Listen here, I can accept that I turned 40 last year. A tougher pill to swallow tho is coming to terms that the legion of films we’re about to dive into has reached the 35-year milestone. But, here we are in 2023 and I’m at least happy to announce that some of our beloved movies first discovered by young horror fans at our local corner video store, have aged like fine wine along with us- and I’m throwing a party for these glorious horror classics.
The wonderful years of 1986 and 1987 are pretty much unanimously considered by all of us, as pretty important years for the horror genre-churning out such classics as The Fly, Hellraiser, and Evil Dead II. The previous glory years that gave us such monster classics paved the way for another banner year for horror fans in 1988 gifting us a ridiculously awesome amount of films that still manage to give us cinematic boners thirty-five years later.
Speaking from the gut here, the year of ‘88 may just be one of the greatest years for the genre unofficially dubbed the “Slasher Decade”. From the beautifully constructed sequel to the above-mentioned Hellraiser to the introduction of one of horror’s greatest tiny terrors in the form of a plastic doll, these movies filled our little horror hearts with all the fuzzies. Some even opened up the door to the wonderful world of horror cinema upon seeing the hypnotizing VHS artwork that lined the horror shelves. Because as we know, video rental stores were our playgrounds in this era and served as our savior from word of mouth for the next cool movie to check out. So without further adieu, let’s retro rewind back to 1988 and look at some of the year’s best and brightest of horror!
15. “Night of the Demons”
Night of the Demons is universally well-known among horror fans, especially from this tubular decade. Even if you haven’t seen this gem, you sure as hell remember that unforgettable VHS cover art from the video rental horror shelf. Hell, it’s what prompted me to rent the damn thing as a kid. Anyway, I feel like this delicious slice of cheesy horror isn’t mentioned nearly enough. So on the list, this Linnea Quigley masterpiece goes!
Demons mixes up the perfect blend of dark humor and campy horror the ‘80s era is known to churn out. Night of the Demons pulls off this combo so well that it’s almost like the perfect example of a classic ‘80s genre film that we’ve seen parodied over and over again. (Like the countless titles involving the fantastic word massacre). We have a basic set-up of a bunch of teens partying it up on Halloween night at, well, of course, a funeral parlor-duh. Because nothing bad can come of that in a horror movie, right? Even better, they perform a séance and a glorious chase between humans and demons ensues throughout the movie. Also worth mentioning is the movie’s kick-ass soundtrack which holds one of my favorite intro instrumentals of any ‘80s horror film. Give that one a listen sometime!
14. “Maniac Cop”
If you can’t appreciate this little 1988 treasure starring the man, the myth, the mustache, Tom Atkins, and equally legendary Bruce Campbell, I don’t think I want to know you- period. The movie even has the cheesiest and greatest self-titled rap song that can only rival Fat Boys’ “Are You Ready for Freddy” tune. If that alone doesn’t sell you off the bat, nothing further will so just skip this entry entirely.
In a sort of twisted Toxic Avenger/ Robocop mash-up, a no-funny business cop is sent to jail on, really a minor technicality, and is mercilessly beaten to death (or so we think anyway) by the housed inmates he had sent there. A little private justice inmate style if you will. After being moved from the cell to the morgue, enter the king of chins Bruce, and a dead wife that has been pinned on him. Along with a fair amount of strange murders of both criminals and innocents alike. Well, Bruce is an adamant one and sets out to prove his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. And finds an old, thought-to-be dead colleague now a vengeful disfigured nutbag, behind the murders. Beautiful, isn’t it?
13. “Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear”
Infamous for his zombie films, George Romero gave us something different, and quite special in 1988- Ella the homicidal monkey. Also, goddamn if this one isn’t underrated and not talked about nearly enough. This adorable little monkey was absolutely terrifying and I frigging love it.
Ella is brought about when an athlete turned quadriplegic due to an accident needs some help with daily duties, and a little-added cheer in his now forever-changed life. Enter Ella, an experimental monkey injected with human brain tissue turned service -animal. At first, the pair are actually adorable as hell. They really seem to take a shine to each other. However, Ella’s infatuation with her human friend takes a dark turn into some Marky Mark Fear type jealousy and she becomes a homicidal ball of fur and cuteness. She might be batshit insane, but she’s pinch-the-cheeks delightful doing it. Which makes the idea that much more terrifying. She’s even adorable when she takes an angry piss on her once master and he calls her, “a slime” Actually, I laughed pretty damn hard at that.
Ok, seriously: Fuck Madame Tussaud’s. Let’s hit up a Waxwork!
