The Hidden World of 80s Horror Movies
Spasms, directed by William Fruet and released in 1983, follows the story of ESP researcher Tom Brasilian and millionaire philanthropist Jason Kincaid as they both try to track down and capture a massive snake that is loose in a city. Jason happens to have a psychic link with the snake after it bit him, allowing them to know its location, all while a satanic cult tries to track down the snake, believing it to be a demon fit for worship.
Haven’t heard of this movie? I’m not surprised, as it was released in the 80s, the decade where horror arguably hit its peak. The decade saw the likes of Friday the 13th, The Nightmare on Elm Street, and the Hellraiser series all get their first movies released, cementing them as legendary franchises. However, it’s what we don’t remember that really interests me. For every Friday the 13th, there are about five Spasms to choose from, and to my suprise, not all of them seem to be bad, just unknown. Diamonds in the rough are fun things to come by, something that you know has or had potential to be great, but for some reason just didn’t. Today, I’ll bring to light these movies, some good and some bad, that were forgotten in the 80s boom of horror.
Before we take a look at some of these hidden flicks, we should take a moment to understand the culture surrounding this time period. Prior to the 1980s, horror movies could be considered niche. Obviously there were some classics that are still remembered today such as Halloween and Carrie, but for the most part, many of the movies were not popular. That changed in the 80s, however. There are several reasons that horror movies became so popular in the 1980s and nobody knows the real reason. Some believe that the effects and prosthetics used were perfectly made for the time period, others say that as horror movies started to be shown on television, more Americans were exposed to horror, but I have my own theory.
The reason I believe that horror movies became so popular in the 1980s was because the filmmakers seemingly decided to have more fun and unique concepts and they weren’t afraid to get weird. Take the 1988 film Monkey Shines, for example. This film follows Alan Mann, a law student, who, following an accident, is bound to a wheelchair. Taking the advice of his friend Geoffrey, he gets a monkey as a service animal. Unknown to Alan however, Geoffrey has injected the monkey, Ella, with an “experimental serum of human brain tissue” in hopes of increasing her intelligence. After Alan takes Ella home, he realizes that he has a psychic link with the monkey, and she is carrying out his violent urges on those he does not like. It’s certainly a unique movie, but that’s what’s fun. Movies like this were uncommon in the 70s, and, with a few exceptions, they are pretty much never made today, which is what makes the 80s so special. No one seemed to care about how strange of a concept the movie was, if it was a good movie, that’s all that mattered at the end of the day.
If you thought that Monkey Shines was the only 80s horror movie about a monkey on a rampage, I have a surprise for you. 1986’s Link was directed by Richard Franklin, a devotee to the iconic Alfred Hitchcock. The movie follows Elizabeth Shue as Jane Chase, a young zoology student invited to the mansion of anthropologist Stephen Philip, played by Terence Stamp. After Stephen mysteriously disappears, Jane decides to stay at the mansion to take care of Stephen’s monkeys, including his butler chimpanzee named Link, who grows increasingly violent. Upon release, Franklin said, “I hesitate to liken it to The Birds because everyone will say ‘Oh (expletive), he’s doing Hitchcock again.’ Unlike The Birds, which is kind of a fantasy, Link is based on anthropological realities. I’m calling it an anthropological thriller as opposed to a psychological thriller.” Once the movie was released and garnered relatively middling reviews, Franklin said, “On almost every level… an unsatisfying experience.”
As you can see, the 1980s is filled to the brim with strange horror movies that you or I have never heard of. I only mentioned three but there is a seemingly endless amount of horror flicks that the masses don’t know about. Think about it, have you heard of any of the following: The Being (1983) follows a boy turned into a mutant monster after falling into a toxic waste dump. He then begins to wreak havoc on the town. Biohazard (1985) follows the story of government officials being taken to a secret lab where an experimental drug is being tested. Predictably, the drug goes wrong, creating a monster with the goal of the destruction of humanity. Finally, Shocker (1989) follows a serial killer on death row. After being put in the electric chair, he is able to come back to life using electricity and escape to enact vengeance on the football player who turned him in.
Many of these movies are not masterpieces, some of them aren’t even good. However, it seems strange to me that the only time people talk about the 80s in terms of horror, it’s always the same names I keep hearing. The truth is, many of these movies are hard to find today, many of them are either never re-released or are released, but on an obscure streaming service that few have ever heard of. The next time you’re sifting through the horror section on your preferred movie service, take a few minutes and see what strange movies you can find. I can’t guarantee that they will be good, but it most definitely will be an interesting trip back to when it was made.
The 80s horror boom has long since faded, many franchises are getting reboots or sequels, and anything new that is being made all seems the same. Not to knock any movie, but when’s the last time something as strange as Spasms released? The era of strange and campy movies may be over, but we can always remember them for the strange pieces of fiction that they are.