Saturday, October 31, 2020

Census Bloodbath: 1982 Post Mortem

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1982: Post Mortem
UPDATE 4/21/2022: I have since viewed an additional 5 films from 1982 that escaped my initial round of research. The body count numbers have been updated to reflect this. Had I seen them before I made this list, both Basket Case and Till Death Do Us Part would have been contenders for the #4 and #5 best slashers of the year.

Well, here we are! The end of the 1982 section of Census Bloodbath. This has taken a little longer to get to than one may have hoped (we finished 1981 a cool four years ago), but I'm really trying to buckle down and see if I can't finish this whole thing before it becomes a decade old.

The biggest sense of the year as a whole that I've gleaned from working through it is the feeling that the genre was already preparing to wind down, branching off in a million different directions as producers struggled to find a place for the slasher after such a banner year as 1981. I presume that's how we got a slew of supernatural thrillers (The Slayer, Superstition, The Forest, Ghostkeeper, Blood Song, The Clairvoyant, and Blood Link to name a few) before those became truly in vogue in the post-Elm Street period. We also saw the first entries from new territories like Brazil (Shock: Evil Entertainment), Hong Kong (He Lives by Night), Taiwan (Exposed to Danger), and Mexico (The Icebox Killer).

The sub-subgenre I was most excited to pick up on in 1982 was what I dubbed the "women's picture slasher," slasher stories with female heroines at the helm that were more than just plain old Final Girls. They dealt with traditional women's issues (be it domestic or in the workplace) in the style of a Lifetime movie, but with a lot more murder. I'd like to believe this was a response to the outright misogyny the genre had displayed up until this point, but it's probably just because a lot of them were TV movies, and those tend to focus on the female demographic a lot more. Nevertheless, I'm grateful that films like Fantasies, Exposed to Danger, Hotline, The Seduction, Visiting Hours, and Early Frost were put out into the market, even if I'm only a particular fan of about half of them.

As I've started to notice while this project goes on, there's no way for me to ever fully claim to be done with a year. After I'm finished somebody may unearth some long-lost film reels that I'll have to hunt down after the fact, or a film that originally didn't end up on any of my resource lists will suddenly be reappraised as a slasher movie. That has already happened with 1980 and 1981, and I'll be adding some posthumous reviews to those years, probably once I finish 1989 and can swing back around the horn towards the end of... 2022, at a conservative estimate.

And I also haven't even seen every movie on my original list. The following titles have proven impossible for me to hunt down using all my Internet powers. They are either floating around on VHS somewhere that I can't access, or maybe just lost to time: El Cepo/The Icebox Killer, Till Death Do Us Part, and Devil Returns. If you happen to know a reputable source where I can get my hands on a copy of these movies - physical or digital - drop me a line, won't you? But for now we're as finished as we can possibly be. And hey, 48 films is nothing to shake a stick at.

The Five Best Slashers of 1982

#5 The Clairvoyant

The reason this film isn't even higher is because of the two extremely problematic scenes I highlight in my review, as well as its focus on an annoying cop who does terrible impressions. But nevertheless, Armand Mastroianni's followup to the excellent He Knows You're Alone (which was #5 on my 1980 list, one more and he gets a free pizza) creates a chilling atmosphere of unusual classiness, which breaks out in some alarming, exhilarating bursts of violence that all use the same element (a pair of handcuffs) to increasingly baroque and exciting effect.

#4 Superstition

Even though it has absolutely nothing to do with superstitions of any kind, Superstition does have everything to do with an ancient witch ghost fucking up a bunch of people in wild, entertaining ways. 

#3 Exposed to Danger

Exposed to Danger is unlike any other slasher I've ever seen (except for the final 15 minutes, which are exactly like Friday the 13th). Part meditative seaside character study about a woman released from wrongful imprisonment and trying to rebuild her life, part out-there stalker movie that involves a child eating a spring roll filled with shards of glass, this film pulls no punches.

