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40 Terrific Years of Terror! Top Ten Horror Films of 1981

40 TERRIFIC YEARS OF TERROR! TOP TEN HORROR FILMS OF 1981

Well here we are. A new year means a new top ten horror list that will remind us all to put Bengay on that upcoming shopping trip inventory of crap. Instead of doing my usual “Dirty 30” (of which I will still do a little later), we’re gonna start 2021 off with a myriad of horror flicks that turn the Fabulous 40 this year!

1981 was a banner year for horror indeed and audiences had a variety to choose from on those Friday night date nights at the local theater. Hot off the slasher craze of the surprise hit of Friday the 13th the year prior, studios were eager to jump on that bandwagon for cheap thrills at a minimum budget that brought in major profits. And thy behold, 1981 gave us fresh faces of horror such as Harry Warden, Gunther, and the introduction of a machete wielding maniac in adult form that would go on to become one of horror’s most iconic villians.

So of course I wanted to start this new year fresh spotlighting some of the very best the year of our slasher lord, 1981 has to offer. While this is at the end of the day, my own opinion piece on the matter, please feel free to comment your favorites- maybe something not mentioned, or hell, give me YOUR list! I would love to hear from you guys! Also, worth noting I’ve included trusty Amazon links to the films mentioned if one would be so inclined to make a purchase- which would also help little me earn a percentage in possibly five years or so (heh). So hey, if you want to add to your horror collection while your fellow nostalgic contributor out with running this website, I will forever thank you and write a sweet Kenny G style love song about you in the very near future.

Alright let’s get dive into this mess. Counting down to what I think is the best movie at number one- THE TOP TEN HORROR MOVIES OF 1981!

10. Dark Night of the Scarecrow

Premiering as a Halloween film of the week on CBS in October of ’81, Dark Night of the Scarecrow apart from stellar performances from the cast, is the first horror film that actually centers around a killer scarecrow!

With a plot surrounding a mentally handicapped man named Bubba, who is falsely accused of attacking a young girl and ends up being murdered while incognito as a scarecrow hiding in a field, and the lynch mob basically getting away with it; it makes for a fine-tuned horror film in the making as well, in revenge fashion the culprits are killed off quite phenomenally one by one. With a scarecrow being sited at each death scene.

Some might feel its cliché ridden, however Dark Night of the Scarecrow is an underrated, hidden gem that is perfect for October viewings! Get it here from Amazon!

9. The Howling

One of two fantastically furry wolf-centered films makes numero nine on the list-The Howling. An almost satirical, and self-aware of being exactly what it is, The Howling stars the beautiful Dee Wallace and is directed by a pre-Gremlins Joe Dante.

Wallace plays a news anchor who after being traumatized after a seemingly to others, hallucination episode on her part, is sent a “resort” ( which is a nice way of saying a nut-house, where she soon finds out what she has experienced is very real- and surrounds her in this very colony she is now stuck in.

The Howling was released in March of ’81, just five months before the “big” werewolf film of the decade. And it’s sort of shame as I feel it became somewhat overshadowed with the hype of AAWIL. Which to be fair, is great of course. However, with two big werewolf film releases in one year, the more flashy one will usually get the glory and juice. Had this been released a year before or after, I feel like more people would hold it higher than they do now. Anyways, get it here on Amazon!

8. Possession

Visually striking and a TRUE GODDAMN BEAUTIFUL horror film, Possession is everything that embodies sexual, feminine empowerments in the genre. Disturbing for some? Sure. But I think it’s done rather tastefully– pun intended. As a matter of fact, if at some point you don’t feel uncomfortable at all during a viewing, I’d say you’re more than probably a sociopath.

A young and beautiful wife (Isabella Adjani) leaves her husband (Sam Neill) abruptly for an unexplained reason. He thinks infidelity is involved. She claims that’s not the case. But goddammit he KNOWS there must be SOMEONE else involved. So he follows her in a very subtle non-stalkery way and holy shit what comes of that story is nothing more than a pure mind fuck. I refuse to say anymore for anyone that is shameful to haven’t had the pleasure, or unpleasure of seeing this.

And if that be the case, please get on this shit immediately. IF you can find it. I managed to find some legit sellers on EBAY (click here), so that might be your best bet.

