On this week’s episode of Slasher Studios, Kevin Sommerfield and Steve Goltz went over their favorite slasher movies of the 1980s. Movies that set the tone the golden age of the self aware horror film and gave the horror audience something special and unforgettable. Click on the link below to listen to an archive of the show:
5. Happy Birthday to Me-1981
Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright is a pretty and popular high school senior at Crawford Academy. She is one of her school’s “Top Ten”: an elite clique which comprises the richest, most popular and most snobbish teens at the Academy. The Top Ten meet every night at the Silent Woman Tavern, a pub near Crawford’s campus. One night, en route to the Silent Woman, Top Ten member Bernadette O’Hara is attacked in her car by a killer whose face cannot be seen. Unable to flee, she struggles and then plays dead to catch the Killer off-guard. She fights the killer off, then runs off to get help. Instead, Bernadette finds a student whom she is familiar with. She pleads her ordeal, only to have her throat slit when this student (whom the audience still cannot see) turns out to be the killer.
The Top Ten is briefly concerned when Bernadette fails to show up at the Silent Woman. They promptly get over it, however; the Top Ten have a long history of playing elaborate pranks, both on each other and on the locals. Their grievance with another tavern patron inspires them to pull such a prank: they “borrow” the member’s pet mouse, which they dunk into the lodger’s beer, all the while pretending to apologize for their rudeness. The lodger discovers the mouse; mayhem ensues, and the Top Ten flee the scene.
En route back home, the Top Ten see a drawbridge going up and decide to play a game of chicken: all cars in the game must make it across before the bridge is completely raised (to allow the passing of ferrys). A protesting Ginny is shoved into a car by fellow Top Ten member Ann Thomerson. Every car jumps the drawbridge save one. After the car stops Ginny runs from the vehicle into the darkness home. On the way home she stops by her mother’s grave to tell her she’s popular and hangs out with the Top Ten all the time. Ginny is confronted by her father about coming home after her curfew. Unbeknownst to either of them, somebody has followed her home. Will she be able to save her self or her friends before they fall prey to the top 10 curse?
“Happy Birthday to Me” is preposterous, over-the-top, and silly. A blend of all of the 80’s excesses rolled into one far too long film (outside of the “Scream franchise” NO horror movie should run upwards of two hours). Nonetheless, “Birthday” works. Maybe it is the silly deaths (gotta love the shish-ka-bob to the mouth or the weights to the crotch) or maybe its the outlandish ending that doesn’t even try to make any sense whatsoever. Whatever it is, this movie put a blood red smile across my face for the majority of its running time. Great atmosphere, steady cinematography, and a capable cast also help matters considerably. I can’t say this is a great movie by any stretch of the imagination but if you are looking for a fine, fun 80’s slasher, this is definitely one of the better ones.
4. Friday the 13th-1980
Looking at Friday the 13th, it’s easy to see why the film was so controversial. Many feminist groups were so angered by these types of movies in the 1980’s. After all, aren’t these films merely an excuse to show a topless girl running through the woods waiting to get impaled on a killer’s “long blade”? The references to death and sex aren’t exactly subtle. As Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film states, many feminists were downright disgusted by Friday the 13th finding it repulsive and borderline offensive that every female in the film, with the exception of the “final girl” (which I will go into detail on later), is killed because of her sexual experience and independence. What kind of message does this send to the female youth of America? Stay subservient to your male partner and everything will end up being okay for you?
Does Friday the 13th add to the “media’s representation of women as passive, dependent on men, or objects of desire” as many feminist film critics have stated? Well, that is left up to debate. For example, a select group of feminists actually applauded this film and other slasher films like it. In fact, while most feminists theorists label the horror film as a “male-driven/male-centered genre”, feminist critics like Carol Clover pointed out that in most horror films, especially in horror films like the Friday the 13th series, the audience, male and female, is structurally ‘forced’ to identify with the “innovative and resourceful young female” (“the final girl” as described earlier) who survives the killer’s attack and usually ends the threat. She argues that “while the killer’s subjective point of view may be male within the narrative, even the male viewer is still rooting for the “final girl” to overcome the killer.”