Imagine stepping into your favorite monster’s world. What would you do, and are you even prepared for it? Waxwork answers these questions for a couple of college students, (Zach Galligan-Gremlins, and Deborah Foreman- April Fool’s Day) among the crew. The six friends visit a Waxwork exhibit run by none other than David Warner (The Omen) that displays some iconic horror wax figures in all their glory. However, this magical house of wax can also give you a run for your money and life if you step inside one of the displays. You’ll end up in your favorite monster’s world and possibly become a part of it forever in the form of wax.
1988’s Waxwork is campy fan service entertainment at its damn finest and should be treated as such. If you love the classics Night of the Living Dead, Dracula, and Frankenstein, it’s kind of hard not to crack a satisfied smile during a viewing of Waxwork. Sure, it’s no masterpiece, but I dare you not to have some fuzzy feelings toward it after a watch. It just makes you feel damn good about being a horror fan.
11. “Return Of The Living Dead Part II“
We’re back to party with some zombies in the direct sequel to one of the coolest zombie movies ever with Return of the Living Dead Part II!
Thom Matthews and James Karen return in the whacky sequel along with a group of kids who find the zombie reanimation chemical compound Trioxin 245 and newcomer Michael Kenworthy as our young hero Jessie who brings about the return of Tarman- albeit a much goofier version but still rad as fuck nonetheless. Leading to a bonkers sequel that doesn’t quite live up to the original, or hell, to be quite frank, the two are like night and day in comparison. But, I have a soft spot for this 80sness horror flick and its awesome practical effects that I still love it pretty hard. If you don’t like it, I totally get it. But I’m also judging you because I’m that kind of an asshole.
10. “Friday the 13th 7: The New Blood”
The seventh chapter of The Friday series brings about super zombie Jason and the man who breathed new life into the Crystal Lake slasher, Kane Hodder. Which makes The New Blood something really special when you look at the bigger picture. You can easily pick apart Hodder’s Jason from all others who have played the icon. His deep breaths, menacing stance plus the way he moves around, make Hodder’s portrayal the most memorable, and a favorite among us fans. This being the first time Hodder slipped on the hockey mask, makes for a monumental moment in horror history indeed.
The New Blood introduces us to Tina, a telekinetic teen brought to Crystal Lake for some therapy per her asshole doctor. During one of Tina’s episodes, she manages to raise Jason from the depths of the lake, and thus we can begin our official Friday the 13th film. The premise of a Carrie-like foe for Jason may seem a bit silly to some. But in the same breath, we’re talking about an undead being that has been resurrected FIVE times to maintain his excellent teenage kill record. So, come on. It’s not that bizarre really. Plus, I think it’s pretty funny to watch Jason struggle to kill this broad.
9. “The Blob”
Not everyone loves a remake of a true classic. But, in the tradition of The Thing and The Fly, once again a cinematic remake proves that it can be better than the original. Chuck Russell’s The Blob not only is superior to the 1958 sci-fi film, but more grotesque and memorable as well. Russell deserves all the praise here guys. Think about it for a second; how the hell do you take a campy B-Movie monster that looks like a mound of Jell-O and make it scary as fuck? Throw in some horrific death scenes at the hands of the Blob, have it swallow a child, and fling some body parts around the screen. Also, instead of using the “it came from outer space” gimmick, the thing was a government biological experiment. Which sort of makes it that much more horrifying. As the saying goes, “No beast on land, sea, or in the air is more dangerous than the man who rules the land.”
With a pre-Saw Shawnee Smith and Kevin Dillon taking on the ever-growing eater of children and star quarterbacks, The Blob is a gruesome step up from its predecessor. There are a few cheese moments that take away from the more serious tone of this version. Like for example, Meg (Smith) shouts one-liners at the blob with a machine gun in hand. But hey, it’s the ‘80s. A slice of cheese is to be expected and especially when dealing with a man-eating, two-ton wad of Bill Cosby-endorsed dessert.
8. “A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master“
You’re probably noticing a pattern of slasher sequels here. The jig is up- I’m a big-time sucker for the continuation of our horror icons. And Dream Master is no exception. As a matter of fact, I might love this installment even more so than the original 1984 film.
Aside from Dream Warriors, Nightmare’s fourth movie in the franchise is definitely my favorite of the batch. The Westin Hills survivors return along with a new group of fine, fresh meat attempting to carry on with a normal life. But hey, nothing is normal about being an Elm Street kid. Freddy is awoken once again, by the mighty power of flaming dog whiz no less, and picks off the kids one by one.
