Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: Top 10 Horror Films Of 1987

October 19, 2017 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Evil Dead II

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

So I’ve been putting off doing this year for a while. The answer is simple. 1987 may be the most stacked year for horror films ever. Doing a top ten list is insane, because there will be something left off that someone doesn’t think should be, even more so than usual. It’s an incredibly stacked year and when you see what did made the list, you’ll see why. No sense in wasting any time, as it’s time to look at some great movies that turned 30 years old this year.

#10: The Gate

Okay, I’ll go ahead and state up front that The Lost Boys just barely got left off this list. Which means that The Gate is the movie I chose to knock it off. I’m not going to get into why I feel this film is better, but I will say that I personally prefer it and move on. The Gate is a low-budget movie with a lot of cool special effects, a likable cast and an interesting story. After all, what would you do if you found out a gateway to Hell literally sat in your backyard? If you were a kid, you might mess around with it and get people in a whole lot of trouble. Kids are stupid like that.

The Gate is a perfect example of a horror film, like another entry on this list, that you can show kids and it’ll be fine. Kids and teens need a way to get into horror too, especially if their parents won’t let them watch R-rated movies just yet. This will keep their attention with similarly-aged actors, a fun premise and again, enjoyable low-budget effects. It goes all out with what they have to work with and the result is a very easy-to-watch movie.

#9: Predator

The hell, you say? Predator only makes #9? I told you, it was a stacked year. Predator is considered by many to be an action film, but I disagree. Predator is a monster movie and a slasher film cleverly disguised as a simple action movie. They even got Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the final girl! Like any slasher villain, the Predator picks off our cast one by one until only one person can stop it.

You don’t need me to tell you Predator is great. It’s got a clever script with fun one-liners, an impressively gory body count and one of the coolest monsters ever put to celluloid. How can you not love the cast? Carl Weathers, Arnold and Jesse Ventura running around calling himself a sexual tyrannosaurus. It’s amazing stuff. The only reason it ranks low is because while I see it as a horror film, I don’t see as a particularly scary one.

#8: The Monster Squad

I grew up with this little horror comedy and I have a lot of love for it. Between this and Night of the Creeps, it still makes me sad knowing Robocop 3 would kill Fred Dekker’s career. Anyway, this movie was a staple for kids in the late 80s and early 90s. I remember taping it off of TV back then and watching it constantly as it was one of the first true horror films I got to watch without fear of getting in trouble. It had all the classic monsters and a kid my age teaming up with the damned Frankenstein Monster to take down Dracula.

The Monster Squad is a better monster movie team-up than this Dark Universe could ever hope to be, as it’s got all the monsters updated with new looks, actual stakes and characters you care about. It’s not Tom Cruise sleepwalking through a brain-dead action movie, that’s for sure. Instead we get great costumes, awesome special effects (including gore..in a kid’s horror movie!) and a really clever, funny script. It’s a great movie for people of all ages, with just enough horror to add it onto this list.

#7: Prince of Darkness

I consider Prince of Darkness on the lower tier of John Carpenter’s movies in the 80s, but considering he was on fire for that entire decade, that’s not an insult. I just don’t place it as high as I would The Thing or They Live. It was a lot better once it got to the climax but it’s very good when that happens. Here’s the gist: The Anti-Christ has been on Earth for years, trapped inside a large container of Hi-C Ecto-Cooler (not really, but that’s what it looks like). It begins possessing a team of scientists to manipulate them into releasing his father, the devil. It also controlled a group of homeless crazy people (including Alice Cooper, for some reason) to do its bidding.

If it weren’t for the craziness that happens later I think I would hate this, or at least make fun of it. There’s only so many serious discussions on the nature of religion and metaphysics that I can take before I start to throw things at my TV. But the end if suitably chaotic, Donald Pleasance is awesome as always and you can’t fault Carpenter’s direction or creepy imagery. Plus like Jason Lives a year earlier, there’s an awesome Alice Cooper song on the soundtrack.

#6: The Stepfather

And now, an example of how a terrific performance can turn a B-movie into an all-time great horror film. The Stepfather has a decent premise, but as you can tell by the soulless remake (which had a similar script), it takes a great actor to really pull off the menace required. Terry O’Quinn is able to be equal parts charming and unsettling when the script calls for it. And he can be charming in spite of the fact we know he’s a killer. There’s no mystery here. The movie opens with him leaving the scene of a murdered family.

