Are you ready for the summer?
Sorry, couldn’t help myself. And having recently revisited MEATBALLS, I was reminded of what a classic piece of comedic cinema it is. But alas, you’re on a horror site! You want to get into the season by watching the gory stuff, no?
Well, luckily, there are plenty of ’80s “slashers” that fit the bill and will get you in summer mode in no time at all. Might we suggest the following!
This 1982 “slasher” flick comes from director Pau Lynch, who also helmed the original PROM NIGHT. It’s most notorious for… well, being really dark. And I mean that literally. Because of the way it was shot, old VHS copies has been nearly impossible to decipher on your average TV screen. Now, Scorpion Releasing has just done a brand new Blu-Ray with a new HD scan and the film, while still not great, looks better than it ever has, or will. That’s not to say there aren’t still a few shots here and there that look like there were literally no lights on set, but it’s a good presentation of what otherwise could’ve become a lost slasher gem. A group of kids get shipwrecked on a remote island only to discover that the woman that once lived there had a bastard, monstrous child! And that child has grown up to stalk anyone that sets foot on that island! This is pretty straight forward slasher fare, but it’s got a scene where a gal (Joy Boushel, who also runs out of a bar with Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg’s THE FLY!) attempts to carry a handful of blueberries back to an injured party in between her boobs. It’s pretty wacky. #blueberryboobs
THE BURNING (1981)
After FRIDAY THE 13TH, famed FX genius Tom Savini went to work on this little “slasher” flick written by these Weinstein Brother guys and directed by Tony Maylam. Very loosely based on the Cropsy legend, a group of kids play a twisted practical joke on summer camp janitor named Cropsy. Why they hate this guy so much is beyond me, although there is the obligatory exaggerated camp fire retelling of his legend where he’s painted to be a rather evil bastard. Somehow, these kids got a decomposing human head and thought putting candles in its eyes while Cropsy woke up would be hilarious! Well, he jumps up, the candles light up his whole place, and he burns up in the flames. (Hence, the burning?) Years later, he leaves the hospital, kills a random prostitute in Manhattan, then heads back to the camp to slaughter the new crop of kids there with his gardening sheers. There is one infamous scene, which is often referred to as the “canoe massacre.” It’s the stuff of legend, some of Savini’s best work, and the thing that makes this flick stand out! This is available in a Blu-Ray/DVD collector’s edition from Scream Factory.
This was one that was filming at the same time as THE BURNING and also loosely based on the “cropsy” legend, but MADMAN has always held a special place in my heart because it was made and shot on Long Island which is where I’m originally from! This campfire tale tells the story of “Madman Marz,” a local farmer and drunk that was abusive to his family, and got into bar brawls regularly, one of which cost him the tip of his nose! One night, for no rhyme or reason, he hacked up his family with an ax, then the townspeople lynched him for the deed, yet his body was never found! He’s said to still dwell in his old house, and that you should never mention his name above a whisper, otherwise Madman Marz will come and get you! So, what does loud mouth arrogant Ritchie do in the opening scene of MADMAN? He calls his name above a whisper!!! Ironically, this was made before the wave of “slasher” pics that followed in the wake of FRIDAY THE 13TH, and yet it has what would end up becoming some of the traditional tropes. What stands out? Madman himself is only glimpsed here and there through out, but it’s enough to keep you thoroughly creeped out and intrigued. He looks like a big goddamned monster. Also, the score and batch of original songs truly make this a unique relic of its time. I’ve had one friend argue that this is technically a “fall slasher” because you can see breath in the air of the people that talk, and they make reference to Thanksgiving break, but whatever. They shot it off season, which explains the cold, and I always interpreted it as being the tail end of summer because all the kids were getting carted off the next day on a bus. Anyways, I still kick off early summer with this on my queue! It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime, or you can pick up the Blu-Ray from Vinegar Syndrome.
