Tag Archives: The Hitcher

Say Four Words: Who Was John Ryder?

This is an article I’ve wanted to write for a while but never really found the time. But with the recent passing of Rutger Hauer a couple of weeks back, this seems like the right moment to make it happen.

The Hitcher was a very low budget psychological horror/thriller film from 1989 and it’s easily my favourite Rutger Hauer flick. For those not in the know, a quick synopsis of what The Hitcher is all about.

So The Hitcher written by Eric Red and directed by Robert Harmon and was inspired by The Doors song, Riders On The Storm and if you listen to the lyrics knowing the characters in the film, it all makes perfect sense too.

So the film tells the story of a young man, Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) who is delivering a car from Chicago to San Diego. While driving through the West Texas desert, Halsey spots a hitcher and offers him a lift. The man says his name is John Ryder (Rutger Hauer). Ryder soon reveals himself to be a little unstable and a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins as Ryder sets his sights on killing Halsey… but why?

I love Rutger Hauer in this flick and John Ryder is definitely one of cinema’s great villains. But there has always been a query that has run through my mind for years… just who was John Ryder? The film itself explains nothing. No mention of where he came from, where he was going or what he was doing. No rhyme or reason is given as to why Ryder wants to kill Halsey either. Who John Ryder is and what he wants is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. I have read a few theories from others offering their opinions on just who or what he was. I’ve read one saying Ryder some kind of demon or ghost. One theory suggesting that he was the Devil himself, I even read a article that suggested Ryder doesn’t even exist and was just a figment of Halsey’s imagination. I’ve read lots and lots of theories and opinions on just who John Ryder was and so wanted to offer my own.

The Hitcher Poster

Now, I don’t buy into anything supernatural with this flick. It just does not work for me and takes away from The Hitcher’s effective psychological horror element if you just say ‘John Ryder is a ghost/the Devil’, it feels like a cop out and dismisses a lot of the very clever, subtle writing and acting in the flick. Then the theory of Ryder being a figment of Halsey’s imagination also does not work. There are several instances in the picture where both Ryder and Halsey are addressed by other people, so they are most definitely two separate people. So what do I think? Well, I think he’s just a man. I like that simplicity and it makes the whole thing much more scary. A much as I like my supernatural killers in horror films, Myers, Voorhees, Krueger etc. As much as I like them… I know they are not real and never could be and that takes away some of the scares, some of the horror. But when the killer is human, it adds that layer of realism that supernatural horror lacks. You’ll never come across a Freddy Krueger in your life, but a John Ryder? It’s possible.

Now, there is a lot more to my theory as to who John Ryder is other than “he’s just a man” otherwise this would be a really short article. So I need to dig a little deeper, scratch the surface of what The Hitcher offers and explore the enigma that is John Ryder. And the best place to start with all of this is with the recently passed Rutger Hauer himself. There is a documentary of the film called: The Hitcher: How Do These Movies Get Made? It’s chock-full of interviews with the cast and crew and perhaps one of the best quotes from the documentary comes from Hauer when he is asked who John Ryder was…

“John Ryder? That’s a rental car company. This guy’s name’s not John Ryder forget it.”

– Rutger Hauer

So even the man himself believes John Ryder was a fake name and there is even a clue to this in the film. During the scene when he reveals his name, the way Hauer plays it is very subtle but there is a clue if you pay attention. It’s how he says his name, when Halsey asks the hitcher his name, he quickly says “John”, but then there is a slight pause as if he’s trying to think up the next part before continuing with “Ryder”. So there we have it, John Ryder doesn’t exist or at least the name is made up. This is where I start with my theory on who he was. At the very least, we know his name wasn’t really John Ryder.

John Ryder 2.png

I also noticed that the hitcher was wearing a wedding ring. Now this could’ve just been Rutger Hauer’s actual wedding ring as he was married at the time of filming. But for my theory, I’m going to assume the ring belonged to Ryder himself, or at least the person using the name Ryder anyway but more on this later.

I need to cover why Ryder felt the need to terrorise Halsey to begin with. See, it’s never explicitly covered exactly why the hitcher is trying to kill the kid at all… but I don’t think he really wanted to kill him anyway. For this to make sense, we need to look at a couple of other scenes. First I want to jump forward in the flick to the diner scene… no not the one with the finger but later, after Halsey escapes the police station and the two meet up in a diner.

Jim Halsey: “Why are you doing this?”

John Ryder: “You’re a smart kid, you figure it out.”

Now to me, this says little but tells a lot at the same time. It’s clear Ryder wants ‘something’ from Halsey as if he didn’t, he could have killed him very easily earlier in the film. I mean look at the police station scene as an example. Ryder must have killed all those cops and opened Halsey’s cell door. So if all Ryder wanted to do was kill the kid… why not do it right then while he slept?

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In fact there are several scenes in the film where Ryder could’ve very easily killed Halsey with little to no effort but didn’t. The previously mentioned police station is just one of them. How about earlier in the film at the abandoned garage? It’s just the two of them, no witnesses and instead of trying to attack and kill the kid, the hitcher throws down the car keys and walks away. We know Ryder is capable of some sick stuff before this point in the flick too.

John Ryder: “Because I cut off his legs and his arms and his head… and I’m going to do the same to you.”

Now we don’t see that happen and for all we know Ryder could’ve been bullshitting… but what about just after that scene with the hitcher in the family car? The film is clever here as it does not show anything specific when Halsey finds the car at the side of the road, we see a little drop of blood and that’s it. But it’s clear Ryder did something pretty horrific to the family including the children by Halsey’s reaction and him throwing up. So yeah, he could’ve easily murdered Jim Halsey but didn’t. No, it’s clear to me that Ryder wanted something from Halsey and didn’t just want to kill him. But what?

My theory is that John Ryder wanted someone to stop him. In fact the hitcher himself pretty much says so. I need to go back to the start of the film again and look at one scene in particular. It’s when Ryder pulls out the knife and holds it to Halsey’s face.

