The sheer love for the horror genre and its acceptance into the mainstream during the 1980s is actually pretty amazing to look back upon. I honestly don’t think horror films were ever as popular or ever have been as popular. Those of us who were around back then have fond memories of a new wide-release horror film coming to theaters every single week (now we’re lucky if we get one every three months and even luckier if it isn’t a remake) or going to the video store and seeing the shelves stocked with brand new discoveries (now knowing that pretty soon we’re going to have to explain what video stores were to the next generation of fans). During this time, if a film made money, rest assured there would be a sequel… or three… as well as lots of tie-in merchandise (t-shirts, video games, etc.), TV spin-offs and, in the pre-internet days, multiple genre-specific magazines with their enticing, gory covers to keep all of the enthusiasm going. If horror ever had its heyday, it was in the “Greed is good.” / “Decade of excess” era, which is quite appropriate actually. Many who feel like outsiders or alienated by their surroundings tend to gravitate to this misunderstood, unfairly maligned genre as a sort-of quiet, anti-establishment expression.
The big three franchises of the decade all fell into the slasher subset of horror films popularized by Carpenter’s huge hit Halloween. Along with Friday the 13th and the later A Nightmare on Elm Street (which added a supernatural aspect to the standard formula), and their iconic, instantly identifiable bad guys, these films were highly profitable regardless of what the critics had to say about them. While Halloween is generally considered the best film from this category, and the Elm Street films had the most popular villain (who was so popular he got his own TV series), it was actually the Friday series that spawned the most films during this time: eight; one for nearly every year that decade. By 1990, all three franchises had burnt out from overkill, audiences were bored and only sporadic sequels would appear from then out on out, as well as obligatory and subpar remakes of all three in the 2000s.
New Line, Paramount and Universal weren’t the only ones in the game. Smaller companies were also free to cash in on the slash-and-hack craze, and many of these smaller films went on to become successful in their own right. The Boogeyman (1980), Prom Night (1980), The Slumber Party Massacre (1982), Sleepaway Camp (1983), Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), Sorority House Massacre (1986), The Stepfather (1987) and Child’s Play (1988) were just some of the hits that spawned their own sequels. A more charismatic and cerebral genre icon even emerged at the end of the decade in Hellraiser (1987) to give Freddy and company a run for their money.
Another trend of the decade (which is in epidemic mode these days) was to dip back in time to revive and try to kick-start a series based on a once-popular film, which resulted in belated sequels to, or remakes of, Invaders from Mars (1953), Godzilla (1954), The Blob (1958), The Fly (1958), Psycho (1960), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), The Exorcist (1973), It’s Alive (1974), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Jaws (1976), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Piranha (1978), Alien (1979), The Amityville Horror (1979), Phantasm (1979), Salem’s Lot (1979) and many more; all of them hitting theaters with varying degrees of success.
Mass sequelization was certainly not limited to slashers or old tried-and-true chestnuts either, but was also a frequent occurrence with other types of films that proved to be just as profitable. These included everything from werewolf films (1981’s The Howling) to zombie films (1985’s The Return of the Living Dead) to vampire films (1985’s Fright Night or the same year’s Mr. Vampire [a huge hit in Asia]) to anthologies (1982’s Creepshow) to quirky, low-budget independents that steadily built a cult following due almost entirely to word-of-mouth, such as 1982’s Basket Case. Big-budget blockbusters weren’t immune to sequel syndrome themselves as sequels to Poltergeist (1982), Ghostbusters (1984) and Predator (1987) can attest. Of these big budget films, perhaps Gremlins (1984) made the biggest impact. It was so popular it spawned its own sequel and at least three copycats (1984’s Ghoulies, 1986’s Critters and 1987’s Munchies) that were popular enough to each have multiple sequels themselves.
Working right alongside the studio theatrical releases were the low-budget and ultra-low-budget films that did most of their business on home video. Independent efforts, like Troma’s The Toxic Avenger (1985) could do OK business on a limited theater run and then turn around and make a killing on VHS. Sequels ensued. Witchcraft (1988), a generic and quite awful rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) somehow ended up spawning a dozen (!) unrelated sequels (though just two within the decade) and was just one of many d-t-v success stories. Even the lowest of low-budget filmmakers jumped on the bandwagon. The world may not have wanted Revenge (1986), the shot-on-video follow-up to 1985’s Blood Cult, Video Violence, Part II (1988) or the dreadful Crazy Fat Ethel II (1987) but we got them, anyway.