7. My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine is basically Canada’s answer to the holiday horror film populace of the ’80s that Friday the 13th kicked off for the decade. And goddamn it is a ripe pickin’ out of the now hundreds of holiday horror genre films that we can currently fill a good size swimming pool with.

The story of antagonist Harry Warden of My Bloody Valentine is fairly a clever set-up: Twenty years prior, an accident in the town’s mine led to five workers being trapped underground when their supervisors left their posts early to attend a Valentine’s dance. Four of the trapped workers died and the fifth, Harry Warden, had to resort to cannibalism to survive.

Anyways, after Warden and the now half-eaten corpses were discovered and rescued, he was by then insane and went mental on his former supervisors- by ripping out their hearts and placing them in cute little Valentine boxes as a warning to never celebrate this day veer again, dammnit!

Yeah, well apparently folks felt the statute of limitations was twenty years, and well- now we got a horror movie. Which you can pick up right here!

6. Friday the 13th Part 2

Well with the magnificent Pamela Voorhees kicking off the slasher genre of the ’80s, it would be stupid not to include the sequel that gave us her now iconic special, special boy Jason! I mean, it’s a pretty good sequel too.

Following the events of the first film, we find ourselves back at Camp Crystal Lake with fresh meat for a now magically grown adult Jason, (who cares if it makes sense) to seek revenge on some unsuspecting counselors for his mother’s death.

From a critic’s POV, the Friday franchise has some stinkers. From a fan’s however (like myself), they all maintain a level of charm that makes us return to each one with loving nostalgia.

Grab the first 4 films on one disc here!

5. Scanners

Ahh, good ol’ Scanners. Cronenberg’s science-fiction horror take on, I guess a fucked up X-Men?! The movie may have hit the 40-year mark, but it’s a tale from the master storyteller that feels very modern and messaging that runs deep that is just as relevant today as it was back then. Hell, a hundred years from now, someone might say the same thing and that’s why this film can possibly NEVER be rebooted in a proper manner. Can’t fix perfect man.

Scanners is a movie with a special ability called “scanning”. Technically, psychic powers such as reading thoughts, control a person’s mind and organs (making your heart speed up, etc…), and yes, blowing someone’s head up. We’ve all seen the infamous scene whether you’ve seen the movie or not. There’s a lot of corporate greed conspiracy going into the plot so I won’t go any further, but seriously if you have been sleeping on Scanners, give it a go- get it here!

4. An American Werewolf in London

When John Landis made the jump from Comedy to Horror, he did so with a BANG- well, maybe rather a vicious snarl but you get the idea. AAWIL, 40 years later, is still looked at very closely by those studying film and especially, students in the special effects industry. The Landis legacy is truly problematic (putting it mildly), and I’m not super comfortable celebrating anything about him. However, I can’t deny how great of a horror film this is, whatever my opinion on the man might be. So personal feelings aside, the art made prior to some seriously tragic events (The Twilight Zone Movie); I’ll stick this guru of lycanthrope effects at number four.

Landis had written the screenplay as a modern homage to Universal’s The Wolfman way back in 1969, almost a decade before the film was made into a reality. Two backpackers from New York take a tour of Europe but only get as far as Yorkshire where they are viciously attacked by a large animal. One is mauled to death, the other barely makes it out alive, however, with a spiffy souvenir- a werewolf bite!

As an early 80s horror film, AAWIL doesn’t exactly fit that stereotype. Beyond fashion and hairstyles, the movie feels just as simplistically modern today as it did forty years ago. Foregoing the horror movie clichés into a somewhat more serious film about tragedy and despair. With of course some light humor here and there. It is Landis after all. Therefore, the movie will most likely stand the test of time for another forty years, and beyond. Get the Blu-ray on sale here!

3. The Funhouse

Now some of you might be asking why I put Tobe Hooper’s ball of weirdness, horror, and fun so high up this list.. And well here’s my answer to that:

Sorry, that had to be done, hah!

My first viewing of Hooper’s The Funhouse was sometime around the age of nine or ten for myself as part of a Saturday afternoon horror movie-thon on basic cable. Saturday morning cartoons were over and then up pops this beauty. The creepy montage of carnival music with the black canvas of credits occupying the merry-go-round of slightly horrifying animatronic figures that occupied the Funhouse at center stage was enough to pique my curiosity to sit and watch this thing and the rest is history. I certainly can’t remember EVERY horror film I saw for the first time. But with The Funhouse, I remember like it was yesterday. On top of it being a pretty great horror installment for the decade, it’s pretty special to me in that aspect.

