Thursday, 31 October 2013

Tank Top Movies' History of Horror Part 3

Halloween has crept up on us once again. However, this year we know what’s lurking in the shadows: we have been ultra prepared with our History of Horror series. We’ve now tracked the rise of classic monster movies through the '30s and '40s, had a look at the emergence of sci-fi and zombie flicks, and the resurgence in the '60s of the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein by Hammer Horror. As our retrospective approaches the 21st century, the huge wealth and diversity of horror movies becomes massive. Honestly, it’s an unwieldy beast to track.

This time we’re going to take a look at the emergence of a specific new trend in horror movies, the slasher film, and then some of the best horror films of the 80’s and 90’s, in a golden era when special effects were at their best. We have a ton of movies we want to get to today, so lets not build the suspense any further, apart from to give you a friendly reminder in these troubled scary times, to head over to Tank Top Movies to find out where best to watch all the films discussed in this History of Horror series.

Psycho (1960), apart from being lauded as one of Hitchcock’s and cinema’s best, also can claim to be perhaps the first ever slasher movie. By slasher movie, I mean one where no character feels safe. Expect a high body count and usually some kind of killer on the loose. There is so much to remember and love about Psycho and if you haven’t seen it you should really check it out. Even if you haven’t seen it you are probably familiar with the much talked about ‘shower’ scene, but I’ll leave it at that for those who haven’t. The greatest thing about Psycho was it was a completely different kind of horror movie. There were no monsters, fantasy or science fiction experiment gone wrong - Psycho explored the horror that can lurk within anyone’s mind. Our fellow man was the scariest monster.

It took a while for the influence of Psycho to really come into full effect. Perhaps audiences just weren’t quite ready yet. Psycho certainly planted the seed of the idea of a slasher film but it is a long way off being recognisable as the kind of slasher genre flick we would get primarily in the 80’s. The same could be said for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Again not entirely what we could call a slasher, but laying the further groundwork for those to come later. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for a start has in my mind one of the best horror film titles ever… It is just too creepy - I think the fact it sounds like it could be referring to a very real event gives it that edge. The same could be said for the rest of the movie - in many ways it feels like a documentary style film - it’s not overly cinematic. It’s a horror movie that looks real and feels real, and hence feels real scary.

No one expected the small independent movie Halloween (1978) to be such a huge hit, but it caught the imagination and kick started the slasher genre true and proper. This film was all about a vengeful killer on the loose, racking up the kills. I have to mention right away however, the original 1978 Halloween film, currently is not available on any on-demand services on Tank Top Movies, which strikes me as really odd - especially considering the time of year. I would say fear not, because a slew of the series sequels are available currently, but in all honesty none of them compare to the suspense, ingenuity and brilliance of the original. They’re all pretty terrifying, but not in the way were looking for. If you want to check out some of the deadly antics of this series slasher icon, Michael Myers, here's a link to all the series entries currently available.

Friday the 13th (1980), much like Halloween, started off in very similar vain as a spooky slasher film. This time the slasher was set at a camp in the woods, which has since become a bit of a horror movie cliche. It told a gruesome story of revenge and nasty deaths. As the Friday movies went on, that’s all they became about however. They were about the sickest most inventive ways that the killer, Jason, could pick off each character one by one. The Final Destination movies are the modern day equivalent. The line of slasher films was definitely starting to be blurred with comedies, as things got more and more outlandish with each entry into the series.  Jason has been all the way down to hell and all the way back up to space for God’s sake.

Of all the slasher films of the 80’s, Nightmare On Elm Street (1980s) was the most creative and consistently entertaining. For those who don’t know, Nightmare On Elm Street's slasher icon was Freddy Krueger, a sadistic killer who would enter the dreams of teenagers. If he killed you in the dream world, i’m afraid you weren’t ever waking from that nightmare. What a fantastic idea for a horror series. The film are genuinely a real scary treat. The concept allowed for all kinds of imaginative and creative scenes and kills, as anything was really possible in the dream world. Don’t watch this one if you want any easy sleep tonight though.

Nightmare On Elm Street had some scenes as well that amped up the comedy aspect, but it never overstepped the mark, having a nice balance. Michael Myers, Jason and Freddy Kruger are the kings of the slasher genre, but I just couldn’t move on without mentioning two series, that to be fair, started off with somewhat serious tones, but quickly descended into full blown out, tongue in cheek, let’s see how far we can push it, horror comedies. I am talking about Child’s Play (1988) and Leprechaun (1993). Both starring miniature size slashers, these two series are great if you’re looking for a laugh on your Halloween night. The first Child’s Play shouldn’t be underestimated as a solid straight horror movie however, but that approach didn’t last long on sequels.