Dream Master has everything going for it in a great sequel. A strong, likable female lead (Lisa Wilcox), and a vengeful Freddy with just the right amount of sense of humor, (I’ll never NOT laugh at,“How’s this for a wet dream?!”). The soundtrack kicks all the ass, and we got some really unique and memorable teenage kills. Sheila’s death and sunken in dummy stand-in inside the classroom gave me nightmares for weeks. Also, a chick turns into a cockroach. What more can you ask for?
7. “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers“
WELL, HERE WE ARE. THE GODDAMN HALLOWEEN GOAT OF NOSTALGIA and a hill I will die on that this is one of the greatest films of the decade. Its only fault is that it was released in 1988 along with some of the best of brightest of the decade. I wish I could put it higher but I can’t in good conscience do that with the few horror greats coming up in this piece. I might be nuts, but I’m not crazy!
Anyways, 1988 brought about the much-anticipated return of a horror icon from a seven-year hiatus, and after a foul outcry from fans who were pretty displeased with Season of the Witch. Welp, studios gave in and resurrected Mikey from the dead to unleash hell in Haddonfield once more. And although I have no issues with Halloween III personally, (in fact I frigging love it), I’m forever glad The Return happened as well.
The Return brings a once vegetable Myers awaken by the mere utterance of the word “niece” and back to Haddonfield to finish off his one remaining family member. We get another dose of Donald Pleasance back as the ever-persistent hunter of Myers, and we’re introduced to one of today’s modern scream queens, Danielle Harris as Michael’s niece. It doesn’t hold that same type of magic as the original two sister films but has its own spark of charm that has kept it a fan favorite with Halloween fans.
It may not be everyone’s favorite chapter of the life and times of Myers; but in between the Autumn essence of those beautiful opening credits that continues its feel throughout the film and Reverend Jackson P. Sayer, lies a pretty damn good sequel to the Halloween films.
Yet another 1988 film with the balls to kill a kid, and the birth of one of horror’s coolest-looking monsters. Add in the mix a vengeance-seeking Lance Henriksen and one crazy-looking witch, and we got ourselves a national horror treasure.
Henrikson plays a grieving father, Ed Harley, who is hell-bent on making the reckless jerks who killed his son pay dearly. In doing so, he visits a supposed witch to seek help. The witch warns him that vengeance comes with a price, but Ed gives no fucks. On the witch’s orders, Harley digs up a disfigured corpse and brings it to the witch who revives it with blood from both Harley and his deceased son, and boom- Pumpkinhead on the loose!
What makes Pumpkinhead so damn special aside from Henrikson and a unique new monster movie, is the feeling that no one really gains a victory in this film. It’s all rather, sort of depressing when you think about it. This isn’t your typical good vs evil horror flick. I see it more or less as a grotesque Aesop Fable that genuinely evokes the emotions of the viewers. A monster story that makes you…feel things. Can’t really say a lot of horror movies on this list can pull that off. But Pumpkinhead is sure one of them.
5. “Killer Klowns From Outer Space”
Before I say anything else, I just want to express my great sadness that there’s never been a sequel to this glorious festival of cotton candy cocoons and toxic cream pies. Such a travesty.
The title says it all really. A flying circus tent of horrors lands in a small town full of extraterrestrial-painted nightmares looking to feed. Only a select few are hip to the fact that a race of alien clowns have invaded and are harvesting civilians of Crescent Cove for supper, so it’s up to them to stop it.
For a little B-movie about alien clowns no less, becoming such a cult smash over the past 35 years is something that cannot and will not be ignored. Made from the minds of the Chiodos Bros, Killer Klowns is raunchy, silly, and damn enjoyable whether you’re on your first or 100th viewing. I’m pretty sure we’ll still be talking about this ridiculously amazing movie in the next thirty years. All hail the mighty Jojo Klownzilla.
4. “The Serpent and the Rainbow”
Of all of the wonderful index of films from Wes Craven, it seems odd to me that The Serpent and the Rainbow often gets the shaft. Not today friends, not today.
The black voodoo magic movie starring President Alien ass-kicker Bill Pullman as a professor in search for “zombie powder”, was inspired by the novel by Wade Davis. The Harvard scientist Davis dug deep into the culture of Haiti’s rich history of voodoo, with a specific focus on the undead. The movie inspired by the intriguing novel slowly burns with magnificent detail about the voodoo culture. So much so, there really hasn’t been anything since quite like it. Over the years, fans and critics have slammed the film for its inaccuracy in regard to the source material, but I feel like that’s just a bit unfair. The deal was made for a fictional horror movie loosely based on the book, not a documentary. And in my humble opinion, tops the pops as far as psychological thrillers go.
The imagery is entertainingly gruesome and my skin crawls every time I revisit this Craven joint. If you’ve yet to see this gem, be warned, claustrophobes. There’s a coffin scene you won’t soon forget for years to come.
