Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My years in horror: 1986

based on some of my previous picks, you might be expecting me to call the musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors the best horror movie of 1986. The Rick Moranis flick is one of my all-time favorites, but as far as horror goes, there were better that year. 1986 was a year dominated by sequels of various quality: Aliens was pretty great; Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 has become a cult classic; Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives made up for the travesty that was Part V: A New Beginning; and Poltergeist II, featuring one of the scariest villains ever int he form of Reverend Kane.

Looking at the list reminds me that I haven't put a David Cronenberg film in a top spot. He had two of his best in 1983 (Videodrome and The Dead Zone) and released The Fly in 1986. That film is better than House, The Hitcher and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (in my opinion--the arguments for Henry can be made and I will listen, but the super low budget effect used for Otis Poole's head toward the end of the film nearly ruined it for me).

So if none of those films are the best of '86, just what the hell is? Thrill me.

I'm giving this spot to Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps. First of all, slugs -- whether from space or Earth -- are the one creature that truly gross me out. I'm not afraid of them like some people are afraid of spiders; slugs just give me the creeps. And you can't kill them. That just makes them worse. (We'll talk about this more when we come to 2006.)

Night of the Creeps, for those unfamiliar, is about two college dorks who stumble into a secret lab and unwittingly release a space that turns people into zombies. Mayhem begins and a local cop -- who just so happened to be the guy who dealt with the results of the same space slug 30 years prior but didn't know it -- gets involved. The great Tom Atkins, who has played a rebellious cop more times than I can count, gives his best performance as such a character in his career. He's surly, mean, and witty. He gave us the catchphrase "Thrill me," which has become horror's version of "Live long and prosper."

Jason Lively plays our protagonist Chris: lovestruck, not too bright, willing to fight for the girl he fell in love with yesterday. Cynthia (Jill Whitlow) is that girl and eventually gets a handle on a flamethrower. She's one of the cutest bad asses ever.

Dekker knew what he was doing. He pays homage to '50s sci-fi, '60s and '70s Romero zombies, and '80s screwball college movies all at the same time. And he does it while naming many of his characters after famous horror directors. From IMDb: "All the last names of the main characters are based on famous horror and sci-fi directors: George A. Romero (Chris Romero), John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (James Carpenter Hooper), David Cronenberg (Cynthia Cronenberg), James Cameron (Det. Ray Cameron), John Landis (Det. Landis), Sam Raimi (Sgt. Raimi) and Steve Miner (Mr. Miner - The Janitor)" Plus, Chris, J.C. and Cynthia attend Corman University.

While some of the taglines might stick in our collective memory the longest, we can't forget that the effects are pretty great. The zombies are right out of a Romero film: slow, grey-skinned, dead-eyed. The slugs are writhing black squiggles that make my skin crawl. And, of course, there is that bus wreck-causing little puppy.

So yeah, Night of the Creeps is pretty great. It's certainly better than the similarly-backstories Critters which also came out in 1986. If I recall correctly, I probably saw both of these films -- maybe even on the same Saturday-- on the USA Netowork in the early 1990s. 

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