THE FINAL TERROR (1983)
Another campfire tale, with another group of kids out in the woods (looking to harvest some weed), but with a few unique twists and turns make THE FINAL TERROR a bit of an fun oddity. For starters, next to THE BURNING, this is an all star cast including Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Adrian Zmed, Joe Pantoliano and more! It was also helmed by Andrew Davis, who, believe it or not, would go on to direct THE FUGITIVE, ABOVE THE LAW and UNDER SIEGE! The kind souls over at Scream Factory put this out on Blu-Ray, and although original source elements were lost and this almost literally became a lost film, they were able to do a scan from several privately owned collector prints. Bless ‘em. While this may share similarities to the other summer slashers, this one is definitely a bit more unpredictable. The kids find out mid-movie about their potential killer, whom they assume is the mentally challenged Eggar. So, they become pro-active! Smearing mud on their faces, putting up their hair and setting up boobie traps! Then there’s the totally unexpected and wonderful conclusion, something that more than likely came from re-editing the film to be more of a horror movie considering it was shot in 81, and didn’t get released until a recut 2 years later. THE FINAL TERROR is on Amazon Prime (although I’m not sure how good that version looks), but it’s also available on Blu-Ray through Scream Factory in a great presentation.
THE PREY (1984)
This is a film that haunted my friend AJ for years, and he never knew the title. Then, when bringing it up during a convention panel, a sharp audience member immediately pegged it as THE PREY from 1984! Shot in 1978 but shelved until 1984, the tagline promised: “It’s not human… and it’s got an axe!” SOLD! This lost gem is about six campers who suddenly and systematically get stalked by a ghoulish deformed man! What are his intentions? While not as good, I can see being a young lad and confusing this with FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, because of how creepy and similar the killer’s appearance is. Sadly, this one is lost in the VHS era. Hopefully, one of these specialty labels will step up and restore and release it, but if you search the dark recesses of You Tube, you may just find it. (But you didn’t hear that from me.)
JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981)
Yet another “slasher” that was made before FRIDAY THE 13TH but came out after, JUST BEFORE DAWN comes from the great Jeff Lieberman whose diverse career also gave us SQUIRM, BLUE SUNSHINE and SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER. This one sees five campers go out into the woods, even after getting a warning from Roy McLean (George Kennedy!). Out in the forest is a hideous, giant machete wielding maniac, but there’s an interesting twist to this particular killer. The music is sparse, and the silence is what adds to the tremendous creepiness of the whole thing. Full on horror scenes, both with the killer or that involve stalking, have no soundtrack, just screams, which makes the whole thing incredibly unsettling. And while Gregg Henry is primed to be the lead, there is no “final girl” quite like Constance (played by Deborah Benson) who steals the show. The finale is a jawdropper, for sure! This one’s available on Blu-Ray through Code Red DVD.
SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
Ah yes, it’s time for one of the obvious classics, 1983’s sleaze-tastic SLEEPAWAY CAMP! I had initially intended to recommend Michael Simpson’s campy 1988 follow-up SLEEPAWAY CAMP II, just because it’s over-the-top and fun, but really, there is no genre movie like the original SLEEPAWAY CAMP, which makes it mandatory viewing every summer. The shy and practically mute Angela is going to sleepaway camp with her loud-mouthed, rambunctious cousin Ricky. The kids are cruel, and the adults are even worse, but when a series of gruesome murders start befalling people at the camp, could the vicious killer be one of these two kids? Look, a pedophile gets burned with a giant pot of boiling water, another kid dies on the crapper when a nest of angry bees are dropped on him, and the finale, as I’m sure you’ve either heard about or had spoiled for you, is one for the horror history books. There is nothing quite as vile and awesome as SLEEPAWAY CAMP! All three films are available on Blu-Ray through Scream Factory. For those of you that subscribe to Shudder, you can watch it there too!
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2
Well, I feel if we’re going through summer slashers, we can’t leave out the most successful series of all time, FRIDAY THE 13TH! Every year, I go through different FRIDAY’s being my personal favorites, but in going with the tone and spirit of all of the above selections, I think FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 will do the trick. I mean….
See?! Before he donned the infamous hockey mask, Jason was absolutely terrifying in this entry of the FRIDAY franchise, especially in the final 15 minutes.
I’m quite surprised that most of these titles haven’t been remade yet. Especially THE BURNING, considering the Weinsteins involvement with sequels and remakes through Mirimax and Dimension. You know what I’d love to see? A movie where all these killers were in the same “shared universe!” Screw Universal’s attempt at the Dark Universe! I’d rather see a summer “slasher” that featured freakin’ Madman Marz, Cropsy, Humongous, the mutants from Just Before Dawn and more! It writes itself!
Well, that team-up film in the “Slasher-Verse” may be a far fetched pipe dream, but all of the above titles do exist.
So, break out the marshmallows, hot dogs, and beer; fire up some smores around the fire and get “slashing.”
It’s the summer, after all!