1986 - Where nostalgia rears its head to destroy the list
We've reached the tipping point I think. That period of time where I saw these movies if not at the theater, then on video soon after they were released on VHS. Sprinkle in the few I saw on the Cable pay channels - HBO, TMC, and the others that started to pop up, and we have 2 lists converging. The list of influential and important horror movies of 1986 and the list of horror movies I loved during my childhood and teenage years.
If you were around in the 80s and wanted to be able to rewatch something or share it with friends, you had to record it with your VCR. Other than buying it outright, which no regular person did because the prices were insane until the 90s. So you had your own personal streaming service, but on huge bricks that took up a ton of space and could only hold 2-3 movies if you were lucky. Many on this list were part of my collection of VHS tapes which means I watched them a lot.
I still want to keep the list to 10-15 movies of importance for each year. To do that I may be forcing out a more critically acclaimed or even a fan-favorite movie but I will note them at the end. They just won't get the same love I gave on the 1975-1985 lists. Case in point my #1 might be lower on every other person's list, but it's one of my favorites and I watched it multiple times a year every year until my early 20s. Now I watch it at least once a year.
Pivoting a bit from the serious horror nature of the Friday the 13th franchise, Producer Sean Cunningham (the man behind the franchise) and director Steve Miner (directed Friday the 13th parts 2 & 3) gave us one of the first real horror-comedies, House.
Many horror movies have comedic moments, but House embraced the comedy - many times putting it over the horror. So much in fact, that Hollywood considered it a transition movie which allowed Miner opportunities to direct in other genres (Soul Man and Wonder Years were his next projects).
In the mid-to-late 80s, many filmmakers took a closer look at the Vietnam War and the effects it had on the soldiers. Even though House is a horror-comedy, it also gives us a look into the psyche of a man dealing with the guilt of surviving the war. It's a heavy subject but done in a way that doesn't take away from the overall experience of the movie.
The special effects are well done, the monsters are incredible to look at, and there are some really creepy and maybe even jump-worthy scenes. The cast is top-rate for a low-budget horror movie, featuring a lot of familiar faces from popular TV shows. You can stream it on Prime, amc+, tubi, and Shudder.
Blurb - A troubled writer moves into a haunted house after inheriting it from his aunt.
Next up is probably (Part IV is the choice depending on my mood) my favorite film of the franchise, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. This movie introduces the supernatural Jason to the franchise and takes it in a totally different direction. It also gives us our third Tommy as the part is recast once again. The actor from part V was born-again and decided to pass on playing in the series anymore. I think this ends up helping the series as Thom Mathews is perfect in the role.
I had a copy of this on VHS and watched it as much as House in my younger days. However, it had been quite a few years since my last viewing. I recently got the Scream Factory box set and threw it in.
Still holds up, and in fact, may be even better than I remember. It's funny - in a good way, with lots of inside jokes and tongue-in-cheek situations. There's a ton of blood and some very clever and very fun kills. And while I remembered it as a very sexual movie, it's not. There is one sex scene, but it's quite tame compared to the rest of the franchise. It's the only Friday the 13th movie to have no nudity.
As I mentioned above, it does introduce us to a new version of Jason. With his death in Part IV and - spoiler alert - the red herring in Part V, the movie opens up with the Tommy character accidentally rising Jason from the dead. With this new twist, the director took full advantage of the kills and direction of the character. While this movie was the first not to break $20 million at the Box Office, it allowed the studio to continue to milk the franchise for all it was worth. They wanted a Jason and this movie delivers. Stream it on Prime, Paramount+, and Crackle.
Blurb - Tommy Jarvis exhumes Jason Voorhees to cremate his corpse, but inadvertently brings him back to life instead. The newly revived killer seeks revenge, and Tommy may be the only one who can stop him.
Is Aliens a horror movie or an action/science fiction mashup? I guess the best answer is yes. While it isn't a true horror movie like the original, it took everything that made Alien scary and turned it to 11. I remember the first time I saw this movie - at a friend's house during a sleepover the night it premiered on HBO. I was still scarred from the chest-bursting scene from the original and was prepared to watch it from behind the couch. However, from the opening scene, I was hooked and sat front and center the whole time.
James Cameron comes into his own after directing Piranha 2 & the Terminator and his cast is filled with familiar faces from all his projects. If you haven't seen the movie you are missing out on a real treat. As an adult, this is a special movie to me as it's one of the last times my son & I were able to go to a theater (a special one-night-only showing) and see a classic before his Crohns went into overdrive. You can stream it on amc+ and Showtime.
Blurb - Fifty-seven years after surviving an apocalyptic attack aboard her space vessel by merciless space creatures, Officer Ripley awakens from hyper-sleep and tries to warn anyone who will listen about the predators.
