As if last year’s nostalgia-infused sensation Stranger Things didn’t make it clear enough, the
With Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s splattery new gorefest The Void out now, one that gleefully mashes up loving homages to H.P. Lovecraft John Carpenter, David Cronenberg and more, here are the essential throwback horror movies that you need to watch in preparation.
The House of the Devil
Writer/director Ti West is at the forefront of recent revival horror and this deliciously slow-burning spooker remains one of his best. Drawing on the ‘Satanic panic’ craze that swept America during the eighties, it’s the unbearably suspenseful story of a young woman (Jocelin Donahue) whose babysitting job at a creaking, drafty old house takes a sinister turn…
In its almost total avoidance of jump scares, period detail (look out for the Walkman), superbly crafted atmosphere (all grainy stock and slow zooms) and scene-stealing performance from genre vet Tom Noonan, it’s a movie that earns its climactic descent into bloody viscera.
Following his acclaimed feature debut The Myth of the American Sleepover, director David Robert Mitchell twisted his nostalgic lens into something far more terrifying. Featuring one of the most deviously clever and insidiously creepy premises in recent horror history, It Follows is the story of a sexually transmitted curse that manifests as a creepy figure walking implacably towards the victim. The only way to pass it on is to sleep with someone else…
Drenched in John Carpenter vibes from its voyeuristic tracking shots to the woozy, disorienting score from Disasterpeace, Mitchell’s movie pretty much defines revival horror.
Another vanguard of the revival movement, director Adam Wingard is a filmmaker steeped in a love of all things eighties. In the first of two appearances on this list, Wingard helms an absolutely terrific homage to the heyday of 80s genre cinema, not strictly a horror movie but one with definite boogeyman overtones.
An outstanding Dan Stevens delivers a career-redefining performance as the ostensibly friendly soldier who inveigles his way into the life of an ordinary American family, but who has a dark secret. Mixing dark wit with bloodshed, honouring classics like The Stepfather and The Terminator, there’s also a kind of knowing innocence about the movie, one set in a landscape of perpetual Halloween and synthesisers.
Made in 2009 but delayed until 2012, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s wonderfully sly meta-horror has more on its mind than paying mere lip service to eighties horror. Instead its approach is much more ambitious, tearing apart the very fabric of the movies with which an entire generation grew up, exposing the bedrock cliches that genre cinema depends on for its survival.
The utterly demented, gore-soaked but hilariously witty finale is where it all comes to fruition, horror lovers Whedon and Goddard unleashing their own versions of classic 80s monsters like Pinhead as the fourth wall isn’t so much broken but smashed to pieces.
Prior to The Guest, Adam Wingard and regular collaborators Simon Barrett and Joe Swanberg deconstructed the eighties slasher movie in fine style. You’re Next plays out on two distinct levels: it’s both a bitingly nasty social comedy, in which a warring family once more find themselves at each other’s throats, and also a genuinely alarming, gory serial killer flick as the aforementioned brood find themselves targeted by masked killers.
Managing the tricky feat of generating laughs and gasps at the same time (watch out for the death by food blender), it demonstrates that Wingard has more on his mind than just gruesome excess.
Resplendent in a rich array of primary-coloured hues and with a captivating score from Cliff Martinez that throws back to the eighties heyday of Tangerine Dream and Giorgio Moroder, this typically confrontational fever dream from Nicolas Winding Refn is unsettling viewing.
Visually and aurally magnificent, even when the material we’re presented with is profoundly unpleasant (vampirism and necrophilia feature prominently), it’s a movie that revels in the sort of horror exploitation style of which Refn is so fond. Indeed, Martinez described the movie as “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, which pretty much says it all.
The slimy spirit of The Toxic Avenger courses through Robert Rodriguez’ enthusiastically gruesome horror, one half of the 2007 Grindhouse double feature that also encompassed Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. (Due to poor box office, extended versions of both halves were released seperately in several international territories).
Of the two Planet Terror is the superior effort, avoiding the egotistical tendencies of the former to deliver an unabashed celebrated of the sort of gore devoured by Rodriguez at a formative age. The stars like Rose McGowan and Josh Brolin are also clearly having a lot of fun.