The last film in the slasher genre I want to mention is Scream (1996), as it so nicely wraps up the whole genre for us. The whole premise of scream is that many of the characters are fully aware of all the tropes, cliches, and aspects of a slasher film. It’s a really well done loving tribute to the classic slasher films, that manages to toe the line between being too self indulgent with all it’s references and being in its own right a down right creepy story. It should have been the one to kill the genre as what more could be done with it… but not to even mention its own slew of sequels, it is in fact probably to blame for the whole Scary Movie phenomenon and all its subsequent incarnations…. yeah, not getting any thanks for that.

The slasher movie was a trend with its roots in the '60s, that really grotesquely blossomed in the '80s. From the '80s onwards, it becomes increasingly difficult to track trends in the horror movie world. There are a lot more of them for a start and they cover all kinds of different sub genres and different kinds of horrors. One things that does tie the films of the '80s and into the early 21st century together was their brilliant use of special effects. And when I say special effects I don’t mean ones created in a computer. CGI effects have allowed for films to achieve things previously impossible, however I personally always have enjoyed those films that attempt to capture real physical effects in camera. Practical effects were at their glorious height in the '80s and '90s and we are going to take a look at some of the best horror movies of that time - be warned - these ones are not for the faint hearted. Many of these are as gory and disgusting as it gets.

Before Sam Raimi was busy making Spiderman, he made a name for himself in the horror genre. The first Evil Dead (1981) film is a masterclass of budget film making. In an abandoned cabin a cursed book triggers off all kinds of creatures and demons to wreck havoc on our heroes. Bruce Campbell is fantastic as Ash, especially in the the film's two sequels: Evil Dead 2 (1987) and Army of Darkness (1993). The camera work and practical effects are gruesomely fantastic. This is a must see for anyone who calls themselves a connoisseur of horror.

Poltergeist (1982) is the creepiest film on this list. Not as gory as others we will mention, but for me, the most terrifying of the lot. Steven Spielberg was a producer on the film and you can really notice the high production values and atmosphere he so often masterfully created in the '80s.

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) is a fantastic alien horror film. The special effects are truly disgusting so expect to squirm in your seat. The suspense and atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion the film creates is top notch. It is a somewhat remake of the 1951 classic, The Thing From Another World (which believe me would have definitely featured earlier in this series only had it been available on-demand - watch it if you can get your hands on a dvd copy). As is the way so often with horror movies these day, it was remade again in 2011, but I can’t recommend this latest version.

Basket Case (1982) is the worst movie on this list, let’s get that out of the way. It’s ridiculous... The special effects are laughable… It’s brilliant. Perhaps for only the most dedicated of horror fans, but Basket Case is really worth a watch. You will probably come away bemused, confused and a bit at a loss, but I bet you would have got a good laugh out of it. I won’t reveal the premise, and avoid finding out if you can. Just put it on and enjoy.

Hellraiser (1987) and it's sequels are certainly not for the queasy. Again the original is not available on demand so try and get your hands on a DVD copy. This one is a sadistic as they come. More so than any other film, some scene’s make for really uncomfortable watching. Hellraiser’s strongest aspect is the originality of it’s horror story, it’s very unlikely you’ve seen anything like it before.

If Hellraiser is too gruesome for you than don’t even think about watching Dead Alive (1992). Dead Alive takes the crown for goriest movie ever made in this blogger’s opinion. If you know of a more gruesome film, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments below. While Hellraiser’s scenes make me feel uncomfortable, Dead Alive is so out there, so crazy and disgusting, it pretty much is a comedy. The special effects are absolutely top notch and non-stop. The movie is a complete blood bath, I dread to think how much fake blood they genuinely had to use on this movie. It’s directed by big name director Peter Jackson before his Lord of the Rings days, and it makes Sauron look like a pretty tame nice guy.

So there you have it. That concludes our history of horror series on Tank Top Movies. I guess you are perhaps wondering what about the past 20 or so odd years of horror movie s- where’s our look at that? The answer is simple - horror movies, in this fan’s opinion, have gone massively downhill - I’m just not a fan of the found-footage trend. There are a couple of stellar efforts however. So next week we will post a ‘best of the rest’ horror post. Some classic movies throughout horror movie history that we didn’t quite have room to fit in, including those in the last 20 years we can heartily recommend.

For now, don’t forget to head over to Tank Top Movies to get your horror viewing sorted. Also, if there are not enough horror movie recommendations for you here, check out and vote in our user based Halloween list competition.

History of Horror Part 1
History of Horror Part 2

By Matthew Taylor