Countdown to Hell: The Ten Best Horror Movies from the 80s!

At heart this blog is your standard 80s horror movie villain. Like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, no matter how many times I think Retrobacktive is dead it always seems to come back to life. It’s been three months since my last post. I was going to end the site on what I felt was the apex of what I wanted this blog to be, informative, researched and to some degree disruptive. But I should have known as soon as autumn rolled around and another Halloween fell upon us, throwing my two cents into the cultural macabre would be inevitable. This time we’re going to try a little something different.

As noted throughout the history of the blog a lot of inspiration is taken from James Rolfe’s Cinemassacre website. Every October James hosts “Monster Madness,” a retrospective of horror movies, both young and old. For myself, and legions of fans, it’s the highlight of the Halloween season. So drawing inspiration from James, I’ve decided to compile my own Top Ten Best 1980s Halloween Movies.

Obviously I won’t be showing clips or going into the depth James does on his site, but let this rundown serve as a quick guide to some of the best thriller films to enjoy for the remainder of October, or all year round.

First some quick preliminaries: I’m not saying these are the best, or necessarily scariest movies, of the decade. While all great films, my criteria was based on how well they embrace the spirit of Halloween; I envision these movies excelling in a group setting where everyone is up for a good spook.

Also, unlike my typical analysis, this is going to be much more informal. I’ve done absolutely no research into these films. Retrobacktive has a history of heavy deconstruction, and it requires a ton of research – and is one of the reasons I can’t maintain the site. Therefore everything in this list is what’s already in my head.

So here we go: the Top Ten Best 1980s Halloween Movies.

10.) The Blob (1988) – This is a remake of the Steve McQueen b-movie classic. It stars Shawnee Smith and Kevin Dillon and for the most part doesn’t stray too far from the original’s premise, save the monster’s origin whose reworking is a nice touch. Like all 80s remakes the gore level is cranked up and even child characters are fair game for the gelatinous title creature.

9.) The Monster Squad (1987) – As a child I was infatuated with this movie mainly because it featured a whole cast of classic Universal monsters. There’s Dracula, the Wolf-Man, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Gill-Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon. The heroes are a bunch of kids and it is admittedly a kids movie, but not a bad option if you’re looking for lighthearted Halloween fare that’s good for all ages.


8.) Gremlins (1984) – Of all the movies on this list I’d expect this one to be the most controversial; is it horror? Is it comedy? Is it technically a Christmas movie? It doesn’t fit a perfect mold, but it does deliver a great blend of mayhem, hilarity and the supernatural. Joe Dante is one of those director’s with a great sense of dark humor. There are lots of tales of how morose the film would have actually been had the studio not interfered (e.g. Billy’s mom gets her head chopped off and thrown down a flight of stairs). But as it stands it’s a great film if you don’t mind your monsters small, plentiful and totally insane.

7.) Friday the 13th, Part III (1982) – With little effort this whole list could have been filled with slasher flicks, but for me Jason Voorhees is the standout. The character has become an institution where culturally he’s more significant than any one film in the series. Can’t say the same for Freddy or Michael. While many will argue the best film in the series is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, the third film stands out as it features Jason donning the hockey mask for the first time. It’s the first in the series to showcase the iconic Jason as we all know him, and there’s no lack of scares or gore.

6.) Day of the Dead (1985) – With zombie fiction all the rage right now it’s easy to forget George A. Romero started it all in 1968 with a budget that in today’s big Hollywood market would equal peanuts. Romero has continued to make zombie films right up through present day (though he considers the monsters in his films to be “ghouls”), but most recognize his first three as the seminal trilogy. Day of the Dead is considered the weakest of the first three, but in many ways it fits in better with the current landscape of zombie culture with much of the threat centered not on the “ghouls” but the survivors’ inability to cooperate in self-preservation. A must for zombie fanatics.

5.) My Bloody Valentine (1981) – This one keeps it simple: a small town, a vicious killer with a pick-axe on the loose, lots of gruesome murders. There is nothing cerebral about this film. Hollywood did a remake; I’m sure it sucks. For pure Halloween fun, get the original, sit back and enjoy.


4.) Return of the Living Dead (1985) – It’s one of cinema’s more interesting but lesser known feuds; after the success of Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero and his production partner Dan O’Bannon got into an argument over the direction of the franchise. Ultimately they decided to go their separate ways and settled on Romero moving forward with his Dead series, and O’Bannon getting the rights to the name Living Dead for his. This was the latter’s follow up to Night of the Living Dead with a vastly different tone and directorial style. Return of the Living Dead is laced with off-beat humor, camp, and general exploitation. Not nearly as highbrow as the Dead series, but definitely more fun.

