It’s the Halloween season and before Mariah Carey emerges from her slumber make sure you check out these ten trashy horror films…
Chainsaws, mysterious masked killers and gallons of blood. Horror season is upon us and whilst you might fancy some top-tier cerebral horror like The Shining or Rosemary’s Baby, it’s also a time to get down and dirty and watch some trashtacular horror classics.
We’ve got a perfect ten selection of trashy horror films from the 80s, with plenty of laughs (some even intentional) and plenty of innovative ways to kill teenagers who look 45. Chainsaws at the ready…
Horror specialist William Lustig directs from a script by B movie deity Larry Cohen. It’s a match made in hell that also has Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon and Tom Atkins along for the ride as Robert Z’Dar’s titular villain goes on a rampage in New York.
Z’Dar’s soulless, rage-filled ex-cop, believed to be dead is something not quite human any more as he appears to target victims indiscriminately. Lustig ably blends action and horror in an exploitation classic, which spawned not only two sequels but a long-gestating reboot. The original film remains the best in a series of diminishing returns and Campbell and Atkins are both stellar.
Ropey acting, big hair and a cheesy 80s soundtrack. Everything is in place to make Nightmare Beach a somewhat underrated cult horror classic. It’s high on trash that’s for sure and loaded with a cast of springbreakers who all look closer to an age where a bowls club might be more appropriate than Florida beach bars.
A motorcycle gang leader called Diablo fries on death row but after a spate of mysterious deaths with victims burnt to a cinder, a cop, coroner and priest begin to suspect Diablo has somehow come back from the dead (or never died in the first place). Just who is the motorcycle-riding serial killer whose souped-up bike pummels his victims with enough volts to leave them charred to a crisp? It’s one of innumerable US-Italian co-productions from the era in this genre, with solid direction from Umberto Lenzi and for extra spice, Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti provides the score. John Saxon and Michael Parks provide the genre stacked gravitas.
Wearing its trashiness on its sleeve with as much pride as Elvira, Frankenhooker sees a geeky doctor accidentally kill his girlfriend with a lawnmower before he loses the plot and starts gathering up limps and parts from hookers to rebuild his love. A fun and goofy rif on the Frankenstein story, this one never fails to entertain.
James Lorinz is suitably bookish but progressively (and enjoyably) irrational as the mad doctor of the piece, whilst Patty Mullen has rightly become a horror icon for her outlandish performance full of Jim Carrey levels of face-pulling. If you want a good blend of fun and horror this Halloween you can’t go too far wrong with this one.
Another film which pilfers elements of Frankenstein, and mashes them with a touch of psycho is Pieces, a film that treads the border of video nasty with a gruesome story and gory kills. If you like chainsaws in your horror and blood by the gallon(s) then this definitely won’t disappoint.
It’s a Spanish-American production directed by Juan Piquer-Simon and features American actor Christopher George who was no stranger to European horror productions (City of the Living Dead) and provides a “budget Charlton Heston” quality to proceedings as per normal.
If you want a horror as daft as they come, look no further than Chopping Mall. It’s from the era most prolific for goofy but enjoyable concept horrors, with everything from Basket Case to Class of Nuke Em High. Chopping Mall has plenty of horror royalty packed within its credits too, from Jim Wynorski (writer and director) to Roger Corman (producer) and starring the likes of Barbara Crampton, Dick Miller and leading lady Kelli Maroney.
A rogue security robot going haywire and slaughtering teenagers who have stayed after hours to party is silly, but it’s made all the more brilliant by how crap the robot looks. That doesn’t stop it from living up to the chopping part of the title, however.
As proteges of Dario Argento, directors like Lamberto Bava (who also had plenty of tutelage from his iconic father) and Michele Soavi may have stayed a little unfairly in the shade of the Giallo master. Soavi in particular made a number of great horror films in the late 80s and early 90s, not least Stage Fright and Cemetery Man (which came in the 90s).
Stage Fright traps a host of performers in a theatre as an assailant wearing a giant owl head offs them with a chainsaw and other weapons. Like the best of bloody Italian horror of the 80s, this one is delightfully simple and dazzlingly stylish. It’s also got great music and Soavi’s assured and slick direction belies his self-doubt prior to taking the job. The fact is, he paid ample heed to Argento’s lessons and started to best his old Master as they crossed paths during their respective rise and decline.
Edge of the Axe
If you like Halloween but you’ve blazed through the franchise one too many times, then perhaps try this slightly lower-rent riff with an antagonist that owes much to both Michael Myers (particularly as the killer here is another escaped lunatic) and Jason Voorhees visually.
For what it is, Edge of the Axe is an entertaining (US-Spanish production) slasher with an axe-wielding masked killer that looks great (particularly with recent HD spruce-ups) and has plentiful gory kills. Leading lady Christina Marie Lane makes for a good Scream Queen but perhaps surprisingly called time on her acting career after, leaving this her first and only leading role (and second film in all).
Return of the Living Dead
Dan O’Bannon’s classic zombie comedy horror never fails to entertain. It’s full of iconic moments and made a scream queen star out of Linnea Quigley. It perfectly subverts a genre made infamous by George Romero but never fails to hit the beats you expect.
The film is also blessed with a stellar cast of character actors alongside the younger cannon fodder. Clu Gulager and James Karen are great and Quigley is incredible. The film is unforgettable for so many moments and the zombies still look great. It’s right up there with the likes of Evil Dead 2. This is top-tier, no question. Unlike many franchises, the sequels were very enjoyable too.
Taking a leaf from Friday the 13th, a summer camp for teens becomes the setting for a maniacal serial killer to start killing teens. Unlike many films of the era starring teens, the cast here all look suitably young and innocent (Felissa Rose was 13-14 when this was made). It must be said that young star of the moment Millie Bobby Brown bears so much of a passing resemblance to Sleepaway Camp’s Felissa Rose that a Brown-led reboot wouldn’t go amiss.
As for the cult classic original, a whole slew of sequels (two in the 80s and more cash grabs in the 00s) followed and rightly suggested this popular video hit was a winner with fans. It’s a classic summer camp killer thriller with every trope you’d expect but it’s well made, holds up well and much like many of these old 80s films, has been given a nice remaster. The film has a great twist that undoubtedly would change for any potential reboot. Rose meanwhile has remained prolific recently starring in Jason Horton’s enjoyable creature feature homage (to From Dusk Till Dawn and VFX), the gore-soaked Craving.
The Toxic Avenger
We have to end on a little slice of Troma, courtesy of Lloyd Kaufman. Ironically for a span of five years, this might have been the best comic book (it would eventually birth cartoons, toys and comics) film of the 80s until Michael Keaton donned the cape and cowl of Batman. A lowly pool janitor is dumped in toxic waste, becomes superhuman and sets out to clean house and sort out the hoodlums terrorising the town.
The Toxic Avenger laid the groundwork for the kind of anarchic, affable and ludicrous trashiness synonymous with Troma but still managed to be a fun film loaded with charm. It’s a top-level grindhouse picture which has just had the reboot treatment starring Peter Dinklage and Elijah Wood. The OG though is still the best thing Kaufman and Troma ever produced and the sequels which followed, certainly had their moments.
What’s your favourite trashy 80s horror? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth or hit me up @jolliffeproductions…