By Anthony J. Rapino
While brainstorming this article, I toyed around with a number of different titles that all boiled down to the same thing: horror fans love the shit out of the 1980’s. I mean to say, if the 80’s was a fine wine, we’d mix Ecto Cooler with it and drink the whole damn thing. And let’s face it. This entire article could simply be a list of all the amazing horror franchises that were released, and I’d make my point. I was tempted to go that route, but it would be a disservice to the horror-loving public. For that reason alone, coming in at number ten we have…
10. Horror Franchise Bonanza!
How much do I love thee, let me count the ways. One, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Two, Friday the 13th. Three, Hellraiser. Four, Critters. I desperately want to include Halloween, which technically started in 1978, and you know what? Since Halloween II, III, IV, and V came out in the 80’s, I’m calling an audible and saying it counts! I’m also including The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness. This can go on forever: Child’s Play, The Howling, Return of the Living Dead, Re-Animator.
As I insinuated in the introduction, it wasn’t just the franchises that rocked our socks off. Coming in at number nine…
9. Horror Movies
Argue all you want that the 80’s was not a golden age for horror movies. I’ll just stick my fingers in my ears and go “La la la la la! I can’t heaaaaaar you!” There are too many to mention, but here are a few in no particular order: The Thing, From Beyond, The Shining, They Live, Poltergeist, An American Werewolf in London, City of the Living Dead, Society, Aliens–and the list goes on.
8. The Horror Novel Boom
Horror writers often speak of the 80’s in a hushed, reverential tone. It was a time when genre novels rose to the tops of best seller lists. A time when the general public not only tolerated horror, but embraced it. A time when horror writers could score deals with big name publishing houses.
The 80’s introduced us to such powerhouses–who may not have started writing in the 80’s, but certainly rose in popularity during this time–as Peter Straub, Richard Laymon, F. Paul Wilson, Robert McCammon, Clive Barker, and so many more. Stephen King transcends this list, and much of his early work came out in the 70’s, but hey, he’s Stephen King, so I mentioned him.
As any horror fan will tell you–and many are likely to point out–there are numerous high quality horror-themed toys currently produced by amazing companies like The National Entertainment Association (NECA), McFarlane Toys, MEZCO, and FUNKO. These toys may even be more numerous and of a higher quality than toys past. And yet, the 80’s gave birth to a collection of youth-defining, memorable, and prized playthings for which children of the 80’s scour eBay long into the moonless night.
One of my personal favorites–and something I still regret having sold at yard sales when I was too young to know any better–is the Trash Bag Bunch. Oh how I loved to dunk the opaque green trash bag in water and watch as it dissolved into sludge, revealing the hidden toy within. The little PVC characters must have been fairly forgettable because all I remember about the toy was the whole melting trash bag bit.
Another toy I hold dear to my heart is Monster in my Pocket (which was first released in 1990, but my grasp of time and space is shaky at best). Again, these were tiny toys (pocket sized, go figure) that were a solid color and didn’t do much of anything. And yet, I loved them.
Then there were Madballs, the gross-out balls with faces that were way too much fun to chuck at your little brother or sister. We can’t forget My Pet Monster, Boglins, Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees toys, Universal Monster toys, and on and on we go.
6. The Garbage Pail Kids
Who doesn’t like nasty cartoon characters who pop zits, vomit, and pull skin from their bones? This 80’s classic has endured the decades, and is still available in new sets. The older series are considered highly collectible by nerds like me.
5. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
The practice of airing midnight movies (low budget genre affairs) started in the 50’s, and often boasted unique hosts who would sarcastically comment on the films. Vampira is often credited as the first of these midnight movie hosts, but it was Elvira who helped make the midnight movie a national phenomenon in the 80’s.
I saw many of my first b-horror flicks presented by the sardonic and voluptuous hostess, and I’m willing to bet she was the reason for many young converts becoming horror fans. The corny Halloween music, the ubiquitous wolf howls, the distant castle. All images and sounds that still send me running for the nearest tub of popcorn.
First released in 1978, VHS gained popularity through the 80’s, and changed the way we watched movies. What was previously an occasional night out had become a more frequent night in. We were no longer relegated to watching only TV movies or going to the theater. A wide selection of previously unobtainable movies became available for purchase or rent, and boy howdy, did we rent.
Monster movie marathons became a weekly occurrence at my house. Movies I would have never been able to see because they were before my time were suddenly within reach. The Toxic Avenger, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, The Blob, Troll (and in the 1990, by god, Troll 2!).
Even today, the VHS is seeing a resurgence among children of the 80’s, and especially horror fans. People are out there buying old VHS tapes, collecting VHS tapes. Some filmmakers are even releasing new movies on VHS, like the WNUF Halloween Special, which was made to look and feel like an old 80’s TV news special that was taped with commercials and all. This choice to watch movies on VHS due to a specific look, sound, and feel, it reminds me of my father taking out his old records and explaining they were just better than cassettes or CDs. They elicited a certain emotion that was hard to describe.
Oh yes. I now know exactly what he meant.
3. Horror Movie Video Games
Sure, maybe they weren’t great, but we had them and we played them! Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, the video games, came out in 1989. There was also Fright Night and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
2. Holdovers in the early 90’s
I’d argue there was so much horror goodness in the 80’s that it could not be contained and spilled out into the early 90’s. Great movies from the 80’s and late 70’s like The Toxic Avenger and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes spawned cartoon doppelgangers. Horror franchises that started in the 80’s continued–albeit, not always as successfully. And some of those toys we love (like Monsters in my Pocket) came out in the early 90’s as well.
I’m sure there are more than a few readers who are confused. I’m talking why is there blood in my shit confused. These readers are asking themselves how–in light of the continued success of horror movies and novels, the continued production of horror themed toys, and the seemingly unlimited variety of subgenres–I could suggest the 80’s are anyone’s favorite decade. Well, I’ll tell you:
1. Because you were alive
If you were alive in the 80’s, you’ve got nostalgia on your side. Hey, I never claimed to be unbiased. I’m a child of the 80’s, and that decade will forever hold a special rotting cavity in my heart. If you weren’t alive back then (and hell, maybe even if you were), you probably disagree with the very premise of this list. And that’s fine. That’s a-okay with me. Because here’s the truth. Beyond nostalgia, and childhood toys, and all the warm and fuzzies of memories, amazing horror-themed products and art are produced every single day. We just have to get out there and find them.
To the readers of this article, the horror fans and future horror fans, let’s spread the word. There is too much goodness waiting to be discovered, old and new. If I missed something amazing from the 80’s that deserves mention, mention it!