Overseas, there were attempts at creating Demons and Zombi franchises that overlap and are so confusing to try to describe that I get a headache from just thinking about it. Along the same lines, re-titling films to create a bogus new series to sell on home video also became commonplace here in America, resulting in fake franchises like The Curse ‘series.’ This idea was swiped from a shady technique used to sell foreign films to American audiences before home video; with Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood being sold as Last House on the Left, Part II, Shock becoming Beyond the Door II, etc.
Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me sifting through hundreds of these things to come up with the following list of 20 standouts.
I want to start out this list by saying that I try to judge all films on the basis of intention; i.e what is the movie trying to do and how successful is it at doing it. Every film is made for its own individual purpose, to make us laugh, scream, swoon or cry, put us on the edge of our seat, gross us out, make us think, make sure we don’t have to think... Film can be a highly personal statement from an individual artist wanting to express his or herself or their beliefs (audience be damned), or as simple as easy-to-process product to sell to the masses. Just as filmmakers have their own reasons for making the films they do, we the audience have our own reasons for watching what we watch. Sometimes we want to reflect on real life and other times we just want to escape it for a little while.
By their very nature, sequels are almost always doomed to mediocrity because they exist solely to make money and are made in response to another film’s success. Recycling and rehashing are the name of the game. The producers and studios that bankroll them usually want more of the same. Whatever worked the first time, whatever people paid to go see, whatever will make them more money… The old ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mantra at work. Very few filmmakers have been able to successfully craft a respectable sequel that both honors the original and manages to stand on its own merits. From all indications, many don’t even try; approaching the task as either by-the-numbers / for-hire work or just doing their own unrelated thing hoping the brand name title alone will sell it.
Of the countless sequels, spin-offs and re-titled films from this decade that I’ve seen, the following list of 20 have managed to rise to the top for a variety of reasons. Some actually do follow up on their namesake, but have found a way to enrich and enhance what’s already been done. Others are tied to the original by only the slimmest of threads, while others have absolutely nothing to do with the first film in their supposed series and are a separate entity entirely free to do their own thing. The only common denominator here is that all of these either are, or are usually considered to be, a continuing chapter of a particular series.
So without further ado, let the countdown begin…
20. Monster Hunter (1981)
Directed by: "Peter Newton" (Joe D'Amato)
George Eastman (who also scripted) is back from his fetus-feasting, gut-eating exploits in 1980's financially successful Neapolitan gore-fest The Grim Reaper. After being disemboweled on a steel gate, Mikos is taken to a hospital for surgery, quickly recovers, sticks a drill through a doctor's head and goes after other victims so he can regenerate his always-dying cells with their blood. An obsessed priest (Edmund Purdom) who’s been tracking him and a police sergeant (Charles Borromel) set out to stop him. The killer eventually ends up in a remote house to terrorize a nurse (Annie Belle), a bedridden teen girl (Katya Berger), her kid brother (Kasimir Berger) and a babysitter (Cindy Leadbetter). Clearly indebted to Halloween, this borrows wholesale from Carpenter’s classic but actually manages to do the whole slasher flick routine better than any of the Halloween sequels. There's loads of gore (table saw head-splitting, axe to the head, scissors to the neck, gouged out eyeballs, a head stuck in an oven, a decapitation…), adequate suspense build up and extremely dark and murky photography that imbues this with such a gritty, dirty feel you may be tempted to take a shower afterwards. Appropriately capped off with a memorably nasty ending. Originally titled Rosso sangue, this was released under a multitude of different titles over the years, including Absurd, The Grim Reaper 2, Horrible and Zombie 6: Monster Hunter.
