Eighties nostalgia is all the rage with today’s horror fans. “Stranger Things” dominates nerd TV, and last year’s remake of Stephen King’s “It” — aka the main source material for “Stranger Things” — became the top-grossing monster movie of all time.
But homages and reboots seldom live up to the originals.
This October, local cinemagoers will have a chance to see many of the films that defined ’80s mainstream horror on the big screen.
The film’s place in the ’80s horror cannon is hard to define — it was a massive summer blockbuster, showing that general audiences would turn out in droves for slick, PG-rated scares. It was released near the end of what many consider a golden age of experimental, edgy horror — director Tobe Hooper made his name with the disturbing “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974), and Hollywood had thrown big budgets at increasingly gory projects such as “Alien” (1979) and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982).
“Poltergeist” crushed the underappreciated “The Thing” at the box office (more on that later), but its glossier aesthetic ultimately proved to be the exception, not the rule, in ’80s horror. The new VHS rental market and general teen blood lust led filmmakers to churn out cheaper, gorier flicks that appealed to the youth demographic, R rating be damned.
Make no mistake — “Poltergeist” is scary. Most film buffs agree that producer Steven Spielberg was the creative force behind the film, but Hooper brought a sense of visceral terror to the mix. So you get plucky kids, ethereal ghosts parading to a sense-of-wonder soundtrack, and a guy tearing off his own face. It’s all good.
Hollywood’s next big swing at PG-rated scares (kind of) came a couple of years later, with the Spielberg project “Gremlins” (1984), screening Oct. 28 at Village 8. There’s a ton of apocrypha about how “Gremlins” began life as a real shocker — the original a script called for Mom’s head to come bouncing down the stairs. In its final cut, “Gremlins” went for more cute and less gross, and the result is a charming family flick that was a huge summer hit.
Coupled with the runaway success of “Ghostbusters” that same summer, laughs beat out screams for broad audience releases for years to come.
Later in 1984, on a budget of just $1.8 million, the director Wes Craven injected new creative life into the flagging teen slasher genre with his “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” screening Oct. 14 at Village 8. Freddy Krueger has become a cultural cliché nowadays, but at the time, Craven’s surrealistic dream sequences and Robert Englund’s cackling, murderous glee were a radical departure, particularly for mainstream releases.
The film’s huge financial success set the trajectory for R-rated, lower-budget horror the rest of the decade, with the occasional big-budget hit, such as David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (1986) thrown into the mix.
Matthew Kohorst, general manager at Village 8, said his personal favorite among the films he’s screening this month is Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980), which wraps up the series with screenings on Halloween, which is Wednesday, Oct. 31.
And you really can’t argue with Kohorst’s pick. “The Shining” has far more in common with other Kubrick films than horror movies in general — the guy is a hard act to follow. Stephen King famously hates Kubrick’s stripped-down treatment of his novel’s main characters, but there’s no finer exploration of a claustrophobic descent into madness.
“Jack Nicolson’s performance is just so iconic,” Kohorst said.
Rounding out the month’s lineup at Village 8 on Oct. 21 is “An American Werewolf in London” (1981), which holds the dual distinction of being the best werewolf movie and best horror-comedy ever made.
Kohorst said he hopes the ’80s horror fest will build on the success of this summer’s Hitchcock festival at Village 8, which sold out several showings. All five films will have three screenings at 3, 7 and 7:30 p.m.
(See the end of this article for a detailed calendar of these and other Halloween movies screening this month.)
Carpenter at Baxter Avenue Theatres
At the Village 8’s sister cinema, Baxter Avenue Theatres, you can catch a film by director John Carpenter each Saturday of October at midnight.
“The Thing” (we told you we’d come back to it) is not on the list, but the other two entries in Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy — “In the Mouth of Madness” (1994) and “Prince of Darkness” (1987) — will screen on Oct. 20 and Oct. 27, respectively. The three films are not directly tied to each other, except for the fact that things don’t bode well for humanity by the time the credits roll.
“Prince of Darkness” was a minor hit for Carpenter, whose brand was still strong following his enormous success in the late ’70s and early ’80s. “Prince” is really more interesting than good, per se — its premise that the human concept of Satan is actually an extra-dimensional being who takes control of your mind via tachyon transmissions is a clever update on the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and other pulp writers.
“In the Mouth of Maddness” is a far more direct take on Lovecraft’s brand of cosmic horror, and is Carpenter’s most underrated work, barely making its budget back on release. Carpenter’s penchant for asking his actors to go over the top occasionally gets in the way, but overall it’s about as subtle as you can ask for a flick about tentacles.