Jim Halsey: “What’d you want?”

John Ryder: “I want you to stop me.”

See? John Ryder wanted to be stopped but no one had stood up to him at that point in the flick. In fact it looked like Halsey would become just another victim until he pushed the hitcher out of the car as it sped along that desert road. That was the moment when Ryder knew he had found someone worthy and so he followed Halsey as a kind of sick and twisted guardian angel and pushed him to do something that Ryder just could not do. I think John Ryder wanted to die.

Jim Halsey: ” Please, I’ll do anything.”

John Ryder: “Say four words.”

Jim Halsey: “Okay.”

John Ryder: “Say ‘I wanna die.'”

Jim Halsey: “Say what?”

John Ryder: “I want to die… say it.”

For me, this exchange is key to the whole thing. This is a scene where Huger’s amazing and subtle acting comes into force. When Ryder first tells Halsey to say the four words, to say “I wanna die” (that’s three words with the contraction) that is pretty straight forward and just comes across as a crazy bastard trying to get his victim to say those four (three) words. But it’s the second time Hauer says the line where you have to pay attention. As the acting and the way Hauer plays it is key to everything.

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First, the contraction is gone and ‘wanna’ becomes ‘want to’, it makes the line more ‘certain’ in a way, adds more gravitas to that very simple line. Second, they way the line is read is softer, not angry as before. It sounds like Ryder was saying that line to himself and not to Halsey. Third, just pay attention to the acting itself. Ryder breaks eye contact with Halsey as he says “I want to die”, he’s not talking to his victim and telling him to say the line, he’s talking to whoever the person is using the fake name of John Ryder. As if in that second or two he just realised what he wanted… he wants to die, not that he wanted Halsey to say the line, ‘Ryder’ wants to die. Then just as soon as the line is delivered, he snaps out of his little moment of realisation and back into character, back into John Ryder mode. It’s an amazing scene and one really worth watching. I’m convinced that just for those few moments when Ryder says “I want to die” for the second time, he dropped his facade. It’s subtle but it is there and only for a couple of seconds and in those couple of seconds, we saw the real man whatever his real name is.

But why does he want to die? Well that goes back to that wedding ring I previously mentioned. If we take it as read that the ring did indeed belong to the man pretending to be ‘John Ryder’, then this is where my theory really comes to life. My theory is that the hitcher was once married, hence the ring and he lost his wife. Originally I put it down that he killed his wife, but that didn’t sit right with me and I think Ryder deserves to be a bit more of a sympathetic character despite his homicidal tendencies. So I’m suggesting his wife died from something else. Cancer, raped and murdered, accidental death… pick one, it’s not really that important exactly how she died but more a case of she did and there as nothing Ryder could’ve done about it. I like to think there was a time when Ryder was a normal, loving man.

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Since her passing, he has felt guilty that he was helpless in her demise. His anger grew and grew until he just snapped. Suicide was just not an option, that was the easy way out. So Ryder spent hours, days, weeks, months just walking through the Texas desert sticking his thumb out looking for a ride to nowhere, but ultimately a ride to his own death at the hands of his driver. He was picked up by several people and he tested them. Ryder pulled out the knife and began to make his threats, giving his victim the chance to fight back… but they never did. Unhappy with the lack of balls from his prey, he killed them and hit the road once more. More drivers stopped and no one stood up to him. Then he was picked up by Jim Halsey and that was when things changed. Halsey was the only one to actually make a stand and fight back. That was when Ryder knew he found the person worthy enough to kill him so he could be with his wife once more. But Halsey was still green behind the gills and Ryder knew he had to push him, to mould him in a way to become the killer Ryder knew Halsey could be…

John Ryder: “You’re a smart kid, you figure it out.”

So there you have it. My theory on who John Ryder was and what he wanted. He wasn’t a ghost, he wasn’t some kind of supernatural entity.  He was just a normal man that was pushed over the edge.

This article is written in memory of the great Rutger Hauer and my way of saying thanks for his creating one of cinema’s finest ever villains.

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“You wanna know what happens to an eyeball when it gets punctured? Do you got any idea how much blood jets out of a guy’s neck when his throat’s been slit?”

– John Ryder

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Rutger Hauer: Like Tears In The Rain…

Very few actors are distinctive and really stand out against the sea of Hollywood pretty boys. Very few actors posses that ‘something’ that you can’t quite explain what it is, but you know it’s there when you see it. Very few actors can play a villain and yet, you enjoy them for it. The great Alan Rickman was one of those very few who we sadly lost a handful of years back. And more recently, we lost another one of those very few.

Rutger Hauer sadly died a few days ago, though his passing was only made public recently. It’s pretty hard to know where to start when remembering an actor as diverse and varied as Hauer, but I do know I want to save the best for last. I guess the best thing to do is start with a brief profile.

Rutger Hauer Gif

Rutger Oelsen Hauer was born on the 23rd of January, 1944 in Breukelen, Netherlands during World War II. In fact, the Netherlands was under German occupation at the time of his birth. Aged 15, Hauer left school and joined the the Dutch Merchant Navy where he spent a year travelling the world. He returned home and signed up at the Academy for Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam for acting classes but soon left to join the Royal Netherlands Army where he trained as a combat medic. Hauer decided to give the whole acting thing another go and and graduated from acting school in 1967.

Rutger Hauer landed a few small roles in his early acting career, but it was in the Paul Verhoeven directed flick, Turkish Delight from 1973 where he really got noticed. He began to take on more roles in his homeland but struggled to breakthrough in America. His American film debut was in 1981 where Hauer acted alongside Hollywood heavyweight Sylvester Stallone in the flick Nighthawks. It’s a rather bland and dull action/thriller but I have to say that Rutger Hauer’s performance is brilliant as the main villain, but most of his scenes were cut out of the released film because (supposedly) Stallone felt he was being upstaged and so requested that Hauer’s part be cut. There’s said to be two versions of the film shown to test audiences at the time. The one with all of Hauer’s scenes, which test audiences loved. Then there is the one with a lot of his scenes removed that was not as popular… yet it was the latter one that was released to the public.