Nonetheless, many key film critics disagreed with the argument that horror films like Friday the 13th are “pro-feminist.” In 1981, Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, launched a “famous diatribe against the subjective point-of-view killing mechanism” of the slasher film which, as he argued, “placed viewers in the position of ‘seeing as’ and, therefore, ‘identifying with’ the maniacal killers.” Nevertheless, many filmmakers and other critics disagreed with the “simplistic association of subjective point of view shooting with audience identification by believing in point-of-view cutting as a stronger way of achieving audience identification with a character.” If anything, it could be argued that this point-of-view shooting makes horror films forces the audience to identify with the female protagonist that much more. Or, as feminist critic Clover calls it, “masochistic rather than sadistic.”
Looking at Friday the 13th, it is not hard not to see why the criticisms were made. The film is poorly acted, poorly directed on a minimal budget with a core story that, at best, rips off the Halloween franchise frame by frame. However, this would be avoiding the very essence of why these horror films are so popular. People don’t go to Friday the 13th expecting a great, cinematic movie going experience; they are going to Friday the 13th to have fun. It can be argued that films like Friday the 13th are escapist entertainment at their very best. There is nothing fundamentally great about these films but that’s really the point. They are fun, they are scary (if, by today’s standards, cheesy and tame), and they are very entertaining.
The feminist critics that attack these films don’t seem to see the power these films contain. Here, in Friday the 13th, is a young woman who must put all the pieces of the mystery everything together and save her friends in order to survive the night. And survive she does, something that not a single other male does in the course of the film. In fact, looking at the series as a whole, it takes the franchise until Part 4 before it even allows a male to survive in the end. It should come as no surprise that this male is survived with a female who, once again, was forced to save the day on her own. Whereas in other film genres, such as romantic comedies and dramas, where females are pushed aside to “girlfriend support” roles, Friday the 13th tries to do something different with gender roles by making the males the “supportive partner” and forcing the young female teenager to go take charge and same the day. In essence, the female in this film, as in many other horror films, is the hero.
3. April Fools Day-1986
In the 1980’s, if there was a holiday, there was a horror movie. Christmas got “Silent Night, Deadly Night” and “Black Christmas”, prom got “Prom Night”, birthdays got “Happy Birthday to Me”, Graduation Day got…umm…”Graduation Day”, New Years Eve got “New Years Evil”, and Halloween got…umm….”Halloween”. Okay, so creativity was never a strong suit of the slasher genre. My favorite slasher holiday guilty pleasure will be the one I’ll be watching in less than 12 hours. “April Fools Day”. Seriously, this movie has everything. Amy Steel from “Friday the 13th: Part 2”? Check! Deborah Foreman from the criminally underrated “Waxwork”. Check! The overgrown bully from “Back to the Future”? Check! A surprise twist ending? Double check! C’mon, look at the above poster and tell me that you don’t instantly fall in love…
The plot is quite simple. A group of eight college friends (each more annoying than the next) gather together at an island mansion belonging to heiress Muffy St. John to celebrate their final year of school. They soon discover that each has a hidden secret from their past which is revealed, and soon after, they turn up dead. Yet, are they really dead? Or is it just part of some very real and cruel April Fool’s jokes? The hostess, Muffy, is the only one who apparently knows what’s going on. But then again, is it really her doing the killing? Fun from beginning to end. Speaking of end, don’t let anyone spoil the final surprise for you!
2. The Burning-1981
In a summer camp named “Camp Blackfoot”, a group of boys are planning to pull a prank on the weird, alcoholic, masochistic caretaker, Cropsy, during the middle of the night. They sneak into his cabin and set a rotting skull on fire, only to have Cropsy wake up and accidentally knock the skull onto his gas tank, causing flames to spread all over the cabin. The horrified boys then watch as Cropsy, engulfed in flames, stumbles out and falls down a ravine into a river, putting out the flames. Five years later, Cropsy is released from hospital, wearing a heavy coat, sunglasses and hat to hide his deformities. Out of rage, he murders a female prostitute. He then sets out to another summer camp named “Camp Stonewater”.
