Monday, August 23, 2021

Census Bloodbath: 1983 Post Mortem

So here we are at the end of another year of Census Bloodbath. It's been quite a journey to get here, and I would especially like to thank you all for bearing with me during the period of pandemic/job stress where I was unable to write for *checks watch* seven months.

The thing about agreeing to watch all the slasher movies from the 1980's is that there is no definitive resource handily listing them all. So before we dive in, I leave you all with the caveat that some dusty VHS from 1983 might be discovered in a cave somewhere and I'll have to go back and watch it at some point. In fact, my previous post mortems are all about to be amended as I spend the next several weeks going back around the horn to catch up with some slashers that escaped my detection in my first round of research. But I've tightened up my research and selection process considerably and can say with 95% certainty that we've covered every slasher that fits my criteria from the year of our Lord 1983.

So without any further ado, let's spill the guts of '83 and discuss the best and worst the slasher genre had to offer four years in!

1983: Post Mortem

Wow, the slasher genre was especially terrible in 1983, wasn't it? I'm sure I'll be regretting these words once I dive into the direct-to-video hell of the late 80's, but something just feels off about most of these entries. The MPAA crackdown on the genre was in full swing, and the decline that began in 1982 (after the glut of films from the first two years of the decade) sharply dropped to rock bottom. Plus, not one of the big 80's slasher franchises poked its head out during 1983. In fact, the only films here that have any sort of legacy outside of this year is the decades-later Psycho II, Boogeyman II (which literally nobody asked for, and it was mostly footage from The Boogeyman anyway), The House on Sorority Row which got a remake in 2009, and Sleepaway Camp, which would birth itself an anemic quadrilogy, all told.

While I stand by my top 5, the group as a whole is not an altogether inspiring bunch. There are a couple of interesting trends I've noticed cropping up as the decade marches on, however. 

Interesting doesn't always mean "good." The rise of anti-queer sentiment that would dominate the Reagan era can be neatly tracked through films where queer people are either killers or killed, like Sleepaway Camp, Hanging Heart, A Blade in the Dark, Psycho II (if only because of its continued legacy of transphobia), and Momentos de Prazer e Agonia. At least American Nightmare had a queer character (go Dolly!) who they treated with a modicum of respect. Weirdly, Double Exposure, one of the most misogynistic movies in a misogynistic genre has the only gay character that is pretty much unimpeachable. Oh, and also we were pretty keen to be racist against Native Americans this year as well, if Scalps and Sweet 16 have anything to say about it.

In exchange for the vigorous homophobia, we at least also got a glut of films willing to depict bare male flesh hither and thither, so at least there's that. And one absolute positive (though the movies mostly range from unremarkable to unwatchable) is that the world was starting to come together around the slasher, and we got our first entries in the genre from a lot of new territories including Belgium (The Antwerp Killer), Austria (Angst), Sweden (Blödaren), France (Ogroff), England (The Last Night), and Brazil (Momentos de Prazer e Agonia). It's a small world, after all.

The Five Best Slashers of 1983

#5 Deadly Lessons

I feel like there's always at least one TV movie waiting in the wings of every Census Bloodbath year to be absolutely delightful. Sure, the kills pretty much have to be either bloodless or offscreen, but that's kind of what we were getting in the theatrical entries around this time anyway. And Deadly Lessons brings a jam-packed cast (Ally Sheedy! Nancy Cartwright! Bill Paxton! Larry Wilcox! Donna Reed!) to a delightful soapy story of the murderous goings-on at a girls' school where everyone is a red herring and did I mention Donna Reed is there?!

#4 10 to Midnight

10 to Midnight is a bizarre hybrid of the action-thriller and the slasher, much like the previous year's Silent Rage, only instead of Chuck Norris we get a sleepwalking Charles Bronson. I know I'm not exactly selling it, but that combination of subgenres makes this a hotbed of the weirdest impulses of mid-80's filmmaking, and the film is full of odd fillips and weird blind alleys that couldn't have existed outside 1983. Oh, and did I mention the killer is a hot dude who runs around naked? Yeah, I love this movie.

#3 Psycho II

Richard Franklin's Hitchcockian masterpiece Road Games from 1981 got him the gig to helm the long-awaited [sic] sequel to Psycho, and he's such a mastermind he actually made it good, which is something literally nobody could have expected from a sequel to a horror classic that only exists to capitalize on the popularity of the cheap rip-off films it inspired.

#2 Sleepaway Camp

Sleepaway Camp has a complicated history with its queer audiences, but it's nevertheless a schlocktacular camp-fest with creative kills, a dynamic storyline, the backbone to actually murder children, and also James Earl Jones' dad is there! 

#1 The House on Sorority Row

Not only is The House on Sorority Row the best slasher of 1983, it's one of the best slashers of the entire damn decade. The gore isn't quite there, save in one or two key moments, but it's a deliciously high-strung tightrope act of tension, as a group of sorority girls must hide the grisly remains of their house mother during a party. It's a splendid splash of Hitchcockian terror that actually does it better than the explicitly Hitchcock-themed movie at #3, features my new favorite 80's band 4 Out of 5 Doctors in an extended live music performance, and dumps you into a psychotropic nightmare sequence in the third act. What's not to like?

