Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: Top 10 Horror Films Of 1986

March 19, 2015 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Shudder The Fly

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Normally I get irritated with you guys when you pick a year with not many good horror films. This time you’ve presented me with another problem. 1986 was a goldmine for horror and it was hard to just narrow it down to ten. So, there will likely be something that you think should be here that isn’t. This is my personal list, obviously, so I picked ten that I feel were the best of the year. Read on…

#10: Critters

I’ve enjoyed Critters since I was a kid. It’s actually kind of a perfect horror movie for kids. Little monsters running around that are kind of cute in their own way, along with some comedy in between the scary parts. It’s not too gory but it’s not too safe. Critters wasn’t on regular rotation like Little Monsters or The Monster Squad as a kid but I did watch it several times during television airings. I blame Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for introducing me to it.

The Crites are always fun to watch as they eat people. It’s sounds morbid but it’s true. Horror comedies work because they take what should be a scary situation and combines it with comedy. It shows just how ridiculous the situation is and pokes fun at it. The series never would be quite as good as the first film, but even the sequels have merit if you want something dumb and fun (similar to the Leprechaun films). Critters is more of a sentimental favorite for this list than other selections.

#9: Little Shop of Horrors

It’s only horror in the loosest sense, as it has more comedy and music than outright scares. But this was a movie I grew up with and have loved all my life. It’s a remake of a B-movie horror film and one that completely changed the story to make it a classic. I love everything about this movie, even the changed ending. The special effects for Audrey II are great, as is the process for making him talk. Not only is he hard to hurt and carnivorous, but he can tempt you into murdering for him. As long as he can get big enough to take over the world, he doesn’t care.

The songs, of course, are terrific. “Dentist”, the title song and “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” are fun to listen to and then “Somewhere that’s Green” is classic for a reason. It’s just a great movie with a lot of positives. It doesn’t get the love that something like Rocky Horror Picture Show does, but I kind of love this more. It may just be nostalgia goggles, but this one holds up really well and I’m always in the mood to watch it.

#8: The Hitcher

You know, the remake of The Hitcher may be one of my least favorite remakes of all time. It seems to get worse the more I think about it and the original only gets better. I wasn’t as thrilled with the original as everyone else was but it’s one of those movies that grows on you. The great moments are still great, but the cat and mouse game between The Hitcher and Jim is something I’m not sure I appreciated before. Just shows that a bad remake can make you give a movie a second chance and you realize how good it is.

Rutger Hauer is spellbinding to watch as the character. He has a presence about him and you can’t take your eyes off the screen. Even when he does something like talk to a character, there’s a menace about him that amps up the suspense. There’s also the death of Jim’s new girlfriend, which is just wrong on so many levels. It’s not about the blood there, but the suspense as Jim has an impossible choice to make. It’s a great scene in a movie that I’m glad I gave another chance.

#7: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

Well it’s another Jason movie. This is one of the great ones, as it is my personal favorite of the entire series. It has great kills, a strong hero and one of the best Jason performances that didnt’ come from Kane Hodder. The movie just works and it’s probably why the Friday the 13th series was able to rebound after the mess that was A New Beginning. It’s a fun horror film that never fails to be entertaining. It’s the movie I would choose to introduce someone to a Jason movie.

This has everything a good horror film should have, minus the scares. But that’s mostly because Jason movies were never really scary. It’s about the kills, not the suspense leading up to them. Those movies have their place too if they can still be enjoyable. This was one of the last great Paramount entries in the series and it’s still my favorite Friday.

#6: Night of the Creeps

Thrill me. It’s amazing that I haven’t had much of an opportunity in this column to discuss the Fred Dekker classic Night of the Creeps. I’ve discussed The Monster Squad at length and hated on Robocop 3 when I had the chance, but never got to talk about this. So let’s do it now. Night of the Creeps is great. I saw Slither first, but when I finally got to see this one I was amazed at just how much that film took from this. Don’t get me wrong, I love Slither, but it borrowed heavily from this cult favorite.

Creeps features a similar concept in that alien slugs arrive on Earth and take over the minds of humans. In this case it kills them and makes them zombies. The only man who can save the day is Tom Atkins, who is the go-to guy for 80s horror movies. This man had quite the resume in this decade: Creeps, Halloween III, Maniac Cop, The Fog and the list continues. He’s a great genre actor but this may be his most memorable role. If you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend you give it a chance.

