Thursday, July 28, 2022

Census Bloodbath: 1984 Post Mortem

Phew! Somehow we've made it through another year of my project to watch and review every single slasher movie from the 1980s. With 1984 down for the count, we are now exactly halfway through this marathon! Here is my breakdown of the best and worst of the year that is now blissfully in the rearview mirror.

I watched a total of 28 slashers from 1984, as listed here. While there is always the chance that more research will unearth some ancient VHS tape that I missed while compiling this list, I have composed at least four rounds of intensive and exhaustive research over the years, so we can be reasonably certain I've picked up on all the ones that are at least available to the public in any real form. 

1984: Post Mortem

This is the part where I address the overall trends of the year, but 1984 is such a random grab bag it's pretty difficult to parse out. Really, all this points to is the fact that the slasher was dying an ignominious death by this point in the decade. Most of what we got was either rigorous formula films that were late to the party (like The Mutilator and Silent Madness) or bizarre attempts to graft the slasher onto another genre entirely (Evil Judgment, The Dark Side of Midnight, Disconnected, Blind Date).

We won't begin to see the effect that the release of Elm Street had on revitalizing the genre for some time, coming as it did right at the end of the year. Other than that, the only real "trend" here is the fact that, while the year lacked too many particular masterpieces, it also failed to scrape the bottom of the barrel, with most films turning out to be middling. While I wish there were more out-and-out great films here, at the very least this situation is certainly better than slogging through the muck of Z-grade video garbage for hours and hours.

The Five Best Slashers of 1984

#5 Innocent Prey

Innocent Prey was a real surprise! An Australian slasher starring iconic Halloween victim P.J. Soles, the film takes an approach that Alex Garland's Men is probably jealous of, detailing a woman's move to Australia to escape the memory of her abusive serial killer husband, only to find herself in the hands of an obsessive landlord. The first half is considerably superior to the second, but it's an excellent first half, full of intense scenes that ratchet up the sense of domestic terror.

The Initiation is part of the hallowed "sorority slasher" tradition, and while other entries may outshine it, it is gleefully bloody and tawdry, and boasts a delectable soap opera sensibility that is lent great gravity by the presence of Psycho star Vera Miles.

#3 Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night is a bit of a nasty one, and far from what anyone might imagine when they hear "movie about a killer Santa." But the exploration of what makes a killer isn't entirely uninteresting, and the killings themselves are top shelf.

#2 Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is the platonic ideal of the 1980's slasher film. The dead meat teenagers' antics are engaging in an observational, John Hughes-y way, to just enough of a degree that you regret them being murdered, but not so much that you can't gaze in goggle-eyed awe at Tom Savini's excellent gore effects. It's sleazy, finding as many half-assed ways to get women to take their tops off, it's packed with incredible deaths, and it has two actors who would go on to be stars: Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover. It's not a perfect film, but it's a perfect slasher.

#1 A Nightmare on Elm Street

Well then, what could beat a perfect slasher? A perfect film, that's what! OK, "perfect" might be a strong word. Elm Street shows its seams in some of the acting, but as far as what is shown onscreen, it is both completely innovative and absolutely terrifying. Wes Craven's masterpiece brings us directly into contact with the stuff of nightmares, and deservedly changed the game by doing so.

The Five Worst Slashers of 1984

#5 Shadows Run Black

The epitome of "go girl, give us nothing." It's just an excuse to trot out naked breasts onscreen, with anemic kills and a nonexistent story. Even the pleasures of watching a young Kevin Costner slumming it pale in the face of how little he actually appears in the movie.

#4 Fatal Games

While the idea of Olympic hopefuls being murdered with their own equipment is a great organizing principle for a slasher, the execution here is pitifully bland. The kills are nondescript and while the movie is tolerable for the most part, it has the indecency to end on what is perhaps the worst trans killer plot twist in a subgenre that is replete with reprehensible examples of the same.

