When you think of horror from the 1980s there are certain movies that just jump to mind, Aliens, The Evil Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Fog, Halloween 2, Friday the 13th, Gremlins and so many more. But there are a few movies out there that never got a sequel, nor a remake and have since faded into a kind of obscurity. Most of them, with the exception of one, would never be put on a “Best Of” list, but these are the movies that I fondly remember watching as I was growing up during that decade. One of them I saw in the theaters and the other two we rented and watched on our trusty “Betamax” VCR.
The Changeling (1980): Probably the least obscure of the films and can be argued has the best cast and production value. Starring George C. Scott as John Russell, a man grieving the loss of his wife and child due to an auto accident. John is an accomplished composer and moves to Seattle where he rents an old mansion owned by the local historical society. But soon John realizes the house is haunted and with the help of Clair (Trish Van Devere), an agent for the historical society, the pair attempt to solve the mystery of the ghostly child who haunts the house. What they uncover makes them targets of both the living, who want what they know kept quiet, and the dead, who want justice.
This film is a masterpiece in my opinion, and those making haunted house horror films should study it. The movie is wonderfully spooky with some great performances, the story is intriguing and has a great mystery to be solved. Who knew that a ball rolling down a flight of stairs could be so utterly horrifying? The performances by the entire cast are amazing, the music perfectly adds to the creepy tone of the film. This production has made many a “100 Scariest films” lists and is considered a classic by many critics. Unfortunately, a remake / reimagining is planned but I have no idea on it’s status, but it does sound like the location has been moved to Ireland. I will keep an open mind, but I am not sure why a movie as perfect as this, needs to be “reimagined”?
Fear No Evil (1981): This film is probably the one with the most interesting plot. A teenage boy named Andrew (Stefan Arngrim) slowly begins to realizes that he is the Antichrist, after he exhibits strange abilities. When he finally accepts what he is, Andrew begins to assert his domination over the human race. But three archangels that have been born into human form, have been waiting for this event and vow to defeat Andrew. One of the angels is Julie (Kathleen Rowe McAllen) who is the incarnate of the Angel Gabrielle (feminized version of Gabriel) and also one of Andrew’s classmates. Using a special processional cross, the two angels still in human form confront Andrew who has raised an arm of zombies. Watch to find out if they have the power to defeat the son of Satan!
The first time I saw this movie, I thought it was so different and refreshing. It wasn’t a slasher film, which I am not against, but it tried to do something unique. The plot is part Carrie, part Stefan Arngrim, and part Exorcist, with some flashy special effects thrown in for good measure. Somehow this film pulls it all together in a stylized, mysterious, creepy way, weaving a cohesive and intriguing story. That being said, the script and acting weren’t going to win any Oscar Awards. But for a “B” rated horror movie, I have seen a lot…lot…lot worse!
The Boogens (1981): I have no idea why this film stands out so much in my mind, as it is a standard low budget creature-feature horror film, but there is something charming about its schlockiness. It might also have something to do with the fact, this is the one film mentioned in this article that I actually saw in the theater. The plot is pretty simple, when a construction team begins work on an abandoned silver mine that had been closed after a massacre 100 years prior, they unleash a reptilian creature on the unsuspecting town. Using the mine tunnels that run under the entire hamlet, the creature is able to strike almost anywhere. It is up to Mark (Fred McCarren) and Trish (Rebecca Balding) to stop the creature before it kills everyone.
The film was made on a budget of $600,000 and was filmed mainly in different small towns throughout Utah. Although it got some bad reviews, it actually got a surprising amount of good reviews as well. Critic Keith Phipps of “The A.V. Club” describes the film as “charmingly clunky” and “it plays like a cross between the then-omnipresent slasher films and a 50s monster movie”. The cast was also praised and I do agree, for such a low budget, the acting was actually pretty solid. Even Stephen King gave it a positive review in “The Twilight Zone Magazine”. Brett Gallman from “Oh, the Horror!” summed up my feelings perfectly when he wrote, “A charming little homespun monster movie, it’s a far cry from many of its gooey, splattery contemporaries, and it’s armed with a solid cast that makes it personable in the absence of an abundance of on-screen carnage. All told, a pretty good flick was mined from the old monster movie standard”
There you have it, a brief look at three lesser-known movies that I remember fondly from the 1980s. They never made the impact that some of their contemporaries did and the studios didn’t turn them into huge money making franchises, but that just adds to their charm. So, if during this spooky Halloween season, you are tired of the “same ole, same ole”, try streaming some of these lesser known films and let us know what you think!