Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: 10 Worst Horror Films of 1986

June 21, 2018 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Rawhead Rex 1986

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

About three years ago, I took a look at the best horror films of 1986, and I ended up ranking The Fly at #1. 1986 was one of the best, if not the best year for horror, so it was always difficult to think of the other end of that spectrum. Surely the year had some terrible films, right? As it turns out, yes. There are plenty of bad movies from that year. Granted, some of the worst horror movies of 1986 aren’t outright awful, and even can be enjoyed if you turn your brain off. But some of them are truly wretched, proving that even great years can have stinkers. Let’s get right into it with the worst horror films of 1986.

#10: Demons 2

I wish I had more nice things to say about Demons 2, a movie that, while not awful, isn’t very good either. When I first watched this, I was ready to like it. I love the original, which is completely chaotic, nasty and violent, the perfect kind of movie to watch with friends. At one point a guy is riding around a movie theater on a motorcycle attacking demons with a sword. But Demons 2 feels like a loose remake more than a continuation, and it’s definitely more of the same from the first one. That should be great, right? Except it isn’t.

If I wanted to watch Demons, I’d just watch that. With Demons 2 I expected at least something different. All they do is change the location and retcon the first film as a movie. In other words, they took the Blair Witch 2 approach to it. And like Blair Witch 2, this sequel is just loud and noisy, repeating what worked originally to diminising returns. Granted it’s not nearly as bad as that, but if I have to watch a gory Italian movie about demons possessing people, I’d rather stick to the original.

#9: Crawlspace

If I had to compare this to any other movie in the genre, it would be 2002’s Ghost Ship. It has a hell of an opening but the rest of the film is a boring slog and not worth watching once that opening is over. Klaus Kinski just looks like one of the creepiest people ever, so it’s no surprise that he plays the villain in nearly every horror film I’ve ever seen him in. In this one, he’s an apartment landlord named Mr. Gunther who has a variety of traps in his complex to capture and kill people. The first three minutes involve a woman going to the attic, finding another woman with a shaved head and removed tongue in a cage, then having Kinski sneak up behind her and kill her with a trap like he’s Jigsaw. After that he tries and fails to kill himself, then says “so be it” and puts her apartment up for rent. That’s how you start a horror movie.

The movie starts to fall off a little in the middle as we follow uninteresting characters. The worst part is that when Gunther kills someone off, it happens off-screen. You just showed a kill at the start of the film, and now we get nothing. The middle doesn’t really mean anything, because once it starts into the final twenty minutes it gets crazy. The final girl goes from room to room in Kinski’s madhouse full of traps and dead bodies until he’s chasing her through the titular crawlspace. Kinski was good (and was apparently a nightmare behind-the-scenes) but that script somehow took a fun premise and make it dull and generic. You had a legitimately insane actor working for you and you waste his talent. Amazing.

#8: April Fool’s Day

This movie is exactly what I mean by not all the choices here are bad. Technically, I have to begrudingly admit that April Fool’s Day has its merits. It’s well acted for the most part, as Amy Steel was great. It has some fun scenes and the whodunit story is genuinely entertaining. I just have one huge problem with this film that is always going to bug me. That’s the ending. That’s the fact that it renders everything you watched pointless, because it was all one big prank.

And look, I get it. It’s called April Fool’s Day. It’s a prank and it’s a nice way of turning the slasher genre on its head. I’m not going to fight you if you love it. The problem is that it was so good at building to an eventful climax that turning the whole thing into one big joke is insulting to the viewer. It’s not necessarily bad from a quality standpoint, and can even be good. But this is my list and so while my decision to include it is entirely because I disagree with a story choice, I’m still going to do that. April Fool’s Day feels like a waste of time every time I’ve tried to give it a chance. It’s the equivalent of riding a rollercoaster to the top of the first big drop, only to be told the ride’s over. In playing a prank on its audience, the film takes all the fun out of everything.

#7: Maximum Overdrive

Okay, calm down. I too enjoy Maximum Overdrive. It’s a lot of fun and it’s one of those movies I can watch whenever because I don’t have to think too much about it. But let’s be honest here. This movie is awful. It’s only fun because it’s so awful and dumb. I’ll give Stephen King a lot of credit for trying his hand at directing. Not everyone can and he can always say he gave it a shot. But this movie is absolutely ridiculous and it’s not even subtle. King was on drugs during the 80s, especially when he made this, and it shows.

The script is poorly-written, and I know I’m saying this about Stephen King, but it’s true. The dialogue is horrendous and the characters don’t act like human beings. It’s a giant live-action cartoon about killer trucks. That’s also why it’s great, but it’s pretty bad. This movie isn’t scaring anybody, no one’s going to feel tension from it. It’s a great comedy, but I’m 100% sure King didn’t intend for that.