#5: From Beyond

Speaking of great 80s cult favorites…here’s one from Stuart Gordon, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft and starring Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. Normally you would think I’m talking about Re-Animator, but this came after. This seems to get overlooked compared to that movie, but luckily it seems to be appreciated for the weird little horror film it is. By the way, did I mention Ken Foree is also in this? It’s a great cast and a great director.

This isn’t the kind of movie you want to just throw on, however. Let’s be honest, this movie is weird. It makes Re-Animator look by-the-numbers because it’s so bizarre. There are otherworldly monsters, pineal glands run amuck, Barbara Crampton in fetish gear and that’s just for starters. It’s just a crazy movie and that might be why it doesn’t get as praised as other movies from the decade. It’s not for everyone.

#4: Manhunter

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Manhunter. I wanted to watch it again before this week’s column but I didn’t get the chance. So if I forget things, I’m sorry. I first saw this story as Red Dragon, as I assume a lot of people did. You can imagine how bizarre it is to see someone else playing Hannibal Lecter and killing it like Bryan Cox does here. I wouldn’t say he’s better than Anthony Hopkins, but he’s different. Although I think Mads Mikkelsen is doing a better job than both so the point is moot.

This is a lower-budget take on Red Dragon with strong performances. Tom Noonan always makes for a creepy villain and this time is no different. This is almost a darker and grittier take on the material than the Hollywood films, if that’s even possible. There’s just something raw about this version. Maybe it’s the lower budget, maybe it’s Michael Mann’s approach. You get a more unclean feeling with this movie that’s harder to shake off than watching A-list stars tell the story.

#3: Aliens

Alien is a classic and we all know it. Aliens is another great movie even if it’s entirely different. James Cameron abandons the claustrophobic atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s take and delivers his own action-oriented sequel. Aliens is the bigger, badder brother of Alien. There’s more of the titular monster, Ripley becomes more of a take-charge heroine and we also get a great supporting cast including Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen.

Aliens may not be as scary as the original film, but it does have its moments. When Ripley and Newt are trapped in a room with a facehugger, it’s a suspenseful moment. There are several moments like that. We also get the Alien queen introduced in this movie, and it’s just a wonderful, terrifying special effect from the late, great Stan Winston. The franchise may not be as good as it used to be, but there’s no denying the greatness of this movie.

#2: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

The number above may say #2, but I consider these more #1a and #1b. It’s hard to choose between my #1 choice and Henry, but it mostly depends on my mood. If I want something that’s hard to watch for all the right reasons, I’ll go with Henry. It’s a disturbing movie. It’s not one that’s outright terrifying. There’s no jump scares here. It’s just a movie that crawls under your skin and makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s a dirty movie.

Michael Rooker, like Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher is so good you can’t stop watching him. He’s a completely irredeemable monster but he’s captivating. It’s hard to explain. He’s just really good here. Tom Towles, meanwhile, probably dosen’t get enough praise as Otis as he should, because he provides a nice balance to Henry’s menace. This really is a three person show (the other being Tracy Arnold as Becky) of acting as we get this slice of life look at people we don’t really want to know.

#1: The Fly

You can never go wrong with The Fly. It’s my favorite David Cronenberg movie and that says a lot. Jeff Goldblum leads a one man show with the terrific special effects both overshadowing and accentuating his performance. The special effects are just amazing. They’re so good that they were given the first credit when the movie’s over. Not Cronenberg, not the actors, Chris Walas, the man behind the gore. That’s good work.

At the center of The Fly is a tragic tale of a man slowly losing himself to his condition and putting his girlfriend through hell. You fear and pity Brundlefly at the same time. He’s not sinister, he’s just an accident with only one unfortunate conclusion. If I were to do an 80s decade list, this would definitely be near the top of that as well, if not at the #1 postiion (it was a very strong decade, after all). The Fly is a flawless horror tale that only gets better with age.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Agree with my choices? Did I leave anything out? Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook. Next week, I’m going to celebrate Black History month horror style, as we look at the Candyman movies!

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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