#2 The Slumber Party Massacre

An absolutely magical slasher perfect for slumber parties. It's a pared-down, elemental story that delights with the wacky vestiges of its original parodic script and feminist subtext (the word "phallic" was invented for this movie).

#1 Visiting Hours

For once the awesome poster belies a high quality movie! Visiting Hours can be hard to watch, but that's because it's not content to merely represent misogyny like any old slasher. It's inherently about it, throwing a feminist pacifist into a whirlwind of violent misogyny in a series of genuinely scary sequences. Featuring a stacked cast including Oscar winner Lee Grant, William Shatner, Michael Ironside, and a nurse character who's an implied lesbian! Hooray!

The Five Worst Slashers of 1982

#5 Death Screams

Nothing happens for twenty minutes, and then nothing happens for fifty minutes, and then the kills are either offscreen or so choppily edited they make no sense. What is there to like?

#4 Wacko

Terrible horror movie parodies that shove in a million pop culture reference in place of jokes didn't start with the Scary Movie franchise, let me tell you what.

#3 Boardinghouse

It's bad because it's a boring movie with characters that are basically anthropomorphic sex dolls who don't even have the decency to be murdered. But it's worse because it's clearly the writer-director-star-probably-caterer's exercise in hiring himself a bevy of girlfriends for a couple weeks under the guise of making a movie.

#2 National Lampoon's Class Reunion

Just when you thought there couldn't be a worse 1982 horror parody than Wacko. John Hughes' first script shows absolutely nothing of the crowd-pleaser he would become. It's bereft of anything remotely resembling comedy, and barely seems to notice that it's parodying the slasher genre because the kills are little delicate wisps of nothing.

#1 Trick or Treats

An underlit, tedious exercise in tormenting an already irritating character with an atomically irritating child that doesn't even have the decency to provide a solid body count.

1982 Body Count: 401 (16 decapitations and 11 slit throats)

That brings us to an average of 7.57 per movie. That's actually the lowest average so far, but I think we can blame the sheer number of movies that hit us this time around, rather than a lack of trying.

Highest Body Count: 17 (The Scorpion with Two Tails)

See? That average shoulda been way higher! Despite the body count, a lot of deaths come in a single gunfight so it's still not exactly a satisfying slasher, sadly.

Lowest Body Count: 1 (Hotline)

You know I'm still mad about watching this in the first place.

Five Best Kills

#5 The Alley (He Lives by Night)

This Hong Kong slasher film could easily be accused of ripping of Argento's Tenebrae if it hadn't actually come out first. But there's certainly heaps of Argento inspiration to spare in this scene where a woman in an alley full of hanging sheets is slashed then strangled with a fishnet stocking. The fabric tangles her up, preventing her escape, her fear peeking through in gashes in the cloth that start to stain crimson with spreading blood. It's a high energy, manic piece that's stunningly beautiful and quite a way to open a movie.

#4 Repainting (Tenebrae)

Speak of the devil. Argento himself steps in with an almost Monty Python-esque scene of a woman getting her arm severed, spraying a crisp white wall with a dazzling arc of red blood like an interior decorator gone mad.

#3 The Car (The Clairvoyant)

The killer in The Clairvoyant uses a pair of handcuffs as his calling card, and the use of that same element over and over could easily become boring. It never does, when the kills are as high octane as the one where a woman wakes up cuffed to the wheel of a car with a brick on the gas, desperately attempting to steer with her wrists while the car does donuts in a warehouse before crashing out a window and into the river. It's a playful, energetic scene that is also incredibly harrowing and intense to witness.

#2 Phone-splosion (Murder by Phone)

Now, this one is pure cotton candy fun. The killer in Murder by Phone has invented a device that explodes telephone handsets (conveniently the victims always have huge panes of glass behind them to crash into), but it's hard to beat the opening tone-setting kill where a young woman in a subway station is held immobile by a high pitched signal and begins to shakes violently and bleed from the eyes before being launched backwards into an escalator in a plume of smoke. It's the perfect blend of campy 80's high concept mayhem and startling, uncanny imagery.

