5 horrors from the 80’s you DON’T KNOW but (definitely) should
The 1980s brought us a flood of horrors of better and worse quality, developing the slasher trend and focusing on a very high ratio of killed heroes per film. It was a decade when horror movies were supposed to entertain rather than scare, and almost every horror film, whether successful or not, had to wait for a sequel. Of course, I’m generalizing, but it’s hard not to get the impression that the then representatives of the genre wanted to familiarize us with death, which was often very spectacular. We all know A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Shining, The Fly and The Thing. However, the horror catalog of the 1980s is so rich that I allowed myself to extract five less popular titles from it – probably unknown to many, but in my eyes exceptionally successful representatives of the genre, little pearls of horror cinema.
Angst (1983, dir. Gerald Kargl)
One of the best movies about a psychopathic killer is also one of the most overlooked in those types of lists. Austrian Angst is a joint work of Gerald Kargl (director) and Zbigniew Rybczyński (cinematography and editing), the author of the Oscar-winning short animation Tango. The two wrote a screenplay inspired by the true story of Werner Kniesk, a repeat offender who, while on leave from prison, murdered a family of three – a case that forced changes in the Austrian penitentiary system. However, the creators focus all their attention on the unbalanced hero and his desire to kill.
Signed as K. psychopath already leaving the prison walls, he knows that he has to murder someone as soon as possible, and he really rushes after the victim – any victim. First, two girls in a roadside bar catch his eye, then a taxi driver, and finally, after breaking into a large house, he plans to murder the absent hosts.
Kargl and Rybczyński focus all their attention on the unbalanced protagonist, subordinating the form of the film to him. Throughout the entire projection, we hear practically only his thoughts, while other characters hardly speak at all. The visual side of Angst also forces us to feel the world through the eyes of a mentally ill person – the camera observes the hero from high above or from floor level, very close or far away; she remains in motion all the time, restless, presenting a distorted picture of the world. Relaxation comes only when K. feels inner peace – after committing a murder. The nervousness of the whole is emphasized by Klaus Schulze’s electronic music.
Angst seance is an unpleasant yet rewarding experience. Realism goes hand in hand with the bravado of the production, not only giving us a portrait of one of the most monstrous psychopaths in cinema, but also making us put ourselves in the shoes of such an individual, understand his reasoning (the thoughts we hear actually come from the testimonies of real murderers). Erwin Leder, who plays the main role, looks as if he lives under great stress all the time, and his slightly bulging eyes make him look like Peter Lorre, which immediately sends us back to the famous role of the latter in Fritz Lang’s M, the masterpiece and progenitor of all serial killer movies.
Inferno (1980, dir. Dario Argento)
Daria Argento’s Suspiria has a well-deserved cult status, one of the most original horror films in cinema history, and an incredibly influential one at the same time. Many, however, may not know that the Italian director continued his fantastic story in two more films, very different in terms of atmosphere and style, thus creating a kind of trilogy. Filmed in 1980, Inferno, the middle episode, has always been overshadowed by its more famous predecessor. Despite this, it has its staunchest supporters – Kim Newman himself, a film historian and expert on horror films, called this part “probably the most underrated horror of the 80s.”
In its prologue, Inferno gives Suspiria a context that gives the story a completely new dimension – it turns out that the dance academy in Freiburg was home to Mater Suspiriorum, one of the Three Mothers, the incarnations of evil. The second of them, Mater Tenebrarum, lives in a house in New York, which is – it would seem – an ordinary tenement house. One of the tenants, Rose, discovers the secret of the building and calls her brother Marek, who is studying in Italy, for help. The latter, in turn, already in Rome, the seat of Mater Lacrimarum, begins to feel the influence of one of the Mothers.
The two-track narrative serves the whole, which this time is more structured than in Suspiria (as far as it’s possible with Argento), based on riddles, but also numerous murder scenes. The film has a specific, impossible to imitate atmosphere – on the one hand, old-fashioned, largely due to the mythologization of horror stories, on the other hand, it is characterized by a quasi modern big city. Quasi, because there is a certain artificiality in it, almost theatricality (the streets of New York sometimes look as if they were shot in a studio), absent in other works by the Italian.
Those who were delighted with the vision of Suspiria may feel disappointed that Argento went in a slightly different direction stylistically, also replacing the progressive music of the band Goblin with a very classic (although at one point supplemented with… disco!) composition by Keith Emerson. Thus, somewhat contrary to the director’s intention, Inferno is best seen as a completely autonomous production, without the need to associate it with its more recognizable predecessor, or even less with the extremely unsuccessful final part of the triptych, The Mother of Tears from 2007.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (Docteur Jekyll et les femmes, 1981, reż. Walerian Borowczyk)
Walerian Borowczyk, considered by some to be an outstanding surrealist, by others an ordinary pornographer, in 1981 made his own version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And starting from the opening scene, in which Hyde chases a girl through the streets of awakening London, and then, in a frenzy, beats her to death, there is no doubt that this is a full-fledged horror film, reflecting the spirit of the literary original. I will even go so far as to say that in this respect it is the best adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, even if the plot strongly deviates from the original.
