6. Vanishing (George Sluizer, 1988)
The best way to go into this film for the first time, is to know as little as possible. Although since the film’s American 1993 remake of the same name, this may be easier said than done. Rex and Saskia are a young couple in love and on vacation. They stop at a busy service station and Saskia mysteriously disappears. From then, Rex dedicates the next few years in attempting to find her, but has no luck. Then one day, he begins receiving postcards from her abductor who flirts the idea of telling Rex what happened to Saskia.
This French-Dutch thriller is one of the most tense and unapologetic films that even Stanley Kubrick cited it as the scariest movie he’d ever seen and praised director George Sluizer. Much like European thrillers like Funny Games and the recent Speak No Evil, the film strips away any sign of conventional plot structure, happy endings and hope, but in a way, that’s what makes it more thrilling than most other films.
7. At Close Range (James Foley, 1986)
The film follows Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken), a leader of a Pennsylvania crime organisation who draws his own sons, Brad Jr. (Sean Penn) and Tommy (Chris Penn) into the life of crime. After the two brothers start their own gang, they’re arrested in a robbery attempt and discover that their father will do absolutely anything to avoid being caught. Written by Elliot Lewitt and Nicholas Kazan, the film is compelling in both its dialogue and unfolding of story. Directed by James Foley, the film captures the true bleak and gritty atmosphere of rural Pennsylvania.
The film’s strongest quality is the performances. Real life brothers Sean and Chris Penn really add a level of authenticity in regards to their characters but its Christopher Walken who shines. His performance as the conniving, backstabbing and hateful father adds to the film’s grittiness and is the driving force throughout the film. The supporting cast also includes Tracey Walker, Millie Perkins and Mary Stuart Masterson.
8. Eyes Of Laura Mars (Irvin Kershner, 1978)
Faye Dunaway stars as Laura Mars, a New York City renowned fashion photographer famous for her violent, gory yet sexy controversial images. Her life takes a drastic turn when Laura begins to develop a disturbing ability to see through a serial killer’s eyes. The script was co-written by John Carpenter and David Zelag Goodman from a story written by Carpenter. The film was directed by Irvin Kershner and impressed Hollywood as two years after he directed Star Wars V – The Empire Strikes Back.
The film is very much inspired by the Italian Giallo genre of films, being one of the first in helping to create the American Giallo genre, other examples also include Alice Sweet Alice, Dressed to Kill and Happy Birthday to Me. Though the film also touches on another horror sub-genre, one close to John Carpenter’s heart, the slasher.
The film is one of the more stylish films of the 1970’s, and though set in a dirty and rough New York, the film stands out like a polished diamond. Even the film’s original poster is a work of art as it’s a close up of Faye Dunaway, her face just about emerging from complete darkness and her eyes are glowing white. The performances are also one of the film’s highlights. By the late 70’s, Faye Dunaway was what Meryl Streep was in the 80’s, the number one actress in Hollywood. She even won an Oscar for Network the same year Laura Mars was released. Tommy Lee Jones also co-stars in the film, having just come from Rolling Thunder the year before, and truly proves to be an emerging talent in Hollywood. The film is stylish, tense, well written and shot but most importantly, it holds a great twist which you may not see coming.
9. Something Wild (Jonathan Demme, 1986)
Charlie Driggs (Jeff Daniels) is a square, fun less, yuppie investment banker in New York City. In a diner he meets an eccentric and wildly dressed woman called Lulu (Melanie Griffith). She offers Charlie a ride downtown but instead takes a detour to New Jersey and throws his beeper out of the car. When running out of booze, Lulu stops in a town to buy some more. As Charlie attempts to call his office, Lulu robs a liquor store. Lulu and Charlie are clearly two different people who represent the two sides of Reagan’s 80’s: the clean-cut business-oriented yuppie vs the punk rebellious 70’s hangover. But as more chaotic and thrilling scenes follow, Charlie begins to fall for Lulu. Her free-wheeling lifestyle makes him reconsider his own very different way of life, but not only that, he begins to see the “real” Lulu. She takes off her brunette bob wig, confesses her real name as Audrey, and even introduces Charlie as her husband to her mother. Lulu/Audrey even takes Charlie to her high school reunion.
Now if you were to fade out with the two characters slow dancing at the reunion, gently looking into each other’s eyes as Jennifer Warnes or Simple Minds sing the closing credits, then you’d have a perfectly acceptable and enjoyable 80’s rom-com. But that gentle moment, is exactly when a pre-Goodfellas Ray Liotta enters the film…And in some way, a different, much dirtier, harsher and violent film takes over.
Written by E. Max Frye and directed by Jonathan Demme, the film takes you on a bizarre journey led by equally bizarre characters. Griffith’s on-screen presence has always been electric as she’s proven she can play crazy fun girl the men of the 80’s dreamed would enter their boring lives, but also the intelligent underdog such as her character in Working Girl. But the star of the show is clearly Ray Liotta. His psychotic dangerous stare, his macho looks, his almost madman laugh, all of the traits that his character Henry Hill has in Goodfellas, Liotta first used here. He doesn’t carry the film, as Daniels and Griffith definitely don’t need carrying, but he takes the film that one-bit further it needs to go.
10. Road Games (Richard Franklin, 1981)
Stacy Keach stars as an American trucker in the Australian wilderness who begins to fixate on a man driving a green van, suspecting him of murdering girls along his route. With the help of hitchhiker, Jamie Lee Curtis, Keach begins to play a game of cat and mouse with the green van driver, hoping to catch him red-handed. The film was written by Everett De Roche and it isn’t exactly ashamed of its Hitchcockian influences, such as Rear Window. The film was directed by Australian director Richard Franklin who directs the film with such style and finesse that along with George Miller, it’s easy to say that no one shoots long winding highways such as Australian directors.
Coming off of a horrorathon of films since Halloween such as The Fog, Terror Train and Prom Night all 3 released a year earlier in 1980, Jamie Lee Curtis was the perfect final girl to star alongside a cool mannered, determined Stacy Keach. With subtle parts humour and mystery, the film works well in not only creating dread and horror through Franklin’s direction, but also a pleasurable on-screen duo in Keach and Curtis.