“Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are in power. The Berlin Wall and the Twin Towers still stand. Fans wonder if George Romero and Dario Argento will ever make Twilight of the Dead and Lachrymae… Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman live in Crouch End and Nutley. Some say Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is too grim ever to get released, and certainly wouldn’t be passed by the BBFC… Kristen Stewart and Daniel Radcliffe haven’t been born. Peter Jackson has just made Bad Taste in New Zealand. Doctor Who is about to be cancelled. Few people have heard of the Internet. VHS has trounced Betamax, and rules the high street rentals. Vincent Price and Peter Cushing are still alive…”
Kim Newman, from his introduction to Nightmare Movies.
The 1980s were a formative time for me. I saw my first horror movie in the 80s (probably a Roger Corman picture; possibly The Pit and the Pendulum); I read my first horror novel in the 80s (almost certainly something by Stephen King, I think probably The Shining); I bought my first horror book in the 80s (the first volume of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood).
More importantly, the 1980s were an important time for horror movies. More horror films were released during the 80s than during any other decade of the last century. Directors who made their name in the 70s built on their earlier movies, with varying degrees of success. Some (Wes Craven, John Carpenter) went on to become among the most influential directors in the genre; others (Tobe Hooper, Bob Clark) failed to fulfil the promise that their early work suggested. Franchises were born, most notably Friday the 13th, The Howling and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but also Child’s Play, Children of the Corn, Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Sleepaway Camp and many others. Genre favourites Bruce Campbell, Linnea Quigley and Kane Hodder were first introduced; horror legends John Carradine and Peter Cushing made their last appearances. Sam Raimi, Mick Garris and Brian Yuzna made their directorial debuts; Pete Walker, Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker shot their final films; Mario Bava, Terence Fisher and Alfred Hitchcock put down the megaphone for good.
So to the films themselves. There are genuine, almost indisputable genre classics (An American Werewolf in London, Evil Dead II, The Thing); there are films so bad, even their directors probably don’t love them (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge). There are beautiful-but-flawed career highlights (Tony Scott’s The Hunger, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining); there are low budget fan favourites (Bad Taste, The Toxic Avenger). Finally, there are a lot of films I haven’t seen, including a few big names I’m a little ashamed to admit to (The Hitcher, Poltergeist), so this really is a journey of discovery for me.
If you’re still in any doubt as to the validity of 80s horror, just imagine: without the 80s, we wouldn’t have the big screen debuts of George Clooney (Return to Horror High), Johnny Depp (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Tom Hanks (He Knows You’re Alone), Holly Hunter (The Burning) or Brad Pitt (Cutting Class). If that’s still not enough justification, here’s one final thought: without 80s horror, there would be no Platinum Dunes. Then where would we be?