Written by Tyrone Bruinsma
-Chariots of Fire
-Clash of the Titans
-Escape from New York
-For Your Eyes Only
-The Fox and the Hound
-The Omen 3
-On Golden Pond
10. THE HOWLING
The second solo directorial effort by Joe Dante (Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gremlins, Amazon Women on the Moon, The Burbs, Looney Toons, Back in Action) after he did Roger Corman’s Piranha is one of the best werewolf films of all time. It’s a genuinely scary werewolf film that’s paced well, goes between tense horror and exploitation b-movie levels perfectly. Dee Wallace (ET, Cujo) gives a great performance as the lead with the rest of the cast doing well. Dante’s direction is perfect for the two tones the film snakes between thanks to writers Terence H Winkless (Director of The Nest) and John Sayles (Piranha, Alligator, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Passion Fish, Lone Star) with a tone that goes between Taxi Driver and Jaws. But ultimately a werewolf film needs to be judged by its monster and the werewolves/werewolf effects are amazing. They’re expertly shot and characterized within the world and have effects done by the master Rob Bottin (Piranha, The Thing, Legend, Total Recall, Se7en, Mission Impossible, Mimic, Fight Club) whose werewolf effects are 2nd only to the classic American Werewolf in London. Horror/Werewolf buffs must see this.
9. MY BLOODY VALENTINE
This slasher is one of the best underrated ones of the era. Specifically in regards to the fixed re-release when the less than stellar 3D remake came out in 2009. My Bloody Valentine is a slasher that works and works wonders: a great set up, really phenomenal execution when you break it down and the right mix of horror, tragedy and fun. While its creative team didn’t go on to make anything more of note, this film just works like gangbusters. Its use of tension, visuals and kills are extremely inventive and add up to a gory fun time. Its original release had a lot of the gore cut out, but a new version released on DVD cuts back in all the gore and its amazing. And for those considering the 3D remake, don’t. It’s only somewhat good with the 3D, but it lacks a lot of the charm and do cliché changes to the story. I cannot recommend this more. Plus for all you Valentine’s Day haters-here’s a killer you can relate to.
You know there was that Family Guy joke about how long it takes this movie to get to the army. Watching the extended cut (2 hours) it only take about 20 minutes to get there, because we’re building the 2 main characters…like a proper comedy would. This is the thing that bothers me, people claim “oh the 80’s were the best” and then complain about their less frenetic pacing, character development and focus on cultural background. Stripes is funny, really funny thanks to director Ivan Reitman (Meatballs, Ghostbusters, Twins) and its stellar cast including Bill Murray (Groundhog Day), Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters), John Candy (Uncle Buck), Sean Young (Blade Runner), PJ Soles (The Devil’s Rejects) and Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch). The film’s human and humorous tone runs throughout and its characterisations are why I love this so much. Bill Murray as the main heartthrob scoundrel is rather endearing and better than some of the other 80’s comedy heroes. The rest of the cast add so much, even the characters not designed to be endearing, funny or that important. My personal favourite scenes are with the failing Captain (especially the mortar range), when the main duo go AWOL, the mud wrestling scene and the resonant underdog sequence. Although even small bits of them marching or guys flirting is great, plus the main theme and music in general by Elmer Bernstein (Animal House, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Magnificent Seven, The Ten Commandments, The Great Escape, Ghostbusters, The Black Cauldron) is near phenomenal. It’s a classic for a reason so check it out if you’ve not seen it in a while or haven’t.
7. THE EVIL DEAD
This classic indie horror masterpiece has been discussed at length by the horror community. Between its near Lovecraftian horror background, slapstick era Three Stooges style of comedy, practical effects and Bruce Campbell’s Ash as an icon of horror/action hero cinema. Sam Raimi’s (along with many other’s) vision and passion makes The Evil Dead one of those horror films whose minor flaws are overlooked because the raw product works so well. A mix of terrifyingly and horrific scenes combined with an old school comedic self awareness that ultimately renders the film as the horror icon it is. The legacy of Evil Dead is so strong that despite the mild controversy (which made it a box office success) it ultimately made Raimi a director of many successes of Darkman, The Evil Dead franchise, the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy, his stylistic revival in Drag Me To Hell, his classic film love envisioned with Oz: the Great and the Powerful, and his production efforts on the likes of Don’t Breathe and Crawl. His raw talent and effort combined with a game cast and production team make this and all his other endeavours work. Every cinephile has seen this, so if you’ve not-now’s your chance.
6. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON
Without much competition, the best Werewolf movie of all time. Created by John Landis (director of Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Spies Like Us, Coming to America, Michael Jackson’s Thriller and whose ass of a son the industry should throw away) the film was considered simultaneously too funny and too scary for either genres by those involved. The film works as a horror film, a horror comedy, a fish out of water scenario and a fun monster movie. The opening act I think is really great, the characters work wonders and the various story developments and scares are perfectly well done. But of course this movie has one of the best werewolves and werewolf transformation scenes in history. The effects were handled by Rick baker who had a hand in everything from The Exorcist, Star Wars, Videodrome, Wolf, Ed Wood, Men in Black, Hellboy, Tropic Thunder, The Wolfman and Maleficent and they hold up so well today it’s a testament to practical effects. We also have another amazing score by Elmer Bernstein of Stripes and some truly amazing cinematography by Robert Paynter (The Mechanic, Superman 2, Little Shop of Horrors). The film holds it place in cinema as a horror classic for a reason and easily the best horror film of 1981.
5. DAS BOOT
There should be a mass re-appraisal of Wolfgang Petersen and Hollywood should bring him back for their biggest and best films. As the director behind blockbuster classics like: Troy, The Perfect Storm, Air Force One, Outbreak and The Neverending Story (who even made a Batman V Superman film and Paprika remake) we really should bring him back. But when you’ve got a career track record like that and your best film is Das Boot-I’m sure he’s proud. Das Boot is one of the best war films in history, probably the best Submarine film and an absolute masterwork of filmmaking. Das Boot follows World War 2 German submarine operators and their emotional struggle in this war. It’s an epic war drama that Hollywood wasn’t doing as much in favor of smaller war film like Platoon, but it’s full force here. The acting is impeccable, the visuals captured by Jost Vacano (Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers) are astounding, but its the sound design that deserves the most praise. Das Boot’s sound design was pretty much all done in post due to the camera and sound gear making it impossible on set. Usually sound done entirely in post is done for animation, but to need it for live action and it being seamless is a testament to sound teams. It’s a marvel of film, an undisputed classic and something any film buff needs to see.
Excalibur is one of my favourite pieces of cinema on a purely visual level, feeling like the closest to a mature version of Legend-while also being my favourite piece of Arthurian legend on film. The film was handled by the divisive John Boorman (Good: Deliverance. Bad: Zardoz) and is one of the visually best films of the 80’s-rivalling Legend, Blade Runner, Manhunter, Akira and The Abyss. Most of that’s due to cinematographer Alex Thomson (Legend, Labyrinth, Leviathan, Alien 3, Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, Executive Decision, Hamlet) who was nominated for an Oscar for this film-crafting beautiful and atmospheric shots with lighting, angles to build a tone and mood perfectly. Seriously, I mostly love this film for its visuals and atmosphere as they carry this film immensely. It’s music by Trevor Jones (Thirteen Days, Cliffhanger, The Last of the Mohicans, Arachnophobia, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal) is hauntingly beautiful with an epic fantasy feel. Its story follows a darkened and matured version of the classic Arthurian tale and I appreciate it for that, with great supporting performances by Patrick Stewart (X-Men), Gabriel Byrne (Hereditary), Nicol Williamson (Spawn), Helen Mirren (Red) and Liam Neeson (Taken) even if our Arthur is kind of a bore. I just love this film so much, and it disappoints me I saw less interesting Arthurian films before discovering this one. You absolutley need to see this.
Ah, the feature directorial debut of one of my favourite directors-Michael Mann. Having success off his work on the Miami Vice tv series, Thief was a critically successful box office sleeper that nonetheless showed his talent. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean) the film is one of the true 80’s heist films-with the post modern neo noir atmosphere matches with neon visuals and a synth-scape score to match. The closest modern equivalent is Drive as both films are neo-noir thrillers that lean as dramas about violent men trying to go clean, getting involved in a heist, a friend’s murder at a car place and the neo noir style. James Caan (The Godfather, Misery) plays the stunning lead in this film and he kills it as a morally grey and violent thief. The heist sequences in this film are great and showcase Mann’s talent for stylised realism that he’d continue to this day in filmmaking and execution of the story. The film just works like gangbusters in its acting, performances, narrative, themes, score, visuals and tense scenes of action and thievery. Considering Mann is most famous for Heat and Collateral-it’s not surprising this was his start.
2. INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Yes, the undeniable classic ends up here. Indiana Jones is a modern cultural touchstone. Taking the moulds like Allan Quartermain and James Bond, and making a modern hero by which all other adventurer characters are judged (Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, Rick O’Connell, Benjamin Franklin Gates etc). Steven Spielberg’s and George Lucas’s gambit to both restore a studio’s faith in Spielberg and for Spielberg to essentially make the James Bond film he was denied-the film was a fast and cheap production that…well if you’ve lived in pop-culture long enough (Sequels, Homages, Parodies, References) you know the results. It’s a critically acclaimed, fairly edgy fun blockbuster that is considered one of the greatest action films and films in general with a winning performance by Harrison Ford. The action is great, performances solid, visuals and tone match the fun and energy while having enough dark material to feel unique, the score is classic and has memorable moments from the opening, to the snake pit, to the chase in the city and the final memorable climax.
Now are there problems? Yeah, Indiana is kind of a colonialist graverobber that feels only he should have say over the place of artefacts and there’s the REALLY uncomfortable math/interview that pretty much proves Indiana pursued Marion Ravenwood before she was of age and the time behind it trying to blame her for it is…ew. It’s like the whole Back to the Future “Your mom is trying to bang you” note that is more uncomfortable the more you think about it and the further we get away from it.
Regardless, I think due to just how well the film was made and how it continues to be an influence, cultural touchstone and benchmark for action adventure stories (especially with how bad Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got lashed) I believe the film still works and will continue to be a classic in cinema forever.
1. BLOW OUT
So Blow Out was a seminal film for me. I’d been in college for about half a year and we were now watching films our teacher would put on for us. Now I had expectations for this film and afterwards vocalised my displeasure for some parts until my teacher gave me an epiphany as a filmmaker/audience member which was “recognise what the filmmaker was trying to say” and thus I was awoken to the art of auteur theory and birthed the next part of my mentality as a filmmaker.
Blow Out is a minor miracle of filmmaking, one of those technical achievements like Mission Impossible Fallout or Mad Max Fury Road, but on a small neo noir scale that would make Alfred Hitchcock blush in admiration, Brain De Palma was of course a massive Hitchcock fan and this was his best utilization of those techniques. As the director of Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables and Mission Impossible-this is easily De Palma’s best film. Its cinematography by the late Vilmos Zsigmond (Deliverance, The Sugarland Express, Close Encounters of the Third King, The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, The Ghost and the Darkness) is nothing short of astounding in creating De Palma’s Hitchcockian intent flow with all his usual tricks (especially the split diopter shots). Its editing by Paul Hirsch (Star Wars, Carrie, Empire Strikes Back, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Falling Down, Mission Impossible, Lake Placid, Ray, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Warcraft) is near perfection. And massive credit must go to the entire sound team of this film: Randall Coleman, Lowell Mate, Michael Moyse, Dan Sable, James M Tanenbaum, Dick Vorisek, Tom Fleischman, Brian L McCarty and Carl Pagano because the sound work in this film is nothing short of the best sound in cinema.
The plot of the film is that John Travolta is a sound recordist on a low budget slasher (which has one of the best opening long takes in history) and while recording one night-hears a car crash, but believes that there was more to this “tire blow out”. It leads into a conspiracy that feels reminiscent of films like 3 Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men (commentating on the Watergate scandal) but in the end is a closer comparison to the neo-noir masterpiece Klute from a decade earlier. The film’s set piece moments are the moments where we follow John Travolta listening to the audio of that night as it happens, then the repeats-with the audio and visuals some of the best non dialogue storytelling you’ll ever see/hear. It’s somewhat similar to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation in examining the art and importance of sound, however this one takes it to the extreme and has a haunting meta-textual and thematic resolution. The film ultimately subverts the conspiracy story proper for a more intimate story and while I initially disliked it, I realise that is why this film is amazing and truly the best film of 1981.