The camp is populated with many characters, who are each going through their own situations: Eddy wants to get it on with the shy hottie Karen, Todd struggles as head counselor and seeks to find time to be with his girlfriend Michelle, eccentric and shy Alfred is trying to make friends with Dave, Woodstock and Fish, who are all trying to get back at cocky, cruel Glazer, who lusts for cutie Sally.
Cropsy makes it to the camp as everyone is playing baseball, and almost kills a female camper, but hesitates too long. The next morning, Sally goes to take a shower, senses that someone is inside the showers, and pulls back the curtain, exposing a shocked Alfred, who runs out of the shower. Sally’s screams bring Karen, Michelle, Todd and Eddy, who catch Alfred, who Michelle insists should be thrown out, but Todd takes him to have a stern talking-to instead. During this conversation, Todd learns that Alfred does not have any friends, and was just trying to pull a prank on Sally to make her laugh. After the discussion, Glazer attacks Alfred and warns him to stay away from Sally, but Todd breaks them up, telling Glazer to cool off, and lets Alfred go and apologize to Sally.
Night rolls around, and Alfred spots Cropsy outside his window, but no one believes him, so he, Dave, Fish, and Woodstock go to the mess hall with everyone else. While everyone is eating, Karen tells Michelle that she and Eddy are going to spend the night together, and that she should be back before morning. After supper, everyone then goes to sleep, except for Karen and Eddy who sneak off into the woods by another lake, to skinny-dip. They begin to fool around in the lake, while someone takes Karen’s clothes. Just as Eddy and Karen are about to have sex, Karen decides she’s not ready, upsetting Eddy who tries to force himself on her, making her slap him. Eddy is outraged and orders her to leave him, which she does, only to discover that her clothes have been strewn all over the woods. She begins to collect them all, until she reaches her last article of clothing on a tree, where she is grabbed by Cropsy and has her throat viciously slashed. And Cropsy is just getting started….
A fun “Friday the 13th” rip-off that has some great death scenes and a memorable villain (Crospey has been and will always be freaky as hell. The problem with “The Burning”? Too many damn characters. So many characters in fact that none of them really leave an impression so that you don’t care who lives and who dies. This is a fun movie, don’t get me wrong, but I always thought that it could be a better movie than what it is. So, why is it one of my favorite slashers of the 1980’s? Simple. The deaths. And I do mean the deaths. The deaths in this splatter film have to be seen to be believed. Everything that you would want to see with garden sheers to nubile teens are done to extraordinary effect. Credit Tom Savini who does some of his best make up work to date with this fun little slasher title. Looking for a gory good time? Make a date with “The Burning”.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street-1984
Wes Craven’s definitive classic. Bet you can’t guess what it is. A Nightmare on Elm Street is an unbelievably original, terrifingly realistic, and overall terrifying that, despite a weak ending, is one of the best horror flicks of the quarter of a century. The film deals with a deceased child molester who now lives only through the dreams of the children of those who burned him alive. Robert Englund is truly frightening as Freddy Krueger. Wes Craven delivers a surprising amount of tension that still holds up today.
Nancy is having nightmares about a frightening, badly-scarred figure who wears a glove with razor-sharp “finger knives”. She soon discovers that her friends are having similar dreams. When the kids begin to die, Nancy realizes that she must stay awake to survive. Uncovering the secret identity of the dream killer and his connection with the children of Elm Street, the girl plots to draw him out into the real world.
The film goes for suspense, drama, and gore and delivers for the most part. Heather Langenkamp gives a very solid performance as Nancy Thompson, the young woman is the “leader” among her friends and the only one who may get out alive. Forget about Jamie Lee Curtis’ whimpering performance in “Halloween”. Here Langenkamp is the real deal and she kicks ass. A great horror film that still delivers today. Look for a young Johnny Depp who, arguably, has the best death scene in the flick.