Cthulhu and the gang get a fleeting cameo, but Carpenter keeps the focus on how nuts his human characters are going. And Sam Neil is just great.
Baxter Theatre’s Carpenter fest wraps on Halloween night his definitive slasher flick “Halloween” (1978), which in case you haven’t heard is getting a sequel/reboot later this month.
Long live nostalgia.
Halloween Movie Calendar
As promised, here is a detailed schedule of horror flicks showing this month, along with links for more information. This list is likely not exhaustive — bars and community groups love to pop in a DVD to bring in families and fanboys alike during Halloween season. The Louisville Palace also is screening a couple of kid-friendly flicks this month.
• Saturday, Oct. 6
“Vampires” — Baxter Avenue Theatres, midnight. Carpenter’s 1998 take on vampire hunters is an acquired taste. James Woods eats up the scenery in the lead role, and there’s not really a lot of moral distinction between the hunters and the hunted. That’s on purpose. This is possibly Carpenter’s most violent film, which is saying a lot.
• Sunday, Oct. 7
“Poltergeist” — Village 8 Theatres, 3, 7 and 7:30 p.m.
• Wednesday, Oct. 10
“The Shining” — Floyd Theater, University of Louisville, 8 p.m.
• Friday, Oct. 12
“The Shining” — Floyd Theater, University of Louisville, 8 p.m.
• Saturday, Oct. 13
“Ghosts of Mars” — Baxter Avenue Theatres, midnight. This one is an extremely acquired taste.
• Sunday, Oct. 14
“A Nightmare on elm Street” — Village 8 Theatres, 3, 7 and 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Oct. 20
“Warm Bodies” — Louisville Free Public Library Newburg Branch, 2 p.m. This “Romeo and Juliet” take on zombies was overlooked when it came out in 2013, but it’s a refreshingly original take on what was already a worn-thin genre. Be sure to check out the LFPL calendar for spooky kids movies showing around town this month.
“In the Mouth of Madness” — Baxter Avenue Theatres, midnight
• Sunday, Oct. 21
“An American Werewolf in London” — Village 8 Theatres, 3, 7 and 7:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Oct. 23
“The Lure” — Floyd Theater, University of Louisville, 8 p.m. Here’s a chance to see that rare beast, a horror musical, at a free screening. This Polish film, directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, follows two mermaids as they find love, murder and grossly ill-advised surgery in their new lives as bar singers. What could go wrong?
• Wednesday, Oct. 24
“Hereditary” — Floyd Theater, University of Louisville, 8 p.m. This flick got a ton of buzz from critics when it came out earlier this year. It’s pretty good, not great — the more horror films you’ve seen, the less shocking you’ll find its attempts to shock you. Toni Collette is amazing, as always.
“Night of the Living Dead” — Cinemark Mall of St. Matthews, Regal New Albany Stadium 16, Tinseltown Louisville, 7 and 10 p.m. Fathom Events is screening a restored copy of George Romero’s 1968 masterwork at local cineplexes. Zombies have long since worn out their welcome in current pop culture, but low-budget filmmaking does not get better than this.
• Thursday, Oct. 25
“Night of the Living Dead” — Regal New Albany Stadium 16, 7 and 10 p.m.
“Hereditary” — Floyd Theater, University of Louisville, 8 p.m.
• Saturday, Oct. 27
“I am Legend” — Louisville Free Public Library Western Branch, 2 p.m. Will Smith is good in this otherwise lackluster 2007 adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel that gave us modern zombies. Zombie, zombie, zombie.
“Prince of Darkness” — Baxter Avenue Theatres, midnight
• Sunday, Oct. 28
“Gremlins” — Village 8 Theatres, 3, 7 and 7:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Oct. 30
“What We Do in the Shadows”— Floyd Theater, University of Louisville, 8 p.m.
Film Liberation Unit, a student-led group at UofL, is presenting a free screening of Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement’s brilliant 2014 horror-comedy/mockumentary about vampires who share a flat in modern-day Wellington, New Zealand. Every note of this one is pitch-perfect — it’s hysterical, often sweet and occasionally scary (or at least disgusting). This film grossed just $3.5 million in the U.S., which is the real horror here.
• Wednesday, Oct. 31
“The Shining” — Village 8 Theatres, 3, 7 and 7:30 p.m.
“Psycho” — Floyd Theater, University of Louisville, 8 p.m. If you don’t know about “Psycho” already, we don’t know what to tell you.
“Halloween” — Baxter Avenue Theatres, midnight