#3 Blood Theatre

An absolutely incompetent film, from audio recording to cinematography to acting and all the way down to foley. The "plot," which consists of three blank-faced teens wandering through an old theater, fails to be livened up with a heap of unoriginal kills, only one of which is visually interesting in any way.

#2 The Dark Side of Midnight

The reason this film isn't at #1 is the fact that it's ever so slightly on the right side of good-bad. It's an absolute bore, following a variety of mustachioed men sitting in offices discussing brutal slayings that the audience doesn't get to see. However, the lead character is an extremely obvious self-insert role for the director-star, positioning him as a cross between James Bond and Fabio, and I love the sheer audacity of the whole thing.

#1 Satan's Blade

Satan's Blade certainly tries to do something, folding a surprisingly adult drama into its bifurcated slasher plot. However, that's not enough to overcome the terrible acting and slew of boring stabbings.

1984 Body Count: 251 (including 9 decapitations and 13 slit throats)

This is an average of 8.96 kills per movie, a staggering number that is .71 higher than the previous leader, 1981. 

Highest Body Count: Zombie Island Massacre (19)

This is more a side effect of the movie having a cabal of killers than it actually being interesting in any real way.

Lowest Body Count: Calendar Girl Murders (3)

That's about what you can expect from a TV movie, though when you're grading on that scale it's a pretty solid body count, all told.

Five Best Kills

#5 The Weight Room, Silent Madness

Don't tell me you thought "woman hanging upside down having a rope attached to a barbell tied around her neck before the barbell is thrown out the window" wasn't going to make it. This is some Happy Birthday to Me-ass shit.

#4 Santa at the Urinal, Don't Open Till Christmas

What's a bit of holiday dick trauma among friends? The gag where a Santa's penis is cleaved from his pelvis, causing blood to spurt in the urinal, is in such delirious bad taste that it's irresistible.

#3 The Motel Bathroom, Innocent Prey

One of the most perfectly shot murder sequences of the year. It places you resolutely in the perspective of PJ Soles as she witnesses her husband's bloody secret. She thinks she's spying on him cheating on her in the bathroom as he has sex with a prostitute pressed up against the window, but she can spot him grabbing a straight razor in the mirror behind them, the bloody result of his actions being displayed when the woman's body drops into view in front of her. It's an excellent and chilling bit of deep focus composition that allows you to discover information at the exact second the character herself does, in a dastardly elliptical way.

#2 Doug's Shower, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

It was hard to choose just one from this movie, but that foley. Yowza.

#1 Tina's Bad Dream, A Nightmare on Elm Street

The murder that kicks of Elm Street is also the one that provided the shot of adrenaline into the arm of the slasher that kept it alive through the end of the decade. The surrealistic imagery of this kill (achieved with a marvelous in-camera effect) clashes with the perfectly visceral nature of the gashes that appear on her body. In addition to the sequence being a gorgeous display of pure terror, Rod's presence in the foreground highlights just how impotent the people Tina loves are in the face of this unknowable nocturnal enemy.

Best Decapitation: Silent Night, Deadly Night

Now that's just some Christmas fun. God bless us, every one.

Three Best Final Girls

#3 Janet, Evil Judgment

Canada was just really into positioning sex workers as slasher leads in the mid-'80s, and I am here for it!

#2 Cathy Willis, Innocent Prey

PJ Soles proves that she has the chops to go toe to toe with her Halloween co-star Jamie Lee Curtis in the Final Girl department. 

#1 Nancy Thompson, A Nightmare on Elm Street

Clever, driven, and only thwarted by the idiocy of those around her, Nancy is iconic for a reason. Also, the grey streak she acquires later is a look!

Three Worst Final Girls

#3 Pam, The Mutilator

Now, she's certainly not as annoying as the awful people who populate the film around her. But Pam takes the Uptight Virginal Survivor trope one step too far towards annoying, literally arranging a chore wheel for her friend group's beachside getaway.