19. Possessed II (1984)
Directed by: David Lai
Director David Lai and star Gary Siu both returned for this bonkers in-name-only sequel (originally Yan gui fa kuang) to the previous year's Possessed (1983); also a Johnny Mak production. An unfaithful detective (Sui), his reserved pregnant wife (Mabel Mei Bo Kwong) and their little girl move into a suspiciously cheap former brothel and eventually come to the realization that the place is haunted. It takes possession of both his wife (who turns into a man-seducing werewolf-like creature) and daughter (who turns into a levitating, bully-ass-kicking, blue-faced zombie) for dad to finally break down and enlist the aid of a Hare Krishna exorcist (Jayson Case) to combat the evil forces and save his family. While the first film had its share of dull stretches, there's never a dull moment in this one. It’s a lightning-fast, very busy and frequently hilarious horror-comedy that merrily zips right along from one crazy scene to the next and features enthusiastic performances from the cast and loads of imaginative – and something quite gory - special effects. Suffering a little from sheer overkill, and confusing in spots, this is still a definite bright spot as far a 80s horror sequels go.
18. Phantasm II (1988)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
A well-budgeted, slicker and more professionally put together sequel, this lacks the previous entries quirky low-budget originality and doesn't really add anything new to the storyline, but it also isn't a bad way to spend an hour and a half of one’s time and respectfully retains the original's oft-admired ambiguity (no surprise considering the same director made both films). A pair of teen psychics (James Le Gros and Paula Irvine), as well as Mike's uncle Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and a mysterious hitchhiker (Samantha Phillips) team up to thwart the plans of the sinister Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who's up to his old tricks again. The brain-drilling, blood-slinging flying spheres and killer cannibal gnomes return and various other bad guy morticians and hearse drivers await our heroes. The who and why are still extremely vague in terms of who these people are and what they plan to accomplish, though we do get some clues and a look inside some kind of alternate universe located between a pair of humming, electromagnetic steel beams where the mutant midgets are born and bred to crawl out into our world to... Ahhhh, whatever. Fuhgetaboutit! It's all smoothly slapped together for what it is and, if you can get past what isn’t explained and accept all the bad guys as simply collective evil, the excellent (and plentiful) effects by Mark Shostrom, creative directorial touches, steely photography and action / horror scenes all deliver the goods.
17. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2 (1986)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Though no match for the original groundbreaker, this is a fun, completely over-the-top gore-comedy with much to recommend; extremely spirited performances, super-gory Tom Savini make-up effects (which were strong enough to deny this an R rating when released) and an underground cannibal clan hideout that’s a marvel of skeletal decor, hooks, cobwebs, tunnels and blood oozing walls.. Dennis Hopper (who had a critically acclaimed turn in Blue Velvet the same year) turns camp king as Ex-Texas Ranger Lt. Lefty Enright, brother of the Sally and Franklin characters from the original. He's out for revenge against the cannibal clan for what they did to his family, while feisty Southern radio DJ Stretch (engagingly played by the very charming Caroline Williams) simply tries to survive after one of her radio broadcasts piss them off. Jim Siedow (who’s great fun himself) is back as the unhinged patriarch, who makes award winning chili out of human flesh, Leatherface (played by Bill Johnson this time) is still swingin' the saw and even the 100+ year old grandpa is still hanging in there. The new addition to the family is Chop Top (Bill Moseley), who has a metal plate in his head, suffers from 'Nam flashbacks and does some disgusting things with a clothes hanger and a lighter. Follow it with a Tylenol chaser.
16. The Church (1989)
Directed by: Michele Soavi
In an intriguing prologue, Teutonic knights slaughter an entire village of people, throw the dead bodies in a crypt, seal it and place a giant cross on top. Years later, a beautiful Italian cathedral stands on top of the same cursed plot of land, and when a renovation crew destroys the floor, the church seals the doors, trapping various characters (clergymen, a photography crew, a bunch of -ugh - little kids on a field trip, etc.) inside. The new librarian (Tomas Arana) becomes possessed, others follow and if you've seen the first two Demons movies (this was released as Demons 3 in many markets) you pretty much know what to expect next. What could have been an ‘80s genre classic unfortunately degenerates into silliness after all hell literally breaks loose, undermining an otherwise first rate and highly atmospheric offering that would have scored higher otherwise. The cinematography, special effects, art direction and music score (with bits contributed by Keith Emerson, Goblin and Philip Glass) are all excellent and Soavi, a Dario Argento disciple, has obviously learned the ropes from his teacher (a writer and producer on this project) when it comes to livening up stale material with a stylish and visual presentation. Like many other films on this countdown, this has its flaws, but there’s really much more to enjoy here than scoff at.