The Five Worst Slashers of 1983

#5 The Antwerp Killer

The Antwerp Killer is under an hour long, and yet it felt like it took a year off my life. It's a haphazard collection of shots that only intermittently cohere into actual scenes.

#4 Blödaren

Blödaren might be more coherent than The Antwerp Killer, but that coherence is in service of one of the most boring, rote slasher films ever conceived. The later, rinse, repeat approach to the body count has never been more tedious than when these Swedish rockers wander into house after house with identical "creepy" production design, then peel off one by one to be murdered without sharing a character trait among them.

#3 Mountaintop Motel Massacre

I do love a "madwoman tears through people in an isolated setting" film, but the kills are so deeply noncommittal and poorly executed that it drains all the energy out of this supremely boring collection of half-assed tropes.

#2 Killing of the Flesh

This movie is far more interested in depicting its characters having sex than having anyone murder anyone else. This giant cast is ripe for some And Then There Were None mayhem, and yet almost none of them die. They do have lots and lots of boring sex though.

#1 A Night to Dismember

To be fair, A Night to Dismember is assembled from the footage that remained after a disgruntled film technician destroyed most of the reels. To be unfair, they shouldn't have asked anybody to watch it. 

1983 Body Count: 242 (9 decapitations and 6 slit throats)

That's an average of 7.56 per movie, which is about on par with every year we've done so far (except 1981, which broke the needle at 8.25).

Highest Body Count: 18 (Boogeyman II), although 8 are flashbacks to the original film, so if we're counting contiguous kills, then the number is 17 (Skullduggery).

Lowest Body Count: 3 (Angst, The Antwerp Killer)

Angst justifies its low body count by being absolutely bone-chilling. The Antwerp Killer... does not.

Five Best Kills

#5 The Triple Sex Kebab (Skullduggery)

There's literally nothing good about Skullduggery, so of course this fun kill has to be compromised by the fact that it begins as a threat of sexual assault, but the one-upping of Friday the 13th Part 2 and Bay of Blood's sex kebab must be respected.

#4 The Floating Coffin (Frightmare)

I'm gonna be honest. This one pretty much only made it because there is a major dearth of good gory deaths this year. But a girl being slammed repeatedly by a giant floating coffin being used as a battering ram is at least something you're not gonna get anywhere else.

#3 The Vanity Kill (A Blade in the Dark)

This kill has a lot of skin-crawling beats and moments of terror, but it begins with the woman's hand being pinioned to a counter with a kitchen knife, and watching her struggle and strain against the blade while her hand threatens to split in half is... disturbing.

#2 Ruining Miles' Smile (Psycho II)

One point for including a famous actress in her past-her-prime era so she was willing to do pretty much anything. Another point for the fucking incredible image you see above you.

#1 The Fountain Drop (Mausoleum)

Mausoleum was a mostly fun early entry in the supernatural slasher realm, and this kill where a man is telekinetically dropped off a balcony and onto a mall fountain is the most fun it has with its outré gory style.

Best Decapitation: The House on Sorority Row

A severed head is only as good as the receptacle it's dispensed into, and a toilet is such a wonderfully perverse place for it.

Three Best Final Girls

#3 Louise (American Nightmare)

American Nightmare is a film that astonishingly treats sex workers (and queer characters) like human beings, and Louise manages to be a stock "stripper with a heart of gold" character who proves that the two qualities aren't mutually exclusive. She doesn't need to stop being a stripper in order to prove her worth as a human, and I just think that's neat.

#2 Marci Burke (Sweet 16)

Dana Kimmell, who had her first turn as a Final Girl in the previous year's Friday the 13th Part 3-D, puts on the hat again as the Nancy Drew-esque teen sleuth who's out to crack the case. I've chosen to find the slathering of rouge they use to make her look like a pre-teen delightful.

#1 Stefanie Aggiston (Deadly Lessons)

OK, maybe 1983 didn't have much in the way of Final Girls, but it did have its share of Nancy Drews! Unfortunately the film drops the whodunit angle for the third act, but Stephanie and her team of gal pals drive a lot of the fun of the first two acts with their Scooby Doo Gang antics.

Three Worst Final Girls

#3 Jun (Sketch)

This one is really just about wasted potential. Sketch might have been actually great if they had made Jun the protagonist and focused on her separating her post-traumatic hallucinations from the reality of being stalked by a killer. But instead the film focuses on her husband, a bunch of rowdy annoying teens, and shoves her offscreen for the entire third act, not even depicting the attack that hospitalizes her, which should have been the crux of the film.

#2 Marília (Momentos de Prazer e Agonia)

Marília is much too busy helping her ladyfriends shower to notice that there's a killer around. That's what you get for being the Final Girl in a softcore slasher.

