6. From Beyond (1986)
Aside from Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft is possibly the most influential horror writer of all time. Unlike King, however, Lovecraft’s work hasn’t had many successful adaptations to screen, most likely because his monsters are literally unfathomable creatures from beyond time and space. But director Stuart Gordon has adapted Lovecraft in many of his films, including the classic horror-comedy Re-Animator.
From Beyond–loosely based on a short story of the same name from Lovecraft–was his follow-up to Re-Animator, in which he casts Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Crawford Tillinghast. After an experiment goes wrong with a machine that acts as a portal to another dimension, from which a creature emerges and decapitates his mentor, Tillinghast is charged with murder and sent to a mental institution.
After a psychiatrist there begins to suspect he’s telling the truth, he’s released into her custody and Tillinghast returns to his work. From this point on, the film ramps up the horror and madness until its explosive finale.
Like in Re-Animator, a mixture of horror and humor is used to great effect by Gordon in this film, although From Beyond leans far more on horror, particularly in its third act. Likewise, Combs is terrific as the mad scientist-turned-monster Tillinghast, and the body horror special effects throughout are also excellent (and highly disturbing). A top-notch horror film that is more inspired by than being a literal Lovecraft adaptation, it nonetheless harnesses the bizarre and inexplicable just like its inspiration had.
7. Opera (1987)
Upon the debut of a young opera star, a murderer sets its sights on tormenting the singer. After forcing her to watch as the hooded killer murders her boyfriend, she is haunted by memories of a similar disquieting figure from her childhood.
As she continues to be stalked by this mysterious figure, the killer forces her to witness more horrifying acts of violence upon the people surrounding her. But the revelation of who the killer is, and their connection to her past, is as personally horrifying to her as any of the graphic acts she’d been forced to witness.
Co-written and directed by legendary giallo horror maestro Dario Argento, Opera was the last truly great film he produced. A hit in his home country, Opera is still highly regarded among Argento’s fans.
Its detailed murder sequences–always a signature of Argento’s and giallo horror in general–bring a disturbing realism to the already considerately suspenseful tone of the film. It’s also Argento’s highest-budgeted film and it shows in its lavish production. Perhaps it was the last great work of the Italian horror master, but he concluded an astonishingly successful run in a spectacular fashion.
8. Street Trash (1987)
If you’re looking for grimy horror, look no further than 1987’s Street Trash. Set among the homeless population of down-and-dirty 1980s Brooklyn, New York, this body horror film kicks off when an unscrupulous liquor store owner begins to sell bottles of gutrot wine he finds in his basement to the local hobos for a buck apiece.
Unfortunately, the wine has gone way off, in that it melts away its consumer into a gooey, disgusting blob. Mix this in an unrelentingly bleak outlook on the human race as a whole and a detailing of the extremes of the lowest end of city life and the horror of the film begins to resemble a Hubert Selby, Jr. novel with melt effects.
For example: a scene where a homeless man’s penis is cut off, and then tossed around by his fellow homeless compatriots in a junkyard, is played for laughs–complete with “wacky” music playing on the soundtrack despite its disquieting implications.
This surprisingly stylish low-budget horror flick accomplishes a lot with very little, mixing gruesome visuals with dark comedy. It’s a film whose population ranges from the downtrodden to outright gross, that depicts the urban homeless that live on the fringes of society as living monsters and the heartless goons that exploit them alike with equal disgust.
Now a well-established cult film within the “melt” subgenre of horror films that came out during the 80s, Street Trash is a disturbing (and often disheartening) look at an easily forgotten population of the mentally ill, war vets, and addicts that live on the streets and are treated like trash.
9. Parents (1989)
To kids, their parents always seem weird: they have a secret language that you’re not privy to and their actions are often outside your ken. So if they seem strange, it’s not anything out of the ordinary–that is, until you begin to suspect that there’s something much darker going on.
This is the sort of unnerving nightmare that ten-year-old Michael begins to experience when he begins to realize that his picture-perfect square parents (Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt) may be cannibals.
A rather bizarre mix of horror, satire, and comedy, Parents is a weird domestic horror film that places its poor juvenile protagonist squarely in the center of an upsetting situation. This bizarre debut by actor-director Bob Balaban (who also directed the weird Disney horror film My Boyfriend’s Back) is worth a watch for those that enjoy their horror dripping with satire and offbeat, twisted comedy.
10. Stage Fright (1987)
Actors are universally considered the worst: over-dramatic, self-centered, and disconnected from the real world, actors have gained a bad reputation over the centuries for these negative traits. But that doesn’t mean they should be murdered, much less by one of their own.
In Stage Fright, however, this is exactly what happens: while a group of young actors rehearse a play, an escaped mental patient (who is also an actor) finds his way into their theater and begins to pick them off one by one. This is made all the more strange/amusing because the killer wears a costume owl head throughout.
Well-received upon its release, this slasher flick has gained a cult following since, distinguishing itself through its stylish direction and obvious giallo influence. No wonder: the director of the film had previously worked with Dario Argento as an assistant director. Combine this with a witty script, well-realized characters, and a film that understands its genre, and you have a smarter-than-your-average 80s slasher film in Stage Fright.
Author Bio: Mike Gray is a writer and editor from the Jersey Shore. His work has appeared on Cracked and Funny or Die, and he maintains a film and TV blog at mikegraymikegray.wordpress.com.