The story is fairly straightforward with a pair of couples engaging in date night at a traveling carnival with some seedy history behind it. The teens decide it would be a kinky adventure to sneak inside the funhouse and stay the night. Of course, fun is halted when they realize the pop and “son” running it is a pair of murdering maniacs- with Frankenstein face being something way worse than they experienced at any Freak Show.

The first quarter of the movie really sets that shady atmosphere with little random things that occur inside the place leading up to the night in the Funhouse, and I always really appreciated that. The whacky out-of-place old lady in the bathroom, the creepy Magician, and that skeevies-inducing dude showing off his half-naked sister for the adult girls show. The movie just screams everything done right with an 80s horror film without walking into cliche territory and I just love it to death.

Pick it up here!

2. Halloween II

Oh yes. The film that gives one of horror’s GREATEST lines ever narrated by none other than Sir Donald Pleasance, and not to mention the BEST pumpkin opener (fight me) in the series, comes in at a close second.

Directly continuing the violent Halloween night Michael Myers caused in his rage and chaos, Myers follows Laurie to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital and doesn’t skip a beat along the way, killing anyone that enters his path to get to what is now revealed, to be his sister. Halloween II is darker, more aggressive, and a little more fast-paced as Myers is just PISSED now. Many might disagree with me, but I almost prefer it to the original.

Oh and that greatest line ever? You know I’m right.

Slash your way to savings with this Blu-Ray anniversary edition for only $9.99 here!

1. Evil Dead

I’d like to think I’m channeling Ash Williams here when I say, “If you think any other movie was gonna beat this out, this town only has room for one magnificent asshole here. And that guy is me.”

Evil Dead. The film Sam Raimi created spawned a cult-phenomenon of Deadites and launched Bruce Campbell into horror legendary status. Following 2 sequels, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, with later a Starz series and even a stage musical, Evil Dead has certainly made its mark in the genre. It’s got everything almost every movie-goer could possibly ask for in a film. Romance, check. Action, check. Scary shit, check. Oh, and more blood than anyone probably needs in any one film. Heck, Evil Dead was so effective, it was outright banned in West Germany, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, and the UK.  Religious groups branded it evil and newspapers branded it obscene. MP Graham Bright claimed it was so dangerous it could harm not only you and your children but also your pet dog.

Like that was going to stop anyone from wanting to watch it even more.

You can probably disagree with a lot of my rankings here, but I believe collectively that we can all agree that Evil Dead is truly a beloved, badass treasure among the genre.

Nab your copy that includes the first two films on Blu-ray here for $7!

A Year after ‘Ash vs Evil Dead,’ That Scene Still Resonates

“That’s the key,” Bruce Campbell noted on the DVD commentary of the Ash vs Evil Dead series finale, “give the actors something appropriate to do.” In the end, the lasting image of the EVIL DEAD franchise was not a one-liner or practical effect or or even gallons of blood, but the connection shared between a handful of performers and the audience which followed them on a journey that came to an end one year ago today.

Ash vs Evil Dead offered a surplus of splatstick, but over 15 hours of series life, it also provided a peek behind the curtain at who Ashley J. Williams (Campbell) truly was. Perhaps its greatest achievement, though, was getting a die hard fan base to fall in love with characters it had never known before 2015.

THE EVIL DEAD premiered in Detroit, Michigan on October 15, 1981, with origins that stretched back even further, but didn’t introduce Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo) for 34 years, and it would be another two before Brandy Williams (Arielle Carver-O’Neill) entered the fray. By the time “Mettle of Man,” came to a close, however, they were just as beloved as El Jefe, a testament to the writing team that brought the show to life.

James Eagan was responsible for 11 episodes, while Nate Crocker, Zoe Green and William Bromell all had a hand in penning 10 chapters. DeLorenzo was and continues to be a champion of the team effort responsible for making Ash vs Evil Dead what it was, and never was that more evident than the series finale. Campbell, Santiago, DeLorenzo and Carver-O’Neill assembled in the back of a military truck, armed only with Rick Jacobson’s words (Jacobson wrote and directed the final two episodes), and provided EVIL DEAD fans with the farewell we needed, but didn’t deserve.

