7. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
‘Sleepaway Camp’ on the surface may look like another entry in the 80’ slasher canon, it’s set at summer camp and features a cavalcade of characters you’d mostly be happy to see dispatched by a psycho killer. But, beyond the initial perspective it’s a unique take on the slasher film in its own right.
The back story to the present narrative is a cut above the usual, there is a very good and quite chillingly executed end twist, some brilliantly bizarre characters and some genuinely WTF moments.
The film starts with a tragic accident leaving the only survivor, our central character, ‘Angela’. Moving forward several years, ‘Angela’ is preparing to spend summer at camp with her cousin ‘Ricky’, sent off by her almost unbelievably strange ‘Aunt Martha’ (Desiree Gould).
As mentioned earlier, the camp throws up several bizarre characters, namely ‘Judy’, a foul-mouthed 40 year old in the body of a 14 year old. There are some seriously questionable outfits on offer, particularly in the shorts department.
As a package the whole film is a great deal of fun and has an identity beyond its fellow genre entries, the kill scenes are extremely inventive in places with great effects work, the script is surprisingly entertaining and the performance of Felissa Rose as ‘Angela’ is particularly impressive.
The ending is truly a highlight, aside from some shaky but charming continuity, and one of the most memorable in slasher film history.
8. The Mutilator (1984)
‘The Mutilator’ is seen by some as the quintessential slasher film, it’s a simple but powerful premise, there are no red herrings here and no real mystery to the narrative; it really just gets down to the business of vicious killings and some envelope pushing gore for its time.
Originally released as ‘Fall Break’ and in the context of that title it kind of plays out as an extreme version of a ‘Point Horror’ novel. It’s directed by Buddy Cooper and features some of the great kill scenes of the 80’s, the effects on offer here are some of the very best of the decade.
It starts out with a young ‘Ed Jr’ accidentally shooting his mother dead. His father, ‘Big Ed’ (Jack Chatham) returns and despite his strange reaction we understand this will drive a wedge between father and son.
Fast-forwarding a number of years; Ed Jr is now at college and planning his fall break. He is contacted by his father, who we learn has developed drinking problems and has little to do with his son. He wants ‘Ed Jr’ to close up the family beach house for the winter giving ‘Ed Jr’ and his friends the perfect place to spend a few days.
Once there we discover ‘Ed’s’ father, has stuck around for their arrival. From there on in ‘The Mutilator’ follows a simple formula as the teenagers and an unlucky cop get picked off before a final showdown between ‘Big Ed’ and his son beckons.
It’s a simple, no frills slasher, elevated by its excellent set pieces and the savagery of ‘Big Ed’ as the killer. He is a great villain, he never speaks throughout and unlike other masked or mystery killers in the genre we know who he is from the outset and this brings a welcome new dimension. If you are looking for some serious 80s slasher action then look no further than ‘The Mutilator’.
9. The Stepfather (1987)
‘The Stepfather’ is a film worthy of your attention for the singularly fantastic performance by the great Terry O’Quinn in the title role.
The film leaves us under no illusion from the outset that he is a dangerous and evil man, the opening scene shows him happily changing his appearance before walking out of his home leaving his murdered family behind him.
We learn quickly that in preparation for this he has already set up a life elsewhere and we skip forward to his current domestic bliss with a widow and her teenage daughter.
Outwardly, ‘Jerry Blake’ (as we know him for most of the film) is a charismatic family man, selling houses, or in his own words, “selling the American Dream”. He strives to be the perfect father and husband, this is where we get a hint of motive, we know he has already killed his previous family.
We also learn he is suspected of doing it before that too, the film builds a potential background of a man who has unattainable standards not only for those he chooses as his family but for himself too.
When we start to see the façade fall away, O’Quinn comes into his own, portraying a man with a vicious and powerful temper when met with disappointments.
The film is wonderfully suspenseful as we wait for the inevitable moment that Jerry’ snaps and when it comes it’s an absolute highlight of the movie. There are a few uneven moments and some shaky sub-plotting but the film is all about O’Quinn and he absolutely delivers.
10. Street Trash (1987)
Aptly titled, this body melt horror comedy is trash of the finest order. Made in the Reagan era, the message, if this film has one is that the lowest rung on the social ladder has dropped to a new low. ‘Street Trash’ hasn’t really got a plot to speak of, there are a number of messy sub-plots that seem to be there only to build up to gory or at times tastelessly hilarious pay-offs.
The basic set up is that a liquor store owner finds a box of mysterious alcohol in the walls of his store, rather than investigate its origin or contents he just sells it on special and the vast majority of the films scenes demonstrate the drinks brutal effect on the local homeless population who are ruled by a twisted and violent Vietnam veteran.
There are subplots involving gangsters, a pretty forthright cop who makes a ham-fisted attempt at investigating the goings on in and around the homeless community; you really don’t need to pay that much attention to enjoy this film though, just best to let it happen.
The obvious main highlight is the effect of the mystery alcohol on those who consume it and we get to find this out pretty early on as a hobo literally melts down a toilet, there are of course other treats for the eyes such as hobo sex, necrophilia and a game of catch with a severed penis. It’s all incredibly gooey good fun and some of the effects are tremendous.