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Then the following year in 1983, Hauer appeared in a film that many people consider his very best performance, Blade Runner. Here, Hauer played Roy Batty a replicant (kind of an android thing created by man) who was in search of his creator to ask for more life before he dies. Out hunting these replicants is Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been ordered to ‘retire’ any replicants he comes across. Well there’s a lot more to the film than that, but if I were to go into detail, I’d be here all day attempting to explain it. Basically, just go watch Blade Runner (any of the numerous versions), it’s amazing.

Philip K. Dick who wrote the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on which the film is based had this to say about Hauer’s performance in the flick:

“The perfect Batty, cold, Aryan, flawless”

– Philip K. Dick

The man himself had this to say in a 2001 interview:

“Blade Runner needs no explanation. It just is. All of the best. There is nothing like it. To be part of a real masterpiece which changed the world’s thinking. It’s awesome.”

– Rutger Hauer

The infamous “Tears in the rain” speech delivered by Hauer’s Batty at the end of the flick was rewritten from the original by Hauer. He then presented it to director Ridley Scott who loved it and included it in the final cut of the film.

Rutger Hauer Blade Runner

After Blade Runner, Hauer finally began to be noticed in Hollywood as the roles started to flood in and he had a steady and respected career through the 80s in flicks such as Flesh & Blood, Eureka and Ladyhawke to name a few. In 1987 he starred in the action picture Wanted: Dead or Alive which is a strange reboot/remake/sequel of the T.V. series of the same name. In this one, Hauer plays Nick Randall an ex-CIA operative turned bounty hunter. Anyway, the character he plays is said to be a descendant of Josh Randall who was played by Steve McQueen in the 1958 T.V. show… which itself was a spin-off of another T.V. show called Trackdown.

Rutger Hauer Blind Fury

Oh and there was the still brilliantly entertaining Blind Fury from 1989 where Hauer plays a blind Vietnam War veteran who is highly skilled with a sword. He sets out to find one of his missing ex-veteran friends. Blind Fury is actually a remake of a Japanese flick called Zatoichi Challenged from 1967. I love this film, it’s a bit silly but it’s meant to be. Blind Fury is an action/comedy/samurai film that’s a lot of fun.

The 90s is where Rutger Hauer’s career really took off as he began to appear in more and more films. Wedlock, Nostradamus, Surviving the Game (love this one), Split Second and of course the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer before the T.V. show even existed. Through the 90s, Hauer was hugely prolific and did a lot of sci-fi  and action flicks. But for me, the main thing from the 90s I’ll always remember him for was the Guinness (Pure Genius) ads here in the U.K. The ads were bizarre, strange, obscure and yet they just worked, they were very ‘Rutgery’. You can check them out here.

 

As the 2000s began, Hauer’s career began to dry up a little, he was still working but you didn’t see him all that often until the awesome 2005 comic book bought to life flick Sin City where he played Cardinal Roark. After Sin City, Rutger’s career took off once more and he continued with his very successful career all though the 2000s. He appeared in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy with Batman Begins. But my favourite film of his from the 2000s was the overlooked, black comedy, exploitation flick Hobo with a Shotgun. This one is so ridiculously over the top and stupid that it’s genius. The title tells you the whole plot, Hauer plays a hobo who get a shotgun and cleans up the neighbourhood. It’s a stylised, 70s exploitation flick and it’s glorious.

As well as film work, Hauer had a successful T.V. career too appearing in shows like Alias, Smallville, True Blood, Porters and many more. He even featured in a couple of video games with Observer and Kingdom Hearts III.

Of course Rutger Hauer fans reading this would’ve noticed a glaring omission from his acting credits I’ve not yet covered. As I said earlier, I’ve saved the best for last…

Rutger Hauer The Hitcher

Many people including Hauer himself say that Blade Runner’s Roy Batty was his best performance. But for me it was John Ryder from the 1986 psychological horror picture The Hitcher. This is Rutger at his most ‘Rutgerist’. He’s cold, manipulative, dark, murderous, twisted… and yet utterly charming and endearing too. This is that ‘something’ I alluded to before when an actor had that thing that just works and is perfect casting. There is a great mystery surrounding the character, one that film fans have theorised over for years and I aim to offer my own view soon-ish.

The Hitcher is a tense and suspenseful horror flick that really lacks things like blood and gore. It’s more about cerebral horror. The film was pretty much a commercial flop when released and  slated by many respected critic at the time.

“This movie is diseased and corrupt. I would have admired it more if it had found the courage to acknowledge the real relationship it was portraying between Howell and Rutger, but no: It prefers to disguise itself as a violent thriller, and on that level it is reprehensible.”

– Roger Ebert

It’s really quite hard to find a positive review of the film at the time. But all that proves to me is that these critics have no idea what they are talking about. The Hitcher is perhaps too subtle for some people to grasp. It’s not an out and out gore-fest, it’s not overtly violent compared to other horror films of the day. It’s just more indirect with it’s message and has a lot more layers to it than you first realise. As I say, I aim on doing a a much deeper look at Hauer’s John Ryder at some point to highlight what I mean. But The Hitcher is brilliant and by far my favourite Rutger Hauer performance.

As of writing and even though he is now gone, Hauer still has a handful of films currently going through post-production to be released later down the line. So we’ve still not seen the last of the great actor yet.

Rutger Hauer died on the 19th of July, 2019 following an as of yet unspecified illness. He was 75 years old.

“I hate guns, I think they’re the worst thing ever invented.”

– Rutger Hauer

An Incomplete History of Horror Films Part V.

Its the decade of big hair and even bigger horror films. the 80s.