John Carpenter’s voyeuristic camerawork has a lot to answer for, having spawned a host of poor imitators. One of the finer filmmakers to have adopted the mantle is Oculus director Mike Flanagan whose terrifically creepy Netflix feature Hush puts much of its big screen competition in the shade.
Brilliantly exploiting subjective sound and visuals in its story of a deaf woman terrorised in her remote home by a masked lunatic, it’s an enthusiastic celebration not only of Carpenter but also classic stalk and slash movies like The Stepfather and He Knows You’re Alone.
Outwardly, Jordan Peele’s horror sensation appears to owe relatively little to revival horror. Indeed, its potent mixture of racial commentary, sly satire and violent shocks couldn’t be more relevant to today’s divided social climate.
However beneath the surface the movie is the finest kind of homage to genre cinema of the eighties: after all, it was a period where metaphorical and allegorical ideas were arguably allowed to take flight like never before, as movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser prove.
By utilising a horror framework to explore creeping social unease and broiling racial tension, Get Out’s keen intelligence owes more to its classic progenitors than it initially seems.
These days director James Gunn is most famous for helming the wondrously entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy, but his roots lie in an altogether different kind of movie. He learned his chops in the infamously grisly Troma stable, responsible for cult hits like Tromeo and Juliet, and in 2006 he delivered a feature-length homage to both the movies on which he made his name, and also their noted ancestors like The Toxic Avenger.
The practical effects in Slither are genuinely nasty as a small-town outbreak of body-invading space slugs leads to panic, Gunn twisted body horror tableaux also paying deference to the likes of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Not only has eighties-themed horror witnessed a resurgence in recent years; a broader canvas of exploitation cinema has again started to rear its head, all knowingly colourful, retro posters, carefully studied camerawork (all hail the crash zoom!) and an unerring commitment to genuine nastiness.
Coming in the wake of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (it stemmed from a fake Grindhouse trailer) was this deliberately lurid extravaganza of violence, one that offers a plum, twilight-era role to Rutger Hauer as the titular homeless man who embarks on a carnage-strewn rampage. Embalmed in the sleazier tone of eighties cinema, it’s one for genre fans only.
Not all revival horror is intended to be gruesome; there is also a trend that aims for the spooky, rather than the salacious. One such film is Michael Dougherty’s somewhat underrated Krampus, a Christmas-themed chiller that draws its inspiration not from Carpenter or Cronenberg but rather the darkly comic sensibilities of eighties wonderkid Joe Dante.
The spirit of the latter’s classic Gremlins courses through this nostalgic mixture of big laughs and pure terror, as one boy unwittingly dooms his warring family by invoking the dreaded Krampus: the dark side of Saint Nicholas who, along with his minions, is one of the great movie monsters of recent years.
Joe Dante paid homage to his own legacy in this brilliantly creepy teen horror, one whose scares rival those movies with a higher certification. Dante has always walked the finest of lines between kid-friendly and genuinely alarming, as the likes of Gremlins attest, and that spirit is very much at work in this story of two brothers who find a mysterious hole in the basement of their new house.
What it conceals is nothing less than their deepest fears – and nothing is scarier than the demonic clown doll that terrorises our characters. Something of a box office flop, The Hole is well worth rediscovering.
Both a sweet tale of hillbilly friendship and a gore-strewn, blackly comic frenzy, this acclaimed comedy-horror owes itself wholeheartedly to the splatter sub-genre.
It’s a style of movie that originated with the likes of the late Herschell Gordon Lewis and went one stage further during the 1980s with films such as Evil Dead, Re-Animator and Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, films that emphasised physical prosthetics and gore above subtle, creeping dread.
Tucker and Dale’s unabashed glee for such movies lends it a real nostalgic kick amidst all the claret flying around.
Having recently played at the SXSW Film Festival, this unashamedly grisly offering from joint directors Sebastien Landry and Laurence “Baz” Morais has been noted by critics for its eighties retro flavour.
A story of party-loving millennials who fall foul of a murderous board game, the movie mixes up Scanners-esque gore effects with a whole host of other self-conscious tendencies, including an 8-bit credits sequence that will no doubt get those of a certain vintage punching the air.