Fright Night (1985)

“Welcome to Fright Night! For real.”

What do you get when you cross Rear Window, vampires, and the ’80s? Only one of the most fun horror films of the decade! Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is your average teenager whose biggest problems are  pop quizzes and getting to 2nd base; but when a mysterious man with strange habits moves in next door, his world becomes slightly more complicated. Mr. Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) is charming, seductive, and he has a thing for coffins. As Charley’s peeping reveals his neighbor’s true nature he has to fight to protect his friends and family as well as himself, and of course nobody believes him. He even enlists the help of local, vampire slaying celebrity Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), who only plays along to disprove Charley’s allegations…that is until he realizes that Dandrige is in fact a vampire. Together they fumble their way through one sticky situation after another as they try to rescue Charley’s girlfriend (Amanda Bearse) from an eternity with the undead.

It’s all here, from the teen angst to the gratuitous nudity to the ’80s-tastic soundtrack featuring Devo and the J. Geils Band. But nostalgia aside, what I love most about the film is that it’s self-aware and has a great tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. I’d say it’s similar to something like Shaun of the Dead, where it holds up as a genre film and adheres to the conventions, but also successfully parodies that genre. The humor works mostly due to Chris Sarandon’s performance as a sexually ambiguous, yet deliciously villainous vampire. He torments this poor teenager for the fun of it, and the viewer has fun right along with him. After all, what good is it being a vampire if you’re not going to be stereotypically sexy and witty about it?

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The Ice Pirates (1984)

As far as bad Star Wars ripoffs go, The Ice Pirates has got to be the worst of the bunch. There are slapstick robots, pirates complete with fake looking swords and bad fight scenes, and one of the most retarded deus ex machinas I’ve ever seen. I can handle ’80s cheese and sometimes I downright love it, but this film reaches levels of stupidity far beyond my tolerance. I like Howard the Duck for crap sake! If that doesn’t tell you how bad this film is, I don’t know what will.

In a future where water has become a valuable commodity, think Waterworld in space, a princess purchases two captured pirates pretending to be uniqes and they set out for the mythical lost planet that is full of water. Robert Urich is the less charming and less handsome Han Solo character Jason and Mary Crosby plays the spoiled Princess Leia…I mean Karina. Performances from a young Anjelica Houston and Ron Perlman may bring a little smirk to your face, but these familiar faces add little more than that to the film.

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Critters (1986)

Ah, Critters. One of those flicks I grew up with that has not only held up over the years, but I actually enjoy it more now than I did as a kid. It was unfairly declared a Gremlins clone despite director Stephen Herek’s rebuttal of such claims, chalk it up to bad timing I suppose. Sadly Gremlins has become the much more popular of the two over the years and while I do think it’s good and deserving of the praise, it’s just unfortunate that Critters has been left in the shadows of those silly gremlins. I’d say the main drawback at the time was probably the lack of a cute, cuddly character to help brand the film and market it to children, you can probably thank George Lucas for that little trend. Personally, the film works for me because Critters feels more like a western than anything else and if there’s one thing I love more than horror, it’s westerns. Just replace cowboys and outlaws with intergalactic bounty hunters and man-eating hedgehogs and there you have it.

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City of the Living Dead (1980)

City of the Living Dead

I consider both Argento and Fulci to be true maestros of their craft. It’s hard to even really compare the two because they are so completely different in their approach, technique, and style. Where Argento paints a grandiose, beautiful picture; Fulci likes to dig in and get dirty. Argento uses lavish atmosphere and suspense to make your heart pound, while Fulci uses disgusting and gritty imagery to make your skin crawl and your stomach churn. City of the Living Dead is by no means traditional zombie fare and it’s this uniqueness that ultimately works both for and against the film. The addition of supernatural elements lends a slightly more menacing and psychological quality to the zombies, but I could very much do without the teleporting. Released in 1980, Fulci followed up the success of Zombi with a haunting vision that has been banned and chopped up numerous times over the years. The film basically serves as the first installment in the “Gates of Hell” trilogy and sets up what some consider to be Fulci’s greatest film, The Beyond. But I also believe it stands well on its own as a truly bizarre and unforgettable experience.

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