#6: Witchboard

This is another movie, like Maximum Overdrive, that’s pretty bad but also pretty fun. It’s a pretty standard “ouija board summons evil spirits” movie, but it’s so gloriously over-the-top and stupid that it’s impossible not to laugh at it. Take, for example, the performance of Tawny Kitean, who is really trying but is also, sadly, not as good as the film demands. So instead she’s unknowingly chewing the scenery. It makes me feel bad for her but also thankful as she livens up an otherwise mediocre script.

As I mentioned above, just because a movie is on this list doesn’t necessarily make it awful. Or at least, not awful to the point it can’t be enjoyed. Witchboard is both stupid and cheesy, but still manages to be entertaining at the same time. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with it over the years but these days I just take it for what it is and try not to think to hard about the plot holes and characters acting oddly. It’s a goofy eighties horror film about a board game. At least it’s not nearly as bad as Ouija was.

#5: Sorority House Massacre

You know you have a bad movie when it doesn’t even live up to the title. I mean, yeah, this takes place in a sorority house and yeah, there is technically a massacre, but I was expecting gore and lots of nudity. Those are, after all, staples of the 80s slasher film. I got some nudity, but the kills were all bloodless for the most part and extremely lame. This movie runs about 70 minutes and after a couple of quick kills in the opening, the “massacre” doesn’t start until 50 minutes in.

That means that in the time before the killing, we get some incredibly dull characters doing incredibly dull things. There’s talk of past lives, hypnosis and repressed memories. None of which really play that big of a role into the finale, which is just some crazy guy killing people quickly and in very dull fashion. If I watch a movie with “massacre” in the title, I expect some damn blood or at least not a boring movie.

#4: Troll

Behold, the lost Harry Potter movie. I’m not joking. If you’ve never seen Troll before, it’s main character is named Harry Potter. The alleged remake is expected to keep the name, which should be interesting. While Troll isn’t as notoriously awful as it’s “best worst movie” sequel, it’s still a dumb fantasy/horror movie that is only memorable for how odd it is. And I’ll give credit where it’s due: the special effects are still pretty great, at least as it pertains to the troll costume. But John Carl Buechler was a special effects guy first, so that makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is the film itself, and that’s why it’s ultimately a good-looking but extremely flawed movie. Character motivations are all over the place, the acting from the little girl is awful (especially since we follow her or a verison of her through the whole movie) and while Michael Moriarty is trying, he seems woefully miscast here. I prefer my Moriarty with a little sleaze to him, and he’s way too wholesome here. If you want better movies with him, check out Q the Winged Serpent or The Stuff.

#3: Deadly Friend

I covered this one last year when I put it up against fellow 1986 killer robot movie Chopping Mall. It wasn’t a particularly popular edition of the Face-Off but it was fun to write. Deadly Friend is a movie from Wes Craven that is probably known more for that clip of Kristy Swanson throwing a basketball so hard that it makes a woman’s head explode. It’s probably because the rest is a confusing, uneventful mess.

Craven’s original film was a darker thriller focused more on the sci-fi, but studio meddling turned it into a slasher. I’m not saying Craven’s original vision would have been better, because before this movie devolves into “crazy robot on the loose”, it’s still not very interesting. It’s too cutesy with the robot they have and the script/acting isn’t as well executed as it probably could have been. Of course we’ll never know, because studios like to stick their noses into movies that don’t need their involvement.

#2: Spookies

The story of how this movie was put together is actually more interesting than the movie itself. The original film was 90% completed when the directors and everyone involved were fired and new scenes were shot and spliced in. So it’s two different movies stapled together.

The story is nonsensical and pointless. The real reason to ever put this on is the barrage of monsters that show up. Every five-to-seven minutes at a certain point a monster will show up. It’s full of surprisingly impressive special effects for a low-budget feature and nifty stop motion effects when they couldn’t afford a shot. It’s so obviously not a good movie, but I’d still recommend it, if that makes sense. The creature effects are really fun, even if everything else is a chore to get through. Maybe find clips online.

#1: Rawhead Rex

Between this movie and Transmutations, Clive Barker was growing increasingly tired with Hollywood and decided he would adapt his next story himself. That film ended up being Hellraiser. It’s easy to see why Rawhead Rex would cause him to give up on letting others adapt his work because it is bad. I’ve seen clips before, I thought maybe it could be “so bad, it’s good”, but it’s not. It’s just bad. On the other hand, Barker should have expected a terrible movie because “Rawhead Rex” is not a good story to begin with. Barker’s stories are inventive, but some of them are too out there to translate to film. It’s why you’ll never see a film of The Great and Secret Show.

The actual monster (which was a 9 foot phallus with teeth in the story) looks really bad. It’s absolutely impossible to take it seriously any time it’s on screen. The only thing I’ll say in support of this film is that the main character, played by David Dukes, and his family feel like real people. I bought them as a family unit and it helped ease the pain a little bit. But that’s not enough for a recommendation. That’s not nearly enough. The monster urinates on a priest and he seems to enjoy it. What the hell.

Ending Notes:

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

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