On that same commentary track, Campbell said “This is very potentially the last time you will ever see these characters, and story-wise, we’ve been through too much to give them short shrift, as they say.” A concept Jacobson understood as well as the most ardent of AVED fans.

With a six-story, Kandarian demon looming in the distance, the Ghostbeaters all remained true to character.

Amid chaos and gunfire, Pablo rushed to rescue a frightened little girl cowering on the street, Kelly picked up a weapon and defended the soldiers facing off with oncoming Deadites, and Brandy held tight to the ride or die stance that put her firmly at Ash’s side.

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 3 2017And as the Godzilla-like monster roared and the blades of a helicopter whirled overhead, the Prophesied One glanced at the faces of his family and “finally, for once, own(ed) up to who the hell [he] was.”

Brandy questioned what he was doing and Kelly barked “Ash, come on. Get in the fucking truck!” but Ash knew that nearly four decades on, the time had come. And Campbell, along with his partners in crime hit every note Jacobson had poured onto the page.

“My father always said I ran from my fights, Brandy. I’m not runnin’ from this one.”

As NYPD Blue methodically unveiled the soul of Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) over 12 seasons, so too did AVED reveal that Ash was not only the hero we always believed him to be, but that he was no longer a caricature, rather a human being willing to lay down for those he cared about.

As Jacobson commented, “[Ash] knows that most likely, [his decision] was going to be a one way trip.” For the first time, it was not one-liner that left tears in our eyes, but the heartfelt emotion Campbell exuded saying goodbye.

Like a father stingy with a compliment, Ash picked the perfect time to show the Ghostbeaters how he truly felt about them.

“Kelly, people are going to need a strong leader. Someone they can depend on, someone they can believe in. That’s you.” Maxwell, the focused leader to Ash’s reluctant, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Chosen One, finally knew that she didn’t have to be like Ash, that who she was was exactly what the world needed.

PabloTurning to El Brujo Especial, “Pablo, you’re the Jefe now.” A quick cut to Ash’s right-hand man found his orbs moist with sentiment, but he said nary a word, just pursed his lips with a pained smile and nod of understanding. Nothing needed to be said. Perfectly written and perfectly acted. I’m not ashamed to admit that for all the times I had to pause Ash vs Evil Dead because I was howling with laughter, that reaction shot was the only time I paused it because I was overwhelmed. It was a good minute or two before the tears had stopped.

“You save them.” Once more, it was no longer about Ash or even those he held most dear, but the citizens of Elk Grove and the world at large, because the savior of humanity was finally ready to fulfill his destiny.

But not before parting ways with the daughter he’d only begun to know, but loved deeply.

“You said you wouldn’t leave me.”

Holding back tears, Ash responded “I’m doin’ this for you. I’m doing it for all of you.” Brandy placed her hand on the window, and Ash answered in kind, his head bowed, and a gentle, loving double tap of his fingers on the glass. As the truck pulled away, we saw Ash standing alone as the camera widened the distance between them.

“Now Rick, you know I’ve butchered dialogue before, I’ve butchered mercilessly,” Campbell said. “I didn’t change anything in that dialogue because I really liked it.”

It’s been a year since we said farewell to Ash vs Evil Dead, but much like Ashley J. Williams, those final fleeting moments when Rick Jacobson’s words were shared between the Ghostbeaters will stand the test of time.

DeLorenzo silhouette

 

 

 

Missing the Jim and Pam of Horror

“For a really long time, that’s all I had. I just had little moments with a girl who saw me as a friend. And a lot of people told me I was crazy to wait this long for a date with a girl who I worked with, but I think even then I knew that, I was waiting for my wife.”

The parallels between the goals relationship of Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) from The Office and Ash vs Evil Dead’s Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo) and Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) are staggering.

Both had their fair share of flirtation and near misses, laughs, jealousies, and tender moments, and it even took both couples three years to realize that they were perfect for one another. As DeLorenzo told me in an interview before Season 2, “Just make out already!”

The will they / won’t they approach is not a new strategy in television, but damned if they don’t have audiences pining for hook-ups when done correctly. And if we’re honest, what we miss most about the band of merry misfits from both Scranton, Pennsylvania and Elks Grove, Michigan are not Michael Scott (Steve Carell) or Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), but watching and waiting as relationships we rooted for came to fruition.