3.) The Fly (1986) – This is another remake of a campy 50s sci-fi film only with a much bigger budget, better actors, and under the helm of “body horror” master David Cronenberg. There’s nothing campy or “fun” about this one; it’s a direct assault on the senses. Jeff Goldblum plays a scientist who develops a means for teleportation but ends up splicing his genes together with a housefly that gets into the teleportation machine with him. The result requires a pretty strong stomach to sit through, but Goldblum’s performance is a tour de force not to be missed. the_thing_1982_theatrical_poster

2.) John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) – Next time you feel like complaining about all the reboots Hollywood keeps churning out these days, remember it’s nothing really new. The only difference is in the 80s they were good. Like Cronenberg’s The Fly, John Carpenter’s The Thing is an improvement over the original – saying a lot considering the original is fantastic. While Carpenter elevates the gore level to new heights, it’s the psychological breakdown among the human characters that creates the movie’s unnerving suspense. It also features the greatest setting of any horror film ever: the middle of Antarctica.

1.) An America Werewolf in London (1981) – Here’s how you make a spectacular Halloween movie: start with a classic monster, like the Wolf-Man, put him in a modern setting, add plenty of blood and gore, some horrific dream sequences, sprinkle in a little light humor and a love story for grounding, and presto! A horror film classic. This John Landis gem gets the number one spot because of its versatility; it works on its own, in a group setting, or as the perfect background flick to your Halloween party.

There you have it; ten great Halloween movies, and it just so happens there’s ten days left before Halloween. Stay tuned for another list I’ll be putting together over the next couple days featuring my favorite Halloween movies outside of the 1980s. That’s right, folks; this Halloween we’re breaking all the rules!

The Best, the Beautiful, the Only…Ghostbusters

It’s been just over three months since Sony Pictures Entertainment released the first North American trailer of Ghostbusters (2016) on YouTube. Since then the preview has garnered more than 33.6 million views, 250,608 “likes,” and 872, 947 “dislikes.”*

To put this in perspective, 20th Century Fox’s teaser trailer for the 2015 reboot of the Fantastic Four received 17.5 million views, 71,285 “likes,” and 20,239″dislikes.” That means roughly 78 percent of viewers responded favorably to Fantastic Four while the same percentage responded negatively to the new Ghostbusters trailer.

The reason I bring this up is because Fantastic Four is considered by several prominent critics and aggregate review websites as one of, if not the, worst movies of 2015.

Now at the end of the day these are just previews, and one could argue that perhaps 20th Century Fox was just better at making a good trailer that ultimately failed audience’s expectations. Or it could mean that Sony’s new Ghostbusters movie is going to be an unequivocal ammonia-wrenched bowl of donkey piss so reviled that it will go down in history as a film that failed before it even got off the ground all the while puking on the grave of one of the great comedy screenwriters of all time.


Original artwork from 1984

It could be that. And in fact, it will almost certainly be that. Based on the 4 minutes and 51 seconds of official North American preview of Ghostbusters (2016) there can be no doubt Hollywood has finally gone too far. Sony Pictures, and Paul Feig and Katie Dippold, and everyone involved in this dumpster fire have begun plucking at the last of a handful of unsoiled cinematic masterpieces all in the name of profit. What’s most disheartening about this entry is it doesn’t even bother to honor the original; it rides on the coattails of what came before and aggrandizes itself for getting a pig in a dress and calling it the prom queen.

Now before anyone goes off, I am going to state it for the record: my negative attitude for this film has nothing to do with the all-female reprisal. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t get it. Is it supposed to be a political statement? If you’re going for a philosophical point, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a gender-mixed team? Maybe a homosexual Ghostbuster? The LGBT-community is woefully lacking in prominent film roles; wouldn’t that be more reflective of the makeup of our society?

But I digress, they’re all women. Who cares?

Well, apparently a lot of people. As it turns out I’m not the only one who is sick of seeing Hollywood bilk every last cultural milestone of my generation into a bloodless shell of itself. Take it from a guy who is an even bigger Ghostbusters fan than I am.

For those of you who don’t know who James Rolfe is, he is a filmmaker and critic better known as The Angry Video Game Nerd of the popular eponymous web series. If his rhetoric seems a little similar to the writing on Retrobacktive, it’s not coincidence. Rolfe was a huge influence on the tone and direction of this blog; the idea being to create a literary version of his website, Cinemassacre. Rolfe is a wunderkind when it comes to interpreting allegory and was an early practitioner of celebrating films indelible to Gen X’ers.

