31 Greatest 1980s Horror Films: Page 2 of 9

31. Brain Damage (1988)

"You don't need to worry about anything ever again.  I'll do all your thinking for you.  Just put me on the back off your neck and everything will be fine."

We begin the countdown with a real weird one.  Brain Damage was the second feature film by director Frank Henenlotter, whose previous movie has since become a cult classic (maybe we'll see it later in the countdown?).  Henenlotter has a true talent for walking that delicate line between comedy and horror, balancing perfectly the laughs with the spurting gore.

Brain Damage follows some dude in New York City who befriends an odd little creature -- an alien-like talking parasite with a savage hunger for human brains.  The critter attaches itself to a host's neck and injects it with blue serum that makes its victim trip some major, psychedelic balls.  You then become a slave to the thing, relying on its juice to keep you from slipping into a torturous withdrawal.  A metaphor for drug addiction is the creamy center of this blood-splattered confection, brain matter spraying in every direction when the monster buries itself into an unsuspecting passersby's skull.  If you like 'em gooey and gross, Brain Damage will make your head spin.


30. Witchboard (1986)

"When someone uses a Ouija alone, like Linda, she's very susceptible to the spirit she contacts, and the wrong spirit will take advantage of this.  At first, he'll be extremely helpful and friendly so that she's lured into using the board more and more.  Pretty soon all she wants to do is use the board.  Everything else becomes unimportant.  This is called progressive entrapment.  When she reaches this stage, the spirit changes.  He starts to frighten and terrorize her, gradually breaking down her resistance, and once that's done, he's able to possess her."

For nearly a thousand years, the Ouija board's powers have allegedly allowed its users to contact wandering spirits otherwise camouflaged in a curtain of paranormal haziness saturating our every-day lives.  Whether or not one believes in all that phantasmal mumbo-jumbo, any fan of low-budget ghost stories should derive a decent amount of stimulation from Witchboard.

Tawny Kitaen, star of 1984's Bachelor Party and 90s TV show America's Funniest People, plays Linda, a curious gal who befriends what she believes to be the soul of a 10-year-old boy through the board.  Linda's boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen) and specter specialist Brandon (Stephen Nichols) team up when they discover that Linda has in fact been communicating with a maniacal entity named Malfeitor, who weakens Linda's will in order to possess her.  Malfeitor spends his downtime murdering everyone around them, dropping a stack of sheet rock onto Jim's construction worker pal and tossing a psychic out of a window, along with the occasional ax-hacking.  Witchboard isn't flashy or even that bloody, but it's a fun way to pass the time.  Just be sure to play with a friend.


29. Friday the 13th (1980)

"Jason was my son, and today is his birthday..."

To me, Jason Voorhees was never quite as formidable as other slashers like Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers.  After all, Freddy was a fire-scorched, child-killing dreamstalker and Michael was the unstoppable personification of pure evil, while Jason was a mentally retarded drowning victim.  Kinda hard to cheer against the poor guy.

Everyone knows that Jason wasn't even the killer in Friday the 13th, a fact that is overshadowed by the listless sequels that followed.  The villain was his mother, Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer in a brief yet awesomely deranged performance), chopping up counselors returning to Camp Crystal Lake for recreation in the form of getting lit and diving headfirst into some good ol' premarital sex.  The assorted throat-slicing, stabbings and hachetings populate the script by Victor Miller, who spent only two weeks writing it in hopes that it could be pushed into production quickly to capitalize on the success of 1978's Halloween.  For all of its shortcomings, the original Friday the 13th set standards for its genre that live on today, cementing it as a classic of modern horror cinema.


28. Puppet Master (1989)

"I'm the master and you're the puppet!"

Murderous dolls have always been popular fodder for horror.  There's just something eerie about an inanimate object one clings to for comfort springing to live and going for the throat.  Puppet Master is the most successful franchise from Full Moon Entertainment, the low-budget production company behind lesser cult favorites Dollman, Demonic Toys and, inevitably, Dollman vs. Demonic Toys.

Puppet Master introduces miniature monstrosities Blade, Pinhead, Tunneler, Jester and Leech Woman in their first outing as puppeteer Andre Toulon's cherished creations.  The old stringster discovers a serum that grants eternal life in the late 1930s and is forced to kill himself before the Nazis can steal it for nefarious deeds.  Fifty years later, the dolls awaken and terrorize a group of psychics at the Bodega Bay Inn, having been summoned by a traitor amongst them.  Dave Allen, whose previous special effects credits included Ghostbusters II and Honey I Shrunk the Kids, provides the excellent stop-motion puppet effects as they slash and strangle everyone in sight.  The direct-to-video release proved that a limited budget can only assist a filmmaker's creativity.


27. The Howling (1981)

"Silver bullets or fire, that's the only way to get rid of the damn things.  They're worse than cock-a-roaches."

The Howling earns a lot of credit for helping usher in the resurgence of the werewolf genre in the 80s.  The film takes liberties with its source material, the novel of the same title by Gary Brandner, but under the direction of Joe Dante (1978's Piranha), coupled with superior effects work by the legendary Rob Bottin (RoboCop, Total Recall), The Howling delivers on every level imaginable.

Dee Wallace plays news reporter Karen White, the target of a serial killer terrorizing Los Angeles.  The ruthless nutter Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) is lured by Karen into a trap and gunned down by police.  After suffering amnesia from the shock of witnessing Eddie's death, Karen and her husband Bill (Christopher Stone, married to Wallace in real life) take a vacation, heading for a resort for a few weeks of relaxation.  Before they know it, the couple is wrapped up in a pack of shapeshifters bent on tasting their flesh.  The wolves in this movie have the ability to switch at will, not needing the light of a full moon to cause them to go through several awe-inspiring transformation scenes.  The ending is a bit of a downer but is quite powerful, making it one of the best werewolf movies of its decade.


26. Basket Case (1982)

"Our mother died giving birth to us.  He was attached to my right side.  They wouldn't let us go to school or anything.  They kept us hidden.  We were the big family secret.  Everybody hated us, except our aunt.  See, he likes the dark.  He doesn't like to be seen, not even by me sometimes..."

Before Frank Henenlotter made Brain Damage, the director got his feet wet with Basket Case, one hell of a twisted, gore-soaked ride.  The movie was made on a shoestring budget in the murky back alleys of Manhattan, several scenes filmed guerrilla-style, without permits.  With its over-the-top violence, Basket Case gained notoriety as one of the most unusual horror outings of the 80s.

Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) wanders the streets of NYC, carrying a large wicker basket with him everywhere he travels.  As he meets different characters on his journey, the suspense constantly builds with their growing collective query -- "What's in the basket?"  As it turns out, Duane was born with a Siamese twin but they were separated at birth, and now the horrific miscreation lives inside the carriage that never leaves his brother's side.  When the freakish lump of grotesqueness loses its mind and proceeds to knock off those foolish enough to lift his lid, the movie goes off the rails.  The monster's stop-motion trashing of a hotel room is so laughably bad that it has to be seen to believe.  You'd have to be crazy in the head not to check out Basket Case.

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