolmates reach out to Natalie with similar experiences of being attacked and band together to battle the monsters.

Directed by Joseph Mangine, “Neon Maniacs” is an overlooked campy sci-fi horror film that could have only been a product of the 1980s. Watchable strictly for the “so bad its good” value and the Mad Max merged with Village People inspired costumes for the mutants. It was also the world’s introduction to Leilani Sarelle, the lesbian lover of Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” and the under-appreciated Donna Locke, in her only credited feature.


15. Street Trash (1987)

Street Trash

In the basement of a New York liquor store, the owner finds a crate of cheap wine called Viper and decides to sell it for a dollar to neighborhood hobos. Unbeknown to him or those who drink it melt in horrific ways.

At a local junkyard, two brothers cope with homelessness and deal with the lecherous manager, a sultry female secretary and the other psychotic inhabitants. Bill (Bill Chepil), a domineering cop is investigating the mysterious and grotesque deaths while trying to topple a deranged Vietnam veteran Bronson (Vic Noto) who is the self-proclaimed king of the junkyard.

Based on a ten-minute student film directed by James Michael Muro Jr (alias Jim Muro) with a script by Roy Frumkes, “Street Trash” is the ultimate in darkly comedic gross-out films in a pre-politically correct era.

It received a limited theatrical release, but gained a devoted cult following on VHS and DVD. In 2006, a DVD was released with a “Viper” sticker, deleted scenes, a documentary called “Meltdown Memoirs” and the original short film. Four years later a double DVD set was released in the UK containing the documentary, a previously unreleased featurette and a booklet called “42nd Street Trash: The Making of the Melt”.


16. Cherry 2000 (1987)

Cherry 2000 (1987)

In 2017, the United States is a wasteland and society has become bureaucratic and hypersexualized. While much of the twentieth century technologies have be recycled, robotics made tremendous development of female androids known as “gynoids” and are substitute wives for a population with a decreased sex life.

Businessman Sam (David Andrews) has a “Cherry 2000” gynoid that malfunctions during intercourse and is beyond repairable. He hires an attractive, but tough tracker Edith (Melanie Griffith) and they head to the dangerous area of Zone 7 to acquire a duplicated. Upon their arrival, they encounter Lester (Tim Thomerson) an evil overlord and his deranged tribe.

Based from a story by Lloyd Fonvielle (“The Bride”) and screenplay by Michael Almereyda (“Nadja”), “Cherry 2000” was directed by Steve De Jarnatt (“Miracle Mile”). It’s a blend of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, spaghetti western and a timeless love story. Although shot in 1985, the feature stumped the studio heads and they shelved it with the intention to be released in 1986, then in 1987. Eventually it was released on videocassette in 1988, following the success of Melanie Griffith’s performance in “Working Girl”.


17. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

A farmer in Crescent Cove, California observes a falling object and believes it to be Halley’s Comet. As he and his dog discover the landing spot, they see a circus tent and are immediately abducted by alien clowns. Also witnessing the crash are two lovers, Mike and Debbie, who realize upon closer inspection that the farmer and his dog are in cotton candy cocoons.

Narrowly escaping the clowns who shoot popcorn guns and sick a balloon dog on them, the couple run to a police station. Officers Dave and Curtis believe it to be a hoax, but venture out to investigate and see the cotton candy residue. Meanwhile, the killer clowns from outer space attack the townspeople, incasing many of them in cocoons or killing them with a grotesque puppet show.

Written and directed by Stephen and Charles Chiodo, “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” became an instant cult classic. Made for a modest $2 million dollars, the feature raked in over ten times its budget within six months of its release globally.

The film score was composed by John Massari and the title song by the Dickies was on their 1988 EP of the same name, but an official soundtrack wasn’t released until 2006. The Chiodo Brothers have been planning a sequel entitled “Return of The Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 3D”, but are waiting for a distribution deal.


18. Brain Damage (1988)

Brain Damage

Brian is an average Joe living in New York City and develops unhealthy co-dependent relationship with an evil brain-eating parasite. In return for steady supply of an addictive, hallucinogenic fluid, Brian seeks out human victims for Aylmer, the disembodied brain. As time progresses, Brian becomes more reclusive and disturbed, which creates a rift between his girlfriend Barbara and his brother.

Written and directed by Frank Henenlotter (“Basket Case”), “Brain Damage” comedy horror feature was vastly ignored and disliked in 1988. It received a limited theatrical release and edited to eighty-four minutes, which didn’t include much of the gore and a controversial fellatio scene. Through the release on home video, it developed a cult following. In 2007 a special edition DVD was released with all the edited scenes reinstated and commentary by Henenlotter.


19. Edge of Sanity (1989)

EDGE OF SANITY, from left: Sarah Maur Thorp, Anthony Perkins, 1989, © Millimeter Films

In Victorian London, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Anthony Perkins) is a brilliant surgeon who becomes addicted to a lethal combination of ether and cocaine. While under the influence and cruising the dark streets at night, he develops the monstrous identity of Edward “Jack the Ripper” Hyde and begins a murderous rampage of prostitutes. Eventually, he able to manipulate others to perform similar acts of depravity, torture and murder.

Based loosely on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and blended with elements of England’s serial killer Jack the Ripper, “Edge of Sanity” was directed by Gerard Kikoine. Dark, erotic and twisted horror film that similar to the work of Ken Russell. Anthony Perkins is at his psychotic best since “Crimes of Passion”. The movie did nothing at the box office, but gained some attention once it was released on home video.


20. Dr. Caligari (1989)

Dr. Caligari (1989)

Les Van Houten (Gene Zerna) has committed his wife, Mrs. Van Houten (Laura Albert) for her uncontrollable nymphomania and inability to cope with reality. The asylum is run by the sadistic Dr. Caligari (Madeleine Reynal), who carries out many experiments on all the patients much like her grandfather did.

The doctor’s unconventional idea is that by transferring glandular brain fluids among the inmates there will be a curative balance. Several doctors are concerned with her methods, but are helpless in their efforts to prevent her from treating everyone like guinea pigs.

Directed by Stephen Sayadian and a script co-written with Jerry Stahl (both responsible for “Café Flesh”), “Dr. Caligari” is a semi-sequel to the 1920 silent German Expressionist film “The Cabinet of the Dr. Caligari”, but no connection with 1962 version. Released in 1989, the erotic, surrealistic dark comedy played briefly in theatres then drifted into obscurity.

Shortly after it was made available on VHS and laserdisc, which prompted a cult following on the Midnight Movie circuit along late night cable television. In 2002, Excalibur Films finally released it on DVD.

Author Bio: James Leon is a screenwriter/director currently residing in the Bay Area of California. His first feature length film, “Dropping Like Flies”, is gearing up for a release in September of 2015. He loves cats, coffee & collage art.