As a horror writer, a lot of my inspiration comes from the movies. I was born in 1981, which certifies me as an eighties child, so I was exposed to a majority of the films that the decade had to offer. I remember visiting my granddad’s on every other Saturday and the ‘Video Man’ – that was his name, he plied his trade from the boot of a black, hearse-like car, a huge monstrosity to a five/six/seven-year-old kid – would come around and offer us the latest VHS treats that technology had to offer. A car full of videos? Sign me up.
This went on for some time, some years even. As a result, I would discover some of my favourite 80’s movies, ones I still watch to this day – Predator was the most relevant, that alien beast is as dear – and über cool – to my heart now and it ever was. I also saw my fair share of horror movies, some great, some not so much. I mean, who remembers the unfortunate cop who had his limbs and arms hacked off, only to be strung from a ceiling chain, screaming and bleeding in agony? I do…I was eight when I saw that in The Horror Show (House III as it was known in the UK) and it stuck with me. The scene was grotesque and it was one of the first films that proved to me that humanity really is helpless against pure evil. Another thing – the cover is still eerie to this day. >>>>
Which brings me to my blog topic for today. I love the 80’s, I know a few of you who share this sentiment and a few who don’t – after all, if you were born in the 90’s, the 80’s is like a boring history lesson to some of you…for others, it’s a moment to reflect – I know some people who were born in the 90’s and educated their children on 80’s culture (gold star to the parents there), so this will be a little bit of fond reminiscing for anyone who loved the decade.
I want to talk about 80’s horror, specifically moments in the genre that defined my horror education as a kid, the moments that made me realise horror was my calling and, in harsh, honest flashback, the moments that had me screaming like a little boy who had yet to learn anything about one of the most engaging movie genres in the industry. I have a few blogs lined up for this feature so…let’s begin.
Let’s start with…
Putting books aside (yes, you Mr. Laymon, Mr. King and Mr. Herbert), a young child didn’t have easy access to horror in movie form. There was no Internet, no YouTube and you certainly couldn’t download one, or borrow a horror movie from John Smith at school. No, when I wrapped my terrified eyeballs around a horror flick, it’s because an adult would let me. Some may frown upon this but hey, I turned out fine. I appreciated it – I knew from an early age that Santa was a parent dressed in a suit, the Easter Bunny had connotations to the shape of Jesus’ burial barrier and I also knew that horror films were just that – film. Fake, scripted, not real. My parents instilled this in me from an early age so, if I did happen to stumble across a film that wasn’t suitable for me, I would see it for what it was.
However, this also allowed my parents to censor films that they thought were too nasty. They bought them, sure, but I had to make do with the covers, sneaking the video from the shelf for a gander at the pictures. Children’s books? Pah, I had videos to admire, read, draw. For a young kid, covers were my solid introduction to the world of horror films. They scared the shit out of me too. Now, I look at them with fond memory – hell, I have several in frames ready for my office wall – but there’s no doubt about it – VHS Covers scared me before most films did.
S0, here are my top 5 (in no particular order)…
Fright Night stuck with me the longest. I remember seeing this poster shortly after seeing the Salem’s Lot (1979) trailer for the very first time…the image of a young vampire floating by the window, evil gaze in full motion, fangs bared, scraping with a long fingernail on the single pane glass…terrifying. Then, I see this poster which cemented vampires into my young, susceptible brain. The eyes are what did it for me, I couldn’t look at the image for too long. I even found myself looking into the sky at night, hoping not to see this sinister grin high above my house. I didn’t go near the window for a few weeks either.
Now, vampires are rarely entertaining, but back in my youth, the Fright Night cover was the perfect advert for an equally horrifying movie. If you haven’t seen it, do so!
Body horror has a lot to answer for. Hellraiser was a cover that enticed me, tempted me to look. The sight of the infamous Pinhead on the cover was just the safe side of scary for me…but there’s no doubt that his punctured image, like Freddy and Jason around him, was one that ignited the 80’s horror craze, even to this day. This, however, is only part of the story. When I turned the VHS case over to look at the blurb, and saw a mutilated Frank Cotton with his skin and muscle missing – during the classic bedroom feeding scenes – it made it me feel ill. Clive Barker’s imagination would become more familiar to me in later years, but Hellraiser not only made me feel ill – an extreme rarity – it also introduced me to the connection between films and books. However, that summers day in 1988 when I took the VHS cover from the video rental shelf, was one I remember fondly for all the wrong reasons.
A Nightmare on Elm Street was probably one of the first horror movies I set my young eyes on that actually terrified me – and I know several authors who share this sentiment. After all, we all dream, don’t we? What started this enigmatic horror though, was the cover. THAT hand, stretching over Nancy’s head, the unseen predator shrouded in shadow, the shape of a fedora hat that would soon become culturally significant. Wait, are those claws on his fingertips? Within minutes, the video was in and I was watching. After witnessing several teenagers die brutally, without the comic edge of the Friday the 13th movies I was familiar with, I was hiding behind a strategically placed cushion to avoid Freddy’s clutches. And could I sleep afterwards? Could I fuck. For me, this is the horror film everyone should see. Dated, yes – but terrifying? Totally. Before Freddy was the comic/horror legend he is now, the fear he incited was very, very real.
I didn’t know a lot about The Bogey Man (retitled The Boogey Man in the US) because the film was one of those deemed too nasty for me to view. However, the cover itself – I remember my aunt had a battered, rare copy – made me jump on viewing. The image I have here is slightly different (the woman with the shard of mirror in her eye wasn’t on the original cover), but I remember the blood-soaked man vividly. The fact he was holding a crucifix, and was still coming to harm – I was aware of religion and the facet of good vs. evil even at a young age – was quite chilling to me. The look of pain/awe on his face was striking, and heavily used on the promotional material. On viewing, the film didn’t stand up to the cover so I was quite disappointed. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a viewing with the brain switched off, it’s quite tame. Some people found it offensive though – the film was listed in the Video Nasty debacle a few years later.
Scanners will always be remembered for one thing: THAT head-exploding scene at the beginning. It’s a shame really, because the film is a solid horror thriller from David Cronenberg. The cover is iconic though. Out of all of the covers here, Scanners if the first one I saw – I was three and I remember my eyes widening at the image of the scanner, his eyes white, his arms pimpled and veined unlike anything I’d seen in Ghostbusters or He-Man. I actually turned the video cover over to stop looking. I mentioned it before, but body horror really has an impact and when used in posters – much like the Hellraiser one above – it’s a very effective way to draw in horror fans. Now, I would watch this film based on the cover – it’s that effective. Funnily enough, I only saw this film in the late 90’s, when I was old enough to think some 80’s films were starting to age badly. I watched this full of scepticism, but was still horrified at the content, meaning the cover had done its job. The terror I once felt was still present and had me in edge during the entire runtime.
That’s my top 5. I would be interested to hear from you. What VHS covers terrified you? Were there any that watched you from the video shelf? Which films were worse than their labels? You can comment below or post on my Facebook page here.
Next time? We discuss more 80’s memories. If you want me to discuss anything in particular, let me know.