#1 Christie Parson (Mortuary)

Prazer e Agonia might actually be a softcore slasher, but Mortuary gives it a run for its money, because all it asks it Final Girl to do is wander around in a gauzy nightgown. She isn't even an active player in the third act. In fact, she is presumed dead until about 15 seconds before the end of the film. What an absolute botch job.

Four Best Killers

#4 The Killer (Sledgehammer)

Sledghammer is a ridiculous bad movie, but that mask though! And the killer's impossibly tall stature gives him a leg up (literally) in being imposing in spite of everything around him.

#3 Conrad Radzoff (Frightmare)

Another place where Frightmare wouldn't have been included if its peers were any better, but hey! Can't go wrong with an undead Vincent Price knockoff hamming it up in a giant manor house.

#2 Norman Bates (Psycho II)

Even though [SPOILERS] he's not the killer for the bulk of the murders in the movie, you can't turn away one of the big guns!

#1 Warren Stacy (10 to Midnight)

He's naked while he kills. How many times do I have to tell you this before you understand?!

Four Worst Killers

#4 The Samurai (Blood Beat)

This incredible traditional samurai outfit would have easily landed its killer on the "best" list if he wasn't constantly surrounded by wobbly wobbly 80's light effects that made it impossible to gaze upon his glory.

#3 Elliot Scott (Hanging Heart)

This killer is Too Gay To Function, as in, he's a homosexual so he must be psychotic, obviously. Whee.

#2 Adam (Skullduggery)

You know that fun thing where you based your entire incoherent anti-D&D propaganda slasher around a charisma black hole? Yeah, don't do that again.

#1 The Bleeder (Blödaren)

The Bleeder has no real backstory (at least not a good one), no real mystery, and really just looks like a rejected Chris Elliott character running around bumping off Swedish rockers.

Handsomest Lad: Barry Wyatt, Hanging Heart

Hanging Heart might ultimately be homophobic in its messaging, but much in the way of old biblical epics that could show all manner of debauchery as long as the people doing it were punished in the end, we get so much delicious homoeroticism to contend with before the ultimate sucker punch.

Handsomest Lass: Lynda Day George, Mortuary

(Right) You just gotta love a woman who is only seen at bedtime and sporting a full soap opera face of makeup.

Best Location: The London Bridge, Olivia

Olivia was shot both at the actual London Bridge and the London Bridge replica in Lake Havasu City, and the magic of location really does lend a sheen of elegance that the movie certainly doesn't deserve.

Best Title: A Night to Dismember

C'mon. It's cute!

Three Best Costumes

#3 The Jingle Bell Legwarmers (Blödaren)

Hot tip: When you're running from a killer, maybe take off the legwarmers with the jingle bells sewn in, so he can't hear your every step.

#2 Baseball "Uniforms" (Sleepaway Camp)

No comment.

#1 The Hag Mask (Curtains)

It's an iconic image for a reason. A splendid outfit that goes with everything, but especially a wickedly curved blade.

Best Poster: The House on Sorority Row

Sure, it looks like a romance novel cover and doesn't sell the content of the movie at all, but I love the misty lusciousness of it, and it should never be ignored when a horror poster is dominated by a color that isn't black.

Best Song: "Melissa" Sweet 16

OK, "best" is a strong word. But that part one minute in where Frank Sparks starts crooning "MelissAAAAAAAAAA!" like his throat is going to slide out of his mouth and strangle itself, it's impossible not to sing along.

Best Score: Olivia

The score for Olivia isn't available anywhere, and there aren't even any clips to share that feature it. But alas, it is quite good if you're willing to commit to sitting through all 85 mediocre minutes of it. Jerry Goldsmith's son Joel was the composer here, and he delivers a Carpenterian score that defies logic and the laws of physics, because instead of ripping off Halloween (1978) like all the other slashers out there, he seems to be ripping off Halloween (2018). It's full of aching, droning lamentations and lush orchestral moments that really make you want to call the film "atmospheric" even if nothing else in it is delivering on that level.

Elite Champion Dialogue: "Without people, there wouldn't be... anybody." (Boogeyman II)
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  1. I'm only familiar with Joel Goldsmith via the score for Kull the Conqueror and it suuuucks.

    I wish I liked Psycho II at all (Psycho III is where it's at) and The House on Sorority Row more (it does have its charms), and I should probably, at some point, get around to watching Sleepaway Camp. I really have never heard anyone actually badmouth it despite the (presumably justified) handwringing that spoiled the movie's ending for me somewhere along the lines of nine or ten years ago. I'm sure it's better in Terror Train anyway. (Maybe it's not transphobic, maybe he's just a master of disguise! Maybe not! I don't remember!)

    Anyway, glad you're back and prodigiously productive!

    1. Psycho III is DEFINITELY where it's at, it's just that 1983 was a rough year overall and at least Psycho II has competent people lying around.
      And yes the Sleepaway Camp handwringing is VERY justified, though some people have reclaimed it. It's easy enough to read the film as a treatise against the maniacal way society enforces gender, though that was certainly not the intention of the filmmakers.