10. The 'Burbs (1989)
Before there was Shaun of the Dead, there was The 'Burbs. This one stood out in the late '80s. Sure, you had comedy, you had horror, but you rarely had a combination of the two. It's really less scary than funny, but it still manages to conjure up the creeps with a few jump scares here and there, a trio of midnight grave diggers, and an eerie anecdote about a '50s soda jerk who murdered his entire family.
The 'Burbs features Tom Hanks before he became one of the great dramatic actors of our age. It also stars Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman, and the always charming Bruce Dern. Hanks plays Ray Peterson, whom we catch on the first day of his week off from work. He lives in a quiet little suburb where nothing ever happens, the most entertaining part of his day coming when neighbor Walter takes his dog out to defecate on the lawn of Mr. Rumsfield (Dern). But something sinister is lurking next door to Ray in the ramshackle house riddled with cobwebs and crows and dead trees. Ray hears an odd sound coming from the basement at night, and he, along with neighbors Art and Rumsfield soon suspect that something nefarious is afoot.
9. Fright Night (1985)
Fright Night was the first movie I saw to actually make vampires scary, as the filmmakers worked to give the creatures of the night the right look. The movie featured Married With Children alum Amanda Bearse, who was morphed into the horrifying nightmare we see the left. Fright Night provided a few laughs and some sexy scenes, but mostly, it was a wacky affair that saw a vampire guarded during the daylight hours by a zombie-like humanoid.
Fright Night sees teen Charlie Brewster making out with his girlfriend Amy during another episode of "Fright Night," a tongue-in-cheek play on Dark Shadows in which vampire hunter Peter Vincent stalks the fanged freaks. In full peeping Tom mode from the comfort of his bedroom window, Charlie watches his new neighbor sink his vampire teeth into a classy lady of the night. Of course, when he tells everyone he knows in the immediate aftermath, nobody believes him, especially Amy, who blames the Peter Vincent show for Charlie's overactive imagination. When Charlie's mother invites Jerry, the vampire next door, over for a visit, it's open season on the peeping teen. One of the rules of the vampire is that they have to be invited into your home in order for them to make you their victim. Charlie only survives the night after shoving a pencil through Jerry's hand.
8. The Terminator (1984)
I'm not sure when I first saw this one, but I certainly wasn't supposed to see it when I did. The Terminator is a horror/sci-fi flick, the best in the franchise, bloody and homicidal and not for the eyes of a youngster. It's one of the scarier movies to come out of the '80s, far more so than any Jason or Michael Myers slasher. The cyborg, played by the Governator himself, is unrelenting in his pursuit, persisting through searing, mangled flesh and steel to eradicate his his target.
We're first introduced to the Terminator when he teleports into a trash-filled dystopian alley. Had he owned more than a one-track mind, he would have shaken his head when comparing his futuristic generation to the 1984 he's been zapped to. You see, he's a half-man, half-robot killing machine sent from the future to terminate Sarah Conner, the future mother of future resistance leader, John Conner. In order to protect her, future John sent back one of his soldiers, Kyle Reese, to protect her. There's no foreseeable way for him to kill the machine. All he knows is that he must protect her, and that he feels compelled to do so because he has fallen in love the picture of her that John has shown him.
7. Say Anything (1989)
I feel like all I really need to do for this entry is post the picture to the left. It's arguably one of the most iconic moments of 1980s filmmaking, the ultimate INFP moment that every boy who's become a victim of unrequitted love has attempted to duplicate in some way, shape, form, or fashion. John Cusack made his bones with this movie, and I also love his Gross Pointe Blank and High Fidelity for their protagonists' stark resemblences to Say Anything's highly lovable character, Lloyd Dobler.
Lloyd is a cool, hip, easy-go-lucky guy from the wrong side of the tracks, one who everyone knows and seems to like. Everyone except for Diane Court, Lakewood High School's valedictorian who spent so much time being studious that she never really got to know any of her contemporaries. She and her father are very close, and he has sheltered her, some might argue to her detriment. When Lloyd cold calls her out of the blue one day and asks her to the school's graduation party, she optimistically accepts, knowing that she had never given her classmates the time of day.
