For part 1 of our series on 1980s horror, we discussed super-dark films, such as Maniac and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Now let’s lighten things up a bit, and talk about some less intense horror.
In most cases, the movies we will be talking about were not necessarily intended to be comical, but oddball storylines, laughable special effects or questionable acting performances made it impossible to take these films seriously. Still, they were endearing enough that they still carry the air of cheesy nostalgia.
The first 1980s horror film up for discussion is 1982’s The Slumber Party Massacre (which can currently be seen on Shudder). Rita Mae Brown initially wrote the script as a parody, but after producers “repurposed” it, the finished product ended up instead as a straight-on horror film.
Well, as straight-on as a film about a killer brandishing a very large, very phallic drill, while stalking lingerie-clad women can be.
While it’s easy to dismiss The Slumber Party Massacre as just another gory T and A film, it was both written and directed by women (Amy Holden Jones did the directing honors), and horror has long been a genre dominated by men.
Made on a lean budget of $220,000, the film grossed nearly $4 million at the box office, and two sequels were made, one in 1987 and one in 1990. Both were written and directed by women.
Sleepaway Camp was made 3 years after the huge success of Friday the 13th, although the main characters are younger than the camp counsellors in the earlier 1980s horror film. Its main claim to fame is that shocker of an ending.
My husband is a brave man, and has watched all manner of horror movies, but he says the ending of Sleepaway Camp (which he saw on video at the tender age of 13) scarred him for life. I watched it for the first time about two years ago, as part of Joe Bob Brigg’s first marathon for Shudder, and I knew all about the ending…but, I have to admit, it was still quite shocking.
It really says something for this movie that it is still a cult favorite after all these years, despite its sometimes cheap looking special effects and slim plotline. My favorite funny moment happens at the end, when the mustachioed law officer returns, this time wearing what is clearly a very fake mustache…and might even be electrical tape.
The charming actress Felissa Rose remains a very popular addition to any horror convention, mostly based on her creepy, yet sympathetic portrayal of Angela. She has embraced the fact that she will always be identified by that role, and seems to really enjoy talking to people about it.
1981’s The Evil Dead is not really a comedy (though its sequels tipped in that direction), but the extraordinary amount of slime and gore render it a bit over the top, even by the standards of 1980s horror. The tale of five friends staying at a remote cabin in the woods was written and directed by Sam Raimi, and starred his good friend Bruce Campbell. Both were relatively unknown at the time, but fans of horror definitely know who they are now.
Due to the very large amount of blood and gore the film sported, it was granted an X rating upon its release, which did not seem to bother Raimi in the least. Stephen King endorsed The Evil Dead, and it has birthed two sequels, a reboot and a series for Starz (Ash vs Evil Dead). I cannot begin to tell you how many people, both men and women, I saw dressed as chainsaw-hand Ash when I visited Spooky Empire in 2019.