Of course, Borowczyk gives free rein to obscenity in the film, but this is largely subordinated to the story of the engagement party of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Fanny Osbourne (actually that was the name of Stevenson’s wife). Many respectable guests arrive, but the atmosphere of a boring, stiff meeting is quickly interrupted by the appearance of a madman in the house, whose actions expose the true nature of the gathered. Meanwhile, Jekyll’s fiancée discovers her mate’s secret.
The poetics of a dream (or rather a nightmare) works so strongly in this French-German co-production that it is difficult for me to find another horror movie that would evoke this state as successfully. Noël Véry’s phenomenal cinematography reflects the unreality of the story focused, as in Stevenson’s work, on the subject of the duality of human nature and the repression of this dark, primal side, but Borowczyk ultimately advocates the need to succumb to urges. The director’s anti-bourgeois sense of humor creeps in here and there, and the sexually charged atmosphere of the whole, which even more strongly emphasizes the horror of the meeting with Hyde, could have done without the moments bordering on pornography, although not as explicit as in the earlier films of the Pole.
The role of Dr. Jekyll is played by Udo Kier, a favorite of the arthouse audience, but it is Gérard Zalcberg, visually reminiscent of Robert Blake from Lost Highway, who makes the biggest impression. His Hyde is an animal in human skin, with a hateful look and a perverse nature. Marina Pierro as Fanny is also electrifying with her eroticism, hidden under a Victorian corset, which gradually breaks the closer the woman is to learning the truth about her chosen one.
Next of Kin (1982, dir. Tony Williams)
Still, few people have seen this Australian thriller, one of the best examples of early ozploitation. The story of a young woman who, after her mother’s death, inherits a family residence converted into a retirement home, develops slowly, very carefully revealing the true nature of the threat, but felt from the very beginning. Therefore, it will not be a position for lovers of slasher sensations and fast pace, but rather for those who appreciate the unique atmosphere of this story.
The Montclare estate appears to be an extremely beautiful place, actually offering its aged residents peace on the last straight of life, and Linda returning home after years of absence, to memories and her heritage. The discovered diary of the mother suggests a dark secret, which with dramatic and almost accidental events – in a strange way reflecting the past – creates a truly horror building material for an effective, highly suspenseful finale.
Williams’ film is largely based on a strong, multi-level contrast – the youth of the main character is juxtaposed with the old age of almost everyone who surrounds her, the present reflects on the past in a way that suggests the operation of some amazing forces, and dreams mix with memories, making that Linda finds it difficult to understand what is really going on. The slightly dreamy atmosphere seems to lean towards a fantastic solution, thanks to which the ending is even more violent and unexpected. Also the setting of the film may surprise many with interesting visual solutions, great camera work and pulsating music by Klaus Schulze (whose name has already appeared in this text, in the description of Angst).
Quentin Tarantino himself is a great fan of Next of Kin, which for many will be the best recommendation, after which they may reach for Williams’ work. And although the Australian horror can boast of other great titles (headed by Razorback, Wolf Creek and the recent Babadook), this one is still waiting to be discovered and appreciated.
From Beyond (1986, dir. Stuart Gordon)
When it comes to Stuart Gordon, the first thing that comes to mind is his Re-Animator, a wonderfully warped take on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, a perfect marriage of body horror and black comedy. Then Gordon made a completely different Dolls, but the post-production of this film took so long that before its premiere he managed to release From Beyond in cinemas, again reaching for Lovecraft.
How much of The Providence Loner’s prose is really left on the screen? Practically just a prologue in which a failed experiment leads to the death of the mad scientist Pretorius, the inventor of a machine that allows anyone to see beyond our world. Of course, the same goes for the other side, and soon the alien lifeforms start attacking the heroes. Pretorius himself also returns, half human, half block of jelly.
The strength of the cinema of Gordon, who died this year, came from the lack of brakes when it came to the craziest, macabre and often inappropriate ideas, while maintaining a deadly seriousness by the actors and the director himself. This had a comic effect, of course, but the laughter always came with the stupor that seemed to be an essential part of a joke. From Beyond contains images that could easily be found in Carpenter’s film The Thing, where the human body became unnatural, hideous, plastic in a way beyond human comprehension; except that what was repulsive and terrifying in Carpenter is as shocking as it is funny in Gordon. The pineal gland coming out of the forehead – like a probe – or the subsequent incarnations of the increasingly monstrous and inhuman Pretorius will find their fans among enthusiasts of on-screen oddities and practical special effects, but those who recognize Gordon’s humor will bring the most satisfaction from From Beyond. Perhaps the film does not have the same energy as Re-Animator, but when it comes to imagination and pure production bravado, it is hard to find better entertainment.