Through Lloyd's every-man charm, his nervous talking habit, and his bumbling, humble nature, Diane slowly falls in love with him, much to the chagrin of her father. He sees Lloyd as a distraction for his daughter, and guilts her into breaking up with him. Lloyd soon resorts to the old "In Your Eyes" ploy in a heartfelt attempt to win her back. It takes Diane awhile to respond, but Lloyd had me as soon as he hoisted that boombox over his head.
6. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
No, that's not blood on Kurt Russell's lips. It's lipstick. Let me explain. Lo Pan needed a girl with green eyes to undo the ancient curse, so he kidnapped Kim Cattrall and then she kissed Kurt Russell and he forgot to wipe off the lipstick before he started wising off to the main baddie again. Got it now? No? You only would if you saw the movie. Well, make that a few times, because that's what it really takes to absorb every aspect of this genre-busting outing that was well ahead of its time.
Big Trouble in Little China is a wacky movie, but it has great characters, whip-cracking dialogue, and Kurt Russell gives us his best performance in my humble opinion. This one is a Hoyle Classic, one of those movies my sister and I watched repeatedly, quoted, and gave the appropriate moniker. Kurt Russell's Jack Burton is one of my favorite characters in movie history. He's tough but goofy, strong but hyperbolic in a sissy sort of way, brave but quick to spout a one-liner in his pseudo-suave, wise-cracking persona.
Jack is a long haul truck driver on his way through San Francisco's Chinatown. He figures while he's in town, he'll stop, gamble, and drink with his old buddy, Wang Chi. The following morning, Wang has to pick up his girlfriend, Mao Yin, from the airport, and since Jack can't trust him not to skip town with the money Wang owes him, he comes along. While at the airport, Jack tries to hit on Kim Cattrall's Gracie Law while Mao Yin gets abducted by a Chinatown street gang, the Lords of Death. Jack pledges his loyalty to help get her back, especially when the Lords steal his truck.
On the lookout for Mao Yin, the two encounter a Chinese standoff between rival factions. When it looks like the good guys are winning, a trio called the Three Storms swoop in to help the bad guys, because well, they're bad guys. That's when they confront David Lo Pan, who's a bit of a legendary baddie, and whom the Lords of Death have taken Mao Yin to. In order to break the ancient spell cast on him, he must marry Mao Yin, a rare Chinese beauty with green eyes.
5. The Lost Boys (1987)
And the lost girl, right? You can't forget about Jamie Gertz, my first celebrity crush (besides singer Martika of "Toy Soldiers" fame). Sure, The Lost Boys is a vampire movie, but it's a lot more than that. The vampires are bohemian, nihilistic teens who literally sleep all day and party all night, all in a time when the notion was celebrated by hair metal bands. This is one of Keifer Sutherland's best roles alongside Flatliners. Straight off the success of St. Elmo's Fire, director Joel Schumacher gave the film a darker, sexier, edgier feel than the original Peter Pan spin-off idea. It was a great change and it resulted in one of my favorite movies of the decade, so thank you, Joel.
Michael and Sam are brothers, on the move with their mother to live with their grandfather in the fictional town of Santa Carla, CA, the "murder capital of the world." The brothers are soon sucked into the Santa Carla nightlife. Sam finds a comic book shop, and Michael finds a pretty, hippy chick at a concert performance by a bodybuilder with a saxophone who still believes. Michael is immediately entranced by the hippy girl, Star, but watches her speed away on the back of a motorcycle with a gang of unruly miscreants.
After Michael follows the young gang, led by pack leader David, he's charmed into drinking David's blood and becoming a half vampire. Sam is concerned for his older brother and rightfully so. The owners of the comic shop, Edgar and Allan Frog, are Rambo freaks who moonlight as vampire hunters. The brothers know a thing or two about the bloodsuckers, and they tell Sam that in order to turn Michael back, they have to kill the head vampire. The only problem is, they don't know who that is. So, they start with the youngest, Marko, while he's sleeping in his bluff cave.