The most surprising aspect of all though is that ‘Street Trash’ is so well executed and filmed; cinematographer David Sperling was a veteran of his trade at the time and debut director Jim Muro went on to be a highly respected camera man in Hollywood, working on many of James Cameron’s films as Steadicam operator and their talents really lift the quality of this.
11. Pin (1988)
‘Pin’, subtitled ‘A Plastic Nightmare’ is a seemingly long forgotten classic from 1988. Based on the novel of the same name, it is absolutely chilling in places and carries an ominous sense of foreboding and atmosphere throughout its deliberately paced narrative. David Hewlitt is fantastic as main protagonist, ‘Leon’.
We first meet the character as a young boy whose only friends seem to be his younger sister ‘Ursula’ and a medical demonstration doll named ‘Pin’ (yes, after ‘Pinocchio’).
‘Pin’ is primarily a tool used by the children’s father, Dr Linden (played by the great Terry O’Quinn) who uses a startling talent for ventriloquism to communicate with his children through the doll, something he clearly cannot do on a healthy emotional level.
As the children grow older, ‘Leon’ is left on the brink of mental instability by the combination of this parenting approach and his mother’s own unique obsession with cleanliness.
When we meet the older ‘Leon’ he is unnaturally attached to ‘Pin’, clearly believing the doll to be real. ‘Ursula’ has fared better and seems rather well adjusted in comparison. When their parents die, ‘Pin’ starts to become a much more apparent presence in both of their lives with increasingly unsettling results.
Like so many good horror films which deal with inanimate objects or dolls etc the film constantly flirts with the possibility of a paranormal element and through this it builds real suspense and tension by making the viewer question the true nature of ‘Pin’.
There is much more to this affecting film than what is on the surface and the truly terrifying element will stay with you long after viewing through a surprisingly impactful ending which illustrates the full extent of ‘Leon’s’ descent into mental illness.
It is a terrific movie, there are granted a few uneven scenes which are in danger of taking the film into cliché territory, but all this is entirely forgivable given the tight screenplay, acting and suspenseful direction.
‘Pin’ is an incredibly creepy creation and as a tool for the creating the films atmosphere this is never wasted by director Sandor Stern. Don’t hesitate to seek out this absolute hidden gem.
12. Intruder (1989)
‘Intruder’ is a film with some great people behind it, Scott Spiegel who worked with Sam Raimi on the first two ‘Evil Dead’ films directs and co-writes, Lawrence Bender, Tarantino’s producer on many of his films shares writing duties too.
This solid foundation delivers a wonderful slasher movie, which is perhaps one of the most unfairly under-viewed entries on this list. It has a pure drive-in/grindhouse set up, all the action takes place in the local mall late one night.
The staff deal with some harassment from one of their colleagues ex-boyfriends; find out they are losing their jobs and after dealing with all of this they soon start to get picked off by a mystery killer.
The kills are all extremely well done and there is some fantastic effects work. One kill in particular will stand out in the memory and was the most infamous scene in the film at the time of release.
The cast are all pretty likeable with main girl ‘Jennifer’ (Elizabeth Cox) being a strong and resourceful horror heroine, the narrative is strong throughout with a particularly enjoyable twist at the end.
The talent behind the camera shines through and POV shooting is used to great effect, the editing and pace of the film are also both excellent, look out for king of the cameos, Ted Raimi, always a welcome addition to any film.
13. Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetery Man (1994)
‘Cemetery Man’ is a quirky comedy horror from Italy directed by Michele Soavi and starring Rupert Everett as ‘Francesco Dellamorte’. Odd casting you might say, but, logical in that the film is loosely based on the ‘Dylan Dog’ comic books, ‘Dylan Dog’s’ character in turn was based somewhat on Rupert Everett and to round that off ‘Dellamorte’ made an appearance as a character in the comics.
‘Dellamorte’ is the watchman of ‘Buffalora Cemetery’ and along with his monosyllabic assistant, ‘Gnaghi’, he keeps the cemetery of ‘Returners’.
These are zombies who rise from the dead after seven days of being buried, ‘Dellamorte’s’ job is to ensure they are returned to the grave to stay. He has clearly been doing the job for some time given the unflinching and casual way in which he dispatches the undead.
The plot develops further when he falls in love with a young widow whom he subsequently makes love to in the cemetery, she is seemingly killed when her husband rises from the grave and upon her reawakening ‘Dellamorte’ reluctantly carries out his duty and shoots her in the head, only to realise she wasn’t dead in the first place when she becomes a ‘Returner’.
The rest of the film plays out as a heady mix of self-discovery and increasingly bizarre scenarios, including ‘Gnaghi’ falling in love with the disembodied head of the Mayors dead daughter which he keeps in his broken TV. It’s a wonderfully strange film and Everett is excellent as the downtrodden ‘Dellamorte’.
There are some surprisingly gory moments throughout the film and although the ending may disengage some viewers; overall it’s an absolute must see if you want something a little different.