David Cronenberg continues his run of impressive films with The Fly. I'm a huge fan of the original, but this updated version is amazing. Cronenberg fought to have Jeff Goldblum as the star of his movie, who then, in turn, fought to have his real-life girlfriend Genna Davis cast. The casting couldn't have been better. Goldblum is always at his best playing the quirky scientist but he dominates the screen as his dark edge comes out throughout the film. Goldblum is fascinating to watch as he begins to go through the transformation and the emotion between the two as it happens becomes a third character on the screen. You can stream it on HULU & Paramount+.
Blurb - A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.
Stuart Gordon continues his Lovecraft-based movies with From Beyond. Interestingly enough he does so with two of the stars from 1985's Re-Animator, Jeffrey Combs & Barbara Crampton. Now I don't remember seeing this movie ever during my younger years, but it has quickly shot up my list of personal favorites.
Gordon has a talent for making smart and entertaining horror films. The only issue you might have is the limitations on some of the special effects. We are in that weird no man's land before CGI became the norm. However, even that is forgivable when you factor in the time. The real treat of this movie is the performances of Combs & Crampton. It's a complete 180 from the roles they had in Re-Animator.
Combs is no longer the cool & confident Herbert West. Instead, we are given a broken man whose fragile psyche is broken by his experiences with the sixth sense. Crampton goes from the girlfriend/damsel in distress to a strong and confident psychologist who dominates the screen as the movie progresses. Those 2 performances really made me a big fan of these actors. You have to rent/buy to stream this one.
Blurb - A group of scientists have developed the Resonator, a machine which allows whoever is within range to see beyond normal perceptible reality. But when the experiment succeeds, they are immediately attacked by terrible life forms.
Tobe Hooper returns to the franchise that made him famous 13 years later, but with a twist. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre plays on what you don't see, many times suggesting violence and gore but not showing it. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 throws all that out the window, giving us a very gory and in-your-face experience. It also takes the serious nature of the first movie and flips it on its head. This movie is filled with jokes, puns, and visual gags.
This movie is so over the top that the MPAA gave it an X when it was first summited. It was banned in Australia for 20 years, and when submitted to the UK, they were told they had to cut 20-25 minutes before it would be allowed to be shown there. It was banned in Germany until 2016. Cannon decided instead of dealing with the ratings board to just release the film NR(not rated) this move often hurts movies because many theaters will refuse to run it but TCSM2 almost doubled its budget. And while many fans of the original hated the sequel at first, it now enjoys a huge cult following. Watch it on HULU, Paramount+, and Amc+.
My memory of watching this was my mom fixing me an amazing roasted chicken dinner and me peeling off the skin to eat right as Chop-Top decided to eat some human skin.
Blurb - A radio host is victimized by the cannibal family as a former Texas Marshall hunts them.
Tobe Hooper shows his versatility with another release in 1986. Invaders From Mars is a remake of the classic 1953 movie of the same name with an updated script provided by Alien's creator Dan O'Bannon. This movie is the direct opposite of TCSM2 in tone and approach to horror. Stream it on tubi.
Blurb - A boy tries to stop aliens who have taken over his town and are attempting to brainwash its inhabitants.
First-time director, Stephen Herek (who went on to direct Bill & Ted, The Three Musketeers, and Mr. Holland's Opus) teams up with Dee Wallace (Cujo, Howling, E.T.) to give us Critters. It continues the 1986 theme of aliens attacking. The movie has a solid cast including Scott Grimes's first movie role, Terrance Mann, Billy Zane, and M Emmet Walsh. You can stream it on HBOMax.
Blurb - A group of small but vicious alien creatures called Crites escape from an alien prison transport vessel and land near a small farm town on earth, pursued by two shape-shifting bounty hunters.
Little Shop of Horrors is a remake of a classic horror movie from the 1960s and features another alien invasion. This movie is more comedy-musical than a true horror film. However, it was a favorite of mine when it came out and I watched it as often as I did my favorite slasher horror movies. Watch it on HBOMax.
Blurb - A nerdy florist finds his chance for success and romance with the help of a giant man-eating plant who demands to be fed.
The Golden Child is an odd duck. Originally intended to be very serious, but when Mel Gibson turned it down and it went to Eddie Murphy. At first, they kept it the same, but Paramount chickened out once test audiences saw it. They were used to funny Eddie Murphy from Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours and weren't ready to accept a serious role Eddie Murphy. The studio made them go back and film short "Eddie Murphy" scenes and re-cut the movie to feel more like his previous works. It's also his first film not rated R because of language.
As a kid and teenager, I loved this movie. It's funny, has action, and a fascinating Far-East storyline but as an adult, I would love to see the original and see just how Murphy handled the material. The horror element focuses on a special child who will be sacrificed to get him out of the way of dark forces. There are demons and some cool special effects. John Carpenter was supposed to direct at one point, and I would have loved his take on the material - instead we get the awesome Big Trouble in Little China so I think in the end humanity won.
