5. Basket Case (1982)
In writer-director Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case, Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) is a normal, even pleasant looking fella who carries around a wicker basket and oh, his monstrously deformed gristly little jealous twin is in there, and he likes to scuttle around killing people if you’re not careful. It really can’t be understated enough: this is an amazing movie, you guys.
The schlock and sleaze on brutal display as Duane checks into a sleazy New York City hotel and allows his deformed twin Belial –– with whom he has a psychic link, fyi –– to go on a jealousy-fuelled killing spree, is a lot of gross out fun, frankly. And Henenlotter would ride the cult success of the film into two oddly enjoyable sequels; Basket Case 2 (1990) and Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991).
Basket Case is the film that Rex Reed referred to as being “…the sickest movie ever made!”, and Henenlotter wisely took this as a compliment. To miss this would be to miss out on a shit ton of disgusting and delightfully dated 80s fun.
4. Next of Kin (1982)
“[Next of Kin is] a horror film unlike any other,” raves an always riled up Quentin Tarantino in the 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: the Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, adding with excitation that “it has a very unique tone and the closest equivalent to this tone is The Shining.”
Set in a remote retirement home in Australia known as Montclare, Linda Stevens (Jacki Kerin), following the death of her mother, has inherited the struggling place, and with it her deceased mother’s diary, which will shed a spectral light on her experiences both very recent and very long ago.
An incredibly atmospheric Ozploitation picture with gothic sensibilities, director and co-writer Tony Williams makes Next of Kin the type of moody thriller that gets under your skin while offering up some really good and entirely genuine scares. A precursor to the sort of domestic horrors articulated in recent chillers like Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018) and Natalie Erika James’s Relic (2020), this is a film that will hound you for days afterwards. Not to be missed.
3. Pin: A Plastic Nightmare (1988)
Based on the 1981 novel by Andrew Neiderman, director Sandor Stern’s deeply disturbing direct-to-video chiller Pin is the kind of low-key psycho-sexual thriller that affects and infects the viewer like a snakebite. And what’s more, when most horror films at the time were derivative sequels about unstoppable killers, Pin takes a more Hitchcockian approach with stifling puritanical parents and all too realistic-looking medical mannequins.
Young adult siblings Leon (David Hewlett) and Ursula (Cynthia Preston) share an uncommon relationship not just with one another but with the aforementioned and eponymous medical mannequin, which is also anatomically correct. This life-sized figure, which Leon and Ursula’s physician father uses to teach them about sex education, is only the beginning of the strange shit that’s soon to go down.
When Leon’s parents die in a car crash he gets the bright idea to bring Pin from dad’s doctors office to the family home he shares with Ursula. Before you can say “third wheel”, Pin is being adorned in a tailored suit, freaky fake skin, an obvious wig, even a place at the table.
Creepy and kinky, the oddball premise of Pin: A Plastic Nightmare, takes some thoroughly reprehensible deviations as it rattles the audience. It’s an odd, chilling, and serenely strange film as well as a wonderful artifact of strange Canadiana and late-80s horror that is far more cerebral and analytical then it has any right to be. Pin will mess you up.
2. Opera (1987)
Arguable Dario Argento’s last true masterpiece, Opera presents a grisly giallo slasher film as frightening and formal as the relentless black-gloved killer at it’s impenetrably bleak heart. Set at the incredibly photogenic Parma Opera House in Italy, an avant-garde production of Verdi’s Macbeth is about to go off the rails in the most gruesome of fashion. First the opera’s star is injured in a car accident and her understudy, Betty (Cristina Marsillach) lands the lead role of Lady Macbeth, and soon after this shakeup, an anonymous figure armed with a coat-hook is soon stalking the opera house, leaving the odd impaled victim in his wake.
Of course this is peak Argento so Betty is having Freudian flashbacks to previous traumas as the production’s pet ravens foreshadow further destruction. The epic score, which often erupts into scenes with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the testes, is performed by the holy trinity of Brian Eno, Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti, and the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman, so the gooseflesh it conjures is genuine. The creative and often objectionable deaths, gruesome beyond reason (another Argento trademark), and punctuated by such further terrors as the killer forcing Betty to watch via taping needles under her eyes so she cannot look away, make for some of Argento’s most memorable anxieties. This is voyeuristic terror at its most bitter, dizzying and dressy. If you’ve ever doubted Argento’s ability and guile, Opera will set you straight while scaring you silly.
1. Prince of Darkness (1987)
This apocalyptic, atmospheric, and spine-tingling horror from 1987, Prince of Darkness, is worthy of revisitation for anyone who may have lumped it in with the deluge of supernatural genre films that flooded the late 1980s and trust me, this movie is miles above similarly themed drek like The Seventh Sign (1988) or Wes Craven’s meandering misfire Deadly Blessing (1981).
With a game cast of some of John Carpenter’s best and most menacing regulars (Donald Pleasence, Peter Jason, and Victor Wong, not to mention a show-stopping cameo from Alice Cooper), this film is startlingly good and remarkably upsetting in the best possible way.
The middle film in Carpenter’s thematic “Apocalypse Trilogy”, which starts with The Thing (1982) and concludes with In the Mouth of Madness (1995), Prince of Darkness may just be his most overlooked motion picture, and perfect for top-billing on this list. Showcasing all the elements that make Carpenter great; an overly dramatic yet absolutely awesome synth-saturated soundtrack, scenes of shocking violence, tense stand-offs, at times ludicrous plot twists, dark humor, memorable dialogue, a heaping helping of cornball theatrics, just enough pseudo-science to lend some credibility, and an ending to make you jump out of your seat. Prince of Darkness is an absolute scream.
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.