15. Curse II: The Bite (1989)
Directed by: "Fred Goodwin" (Frederico Prosperi)
Originally titled simply The Bite, this is another in-name-only sequel which has no relation to The Curse (1987), an adaptation of Lovecraft's great short story "The Colour Out of Space." It also has no connection to the other two films released as part of the Curse series, which has been known to annoy people. However, if you're willing to put the misleading marketing out of your mind and take this at face value, it isn't bad at all. And if you happen to also be afraid of snakes, it plays up on that fear to the hilt and then some! Clark (J. Eddie Peck) is bitten by a toxic-waste-exposed snake and given an inappropriate anti-venom shot by wanna-be doctor Jamie Farr, which results in his arm turning into a killer serpent with a mind of its own! This movie has its problems, but the nice windswept, Southern road movie feel, a unique and original premise and superb Screaming Mad George special effects, featuring such doozies as a jaw ripped off, a head bursting open, snake-puking and a heart ripped out of a chest through the mouth, easily maintains interest. 80s horror favorite Jill Schoelen is the heroine and Bo Svenson gets to play yet another small town jerk sheriff.
14. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Frequently lambasted by series fans for not featuring the iconic Michael Myers (How many times do people need to see him walking around slashing people up anyway?), the original intention of this entry was to prompt more unrelated sequels carrying a seasonal theme and the Halloween brand name. After disappointing box office results and terrible reviews, that concept both began and ended right here. Tom Atkins and Stacy Nelkin travel to the tiny California town of Santa Mira to investigate "Silver Shamrocks," a heavily-guarded company mass-producing popular masks. Cheerful company owner Conal Cochran (played with big kid charm and gusto by Dan O'Herlihy) is actually using the masks in a ridiculous plot to kill millions of children on Halloween night. How? By putting shards of Stonehenge in a microchip that – when activated by a hypnotic commercial - makes heads explode into a mass of cockroaches, beetles and snakes! If you can just go along with that nutty premise, this whole thing looks and feels great, offers lots of gross-out Tom Burman effects, an excellent synthesizer score and captures the funhouse spirit of All Hallow’s Eve perhaps better than any other entry in this entire series. Along with the timeless original, this is the only Halloween film I’ve felt compelled to make a holiday tradition in my home.
13. Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
Directed by: William Lustig
After token pre-credits flashback footage, ex-policeman Matt Cordell (Robert Z'Dar) returns from the grave to get revenge on some of New York's finest. This time there's a cover-up subplot as Cordell's facially scarred ghost is after the corrupt cops who wrongfully sent him to prison where inmates slashed him up. His partner in crime (sort of) is a talkative, bearded serial killer (Leo Rossi) who is strangling strippers, while understandably perplexed officer Robert Davi, police psychiatrist Claudia Christian and others are hot on their trail. Larry Cohen's script gleefully stretches credibility to the limit, taking entertainingly wacky turns left and right, the cast is good and director Lustig has a firm grip on the material, piling on the fast-paced action (including one of the best car chases I’ve ever seen), violence, stunt work and pyrotechnics with engaging enthusiasm. For my money, this is not only far and away the best in the three-part series, but one of the best action-horror hybrids of the decade.
12. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Directed by: Chuck Russell
At the time of its release, this third entry in the lucrative Elm Street saga broke several records for independent productions and made a lot more money at the box office than the previous two (a record that would itself be shattered by Elm Street 4). Everyone’s favorite “bastard son of a thousand maniacs” burn victim, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), returns through a spiritual loophole because his body was not buried on consecrated ground. He's still invading the dreams of the Elm Street children (who are all in a psychiatric hospital) and killing them off in macabre ways, passing the murders off as suicides. After sitting out an entry, Heather Langenkamp returns to reprise her role as Nancy. Now working as a "dream therapist," she teams up with a doctor (Craig Wasson) to help protect the potential victims and end Freddy's reign of terror once and for all… or at least for another year. Outstanding and highly imaginative effects (including some brief stop motion animation), plus reasonably likable characters and a nice balancing act between the mysterious and wisecracking Freddy personas, land this near the top of list for both this series and 80s horror sequels.
