These are dark times for Tinseltown, but also an excellent opportunity for movie buffs to rewatch old favorites and discover new ones. To help maintain my sanity during this difficult time, I’ve been doing a lot of the latter.
I love horror and slasher (especially from the Golden Age, 1978-1984) films; they are such a treasure. In this list, I profile ten films that I feel are underrated, compelling in their own way, and worth re-examining. Without further adieu, and in no particular order:
The House on Sorority Row
Seven sorority sisters, Katherine “Katey” (Kathryn McNeil), Vicki (Eileen Davidson), Liz (Janis Zido), Jeanie (Robin Meloy), Diane (Harley Kozak), Morgan (Jodi Draigie), and Stevie (Ellen Dorsher), hold a graduation party at their sorority house.
The fun is soon interrupted by their bitchy house mother, Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt), who tells them in no uncertain terms that the party isn’t happening. Vicki, especially upset because Slater slashed her waterbed after discovering Vicki had a boyfriend in the house, convinces the girls to come up with a prank.
They steal her cane, place it in the unused outdoor swimming pool, and force her at gunpoint to retrieve it. Things go south when Vicki accidentally shoots Slater and she falls into the pool, seemingly dead.
The girls plan to hide the body in the pool until the party is over, but things don’t work out that way. Someone apparently witnessed the murder and decides to give them all a taste of their own medicine.
The House on Sorority Row is an absolute classic. The plot is familiar, while the execution Is truly phenomenal. The humorous moments were very much appreciated and the mystery leaves you guessing until the end.
I was especially impressed by the scene with Mrs. Slater’s death — well-acted by all in the cast who were involved. The camera work was also quite good, particularly during the party scenes. Definitely a step above the usual ‘80s slasher fare.
At a fraternity’s New Year’s Eve bash, a coed, Alana Maxwell (Jamie Lee Curtis), is coerced into helping out with a prank. She lures a shy pledge, Kenny Hampson (Derek MacKinnon), with the promise of sex. Instead of finding Alana in bed, he is instead subjected to the sight of a female corpse that was stolen from the university’s medical school.
Kenny is traumatized to the point that he has to be institutionalized; three years pass and people gradually forget about It. Finally, once graduation beckons for all involved, they decide to celebrate by having a costume party on a train. Little do they know, a killer has decided to crash their party.
The film is based on an idea by executive producer Daniel Grodnik, who wanted to make “Halloween on a train.” That is a pretty apt description for Terror Train. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a masterpiece like Halloween but it’s definitely an above-average slasher.
The claustrophobic setting really intensified the amount of suspense. I particularly enjoyed the killer changing into the costume of each successive victim — quite unexpected and a nice way to throw fellow passengers off.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker
Billy Lynch (Jimmy McNichol) lives with his aunt, Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell), who has raised him since infancy after his parents were killed in a car accident. A talented basketball player, Billy is given the opportunity to attend the University of Denver on a scholarship. Cheryl frowns on the idea, expecting him to stay at home and contribute to the household instead.
On Billy’s 17th birthday, Susan changes her mind about it and asks him to stop by the television repair shop to have Phil Brody (Caskey Swaim), the shop’s technician, to look at their set. Phil comes over that night and Cheryl makes sexual advances toward him. After he resists, she stabs him to death; Billy witnesses this through the window.
When he confronts his aunt about it, she claims Phil tried to rape her. Cheryl, who has been shown to harbor incestuous feelings for Billy, comes under suspicion from the police detective, Joe Carlson (Bo Svenson), who discovers Brody was gay and believes the crime was a result of a love triangle between Billy, Phil, and Billy’s coach, Tom Landers (Steve Eastin), who was in a relationship with Brody. Meanwhile, Cheryl is becoming more unhinged by the minute.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker isn’t a very well-known film, which is unfortunate. Susan Tyrrell did an exceptional job as one of the most demented killers in slasher history. The plot is original and fairly complex, tackling several subjects you don’t tend to see as much of in slasher films like incest, malignant motherhood, and homosexuality — daring subject matter for 1982.
Regarding homosexuality, this film is notable for its portrayal of an LGBTQ character as a positive figure — Billy’s coach, who is subjected to homophobia and shown throughout to be one of the few upstanding characters in the story.
After being suspected of committing over thirty gruesome murders, Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), a television repairman, is convicted and sentenced to execution by electric chair. A deal Horace makes with the devil, however, allows him to return as electricity.
Once he transitions into his new form, Horace goes after the detective that brought him to justice, Lieutenant Don Parker (Michael Murphy), as well as Parker’s adopted son, Jonathan (Peter Berg). Jonathan has a bizarre connection to Horace through dreams, which may help track him.
Horace Pinker was a great villain, a badass to the end. Shocker is so much fun to watch, with the heavy metal soundtrack further enhancing the experience. Things kind of drag at the end, but otherwise it’s an exciting combination of horror, slasher, action, drama, fantasy, and black comedy.
The concept is so original and fresh; another one of Wes Craven’s masterpieces. It’s uniquely different from Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and in a good way. I would have appreciated if they had delved further into what was behind Jonathan’s psychic ability, but it’s still a fantastic and very much underrated movie regardless.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Five years after Freddy Kruger’s (Robert Englund) defeat in A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Walsh family moves into the Thompson‘s home. Their son, Jesse (Mark Patton), has a nightmare about being trapped by a killer driving a school bus.
He blamed the dream on the room being too hot, but more follow and it’s soon revealed that Freddy is indeed alive and wants Mark to do his bidding for him. Jesse and his girlfriend, Lisa Webber (Kim Myers), go about trying to defeat Freddy before it’s too late.
Mark Patton’s performance was totally on point. His character is implied to be bisexual and you really feel for him as he struggles to come to terms with it throughout the film. The homoerotic subtext is a big part of this movie and it’s fascinating to watch as the story unfolds.
The opening sequence on the school bus is a pulse-pounding thrill ride and the film’s climax is also quite memorable. The special effects were also well done. Overall, this is the best entry in the A Nightmare on Elm Street film series aside from the original.