For some reason, the ‘80s is more known for cheesy movies than any other decade. Every era has them, but the ‘80s always gets singled out. It’s tough to say why that is. If I had to guess, it would have something to do with the extremity of the 1980s. And I don’t mean that in the way that many ‘70s horror films were extreme in terms of violence and gore and pushing boundaries. No, I mean that in the ‘80s, everything was extreme. Colors, hair, effects, music, hair, acting, cinematography, hair, fashion, and especially hair. It was all as big and outlandish as it could possibly be.
Because there were so many horror movies being made so cheaply and so many catering to these culturally specific trends, many, if not most, of them got a reputation for being awful. There were a few standouts every year that were the big hits—either critically or with audiences—and the rest fell by the wayside. And it’s tough to actually put together a list like this because the term B-Movie is used very liberally and is sort of a catch all for ‘80s horror, now.
That is really ridiculous, when you think about it, because it discredits all the different tones and styles and even the small quirks and idiosyncrasies of all the horror from that decade. So I wanted to look at titles that definitely get lumped in as B-Movies but are still good, entertaining pieces of cinema at the same time.
Critters is good. Critters 2 might be even better, but it makes sense to focus the discussion on the first one because it was coming right on the heels of Gremlins. Hell, it was even after Ghoulies. But it’s a different movie. It’s a good, old-fashioned, alien invasion thriller but the aliens happen to be tiny space porcupines. However, they are actually pretty creepy at times—particualrly the shot where one of them is looking in at Dee Wallace through the window.
Return to Horror High shouldn’t be nearly as good as it is because it is so easy to screw up this concept, but the filmmakers had so much fun with it. You can see on the screen how much they reveled in the goofiness of bringing that story to life. By this point in the ‘80s, slashers were completely dead. They were gone. And then, along comes this film about the making of a really corny slasher that happens to be struck by an actual killer. It tends to go unnoticed but is for sure worth checking out.
I’ll never stop spouting the gospel of Waxwork. It’s a movie that I saw at a very young age and it always stuck with me. When I kept watching it as I got older I was very relieved to see that it was actually a film with a lot of merit. There are a lot of selling points, not least of which are the inventive effects, but also the surprisingly intelligent script. All that, and a great, winking performance from David Warner. It’s Deborah Foreman as the sheepish heroine who always stood out for me, though.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
Yes, I think Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is actually a pretty decent flick even if it’s the embodiment of cheesy ‘80s horror comedy. When you think about it, Mistress of the Dark is pretty much Footloose, except instead of Kevin Bacon coming to a conservative town and loosening them up and showing them the magic of dancing, it’s Elvira and she’s teaching them about sex.
C.H.U.D. is kind of shocking in how well-made, well acted, and effective it is, considering the whole thing seems designed to be a very knowing joke of a schlocky monster movie. It has all of those moments, sure. But there’s a lot of story here and a cover-up that really makes for a smart portrayal of both environmental issues and corporate greed.
House II: The Second Story
House II is great. People always seem to talk about how terrible it is, as if they’re expecting it to be something different. Of course it’s not scary. I don’t remember many scare sequences in the movie, although the opening shot of that no good Slim Razor did terrify me as a child. This is a fantasy/adventure/comedy/horror that’s a great combination of many different elements. It’s impossible not to have fun with.