Santiago played the role of hopeless romantic (aka Halpert) from the very moment we heard him refer to Kelly in AVED’s pilot episode. “She haunts my dreams. Just kidding. She does, though.” Much like Pam, however, Kelly saw Pablito as a confidant, saying “You’re like a brother, so sweet. How could I ever look at you that way?”

ash-vs-evil-dead-season-3-pablo-ash-kelly-second-coming-finale-2So it went over three seasons and thirty episodes, but glimmers of hope sprang up throughout the journey. Both Kelly and Pablo got a little jelly in bookend seasons, when Heather (Samara Weaving) showed near the conclusion of its initial campaign, and with the emergence of Dalton (Lindsay Ferris) for the Ghostbeaters’ swan song. It’s a sensation that can only be generated when one feels a profound connection to another, whether acted upon or not. But make no mistake, both Kelly and Pablo (much like Jim and Pam) felt their relationship unique, that they belonged to one another, and others were only temporary obstacles delaying the inevitable. Albeit, such sentiments were a bit more overt from the men.

For years we witnessed the pair compliment one another. Kelly made Pablo stronger, and he was the only person who could wear down her hardened exterior to reveal the vulnerability housed within. They supported one another from (kinda sorta) afar, not unlike our favorite pair from Dunder Mifflin, but when the chips were down, they never came out swingin’ as when they felt someone, or something, was messin’ with their person.

CXUKWhen she felt that Ruby (Lucy Lawless) wasn’t being upfront with Ash’s right-hand man, Kelly offered pep talk after pep talk to instill Pablo with confidence and the belief that he was, in fact, her powerful vagina, the El Brujo Especial. And for as lovable and hesitant as Pablo appeared throughout most of the series, those times he stepped up without a second thought, were to protect Maxwell.

Think back to a scene at the Elks Grove Police Department in Season 2 when Chet (Ted Raimi) wondered aloud if Baal (Joel Tobeck) hadn’t actually commandeered Kelly’s body, to which Pablo immediately turned to walk toward Williams’ lifelong pal and said “Hey Ash, I think you need to tell your friend to shut the fuck up!”

While Jim and Pam dealt with other suitors and the jealousies that came with them,  they never endured life-threatening situations, but the nature of the Evil Dead universe — that loved ones die — was what kept the two apart for so long, and ultimately what brought them together.

The enemy for Halpert and Beesly was Pam’s indecisiveness and inability to realize she deserved happiness and to take a chance on something that was only five feet from her her desk. What finally pushed Pablo and Kelly over the finish line was not the idea of losing their person to another, but of losing them entirely. So why the fuck not?

KissWe waited roughly 26 episodes to finally see that kiss DeLorenzo had ranted about the season before when she was unsure that Pablo would emerge from a vision, and was so overwhelmed with emotion she pulled him in to express her true feelings. Pablo hummed when their lips locked, because even a patient man is human. Lest we forget, Kelly blamed Ruby for nearly losing her man and growled “Fuck with my Pablo, fuck with me. And I am done bein’ fucked with, Ruby.”

And when Kelly returned from the rift, Pablito believing her to be dead, tearfully hovered over her body and shared “Descansa en paz, mi amor (Rest in peace, my love).” When Kelly jolted awake, thinking she had to fight her way out of another jam, Pablo grabbed her to ensure that she was safe, and offered a tender kiss to calm her fears. The two locked eyes with a smile, and in that moment, we knew there was no going back. It was official. Though Ash and Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill) laid the final bricks of a joke the show had been building for three years, “Filthy and not fine.”

Kelly and Pablo made us laugh, they made us cry, they made us yearn for two people who didn’t even exist to get together, because truth be told, there simply aren’t many horror couples that stand out, and damn it, we wanted this one. They began as friends, knowing and trusting one another completely. They cared for one another, they supported one another, and they challenged the other to be the best versions of themselves. In the end, that’s what true partners do.

The magical nature of their on-screen relationship was not lost on Santiago, who took to Instagram after the series finale to say “…my love for [DeLorenzo] and everything you brought to the table will never die. Always a semi in my pants for #Kelly Maxwell!”

Though we won’t be lucky enough to see where Kelly and Pablo progressed from their own version of popping in to interrupt an interview with “OK…it’s a date,” we’d seen enough to know that Pam’s words rang true.

“When you’re a kid, you assume your parents are soulmates. My kids are going to be right about that.”

Stand-up