#2 Jennifer, Blood Theatre

The vacant acting and poodle haircut aren't enough to distract anyone from how absolutely useless this Final Girl is at actually getting the job done.

#1 Kate, Don't Open Till Christmas

I guess I'm just mad at Kate for being withholding, because she keeps solving major segments of the mystery offscreen and only tells us about it later. Why, Kate?

Four Best Killers

#4 David, Blind Date

Did I only include him because he wears a Speedo in his final confrontation with our hero? Yes, yes I did. Picture unavailable, tragically. Buy the Blu-Ray.

#3 Pera Mitic, Strangler vs. Strangler

The Yugoslavian Norman Bates is an absolute riot, and his oddball energy does wonders toward buoying the film's comic tone throughout the runtime.

#2 Freddy Krueger, A Nightmare on Elm Street

Long before he became a villainous stand-up comedian, Freddy still played with his food. The way he relishes how terrifying he is just makes his inexplicable M.O. even creepier.

#1 Jason Voorhees, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Look, Freddy won Best Kill and Best Picture, rightfully, but you gotta hand it to the big lug. Jason is an iconic figure of the slasher genre, and he executes some of his best work here, along with gaining the iconic nick in the corner of his signature hockey mask.

Four Worst Killers

#4 The Cartel, Zombie Island Massacre

Even though the fact that the killer is a cartel seeking an undercover DEA agent is a wonderfully ludicrous twist, the faceless emissaries of said cartel just don't have any personality.

#3 Philip, Innocent Prey

The second killer in Innocent Prey can't help but suffer from diminishing returns. He's basically an Australian Phantom of the Opera with access to a Sliver's worth of hidden cameras, and it's goofy as hell.

#2 Howard Johns, Silent Madness

While the film ain't half bad, Silent Madness' weakest link is the look of the killer, who looks like he fell asleep while wearing his reading glasses on the beach and got a gnarly sunburn.

#1 Diane Paine, Fatal Games

We all know the '80s were transphobic, but having her voice suddenly get deeper when she reveals her identity is some evil Ace Ventura nonsense.

Handsomest Lad: Doug, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Look at those cheekbones! I'm jealous. I totally get why Jason would want to smoosh them against the shower wall.

Best Location: The Inititation

The massive, insular high rise mall has everything: A variety of locations for our Meat to be menaced within, an inherent sense of still being trapped in a single space, and just a super cool look that can't be denied.

Best Title: A Nightmare on Elm Street

OK, maybe I was kind of at a loss for solid contenders. However, I love the fact that the title here is foregrounding the suburban mundanity of the world it takes place in, highlighting the film's creeping insistence that the trappings of middle-class society can't save people from having their sins fall on their heads.

Three Best Costumes

#3 The Penis Suit, The Initiation 

Shantay, you stay.

#2 The Crop Top, A Nightmare on Elm Street

Look, the less we talk about Johnny Depp, the better. But a look is a look.

#1 I <3 My Dentist, Blind Date

Delightfully baffling. Do I love Blind Date? I think I might.

Best Poster: The Initiation

Such a good tagline! Such a good combination of incoherent images into something inherently menacing. Also this is probably the single movie poster that's easiest to read as someone masturbating, so there's that.

Best Tagline: The Mutilator

That's good shit, The Mutilator.

Best Song: "Beogradski Davitelj" Strangler vs. Strangler

The New Wave apparently hit Yugoslavia hard, and I'm so grateful for that. This song is actually genuinely quite good, like I'm not being ironic even a little bit.

Best Score: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Thank you Charles Bernstein for providing Freddy with his iconic cue, but also for coming up with creepy incidental music that would be equally at home in a Pet Shop Boys instrumental break.

Elite Champion Dialogue: “You've come to the right place. Or person. Or both." Day of the Reaper
Word Count: 2305


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Brian! Hopefully it won't take me another entire decade to FINISH this damn thing!