11. Hex versus Witchcraft (1980)
Directed by: Chih-Hung Kuei
Hex (1980), from the same director, was basically a rip-off of Les diaboliques (1955) with a supernatural bent. This follow-up (originally Che dau che) is completely different in tone. Instead of getting an average, derivative supernatural horror film, here we get an above average supernatural horror-comedy. Luckless gambling addict Cai Tou (James Yi Lui) is at the end of his rope. His wife has left him and a brutal gangster wants him dead. After multiple unsuccessful suicide attempts, he’s propositioned with an offer he cannot refuse: to marry up. There’s only one catch: His new wife is a hot-tempered, jealous, wrongfully-killed ghost so annoying he’s forced to hire an exorcist to try to get rid of her! Entertaining, clever, well-acted and often very, very funny, this scores in all the ways it should. As an added bonus, the film spares us any icky sentimentality. If this were a Hollywood movie the filmmakers would have shoved some heavy-handed moral message down our throats at the end to ensure the main character learned some kind of valuable lesson from all he goes through. Not so much here. Cai Tou is who is he. He's no angel and never will be, but that ultimately makes him more believable and even more endearing. The third in this series, Hex After Hex (1982), actually follows up on this one in true sequel fashion.
10. Day of the Dead (1985)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Romero's follow-up to Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1979) doesn't quite stack up to either of those outstanding films (then again, what does?), but is still a worthwhile conclusion to his original "Dead Trilogy." The action is mostly relegated to an underground military bunker where a dozen or so people, who may very well be our planet's last survivors, are hiding out. The claustrophobic setting, differing viewpoints between the military and science factions and a grim outlook on the future have created a tense and hostile environment. The conflicted Sarah (Lori Cardille) is caught somewhere in the middle of things; fighting a losing battle trying to keep peace between the obnoxious, sexist, racist military men (led by Joseph Pilato), a boyfriend who's quickly losing his mind and brilliant-but-insane chief scientist Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), who’s been nicknamed Dr. Frankenstein for the amount of corpses he's cut up since they're been there. Much criticized over the years for being overacted in an almost cartoonish fashion (a valid criticism), this still has much to offer: a palpably bleak atmosphere, many interesting and thought-provoking ideas, some the finest work of makeup fx artist Tom Savini and a zombie named Bub, to name just a few.
09. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Directed by: Joe Dante
Dante and co-executive producer Steven Spielberg didn’t strike pay dirt a second time with this belated follow-up to their monster hit of 1984, which underperformed at the box office and grossed only one-third of what its predecessor made). That said, this wonderfully self-aware follow-up really deserved to do better business. After the death of his owner and the demolition of his home, the ever-adorable mogwai Gizmo ends up in the genetics lab of a multi-purpose high rise building in New York City, where he eventually gets wet and spawns a legion of vicious, mischievous, scaly monsters that end up turning the entire place upside down. Dante cleverly uses the premise to skewer 80s greed, materialism, trends, pop culture and numerous other things while also creating an entertaining monster movie full of in-jokes any horror, sci-fi or fantasy film buff should be able to appreciate, even taking a few opportunities to poke fun at the first film. Many actors from the original (including leads Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates and B-movie legend Dick Miller) reprise their roles and there’s a terrific supporting cast that includes standout performances from John Glover as a Donald Trump clone (well, a Trump clone before Trump completely lost his mind), Christopher Lee as a stuffy scientist and Robert Prosky as a washed-up horror host. Special effects are exceptional.
