Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
This week, I continue my look into my favorite horror films of all time. The second part covers a cinematic period from 1978 through 1994. During these years, horror took a hard turn towards gory details. It also covered a period where not only did slashers rule the box office, but their excessive numbers of sequels did as well. Between Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street alone, 18 sequels were generated and that’s not including sequel-heavy series such as Child’s Play, Hellraiser, and Puppet Master.
Granted, some series like Scary Movie, Scream, Paranormal Activity, and Saw all emerged largely after this era, but it was this almost 20-year period that seemed to generate the most frequent and popular series.
In the midst of all of these sequels, some inventive horror films managed to get lost in the shuffle and never secured sequels. Some of them may not have even deserved them, but films like House, House II (which was a sequel in name only, not plot), April Fool’s Day, Creepshow, Prom Night, Return to Horror High, Deadtime Stories, and several other films gave this period not just a distinctive visceral appeal, but it generated some very lovely, cheesy horror films that may not have been great, but were certainly memorable.
Creepshow led the way in terms of launching a small number of anthology horror films, such as its sequel and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie as well as a few other small films, but it was also part of another string of successful horror films in this period, namely movies made from Stephen King books. Among the best were Carrie, Cujo, Salem’s Lot, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, and my person favorite of these films, The Shining. It and Misery both feature in my all-time best list this week, while Dolores Claiborne sits just on the other side of this list and will be highlighted next week. And while King’s adaptations weren’t always great (see Needful Things), they were incredibly popular. He also made a brief ’90s run of television miniseries, which aren’t included in this list, but It and The Shining might well have made the list if they were.
Before we dig into this week’s set of ten films, I’d like to highlight a group of pictures from this period that didn’t make the list, but deserve some measure of recognition.
When I put together my list, I may have haphazardly run through the list of films I’ve seen as it’s an extensive list, but I tried my best to highlight everything possible. Yet, as I started working on this week’s article and began discussing Stephen King adaptations, I realized that Carrie, which I mentioned above, didn’t get a write up anywhere and I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize Brian De Palma’s superb film. The film’s two best performances were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cast with Sissy Spacek as the psychokinetic teen picked on by her classmates and her demented hyper-religious mother played by Piper Laurie. They were rightfully nominated for Oscars for their performances with Laurie a better option to win than at least winner Beatrice Straight.
Last week, I highlighted the incredible sci-fi horror feature Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In 1978, a sort of remake of that film was made with Donald Sutherland in the lead role. Moving from a small town to a global landscape, the film ultimately was only barely inferior to that 1956 original.
If you were to compare the various franchises that dominated the 1980s, the Friday the 13th films would easily be the worst. Yet, if you look at the very first film, Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 original, you would ultimately find an inventive premise that belies expectations. Friday the 13th doesn’t hold a candle to the first films in the Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, but it’s a stellar opener with a fun twist and a solid score.
On a quality scale, April Fool’s Day has too many issues to be considered great. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun film to sit down and watch. This 1986 Fred Walton film boasted a cast of nobodies, much like many other horror films of the period. While some of them managed to go on to other acting jobs, including a few TV performers, only one of them could possibly lay claim to fame. Thomas F. Wilson, the villain Biff in the Back to the Future series, takes on a supporting role here as many do. What’s most enjoyable about this film is the twist ending. The lead up to it is most fascinating and marks one of the more inventive of the period. The reference to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was just an added bonus.
Considering the popularity of Anne Rice’s vampire literary universe, it’s surprising that the popular Interview with the Vampire from 1994 never managed to linger long enough to generate popular sequels. Perhaps it was stars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, who had big careers around them or ahead of them, that didn’t want to continue. Regardless, this sudsy vampire drama did a lot of things incredibly well, but it’s biggest gift to cinema history was the boost it gave Kirsten Dunst’s career. Hers was one of the best young performances captured on film and while her career since has been a mixed bag, she’s more than proven herself to be an incredibly capable actress.
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