#1 The Trapdoor (The Slayer)

(only watch until 4:40 on that clip by the way, as if you needed my prompting)

The Slayer is a movie that probably would have gotten a 3/10 or a 4/10, but this scene alone, at about the halfway point, makes it a full 6/10. It turns a standard spooky attic scene into a gleeful fount of gore and shocking intensity, utilizing the attic trapdoor in a way I've never seen before in the hundreds of these movies that I've consumed.

Best Decapitation: Superstition

You know what's better than a regular severed head? A severed head in a microwave that explodes.

Three Best Final Girls

#3 Carla Webber (Fantasies)

A female soap opera showrunner is a character we've never seen in this type of movie before, and likely never will again. Suzanne Pleshette breathes immensely likeable, earthy life into this can-do, inspiring female role model who kicks ass and makes a great show despite everyone starring in it dropping like flies around her.

#2 Deborah Balin (Visiting Hours)

Deborah is a staunch feminist, so much so that it draws the attention of the killer upon her, and though she is challenged in her pacifistic beliefs, her belief in the humanity and dignity of women is unshaken, and added to by her own heroic actions.

#1 Trish, Courtney, and Valerie (The Slumber Party Massacre)

The second most obvious vestige of this film's original intent as a feminist parody of the slasher genre is the sheer preponderance of Final Girls, teaming up to chop the killer's drill in half (gee, what could that represent, I wonder) and generally be badass as a team of united women

Three Worst Final Girls

#3 Jamie Douglas (The Seduction)

This was back before our girl Morgan Fairchild discovered camp, and as such it's a tediously hollow character study with hardly a body count to hang its hat on. 

#2 Joan Barnard (The Scorpion with Two Tails)

Even with the revelation that she bears ancient supernatural powers, she can't do anything other than shriek, faint, and wait for a man to show up and move the plot along.

#1 Clarissa Jane Louise 'Keegan' Lawrence (Deadly Games)

Keegan starts off innocently enough, being vaguely capable at settling things following her sister's untimely death, but her sudden transformation at the two-thirds mark into a drunk baby who is only capable of wiggling around, doing terrible impressions, and laughing uproariously at nothing is both inscrutable and extremely irritating.

Four Best Killers

#4 Paul Foley (Blood Song)

OK, OK, the killer himself isn't that interesting, but he's played by Frankie Freaking Avalon! That out-of-the-box stunt casting is worth all the credit in the world.

#3 The New York Ripper (The New York Ripper)

"Serial killer who quacks like Donald Duck" seems like a candidate for the "worst" list, but it's actually pretty chilling.

#2 Aunt Cheryl (Night Warning)

We love a madwoman around these here parts, and Aunt Cheryl is equal parts creepily incestuous, grande dame insane, and live wire compelling to watch.

#1 Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th Part 3: 3-D)

This is Jason's second nomination and second win, following his mother Pamela's appearance on the charts in 1980. I've managed to ignore this mediocre Friday sequel so far on the list, but you can't just ignore the film that gave Jason his iconic hockey mask, or the incredible, intimidating physical work that Richard Brooker is doing in this entry.

Four Worst Killers

#4 Harold (Hospital Massacre)

"I'm not Harry, I'm HAROLD," is the most milquetoast slasher killer reveal since the dude in New Year's Evil just kind of showed up looking like a Little League coach.

#3 Madman Marz (Madman)

You suffer right away from being based on the Cropsey legend when the superior adaptation The Burning is just sitting right there. He's poorly lit most of the time he's onscreen performing kills that aren't particularly interesting, especially when they're competing with such epically bonkers scenes as the counselor who hides in a fridge, or the hilarious hot tub sex scene.

#2 Marion (Unhinged)

First, because the killer reveal is improperly shot and written so it makes no sense. Second, because whatever is the case, it's definitely transphobic.

#1 Daddy (The Forest)

I'm not saying I wouldn't be afraid of this man if I ran into him in a dark alley, but he looks more like a beer-swilling football dad gone to seed than a psycho killer roving the woods.