08. Sorority House Massacre II (1990)
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
While Freddy, Michael, Chucky and Jason were off doing their mainstream thing, Jim Wynorski was busy gathering together a small cast and crew to make light of the whole slasher movie craze. Few would have guessed that this resulting exploitation / horror spoof would pack ten times the entertainment value on one-tenth of the budget. The premise is simple enough: Five sorority girls (led by ‘B’ flick regulars Gail Harris and Melissa Moore) move into a new sorority house, play around with a Ouija Board and get killed off one-by-one by a hooded, hook-brandishing killer who may or may not be their hefty next door neighbor Orville Ketchum (Peter Spellos). What separates this from other films in its subgenre is both its goofy sense of humor and its glee in plying on the exploitation thick and heavy, while making no bones about any of it. Packed to the gills with nude and scantily-clad ladies, adequately bloody and even surprisingly atmospheric, this manages to walk steadily down that horror-comedy-parody tightrope; fulfilling both a slasher fan’s wants and giving those who find the whole subgenre tired and worn out something to laugh at. Wynorski made the very similar and even-better horror-comedy Hard to Die, which could just as easily hold this spot on the countdown (some don’t view it as an actual sequel so I opted to use this one instead).
07. Guinea Pig: Mermaid in a Man Hole (1988)
Directed by: Hideshi Hino
Entry #5 in the notoriously gory Japanese series (originally Ginî piggu: Manhôru no naka no ningyo) centers around a lonely, reclusive, recently-widowed painter and art teacher named Mr. Haydashi (Shigeru Saiki), who discovers a beautiful mermaid (Mari Somei) down in the sewers that he once saw there as a child. Now weak and dying, the artist brings her back to his home where she insists he paint her using multi-colored blood he extracts from tumor-like growths that form on her body. Nothing seems to help ease the suffering and before long the mermaid degenerates into a boil-covered mess, with soars constantly oozing blood and worms as she thrashes around in a blood-filled bathtub. Unlike the other Guinea Pig flicks I've seen, this seems more like an actual movie than just an excuse to disgust the audience, though it also does that quite well with various repellent scenes. The performances are good, the cinematography and shot compositions are sophisticated and moody and there's an actual plot-line this time out with depth to the storyline and characters. This entry hits on what both series fans want and what people who want an actual movie want all at once. It would have done better as a stand-along film minus the sequel title.
06. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)
Directed by: Bruce Pittman
Wrongfully killed 50s Prom Queen Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage) possesses virtuous goody two shoes Vicky (Wendy Lyon) to get revenge on those responsible for her fiery accidental death decades earlier… and hopes to return to life herself in the process. Originally titled The Haunting of Hamilton High, this was never meant to be part of any series, and has nothing to do with the boring Jamie Lee Curtis slasher hit from 1980. So don't let the sequel title keep you from enjoying this clever, highly-amusing and extremely entertaining horror-comedy from our friends up North. Loaded with bright, enthusiastic performances (particularly from Shrage and Lyon; Michael Ironside’s in here, too), good special effects (including a creepy living rocking horse and a memorable moment where a poor girl gets crushed inside a locker), dated 80s ‘New Wave’ style and nods to classics like Carrie and The Exorcist, this is one hell of a good time. It also gets major props for daring to go places other mainstream releases of its day refused to go. There’s some surprising, invigoratingly tasteless humor in here; including several hilarious confessional booth gags and a prom send-off with pops that must be seen to be believed.
05. Magic Cop (1990)
Directed by: Wei Tung
Often released as the fifth installment in the popular Mr. Vampire horror-comedy series, this moves the action up to the present day instead of having a Feudal setting, features a powerful sorceress and her zombie henchmen instead of bloodsuckers and tosses aside slapstick humor and bumbling characters for witty dialogue and putting its relatively normal characters into crazy situations to get its laughs. The common link to most of this series is actor Ching-Ying Lam as the hero. Lam became famous in his homeland for playing the wise, level-headed, straight-faced unibrow-sporting Taoist priest in this series and has a somewhat similar role here (though a detective) as an adversary of evil who uses both his martial arts skills and his knowledge of ancient magic to take on the undead. You really can't ask for much better as far as action-horror-comedies are concerned. The earlier character building scenes have a certain charm to them thanks to a charismatic cast, it's often very funny and the last 30 minutes of action, horror and special effects are excellent. The likewise great Mr. Vampire 3 was also a contender for this spot.