If the 70s was my favourite decade for horror films, then the 80s is a very, very close second. This was the era of the slasher film (and their numerous sequels), plus a few examples of modernising the classic movie monsters from the past. Some of my favourite horror movie directors cut their teeth in the 80s and it was also the decade of amateur, low budget masterpieces. The effects were bigger, better and bloodier and the films became more controversial as the boundaries of what was allowed to be seen on film were pushed to breaking point with many movies being outright banned here in the UK as the censors hit hard and the dawn of the ‘video nasty‘ was born.

cannholo

Cannibal Holocaust (1980): Well, if I’m going to show how controversial the 80s horror movie was, I may as well go straight for the jugular. Directed by Ruggero Deodato and easily one of the most infamous and controversial horror films to ever be made. A team of four documentary makers go to a South American jungle to search for cannibals. They go missing, so an anthropologist and his team is sent to find them. The documentary team are never found, but their film reels are…

cannholoscreen

Where to start with this film, so much to cover? This is often regarded as the first of the ‘found footage’ sub-genre that became popular in the late 90s onward, as the movie’s plot is told through the film that the missing documentary team made. Onto the controversy; the director was arrested and charged with obscenity then all copies of the film were ordered to be destroyed… but why, its only a movie right? Well that is not what a magazine in France thought, they believed the film was real and that people were actually killed. This prompted charges against director; Ruggero Deodato to now include murder. It all even went to court as Ruggero Deodato had to prove his innocence by having the actors who supposedly died in the film appear in court as well as show behind the scenes photos of other actors that ‘died’ on screen still being alive as well as the effects work used. Eventually the charges against Deodato were dropped, but that was not the end. So no human was killed making this film, but something(s) were. There are actual animal killings shown in this movie, not special effects but real animals being killed. A coati is killed with a knife, a large turtle is decapitated and its limbs are then cut off before its shell and entrails are removed, a tarantula and boa constrictor are killed with a machete, a squirrel monkey is decapitated and a pig is shot in the head with a shotgun. All real and all on film. This lead to the film being heavily censored or outright banned in some countries and its still a sore issue today. There is a lot more to cover with this film, but I have plenty more pictures to talk about so need to move on. But do I recommend this one? Yes I do. There are various versions of this film to watch, there is an edited version that cuts out most of the violence and all of the animal killings. However, I have to be honest here and say its crap. If you really want to watch this movie, then you just have to watch the full, uncut version. Yes its hard to sit through and I’m an animal lover so detest the killing of animals for entertainment. But for the full impact of the film, the uncut one is the only version to watch.

fade

Fade to Black (1980): A very low budget psychological horror movie written and directed by Vernon Zimmerman. Eric is frequently bullied and betrayed, he hides away from his torment in his love for horror movies and often fantasies about being one of the villains. Eventually he snaps and begins a killing spree against the very people that bullied and opposed him all while being influenced by some of his favourite horror icons.

fadescreen

Its a shame this picture is so low budget as its a great idea, but the lack of money really shows on screen.The plot is a little bare, some of the death scenes are just pathetic and the editing is terrible. But there is still a watchable movie here. Its great to see someone get made up and dressed in classic movie monster garb (Dracula, The Mummy, etc) and show that there is still room for the old guard in horror films. Dennis Christopher playing Eric is a joy to watch and Linda Kerridge as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike is great too. Plus be on the look out for a small appearance by Mickey Rourke. A good film, but tremendously flawed. Only worth a watch if you enjoy low budget schlock.

friday13th

Friday the 13th (1980): Just like Halloween (1978), I think its law to include this in a horror movie list. Directed by Sean S. Cunningham. It summer at Camp Crystal Lake and a group of young camp counsellors are readying the camp for a busy season. But it seems that somebody isn’t happy about all the commotion as the camp counsellors are killed off one by one.

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I think it can be said without much argument that Friday the 13th is one of the main trendsetters in terms of the ‘slasher’ sub-genre of horror film. After John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) set the standard, many, many followed and this film was one of the big hitters that went on to become a very successful franchise with about six hundred sequels (I may have over counted), spin-offs and even a remake. The franchise became so huge and popular that everyone knows the killer in Friday the 13th is Jason Voorhees… isn’t he? One of the all time classic horror films with exceptional make up/effects work by the grand-master himself, Tom Savini. The film also features an early role for Kevin Bacon.

shining

The Shining (1980): I said in the previous part how The Exorcist (1973) is my all time favourite horror film, and it is, but this picture is a close second. Based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring the legendary Jack Nicholson. Jack Torrance is a writer struggling to write his next book, he takes on a job offer as a caretaker at a remote hotel that closes down for the winter. Arriving with his wife and son, Danny. As Danny starts to witness strange hallucinations, Jack begins to experience cabin fever and slowly goes insane.

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One of the very best examples of a tremendous psychological horror film. This movie was detested by Stephen King, so much so that he went on to publicly slam this picture and even make his own version as a three part TV mini-series in 1997. I love King’s novel and I also love Kubrick’s version just as much (I also enjoyed the TV mini-series… but not as much), they are two very different animals from two different geniuses. Jack Nicholson gives one of the best performances of his career, if not THE best and goes down in horror history as one of the all time great villains. There is a unnerving feeling of tension right from the opening credits of the film and it never lets up until the end credits roll. The hotel backdrop is both gorgeous and foreboding and Jack’s slow decent into madness is well done throughout the picture. It all builds up to a terrifying ending with a quizzical footnote involving a photo that still has people theorising and debating today. Beautifully shot, brilliantly adapted from the novel (despite what King says) and genuinely scary… “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” .

aawil

An American Werewolf in London (1982):I see the bad moon arising.“, great song by CCR from an equally great film directed by John Landis. Two American backpackers go exploring the English countryside moors where they are attacked by a wolf-like creature. One of the two outright dies, while the other is mauled but lives and he slowly learns he has been given the werewolf curse.