The Lost Boys has a great Stranger Things feel to it, one of the movies that certainly inspired the show. The Frog brothers are funny and bumbling, but they're brave, tangling with the vampires head to head. Sam takes their lead, and Michael fights hard to overcome the hunger of the vampire long enough to keep his brother, his girl, and himself safe from David. The movie is cool, sexy, and has an excellent soundtrack, including main theme, "Cry Little Sister."
4. Aliens (1986)
I was in 7th grade when I first encountered the long-lasting charms of Aliens. I met a new friend at school, he spent the night one Friday, and insisted that we went the movie at our local Hollywood Video. We certainly did, and reveled in the experience. The concept of the futuristic Colonial Marines was fascinating, with the larger-than-life personalities of Lieutenant Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn), Private Hudson (Bill Paxton), and Private Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), who is pictured above. I was fascinated with the characters, their weapons, and with the dripping, crawling, acid-spewing horror of the xenomorph aliens themselves.
After spending 57 years in hyper sleep at the conclusion of the first Alien, Ellen Ripley's drifting ship is picked up by a salvage crew who brings her back to her employer, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. There, she is questioned by them. And they don't believe a word about the alien who killed her entire crew, revoking her pilot license. Frustrated, she throws herself into her work, finding a job with in the ship's cargo bay. This is when she is approached by Weyland-Yutani representative Carter Burke, who, along with Colonial Marine Lieutenant Gorman, ask her to return to LV-426, the planet she barely escaped from the first time. She only agrees after a terrifying dream. Ripley enlists as a consultant for a unit of grizzled soldiers to return to the planet and find out why the colonists there aren't answering their transmissions.
It takes awhile for things to get going, but when the marines make contact with the planet, and make contact with the xenomorphs, all hell breaks loose. Their first encounter is a virtual slaughter, and only Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, and Gorman make it out alive. Their escape pod crashes and leaves them stranded for over two weeks, where leaving them to devise a plan and utilize their limited resources to survive.
I love the last stand that the marines make. The action and score is intense. Hicks is great, Hudson is better, Vasquez is the best, and Ripley is the real queen, not the mother xenomorph she comes face to face with in the end. As her daughter grew up without her and died while she was still in hyper sleep, Ripley forms a motherly bond with child survivor Newt. Their budding relationship is touching to watch. Ripley is as tough as they come, determined to take on every last xenomorph standing between her and her new daughter, Newt.
3. Predator (1987)
I saw this movie opening day in the theater. I somehow talked my parents into making it my 11th birthday present, and while I rolled around in it like a pig in mud, they absolutely hated it. That's okay. I still got to see it. A kid in my neighborhood had gone to the earlier showing, which gave me the idea to hold it over my parents' heads as a birthday gift. Predator was like nothing I had ever seen, highly original in its concept with an ending that brings the house down.
Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his small unit of men take to the juggles of the Central America to find out what happened to a top notch team of Green Berets. The Green Berets are soon found stripped and skinned alive, so of course, Arny and friends blame the Central American commandos next door, raiding their village and leaving only one alive in Anna. She sees the Predator before anyone else, likening it to a chameleon who morphed with the jungle at will with its cloaking mechanism. The team thinks Anna is crazy, until they don't anymore. The Predator begins picking off the troops one by one until all that's left is head hancho Dutch.
Like Aliens, this one has a great score, one that was almost completely brought back in the 2010 joint, Predators. The rough and tumble team of Dutch, Dillon, Mac, Blaine, Billy, Poncho, and Hawkins are as tough as they come, their weapons are bad news, and their tactics obliterate the village Contras before they get obliterated by the Predator themselves. Only Dutch stands a mushroom cloud of a chance in the end.
2. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
I can't believe Arnold Schwarzenegger make this list three times. He did what the character called for in Terminator, was solid as Dutch in Predator, but in Conan the Barbarian, his acting was quite horrible. I get that it was early in his career, and the movie is built around his look, that is so stellar that his acting chops really didn't make that much of a difference. Conan the Barbarian is a fantastic fantasy movie with a historical slant, much like Games of Thrones, with plenty of blood and high drama to make the comparison stick.
