Thirty years ago this year, horror was in a very different place. It really was. Might even have been a better place, but there’s still plenty of life in the genre right now. Still, the mid-80’s were in many ways a golden age for the genre and there were some major hits that broke new ground all within the same year. Here we’ll take a look at the top ten horror films of 1984.
Razorback is about a killer wild boar devouring people in the Australian outback. It sounds cheesy, and it is, but it’s also surprisingly effective with some great FX. It was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who would go on to direct the first two Highlander films. Of the killer animal films that followed on the heels of Jaws, Razorback was definitely one of the best.
It might take a long time to get going, but C.H.U.D. is a whole lot of fun. There’s just a really likeable sense of charm to the movie. Daniel Stern, of Home Alone, really leads the cast and plays a surprisingly nice character. The monster effects, when they finally appear, are great. There’s also an element of social commentary to C.H.U.D. Not only do you have the homeless rising up to eat the rich yuppies, you have the people who were aware that they were dumping toxic waste in an area where people were living, simply because they didn’t see the homeless as human in the first place. It’s always fun when it’s the rich white guy’s fault for making the monster.
8. CHILDREN OF THE CORN-
Based on the Stephen King short story of the same name, Children of the Corn is remembered as a classic when it really shouldn’t be and launched a franchise when it really, really shouldn’t have. It’s best remembered as what it is. Fun, gory, B-Movie entertainment. In that respect is where it works best. The children are very creepy, especially Courtney Gains as the “there’s no way he’s under 18” muscle Malachi, and John Franklin as the “he’s actually 30” boy preacher Isaac. There is a strong sense of atmosphere, particularly to the early portions of the movie, but it’s also pretty goofy as well. The “good children” that were added into the script were probably not necessary.
7. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT-
The best thing about Silent Night, Deadly Night is that the whole world hated Silent Night, Deadly Night before it was even released. It got some of the worst, most violent hate mail ever. Which is pretty hilarious, because people were mostly commenting on how violent it was. Mostly, people thought it was despicable that there was a killer running around wearing a Santa Claus suit despite the fact that this was not the first movie to do that. Mickey Rooney, legendary film star, even took time out of his busy schedule to send hate mail their way. Hilariously, Rooney wound up starring in Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker. The movie still stands as a fun slasher though, one told mostly through the killer’s perspective.
6. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES-
Before he made Interview With the Vampire, Neil Jordan made The Company of Wolves, a psychosexual take on the Little Red Riding Hood story. It weaves together a few yarns, mostly told by Angela Lansbury as Granny, to sort of explain to the young lady that all men are beasts, just under the surface. And there’s a lot of cool if not tightly budgeted werewolf FX as the wolf actually emerges from inside the person and they shed the skin around it. It has the look and feel of an early BBC production, but that only helps to add to the surreal nature of the film and the atmosphere.
5. NIGHT OF THE COMET-
A delightful early post-apocalyptic thriller, Night of the Comet has just about everything going for it. There are great zombie makeup and effects. There are people who seem to have gone completely mad in about the course of a day and have become looters, cannibals and general psychos. Most of all, you have two sisters as badass heroines trying to survive post-apocalyptic LA. It also helps that the movie is aided by some pretty great cinematography.
4. THE TOXIC AVENGER-
The movie that put Troma on the map, The Toxic Avenger is truly the movie that showcases that anybody can make a movie. Anybody can put a wig on a melon and run over it with a car. But the cheapness of Toxie is a large part of what makes him work. It’s parody, it’s kind of smart and infinitely stupid at the same time and it is a movie that just works. It’s impossible to watch The Toxic Avenger and not be entertained. There’s something so manic about the whole thing. It has an energy that is totally, uniquely its own.
3. FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER-
The best of the Friday the 13th sequels, it was also the most successful for a very long time and really put Jason Voorhees on the map as a cinematic icon. After all, this was the first time he wore the hockey mask throughout the whole film. Ted White, who hated playing Jason at the time and disassociated himself from the franchise for many years, brought a lot to the character including some things that simply stuck and have become iconic Jason movements ever since.
It’s horror-lite but Gremlins has its feet planeted firmly in the genre. It actually started out as a straightforward horror script, but when Spielberg got involved he thought it was much too dark until it progressively lightened up into what it is today. And even now, as a PG-horror movie it still has its scary moments. It was a horror movie that any kid could go see and it was really a franchise all on its own. It’s insane how much merchandise there was for one movie that just came out of nowhere. But it all worked really well and the creature FX by Chris Walas (who also worked on Cronenberg’s The Fly) are great.
1. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET-
Friday the 13th arrived in 1980 and changed the course of the genre for years to come. In 1984, A Nightmare on Elm Street came along and did the same. It introduced a new kind of boogeyman to the horror genre. There were no characters like Freddy Krueger before him, and in his first appearance he was absolutely terrifying. So much of the movie works on so many levels. The script is scary on the surface level, then it’s scary when you think about the backstory, and about the meaning, and you can just keep peeling back the layers. And Wes Craven really did bring a lot of depth to the story and the characters and the script. So much of the film is incredibly well thought-out. There’s a monster people had never seen before. There are death scenes that people had never seen before. And there’s the great heroine Nancy Thompson who confronts her fears head on, who knows exactly what is waiting for her and faces it anyway. It all works and it’s been a lasting legacy for thirty yers.