If you haven’t seen this movie, then you don’t know what you’re mention. O’Quinn’s performance is the kind that if it were not in a slasher movie, he might have been up for awards. He doesn’t ham anything up when he’s evil, saving that for when he’s putting on his public face. It’s what you imagine a sociopath may see a normal person is. The scene in the basement, the “who am I here” moment in the kitchen, all great moments in a movie that I feel is a tad underrated.

#5: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Depending on who you ask, Dream Warriors is the quintessential Freddy Krueger movie. Note that I didn’t say Nightmare movie, because it isn’t, really. The original Nightmare on Elm Street is the best, but Freddy’s not fully-realized yet. He’s mostly a straight villain with moments of dark humor. You could argue that Dream Warriors is where he became the Freddy that horror fans all know and love, for better or worse. It’s the perfect mix of the original Freddy and the jokester Freddy that would follow once this movie hit big.

I have no complaints with this movie at all. While I think Nightmare is a better film, this is the one I’m more likely to watch. It’s a lot of fun with its great cast of characters, Robert Englund having a blast and a host of great practical effects that still hold up today. (okay, maybe not the sleepwalking bit) Like, think about how awful that TV scene would look if someone used CGI to do it today. It still looks realistic now. Plus, of course, like Prince of Darkness it had its own great title track, with a fun music video to boot!

#4: Angel Heart

This was one of those movies I just watched blindly because I heard some chatter about it over the years and I ended up loving it. Mickey Rourke is immensely likeable as Harry Angel and Robert De Niro plays the devil. THE DEVIL. This is a nice noir/horror mix with a permeable sense of dread through the whole thing. You can probably figure out the twist but by the time it happens you’re so into the story you don’t care.

It’s a movie full of surreal imagery and a plot that is relatively dense as it goes on, resulting in a Tales from the Crypt-style twist at the end. The less you know going in the better, and since this one is one of the lesser-seen movies of the decade, I’m not going to spoil it. It’s a slow but steady movie with a lot of great twists and turns, as well as tremendous performances throughout.

#3: Near Dark

Outside of, perhaps, the original 1931 Dracula, I think Near Dark is as perfect a vampire movie as you’re going to get. That’s a statement that’s a little odd, since it doesn’t work the same way a traditional vampire movie would. Vampirism can be cured in this movie, they don’t have the fangs and can’t turn into anything. They’re just basically psycho killers who drink blood and die if hit with direct sunlight. And yet Kathryn Bigelow makes this work with its more grounded approach to the mythology.

This is also one of my favorite Bill Paxton movies, because his performance as Severin is tremendous. He looks like he’s having the time of his life in a role that is absolutely nuts. That’s the kind of guy that you don’t want to become a vampire because he’ll just role with it and kill people even if he doesn’t need to drink. Compare that to Adrian Pasdar, who is trying to find a way to avoid living that lifestyle. Did I mention this movie is great? The acting, the direction, the score, the story. Everything. I love Near Dark.

#2: Evil Dead 2

The top two movies were very close. Unbelievably close. Ultimately I went with Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn for my second favorite choice but you could argue that it should be #1 and I wouldn’t really fight you. It’s one of the best blends of horror and comedy I think the genre has ever seen, as it has the right mix of both. There’s an absurd amount of bloodshed and some creepy moments, but there’s also Bruce Campbell fighting his own severed hand. It’s the best parts of The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness combined into one amazing film.

The movie is so well known that people just assumed that the original is a comedy because every Evil Dead property after it was. Remember when before the remake came out, people were upset it wasn’t going to be campy? They wanted it to be like Evil Dead 2. Whether or not this movie is better than the original will depend on your own personal taste, but it’s certainly more well-known than the original, effectively replacing it in the public consciousness.

#1: Hellraiser

Hellraiser is one of my favorite horror films ever, so it certainly makes the list for the best horror movie of 1987. I could also say that about any of the top three, but this is the one I prefer of them all. I love Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart and while he makes some changes to his original story, his first effort as a director completely nails it. There is just something that’s so timeless about the horror in Hellraiser and it’s not because of the otherwordly demons. The real horror of the film comes from Julia and how far she’s willing to go to get Frank back. Do you read the news? That kind of thing still happens.

Of course the cenobites are great too. They’re the draw. The makeup effects on them are great, something that has never quite been replicated in any of the sequels. The special effects in general are really good, although you can tell the places where they were running out of money in the budget. Skinless Frank is not one of those places, nor is when he’s ripped apart at the end. It’s some of the most iconic imagery from the genre for the decade and it’s a movie that I’ve seen way more than I’d care to admit to. Hellraiser is one of the genre’s standards, in my opinion, a new darker gothic horror. It’s also my choice for the best horror film of the year.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

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