The Cimmerians, Conan's people, are likened to the Gallic tribes who battled the Romans for so many centuries. The movie definitely has its Scandinavian influences as well, with Nordic-like King Osric and the Valkyrie-esque Valeria, Conan's main squeeze. She even appears to Conan in the end in all her winged helmet regalia, paying homage to the warrior women of Norse lore who escorted fallen Vikings to Valhalla.
The excellent score really goes with the old world revenge story. The young Conan's father teaches him the importance of steel and sword-making, which is exactly what gets him killed. Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and his brood of cultish thugs raid Cimmeria and kill everyone, including Conan's parents, in search of steel. The cult makes the poor decision of keeping Conan alive, selling him into slavery where he is forced to push a massive wheel all in the name of corporal punishment. While all his contemporaries die or are sold off, Conan persists, building all of his muscles to Schwarzenegger proportions in his quest for vengeance. He's then turned into a cage fighter, where he learns the fighting skills he needs to seek out Thulsa Doom, who is an extremely vague memory to him.
After he wins his freedom, he runs into Mongol-like archer Subotai and blonde beauty, Valeria. The three form of an unlikely band of thieves who are pretty handy with swords as well. When they steal from Thula Doom, who has shifting his fascination from steel to flesh, Conan runs head first into a slew of memories, and a giant snake. Thulsa Doom associates himself and his cult with snakes, and even shape shifts into one before it's all said and done.
Conan has his revenge in a desert showdown, pitting three against a multi-pronged onslaught of attackers. Conan addresses his god Crom for help, but tells him that if he doesn't provide assistance, then he can basically shove it. There was a sequel, but it was way different in feel, with one particular character added merely for comic relief. Conan the Barbarian is bloody, brutish, and guttural, and it is so good, it's even easy to forgive some of the bad acting.
1. Red Dawn (1984)
I think Red Dawn scared a lot of people when it came out in 1984. We were in the midst of the Cold War, relations with the Soviet Union were pretty sketchy, and there were still Communist governments in the world that the US couldn't do a lot about. So what if a perfect storm of factors saw US alliances fall, leaving it vulnerable to attacks from Communist and Fascist regimes? Red Dawn surmises it, and answers that question in vivid detail. It's unofficially World War III, pitting the Soviet and Cuban militaries against local freedom fighters - high school students from the fictional Colorado town of Calumet.
Jed (Patrick Swayze) and Matt (Charlie Sheen) are brothers. Jed is a year removed from high school, while Matt is a senior along with his buddies, class president Daryl and Star Wars nerd Robert. After Jed drops Matt off at school, Soviet paratroopers begin to land during a history teacher's lecture on the Mongol Empire. The troops begin to shoot when confronted, leaving the teacher dead, as well as a one student. This is about the time that Jed sweeps back through the school in his truck to pick up Matt, Daryl, Robert, Aardvark, and pipsqueak Danny. Scared out of their minds, they take supplies from Robert's father's convenience store and literally head for the hills.
The Soviets round up certain citizens of Calumet based on the speculation that they may cause trouble. In the process, Robert's father, as well as Jed and Matt's father, are executed. The group soon decides to fight back, utilizing guerrilla tactics under the name of their high school mascot, the Wolverines. The name becomes a rallying for the group, who pose a threat to the hostile takeover where the US military cannot.
As the war drags on, the group loses members until it comes down to a core four. Jed and Matt battle until the end. Their friendship and brotherhood is touching, as Swayze and Sheen fit into the shoes of their characters so well that I forget they're not actually brothers in this one. Swayze is absolutely remarkable as Jed, his finest role next to his Bodhi from Point Break. The Red Dawn remake is sacrilege to the original. Jed, nor Robert, are portrayed in the same way, leaving much to be desired compared to the qualities the original film. Much like The Godfather, Red Dawn should have been left alone.