Handsomest Lad: John Jarratt (Next of Kin)

Maybe this strikes me the most more for its comparison with his later role as the grizzled killer in 2005's Wolf Creek, but who am I to question my instincts?

Handsomest Lass: Linda Hamilton (Tag: The Assassination Game)

Two years before The Terminator would make her a star (and Children of the Corn would... not do a lot to help), Linda Hamilton is fresh-faced and stunning in a femme fatale role in this truly bizarre neo-noir about a deadly game of tag on a college campus

Best Location: Cannes, The Last Horror Film

The Last Horror Film was shot guerrilla style during the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, and while the plot is fun on its own, the magic comes from the glamorous on-the-ground look at a film festival it's likely none of us will ever get to go to in person.

Best Title: The Dorm That Dripped Blood

What could be more simple or evocative? It gets extra points for being mentioned in Randy's "college movie" monologue in Scream 2.

Three Best Costumes

#3 Black Boots (Shock: Evil Entertainment)

This one is maybe more interesting on paper than in practice, but I dig the fact that this Brazilian take on the slasher utilizes a black-booted killer in an interesting echo of the Italian black-gloved killer. I don't know what this says about either culture, but it's cool!

#2 Mountie Uniform (Pandemonium)

Pandemonium is the only one of the four slasher parodies of 1982 that gets anything remotely correct. It even goes a little further than that, goofing on the fact that a lot of the best slasher movies are Canadian productions masquerading as American, which is why the cop investigating the killer is dressed as a Canadian mountie. This is what it looks like when a screenwriter actually does their research, cough cough John Hughes!

#1 The Dancing Bear (Girls Nite Out)

I was hesitant to include this under "best killers" because the motive and dialogue of the killer is too bleakly misogynistic, but this is still one hell of a campy-ass outfit that I adore, fitting a mascot bear costume with four edged razor claws, two years before Freddy Krueger would perfect the method.

Best Poster: The Incubus

OK, we all secretly know that Visiting Hours has the best poster (in fact, it's hanging up in my bedroom, looming over me as I type this). But we've talked about that movie enough. And The Incubus almost redeems its abject terribleness with this incredible The Thing-esque design that makes it seem like a sci-fi pulp novel from the 70's rather than a disturbingly rapey John Cassavetes slasher with a good monster for seven seconds.

Best Song: "Midnight" Quintessence (Midnight)

This comes from the Last House on the Left school of juxtaposing hideous violence with peaceful folky music rather than my usual go-to of "there's a party scene with an awesome band," a category which almost had Wacko in the lead, for the record. But this song has been on replay on my iTunes more often than I'd like to admit. It's a surprisingly pleasant melodic tune that is one of the few redeeming factors in a movie I more or less hated.

Best Score: Tenebrae

I really wanted to award the disco theme from Friday the 13th Part 3-D, but not only is Tenebrae the best slasher score of 1982, it's one of the best film scores period. It's dominated by a rattling vocoder hook that earworms its way directly into your bones, standing on its own as a piece of instrumental music as well as perfectly complementing the vivid, often surreal imagery the film delivers.

Elite Champion Dialogue: "The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a water bed at the same time." (Pieces)

Although, even though it doesn't read quite as well on paper, you know the real Champion Dialogue from Pieces is...

Word Count: 2944


  1. Looking ahead,1983 feels almost idiosyncratic for the genre. Outside Sleepaway Camp, basically all the franchises that endured from the slasher movement are absent. F13 took the year off, Halloween went on hiatus for several years, we were still a year away from Nightmare and several years from TCM coming back.

    Unless we're counting Boogeyman II as an entry in a major franchise...

    1. Yeah 1983 is distinctly indistinct in that way. We did get some good ol’ Psycho II though, but that’s by far the highest profile movie among the lot.

  2. You know, I've never watched any of the Psycho sequels. I don't even know what the basic shape of them are. Maybe I should rectify that one of these days.

    1. I enjoy all of them to one degree or another (not counting the remake, never seen it) - but Psycho III is a personal fave

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