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Oh, how I love this film. A modern twist on the classic werewolf lore. The film is a great mix of genuine scares blended with a very dark sense of humour. The make up effects are just sublime, especially on the ever decaying Jack who haunts his werewolf friend David as he is trapped in limbo. The main werewolf transformation scene is still the greatest werewolf transformation ever filmed and make up artist, Rick Baker deservedly won and Oscar for his work in this movie. Another thing that needs mention are the terrifying nightmares David has as his curse starts to take over. Some absolutely amazing visuals and scary scenes. My favourite werewolf movie by far… and the soundtrack is awesome too as each of the main songs has the word ‘moon’ in the title. Almost forgot to mention the radio adaption form 1997 which is also worth checking out if you can find it.

drjekyll

Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (1981): This is a French film by director Walerian Borowczyk. A modernised take on the Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Set in the 19th century in London. A celebration for Dr Henry Jekyll and Fanny Osbourne’s engagement is being held at Dr. Jekyll’s home. Later that night, one of the female guests is brutally attacked, raped and murdered in her room and this starts a very bizarre and bloody series of events.

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This film is a strange and often difficult watch (if you can find a fully uncut version), yet its beautifully shot and directed. The movie is very surreal and often feels almost dream like. There is quite a lot of sex and nudity in this one and often mixed with violence. The film feels very sleazy, but that sleaze just works. Not a film for everyone, but if you want a Dr Jekyll yarn that dares to be different and even shocking at times, then you may enjoy this picture.

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The Evil Dead (1981): Directed by Sam Raimi and starring cult fan actor, Bruce Campbell. Five college friends shack up in a cabin in the woods. A recording is found in the cellar and played back which unleashes an evil force with the power to possess humans and turn them into demons.

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I already did a quick overview of this film. I really enjoy low budget horror movies from first time directors and The Evil Dead is pretty much the pinnacle. The plot is bare basic, the acting is horrible and the effects work is cheap… but the film is still one of the best horror films made. This is the movie that got me interested in what happens behind the camera just as much as in front of it. I love reading/watching anything about The Evil Dead and think its amazing how this film was made by a few teenagers and how it has gone on the become a successful franchise recognised around the world. It a cheap, low budget effort. But its also a bloody, scary and effective picture with some of the best camerawork and direction seen at the time.

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Possession (1981): A little known French/German horror film directed by Andrzej Żuławski and starring Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani. Mark returns home from a business trip away, he finds is wife, Anna is restless and withdrawn, Anna says she wants a divorce and she starts to act even more irrational and bizarre. Mark believes another man is involved but it seems Anna’s behaviour is related to something much more sinister.

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How best to describe this movie? An extreme assault on the senses, that sounds about right. This picture is surreal and hyperactive, its beautiful and disturbing at the same time. The acting is OTT and eccentric, yet it all fits perfectly with the tone of the film. You’ll watch this film once and think to yourself ‘what the fuck did I just watch’ but then immediately want to watch it again and it is subsequent viewings that make this film so much more enjoyable. Isabelle Adjani won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1981 and deservedly so too. Not an easy watch, but if you can make it through, you will be rewarded with a hard edged and brutal horror film that will stick with you forever.

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Basket Case (1982): Written and directed by Frank Henenlotter. This is another one of those low budget, gore-fests that I enjoy so much. Duane is a strange young man who goes everywhere with a wicker basket which contains his surgically removed, deformed Siamese twin. The brothers set out to seek vengeance on the doctors who separated them.

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Bizarre seems such a tame word to use as a descriptive of the one, but bizarre it is. This is a trashy film, its not high art, it has no political statement to make. Its just what it is meant to be. A low budget, low brow piece of rubbish… but its great and entertaining rubbish. Its a film about a deformed Siamese twin kept is a wicker basket that wants revenge, what are you expecting? Its silly, hokey and gory. A stupid film that entertains from start to finish.

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Creepshow (1982): I love horror anthology pictures and this is one of the very best. Directed by George A. Romero, the film includes five tales (and a wrap around story); Father’s Day is about a cruel dead father who comes back to carry on his reign of terror. The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill is a tale where a country bumpkin discovers a recently crashed meteorite but after he touches it, things slowly go very wrong. Something to Tide You Over has a man who finds out his wife has been having an affair, so he buries his wife and her lover alive up to their heads on a beach as the tide comes in, only they return for revenge. The Crate is a wonderful tale about a hard done by man who finds a way to rid himself rid his overbearing wife thanks to a mysterious crate. They’re Creeping Up on You is about a ruthless businessman suffering from mysophobia and locks himself away in his germ free apartment only to be invaded by his worst nightmare.

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I could quite honesty go on about this picture for hours and hours… but I can’t here as there is so many other films to cover. What is there to like? Directed by George A. Romero, written by Stephen King and make up effects work by Tom Savini… you couldn’t get a better horror team than that in the 1980s. Each of the five stories are great and offer a varying amount of scares as well as macabre comedy. Inspired by the old horror EC comics of the 40s-50s and that inspiration shines through. This film’s tongue is firmly placed in its cheek and its a complete riot.

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Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982): The second sequel to the John Carpenter classic that isn’t really a sequel. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, the film departs form the story of Micheal Myers and does its own thing. A mysterious toy maker releases a new line of Halloween masks for sale which seem to have some kind of a connection to a strange series of commercials on TV that are counting down to a big event… but what?

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This film was despised at the time of release as it took a severe departure from the Halloween movie franchise (even though this was only the 3rd film). Fans hated it as did the critics, yet over the years, the movie has gained a strong a loyal following. I adore this film and always have done, I got tired of the whole Micheal Myers thing after the first film anyway, so this movie was a breath of fresh air. Originally, John Carpenter wanted this to be the start of a whole new anthology idea after he killed of Micheal Myers in the first sequel. His intention was to have a series of Halloween themed films each year all with a new story, yet they would all exist in one shared film universe. But as the fans at the time were too small minded and just wanted more Micheal Myers, more of the same tired old formula, the idea was dropped and Myers was brought back for several other terrible sequels instead. Still, this movie is a great horror picture full of scares and a few hard to watch scenes too. A massively overlooked film that deserves much more credit.