3. “ Hellbound: Hellraiser II”
In regards to horror sequels, there aren’t too many out there that rival the original. However, Hellraiser’s sequel Hellbound certainly lives up to its predecessor and dare I say, slightly improves on it as well.
Director Tony Randel takes us into Cenobite hell with the continuing saga of Kristy; this time around in a mental institution. (Recalling the events from the first film, that would drive anyone to the edge of pure insanity.) Of course, we don’t stay in that setting for long and Kristy is granted access to a grand tour of Hell and an incredible visual expansion into Clive Barker’s beautiful Hellraiser universe. Speaking of which, is so wonderfully crafted, it’s ridiculously hard not to view it as a true piece of art in motion. The makeup effects are the excellence of execution. A great example is the manufacturing of cenobites, particularly the scene where Julia pushes Channard into the labyrinth elevator. In addition, we get to see Doug Bradley in pure form, as we get to witness Pinhead’s origins. It’s just straight up incrediballs.
I’d also like to note, if you plan on revisiting this gorgeous piece of work this year for its dirty 30, I highly recommend the uncut version. There are only three minutes more of the film, but trust me. Those 180 seconds make a huge difference.
2. “They Live”
Simply stating John Carpenter’s cult classic They Live was ahead of its time, might just be the goddamn understatement of the cinematic century.
Starring the Rowdy one, Carpenter’s film about the world’s elite and society’s blindness towards an underlying evil is absolute brilliance. Based on Ray Nelson’s short story “Eight O’Clock In The Morning”, They Live is one of those rare films that forces us as viewers to question our world and surroundings. A homeless drifter named Nada, (Piper), discovers that the upper class of society are in fact aliens incognito and manipulating society to spend money, breed, and blindly accept their status in the world with subliminal messages. Via the mass media and advertising, constant commands are hidden to obey and conform. In other words, the truth.
They Live is just as relevant today as it was then. In the film, the rulers are portrayed as a completely different race that perceives humans as inferior – something that can easily be correlated to our elected politicians. The presence of these strong messages is one of the reasons They Live became somewhat of a cult classic, despite the fact that it was panned by movie critics upon its first release. 30 years later, the movie’s statement still holds plenty of ground; and quite frankly, freakishly realistic. Now that my friends, is some scary shit.
I really struggled here not putting this at numero uno. Alas, there’s only one little guy who could possibly obtain that kind of voodoo power over me and my love for the Hot Rod…
1. “Child’s Play”
Well actually, it’s no surprise really that Chucky is, the greatest attribute to the horror genre to come out of ‘88. Spawning seven sequels, a reboot, and a TV series over the span of thirty-five years, Chucky and the Child’s Play series has managed to capture our hearts, (and souls), with his wise-cracking, murderous shenanigans. And we can’t seem to get enough of this Good Guy.
We’ve seen the whole killer doll plot before Chucky’s debut, but never anything quite like this. We have to give a lot of credit to the casting of Brad Dourif as the voice behind the two-foot Lakeshore Strangler. Dourif has a strong, menacing presence in his voice (remember the Gemini Killer), yet in the same breath can be quite comical as well. The moment Chucky lets Karen know he’s indeed alive paired with various obscene insults, made you jump out of your seat initially, then slump back in a goddamn giggle.
“I’ll teach you to fuck with me!”
Almost as good as that super random, “Fuck you” in the elevator.
Originally titled “Batteries not Included”, and then “Blood Buddy” before the decided name of Child’s Play, 1988 gave birth to a legendary icon in the genre we love and cherish so deeply. Apart from the iconic status, the film truly holds its place firmly as a horror classic. Directed by Tom Holland and written by Don Mancini, Child’s Play raised the stakes and opened the door for the deadly doll genre to come out and play once again.
Thanks for thirty-five years of horror you wonderful, ugly little shit.
I just couldn’t help myself.
Honorable Mention- Best Not Really Horror But Kind Of Horror Because it Rules:
Beetlejuice isn’t truly horror and doesn’t really fit in well with the mold of the rest of the clan here, so I’m giving it its own spot because well, it fucking rules. Some call it horror, and some call it a sub-genre of horror. Personally, I think this movie is so special, it’s in a class of its own. Fuck labels. BEETLEJUICE is its own label.
Listen, Beetlejuice came at a time in my adolescence when I was trying to figure out why I didn’t really fit in with the other girls. I was a little kid and seeing a bit of myself in Lydia Deetz- the outcast, the black sheep, the oddball girl, felt really good! I could go on forever about this movie, but I honestly want to save it for a piece of its own. Because Beetlejuice damn deserves that. So look out for that soon!