Recently, however, he was skewered online by opponents who called his “non-review” of Ghostbusters (2016) as “sexist.”

Watch the video again if you need to, but at no point does Rolfe make any reference to the female cast of Ghostbusters (2016) other than to say it’s the only way to differentiate this version from the 1984 original. There isn’t a shred of sexism in that review, but there is plenty of defiance and somehow this has been interpreted as misogyny.

And this is what’s sinking Ghostbusters (2016) into an even deeper level of cinematic excrement. Based on the “polarized” reactions (i.e. wanton hatred) from online reviewers, Sony is aware they are sitting on a potential time bomb. So the filmmakers and cast have sunk to the lowest denominator and conjured up a preemptive excuse for the movie’s likely failure: blame it all on misogyny.

That’s right, if you don’t like Ghostbusters (2016) then you must hate women. That’s the only reason to dislike this film. Well, I’ll admit any picture starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones is a strong reason to dislike it. Wiig and McCarthy have made careers out of one-dimensional characters who lost any semblance of charisma years ago. And Jones is in the process of dismantling Saturday Night Live one awkwardly unfunny sketch at a time. So yes, I’ll will stand out on a limb and say the cast has something to do with it. But being a women doesn’t mean you get a pass from criticism. Funnier women could have been cast; it wouldn’t have saved the film because a Ghostbusters remake is already a bad idea, but it couldn’t make it any worse.

Still not convinced this isn’t misogyny talking? Let’s look at another Internet icon’s take on the trailer:

Danika Massey, better known as Comic Book Girl 19, preceded Rolfe’s video by a couple of months, but to much quieter fanfare. Is that because she’s a woman? Sort of, in so much as there’s nothing for anyone to attack. She made an apt video that summarized what most Ghostbusters fans were thinking. She even goes so far as to tell us not to go see the new movie. All Rolfe said was he wasn’t going to see the new movie. Well, take from that what you want, but both reviews share the sentiment most moviegoers are feeling: Ghostbusters (2016) is going to suck. And if you want to know who I most directly blame for this upcoming pile of bear shit, I’ll tell you. It’s Bill Murray.

Okay, so not really Bill Murray. It’s impossible to be angry at Bill Murray. But in a way Murray, and the rest of the original Ghostbusters creative team, converged to create a media vacuum that brought Paul Feig’s imminent disaster to life. In order to grasp its origins we need to go back almost 30 years.

The success of the original Ghostbusters film led to the creation of a spinoff animated series for ABC called The Real Ghostbusters. The Real Ghostbusters aired for seven seasons beginning in 1986, and was an instant hit. Based on continued interest in the franchise, Columbia Pictures pressured Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis to come up with a script for a second movie. Aykroyd and Ramis had gone on record stating that the intention was to create a conclusive film with the first Ghostbusters, and that a second shouldn’t be made. Murray, likewise, was against a follow-up as he has been plainly dismissive of sequels throughout his career, stating in a 1988 New York Times story, “The reason most people do sequels is greed. But if you do it for business reasons, you should be put to death.”

In a rare act of concession, Murray, as well as Ramis, Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver, and director/producer Ivan Reitman, returned to make Ghostbusters II.

Released 27 years ago today, the film was a commercial success, but fell short among critics. Even the actors involved seemed to be aware that the original spark had fizzled. Murray noted in a 2012 interview with David Letterman, “It’s hard. Even the second ‘Ghostbusters‘ wasn’t as much fun for me as the first one. It’s hard to make a sequel.”

It was clear to everyone that the original Ghostbusters was lightning in a bottle. They tried again; it didn’t work. All was forgiven. Best to leave well enough alone, and move on.

Somewhere around 1995 Aykroyd gets this idea for a new Ghostbusters movie. It’s called Ghostbusters: Hellbent and it centers around the team entering a parallel New York that resembles a hellish version of their own. There’s no telling what inspired Aykroyd to come up with this new Ghostbusters story after the critical disappointment of Ghostbusters II, but the plot seems to share some elements with the very first Ghostbusters script Aykroyd wrote in the early 80s.

By this point Murray was a well established comedic star. Harold Ramis moved behind the camera and became a successful director. Aykroyd, however, had hit a slump. Failed big budget vehicles like Nothing but Trouble and Coneheads virtually sidelined Aykroyd into smaller, character roles. Some were commendable (My Girl; Feeling Minnesota), but his bankability was depleted. It’s all speculation, but in this case it may have been Aykroyd chasing down Hollywood.