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Poltergeist (1982): A true classic in every sense of the word. Directed by Tobe Hooper, written and produced by Steven Spielberg. The Freelings are a young and loving family who move into their new home. The youngest daughter, Carol Anne, develops a strange connection to the TV and things only get stranger from that point on.

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One of the all time classics and a modern retelling of a golden age ghost story. The film is chock full of iconic and memorable imagery/scenes. That picture of the clown up there probably sparked off childhood memories you’d rather forget. What about the tree or the skeletons in the unfinished swimming pool, maybe the scene where the paranormal investigator goes to wash his face? The visual effects in this one still stand up today (for the most part) and are still some of my strongest memories of a horror film. As scary as it is tense and well made, Poltergeist has stood the test of time and can still offer plenty of chills today.

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The Thing (1982): Another one form one of the all time greats, director John Carpenter. A loose remake of The Thing from Another World (1951) and based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. Starring Kurt Russell and featuring music by the legendary Ennio Morricone. Set in Antarctica and a US research station is suddenly brought to attention by a Norwegian helicopter trying to kill a dog. After the helicopter crashes, the members of the US research station take the dog in as a pet, which was perhaps not the wisest idea.

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I must have been around 7/8 years old and watching this with my brothers and cousins at my Auntie Chris’ house one night. I have a very strong memory of watching THAT dog scene and if you have seen the film, then you know exactly which very specific dog scene I am talking about. I remember being both horrifically scared and yet unable to look away at the same time. I was terrified but amazed. It was that moment when I fell in love with horror films. Oh I had seen other horror films before this one, but nothing quite like The Thing. So I have John Carpenter and a dog to thank for my love of horror films. This film is amazing, the directing is spot on and the isolation you feel due to the setting is unnerving. Ennio Morricone’s score is almost minimal and fits perfectly. Then there is the small cast full of great performances of which the star, Kurt Russell is easily the best. Also of note is Rob Bottin who headed up the effects/make up department and created some of the most stunningly grotesque and yet beautiful effects work of the 80s. “You gotta be fuckin’ kidding!

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Psycho II (1983): The first sequel (there were others) to the Hitchcock classic Psycho (1960). Sitting in the director’s chair this time around is Richard Franklin and returning as Norman Bates is Anthony Perkins. After 22 years of being institutionalised following the events of the first film, Norman is released and goes back to his motel and it seems that mother is also back too.

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I love the original film, it is one of my all time favourite films ever. Is this sequel as good? No, not at ‘as good’… but its still a damn good film regardless. There are some genius moments of directing here including blending the aftermath of perhaps the most famous scene of the original film into this sequel seamlessly. There are a few scenes that I’m not a fan of (like a bloody, overflowing toilet… been done countless times before) but then there are also scenes that are also excellent. The film leaves you guessing as to whether Norman is settling back into his old ways, or is somebody attempting to give him a few gentle pushes? Maybe Norman is innocent in all of this? Anthony Perkins is just as great playing the role here as he was in 1960, also returning from the original is Vera Miles and even Hitchcock makes a cameo appearance despite dying three years earlier. An overlooked film and one of the better horror sequels made, well worth checking out as a double feature with the original.

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Gremlins (1984): Directed by Joe Dante and starring Zach Galligan & Phoebe Cates. Billy is given a Christmas gift, a small and unusual creature called a Mogwai. This Mogwai has a strict set of three rules that Billy must adhere to, but due to series of ‘accidents’ the rules are broken and the Gremlins are born.

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How do you categorise this film? Its a family friendly, Christmas themed, horror, comedy, action, satire of monster movies… movie. There is a weird cocktail of so many genres and sub-genres it just shouldn’t work, but it does. Gremlins can be genuinely scary at times, but then a few seconds later and it’ll make you smile with its humour. The very dark and macabre tale Kate tells about how she learned there is no Santa Claus is both disturbing and humorous. The Gremlins themselves are malicious but engaging and thoroughly entertaining. And of course, yes Gizmo the Mogwai is ‘cute’. This is a fun romp for all the family to enjoy regardless of age.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): The film that made me a fan of writer/director Wes Craven. The birth of one of the all time great horror icons, Freddy Krueger and the start of the career of some unknown actor called Johnny Depp. A group of teenagers are being haunted by nightmares where a horribly scarred and burnt maniac with knives for fingernails called Freddy, who scares them so much they refuse to sleep. It soon becomes apparent that if this guy kills you in your dreams, then you die for real. But who is this Freddy and where did he come from, maybe the parents know more than they are willing to let on?

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Does Freddy Krueger (or this film) really need any kind of an introduction? This is arguably Wes Craven’s masterpiece (for some anyway, there is another film he made later that for me is his masterpiece…). Rather like Friday the 13th (1980), this film is one of those trend setters that defined the slasher sub-genre of horror films and much like ‘Friday’, it too spawned many, many sequels, spin offs and a remake. Freddy has rightfully gone down as one of the all time great horror icons and has become cemented in many a subconscious of the horror fan. The film has some overtly bloody scenes, but also a film with just as many creepy/scary images and scenes that contain really well done frights. “One, two…

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The Terminator (1984): Its another one of those low budget films from a little known director and this time its James Cameron in the hot seat. Starring the then unknowns; Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton and some guy called, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the year 2029, a killer cyborg is sent back in time to 1984 to murder the mother of the leader of the resistance who leads the humans to defeat the self-aware Skynet super computer. If the mother is dead, then the leader can never be born. But the resistance themselves send back a lone soldier as a protector.