Stream in on Netflix, Prime, and Paramount+.
Blurb - A private detective specializing in missing children is charged with the task of finding a special child whom dark forces want to eliminate.
Before Michael Rooker was "Mary Poppins" he was a very scary dude in his first movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Although this movie was completed in 1986, it wasn't officially given a theatrical release until 1989. The movie was so different from what the producers were expecting, they simply shelved it.
However, it made the behind-the-scenes rounds and got Michael Rooker several acting jobs because of his amazing performance. This is one of those movies you watch and realize the real monsters are just everyday people. This movie (along with 2 others) made the MPAA create the rating NC-17(no one under 18 because of the maturity of the material) because they wanted to rate it X but the porn industry had hijacked that for their industry. You can stream it on peacock, amc+, tubi, and Shudder.
Blurb - Arriving in Chicago, Henry moves in with ex-con acquaintance Otis and starts schooling him in the ways of the serial killer.
Yes, I understand this movie is terrible, yet there is something about it that captivated me as a youngster. Maximum Overdrive is not only Stephen King's big movie of 1986, it is his first director's gig. The rumor is he is was so high on coke or black-out drunk while doing this project, he has no real memories of it. When you go back and watch it with that in mind, you kind of see it.
That said, it's a fun gore-filled feast for your eyes with a cast that is filled with people you'd recognize from the time. Emilio Estevez is great as the main character and sets the tone for the movie. AC/DC was hand-picked by King to provide the music and it's a great soundtrack. All that said, it's a terrible movie and is only on here because I loved it so much as a kid. You have to rent/buy to view this masterpiece.
Blurb - A group of people try to survive when machines start to come alive and become homicidal.
Starring Melissa Leo in one of her earlier roles and Scott Valentine, Mallory's boyfriend Nick from Family Ties, comes a darker collection of familiar bedtime stories. I think it would make it on a normal top list of 1986, but it was one in heavy rotation in my youth so it has to appear on mine. I'm a sucker for a werewolf and this movie gives us that and some witches to go with the 3 bears. You can stream it on VUDU & tubi.
Blurb - A babysitting uncle tells his nephew three horror stories about killer witches, Little Red Riding Hood and a werewolf, and "Goldi Lox" and the three bears.
Although she's not on the poster, Barbara Crampton also is in the classic Chopping Mall. It's refreshingly different from the alien attack and serial killer movies of 1986 as we discover the cost of technology if it goes on a wild killing spree. When will humanity ever learn - Don't mix your hookup parties with killer robot guards? I've watched this recently and it's still quite enjoyable, with lots of action and killer special effects. Stream it on amc+, tubi, and VUDU.
Blurb - A group of young shopping mall employees stay behind for a late night party in one of the stores. When the mall goes on lock-down before they can get out, the robot security system malfunctions, and goes on a killing spree.
I'm a sucker for Gene Wilder, and I love throwback movies that work at capturing the old horror movies from Hollywood's golden era. Haunted Honeymoon has both. This was a special project for Wilder, the last film he would direct, as his wife Gilda Radner had a role in the film. At the time they wouldn't realize it would be the last movie she appeared in before losing her fight with cancer in 1989. This movie isn't on any streaming sites right now, but I've seen it in the past on Prime. If you like the old 1930's Universal horror films, this will be right up your alley.
Blurb - Two radio voice actors are getting married. Larry has fits of fear. A shrink needs 36 hours to scare him to death and cure him - a family reunion at a scary family castle.
So that's 15 movies. Some of them really are terrible, but they have a special place in my heart. Below are a few who might have been higher on the list. I have to be honest with you, I think The Hitcher would be but I never saw the original because I suck.
And now a group of movies that impacted my love of movies from 1986. There are some gems on this list and really enough to get a post focusing on them, but I'm swamped with getting the first paperback complete for Donn, TX.
The Great Mouse Detective might be my favorite Disney movie. Vincent Price's voice work is perfect. One Crazy Summer is one of my favorite Cusack movies. I'm a big fan of Candy and Levy in Armed and Dangerous. Danny Devito had 2 very entertaining movies - Ruthless people made the top 10 in Box Office but for some odd reason I watched Wise Guys a ton in 1986 -1990. Club Paradise is a very underrated Robin Williams movie and has a number of funny supporting actors. The Three Amigos is a classic and while Big Trouble in Little China was a bomb the year it came out it is a must see classic now. Yes, Howard the Duck is terrible but I was 10-11 when it came out so please forgive me. Firewalker is some weird Indiana Jones rip off but Norris and Gossett have great chemistry. The final 3 are iconic films - the bad guy in Highlander is Mr. Krabs, Cobra is one of my favorite Stallone movies and has serial killers, and Platoon is one of my top 5 favorite all-time movies.