One laudable story arc in Ghostbusters: Hellbent was a proverbial passing of the torch. The script called for an older, haggled Ghostbuster team (Aykroyd, Murray, Ramis, and Hudson) to train and hand down the mantle to a group of young cadets. Ramis stated in a 1999 Entertainment Weekly article, “dream plan is that Danny and I would produce it, I would direct it, and we would recruit some newer, younger, popular Ghostbusters to star.”Alas, the studios weren’t buying it (literally) as production costs for such an elaborate film were seen as too high.

Despite the transitional plot point in Ghostbusters 3, Murray remained disinterested, and by 2004 rumors of a third film petered out. Ramis revived interest a year later when he suggest in an InFocus magazine interview that he would like to cast Ben Stiller in Ghostbusters 3, but little came of his comment. Four more years passed before an interview in the Guardian Guide found Aykroyd speaking emphatically about the new Ghostbusters film.

By this time the big joke had become that Murray would only reprise his role as Peter Venkman if the writers “kill me off in the first reel.” Well evidently this only drove Aykroyd’s, Ramis’, the studio’s, whomever’s fervency because Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, writers and producers for The Office brought in to work on a GB3 treatment, actually came up with a story line where Murray’s character is killed off and comes back as a ghost. Even Murray remarked “well, that’s clever anyway” in a interview.

But nothing came of it. Murray held out. And for years the back and forth went on. Aykroyd told reporters in almost every interview he did that the new movie would go into production…soon. And Murray consistently declared disapproval. Eventually Aykroyd and Ramis decided it would be best to move on without Murray. Said Aykroyd in a 2011 interview with Dennis Miller, “The concept is much larger than any individual role and the promise of Ghostbusters III is that we get to hand the equipment and the franchise down to new blood.”

Well it turns out a big draw to the concept is one individual. In a 2012 interview with IGN Aykroyd said Ghostbusters 3 was in “suspended animation,” production had stalled, and that they couldn’t recreate the Venkman character without Murray’s approval. It seemed without Murray’s star power, there was no interest in a third Ghostbusters movie.

This should have put it all to rest. But here’s where my frustration with Murray kicks in. Just two months later at a Cubs game, a reporter for a local news affiliate, WGN, asks Murray about involvement in a second Ghostbusters sequel. Murray’s response: “Well, it’s a possibility…”

Really? After years of lambasting Aykroyd and Ramis for pushing the project, steadfast in his objection to a third film, Murray tells the world “It’s a possibility.” It’s by no means committal, but it appears it was enough to reignite the flames. Aykroyd seemed spurred on in suggesting the door was always open for Murray to return to the role.

Shortly after his Cubs-game comment, Murray appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. Pressed about his interest in GB3, Murray said, “Well, I think… we’ll try again. I always drag my feet on it.” I’m sorry, over 15 years of saying “no” is dragging your feet? I’d hate to see how long it takes Bill Murray to buy a car.

Perhaps Murray was just tired of answering the question: will he or won’t he? Maybe Aykroyd had finally warn him down. Or still yet it could he was in perennial jest with the world, ambivalent to his professional direction but happy to puppeteer his fans and colleagues emotions because they made it so easy for him.

By the end of 2013 only two things were certain about Ghostbusters 3: it involved a passing of the torch to a new generation, and Aykroyd really wanted to make this picture. Sadly it would not be Bill Murray who would have final say. On February 24, 2014, Harold Ramis died from complications with vaculitis at his home in Chicago. Any hope of a full Ghostbusters reunion was gone. And though Ramis’ involvement in any future Ghostbusters entry would have been downplayed in light of his illness, fans the world over realized the gravity of the situation. It was time to let it go.

Of course when there’s money to be made, who cares about things like desecration, exploitation, and greed? Certainly not Hollywood. Hence Ghostbusters (2016), a film that in four minutes and 51 seconds of preview pays no homage to the genius that came before it. Nope. We’re just gonna slap together some slick CGI, toss in a few caricatures, throw in a cheap cameo for blanket nostalgia (seriously, Murray, you came back for this?!), and bam, you have the definition of modern cinema: a gutless, vapid cesspool of timidity and impossibly low standards that intrigues audiences only by how low it can sink.

At the end of the day, I’m not really mad at Murray for stalling so long, or anyone else from the original production, even Aykoryd who championed the idea long after it should have crumbled. But I’m with James on this one. This movie is going to be a 35-foot-long, 600-pound pile of shit. I won’t see it. Instead of buying a ticket I’m going to use my money to buy a new copy of the original on Amazon, and encourage discerning fans – and from the looks of it there are many – to throw their own Ghostbusters (1984) viewing parties on July 15.


*As of this writing.