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I know what some people are thinking as they read this. “The Terminator isn’t a horror film.”. Yeah, I’ve heard this before numerous times, even my girlfriend said the same thing as I was writing this when she peered over my shoulder. The Terminator is a horror film and please allow me to plead my case as not only will I put forward a convincing argument, I’ll also categorise what sub-genre of horror film it falls into. Okay, so we have a weak female who by the end becomes a stronger version of herself (Sarah), a virgin who has sex and dies shortly afterwards (Kyle), a killer that is in someway masked or in disguise (Terminator), POV shots from the killer, a chase type movie where the killer keeps perusing its intended victim(s) and there is even an ending where the killer is (supposedly) stopped just to come back at during the end for more. Does any of this sound familiar? These are slasher movie tropes as The Terminator is a slasher horror film. Just remove the sci-fi element for a while and think of the film on its purest terms. A movie about a stalking killer who systematically goes through a phone book and murders women named Sarah Conner. Change the killer form a cyborg to an everyday flesh and blood human, remove the time travel and sci-fi elements, change the title to ‘The Phone-book Killer’ and you have a bog standard 80s slasher film. The Terminator is anything but bog standard though and simple because it just threw in a few sci-fi elements. Watch something like Halloween (1978) and then watch this film directly afterwards and you’ll see so many of the tropes and clichés from the classic slasher film repeated in The Terminator. This flick is a horror film, and a damn good one too.

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Dèmoni (1985): AKA, Demons is produced by Italian horror guru, Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava. A group of people are invited to attend a preview screening of a new film. One of the guests tries on a prop from the movie, a silver mask of a demon and this kick-starts a gruesome series of events that get worse and worse.

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The plot is simple, the acting is sub-par and the music is typical, cheesy 80s rock. But the film is one of the most enjoyable demonic possession films made with buckets of blood thrown in too. Much like the decade it comes from, this film is a bit of a mess and a lot of things don’t make much sense… but it all just clicks and works. It almost gets a bit meta with the idea of a film about demons being shown in a film about demons, as life begins to imitate art. The dead bodies build up, both human and demon as the film progresses and what is left of the survivors escape the cinema and out onto the streets where they are saved, only for the viewer to be hit with a great stinger of an ending that still resonates with me today. Here’s an interesting tit-bit for you too, the guy in the mask handing out invites at the start of the movie is Michele Soavi. A protégé of Argento who would go on to become a horror movie director himself.

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The Return of the Living Dead (1985): From writer/director Dan O’Bannon. A pair of employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a gas into the air. The gas brings back to life a cadaver which the duo cut up and then enlist the help of a local mortician to burn and hopefully end their problems, only this triggers an even bigger problem.

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Braaaaaaaaiiins!” the zombies cry out in this film as they hunt for brains to eat. This was the first film to introduce the idea of a zombie that eats brains, something that has now become common place and referenced countless times. The idea of mixing comedy and horror is not a new one, it has been around since the 1930s, but very few films manage to get the balance right. ROLTD doesn’t just get it right, it nails the blend of comedy and horror perfectly. As gory and scary as it is funny, this film is a riot and wicked fun. The scene where a zombie torso is interrogated (above image) and it is revealed that zombies need to eat brains as being dead hurts and brains ease the pain is genius, as it gives a reason for the zombie attacks and you actually start to feel a little sympathy for them too. The make up is amazing with some of the most detailed and creative zombies ever seen on film, Tarman, need I say more?

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Re-Animator (1985): Loosely based on the H. P. Lovecraft short story, Herbert West–Reanimator. Directed by Stuart Gordon and starring Jeffrey Combs. Herbert West is a scientist who creates a fluid which can bring dead tissue back to life. With the help of his medical student housemate Dan, Herbert West gains access to a morgue where he can continue he research into bringing the dead back to life.

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Part Frankenstein, part zombie movie and all topped of with a deliciously dark flow of humour. Re-Animator is a gory masterpiece of horror cinema. Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West is wonderfully over the top and a joy to watch as his passion drives him to the brink of insanity, an interesting modern take on the ‘mad scientist’ of the 50s era. Also of note is the main antagonist of the movie, Dr. Carl Hill played by David Gale who ends up tangling with Herbert West and coming off worse for wear. There are some truly gore-tastic scenes in this one as well as some rather ‘WTF’ ones too that all build up to an unforgettable ending. Its also worth checking out the other films in this franchise; Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003).

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Entrails of a Virgin (1986): An infamous Japanese horror classic directed by Kazuo Komizu. A group involved in making porn head out to a house in the mountains where they find a mud covered demon who brutally kills the males and rapes the females with its ‘impressive’ appendage.

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Errrr, yeah. How do I cover this one? I really enjoy Japanese horror, alas not all of it is good. I find that it falls under three basic categories. 1) Damn good, 2) Damn terrible and 3) What the fuck did I just watch? Entrails of a Virgin definitely falls into category 3. There is no plot, just and excuse to show sex, nudity and gore. The sex is mostly censored/fogged out as there were some very strict rules when it came to showing sex on screen in Japan, yet strangely the gore is shown in all its glory. Never understood why something as natural and normal as sex was taboo but murder, blood and gore was perfectly fine. And the gore in this is taken to ridiculous levels. Is this a good film? No, its terrible. But it is a film that has become so infamous that I feel it deserves a mention here. Worth watching? Not really, but if you want to see some soft core censored porn alongside unbelievable gore… then this is the film for you.

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The Fly (1986): A remake of the 1958 film that was based on the short story by George Langelaan. Directed by the wonderfully weird David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Seth Brundle is a brilliant scientist who has created two pods capable of teleportation. he uses himself as a guinea pig to test his invention, but just as he prepares to teleport himself, a fly enters the pod with him and the DNA of the fly becomes part of Seth.

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This is how you do a horror remake well. The chemistry between Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis is amazing (well they did marry in 1987) and they play off each other perfectly. The make up effects as Seth slowly turns into ‘Brundlefly’ is astonishing and the slow transformation brings about some disturbing scenes. Goldblum gives a stunning performance as he manages to break through all the make up he has to endure and still make you feel something for the character. The ending is a bloody, grotesque conclusion and yet utterly heart breaking at the same time. Its a strange feeling how the film makes you feel for the monster by the time the credits roll. A simple story, but told so very well.