04. Aliens (1986)
Directed by: James Cameron
After awakening from a decades-long deep sleep, a nightmare-plagued Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is faced with opposition from those who doubt her story about what went down in the original Alien (1979). When contact with a colony on the same desolate planet Ripley’s crew initially picked up the alien stowaway on stops, she agrees to go along with a group of "space marines" to investigate. The group forms a seemingly fool-proof plan to wipe out the alien organisms responsible but things naturally don’t go as planned and Ripley and surviving company find themselves trapped on the planet along with countless acid-blooded killer aliens and their "bitch" of a mother. This superior science fiction film is suspenseful, action-packed and boasts excellent art direction, photography and special effects (courtesy of Stan Winston and numerous others), but what truly elevates this above the pack and keeps it from being a cold exercise in technique is the human element afforded the film by Weaver in the central role. The actress joined very select company by receiving a rare and much-deserved Oscar nomination for a genre film (the film itself picked up two technical awards).
03. Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
A semi-remake of the 1981 hit, Part 2 has a higher budget, more comedy, better acting and more elaborate special effects. Fans and critics constantly debate on which is the "better" of the two (the same goes for the never-ending Alien vs. Aliens debate), but the two films are different enough in tone that it all boils down to personal taste. At a remote mountain cabin, Ash (Bruce Campbell) plays a demonic recording found on a tape recorder, unleashes an ancient evil spirit and has to dispatch his beloved when she becomes one of the undead. If things couldn't get any worse, our hard-luck hero also has to deal with his own possessed, eventually-severed hand, a mutant in the cellar and more zombies when some hikers stumble upon the cabin and become easy prey. Everything here really clicks perfectly: Campbell is hilarious in his star-making role, there’s enough slapstick gore to satiate any viewer’s bloodlust (decapitations, dismemberments, chainsaw-chewing, eyeball swallowing…), the fx (by Steve Wang and many others) boast major creativity and there’s plenty of great swirling POV camerawork to represent the evil forces roaming the forest.
02. Exorcist III (1990)
Directed by: William Peter Blatty
Police lieutenant Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott) investigates a series of ghastly decapitation murders in Georgetown which seem to bear the trademark of The Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), a sacrilegious sick-o who struck the town years earlier. The only problem is the killer was executed fifteen years ago and it was on the same night as Father Damien Karras' plunge down the stairs after performing the exorcism on young Reagan. Locked up deep in the bowels of a mental hospital is Patient X (Jason Miller), who bears a striking resemblance to Karras and has first-hand knowledge of the crimes, both new and old. Hampered a little by producer interference; scenes of a priest who comes out of nowhere toward the end were added because the producers felt the film needed an exorcism scene to keep the title, this has excellent acting (especially Dourif), a fascinating storyline and creepy atmosphere to burn. The hospital corridor sequence is one of the finest staged horror set-pieces you'll see and the director (who based this on his 1983 novel Legion) deserves credit for trying something completely different, including a dream sequence set in heaven featuring Big Band music, tarot card readers and winged angels played by everyone from Samuel L. Jackson to romance novel model Fabio and pro basketball player Patrick Ewing! Creepy, original and wonderfully bizarre.
01. Psycho II (1983)
Directed by: Richard Franklin
Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) returns to the Bates Motel after spending twenty-two years in a state institution. After getting a job in a diner and returning to the motel to try to live a normal life, he thinks he's losing his mind after receiving notes and phone calls from "mother." Then the murders start up again. Has Norman returned to his old ways, are others conspiring against him or is it perhaps a combination of the two? I’m awarding my top spot to Psycho II not only because it’s a great film, but also because I feel it does precisely what a good sequel should do; offering up twists to the initial storyline, using audience familiarity with the original to dash expectations and continuing to flesh out its troubled central character. Love and respect for the 1960 classic can be seen in nearly every single frame, yet the film takes on its own identity, has its own story to tell and own surprises to reveal. Director Franklin and his cinematographer do an excellent job setting up the shock scenes and building suspense, all with great reverence for the style and humor of Hitchcock. One of the major reasons for this film's success is the outstanding central performance from Perkins, who manages to simultaneously creep us out and win over our sympathies. Regardless of how batty Norman becomes throughout the film, Perkins has made sure he's human first and foremost; never a cardboard cut-out. The elegantly haunting score from Jerry Goldsmith (fashioned with respect for Bernard Herrmann) also deserves praise.
Thanks for taking the time to read!