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The Hitcher (1986): An overlooked masterpiece of thriller/horror directed by Robert Harmon and starring the mesmerising Rutger Hauer. A young man has a job transporting a car from one state to another. While driving along a quiet desert road, he spots a hitchhiker and offers him a ride. This hitcher is not quite what he seems and a game of ‘cat & mouse’ begins between the two.

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Is this a horror film? Quite a few people I know don’t think so, but for me it most definitely is. This isn’t a picture about blood and gore, this is a movie that plays on tension and fear. Is a slow burner with a simple plot. Often massively overlooked and often forgotten about too. This film oozes atmosphere and tension, there are scenes in this movie that will stick with me forever. As every time I have a burger and fires, I always check the plate first. Rutger Hauer is simply astonishing in his role of ‘John Ryder’ (if that is his real name) and is perfect casting, Hauer is at his most ‘Rutger-ist” in this film. I could sit here and write about this film for hours, who is ‘John Ryder’, why is he doing all of this, etc? The film has a lot of subtlety and subtext that many people miss. An amazing flick the deserves a lot more credit… just avoid the terrible sequel and remake.

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Hellraiser (1987): Clive Barker is the writer/director behind this gothic classic based on Barker’s own short story; The Hellbound Heart. Larry moves into his old family home along with his wife. They soon discover that Larry’s bother, Frank has been squatting in the house but has mysteriously disappeared. While moving in, Larry cuts himself by accident and this triggers a series of events that reveal what happened to Frank and his connection to a strange puzzle box.

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What a movie, I love this film. Its a great throwback to the gothic horror films Hammer were making in their heyday, but mixed with the blood-soaked gore that became common place in the 80s. Its essentially a haunted house movie… but not. There is so much memorable imagery in this film its hard to know where to start. Well you have the poster-boy himself, Pinhead (though only known as ‘Main Cenobite’ in the movie), it strange how Pinhead became the face of Hellraiser despite the fact he actually only has a few minutes of screen-time, I think the puzzle box itself has more screen-time. There is a scene in this picture that is disgustingly disturbing and yet strangely alluring and beautiful to watch, I refer to the re-birth of Frank. A visual treat along with a compelling plot, interesting characters and of course, plenty of blood. A great movie well worth watching and if you don’t, “we’ll tear your soul apart!“.

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The Monster Squad (1987): Written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker, directed by Fred Dekker. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Gill Man, and The Mummy try to take over the world by taking possession of a scared amulet. But a group of young kids known as ‘The Monster Squad’ team up to take on the classic monsters.

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The classic Universal movie monsters are back in this wonderful Goonies-eque style family friendly action/horror/comedy. Really not so much of a horror film (compared to other films I have listed) but more of a horror themed movie the whole family can enjoy. It just puts such a huge smile on my face to see the classic Universal monsters still being used and in such a fun way too, and that is the best way to describe this flick… fun. There are some great gags here along with plenty of (mild) scary scenes. If you have kids, then sit down with them and watch this one. While mainly aimed at a younger audience, there’s still plenty for the older horror fan to find here with jokes, references, etc that will keep you more than entertained. And remember, this is the film that taught us that “wolfman’s got nards.

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The Lost Boys (1987): From director Joel Schumacher comes this teenage take on the vampire lore. A mother and her two sons move to a small coast town in California. The youngest son, Sam meets the Frog brothers who claim the town is being taken over by vampires.

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This film just proves how shit other teenage vampire moives really are… mentioning no Twilight, I mean names. A film of its age that is somehow ageless at the same time, the word ‘classic’ does not does this movie justice. There are some great scary scenes, but all through the picture there is a fun sense of humour. A particular highlight is Barnard Hughes who plays Grandpa who rounds of a great cast including; Dianne Wiest, Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland. The title comes form the Lost Boys of Neverland, from Peter Pan. The film is topped off with a beautiful and memorable soundtrack. Modern vampires done justice creating on the best vampire pictures ever made.

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Shiryô no wana (1988): AKA; Evil Dead Trap is another Japanese horror film directed by Toshiharu Ikeda. A TV station host, Nami comes across a strange video tape. The tape appears to be a real snuff film and Nami along with her TV crew decide to investigate the location where the tape was filmed only to find themselves caught in a gory nightmare.

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Yes more Japanese horror and this one is brutally, bloody, brilliant. The flick feels very Argento-esque in many ways, its not shy with the gore and its plot is as basic as it can get. Yet the whole package just works and doesn’t fail to entertain and horrify along the way. The death scenes are graphic, gory and gruesome (there is a particular ‘eye opening’ opening) as the victims are dispatched of in pretty creative ways. The film’s plot is pretty formulaic and ‘slasher’ like and you’ll be correctly second guessing where this film is going… until, the last act where things go a little ‘weird’ and even almost ‘Cronenbergian’ and accumulates into a brilliant conclusion.

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Society (1989): Brian Yuzna is sitting in the director chair for this one. Teenager Bill Whitney feels as if he doesn’t quite fit in, even among his own family. He is given a disturbing tape that may prove incest within his family that involves a weird society. Bill then decides to try to uncover the mystery of this society that seem to be in control.

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To say this film is weird is a massive understatement. Its beyond bizarre, its in a world of its own. It feels Cronenberg-esque, but even I don’t think he would go this far. The effects work is both disgusting and beautiful and with effects by a guy called; Screaming Mad George, what do you expect? I think the film is trying to make some kind of social comment on the soullessness of the upper classes but at the same time, the movie never takes itself seriously at all. There are some pretty disturbing and hard to watch scenes as the picture builds to a 20 minute climax dubbed ‘The Shunting’ that will stick in your subconscious and never leave.

Well that is the end of the 80s in my Incomplete History of Horror and what a strange and wonderful journey it has been. In part VI, I’ll take a look at the 90s as horror films try to be clever.

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