Tuesday, July 15, 2014

1981: The Best

Finishing off 1981 with a massive top ten.

10. Dead and Buried

This underrated little gem of a zombie movie is a nicely shot, relatively low key affair about a small town that has a terrible secret.  James Farentino is good as the local Sheriff who discovers the secret which revolves around the brutal murder of a man in the opening of the film as well as several other killings.  Jack Albertson is superb as the creepy local mortician who has the ability to restore the dead in more ways than one and the Stan Winston f/x are quite effective.  What's great about this one is that it moves away from the Romero sort of zombie and instead goes for something a little closer to the old time movies from the 40's with a sort of black magic angle that is left refreshingly ambiguous.

9. Stripes

Apart from Groundhog Day, this is Bill Murray's best solo comedy film.  Actually, that's not a really fair assessment as he's joined by a nice batch of comic performers like Harold Ramis and John Candy but the truth is, this is Bill's movie first and foremost.  Stripes is your basic service comedy with Murray and Ramis as two guys who decide to join the army on a whim and of course, the requisite hijinks ensue.  Warren Oates is funny as the drill instructor, Sean Young and P.J. Soles are fun as two MPs the guys romance and I get an especially huge kick out of John Larroquette as a blustery, incompetent platoon leader.  It's a real gem of a comedy.

8. Body Heat

Kathleen Turner is just beyond hot in this engrossing neo-noir film that is more or less a loose remake of the 1944 classic Double Indemnity, at least in terms of the overall criminal plot. Turner plays a seductive temptress who targets lawyer William Hurt and lures him into a plot to kill her rich husband, played by Richard Crenna.  The cast is pitch perfect, especially Turner who delivers one of the most frankly sexual performances I have ever seen.  It's a hell of a debut for her and the film as a whole is just awesome.

7. The Howling/An American Werewolf in London

To be honest, I cant really make a choice between these two so they get to share a space on the list.

First off is Joe Dante's clever, slyly funny werewolf epic about a reporter who goes to a forest retreat to regain her mental bearings after an attack, only to find it is a colony of neurotic werewolves.  Dee Wallace is terrific as the reporter, Robert Picardo is fine as the psycho bad guy and the Rob Bottin f/x, while slightly overused are still top notch.

Equally top notch are the Rick Baker werewolf and zombie f/x for this John Landis classic.  Like The Howling, An American Werewolf in London is in touch with the spirit of the Universal classic horror films, skillfully telling its tale of a young man cursed to stalk London as a bloodthirsty beast with a nice balance between humor and gut-churning horror.

6. Scanners

Scanners is probably the most accessible of David Cronenberg's films, though granted that isn't saying a hell of a lot.  Cronenberg spins an intriguing yarn about a group of troubled telepaths who can kill with a thought.  Dick Smith's gruesome f/x work and Michael Ironside's powerhouse performance as the bad guy really make the film soar, as does the lean pacing and storytelling.  It's not my favorite Cronenberg flick but it's up there.

5. The Beyond

I've written at length about this elsewhere on the site so I won't belabor the point.  This is the best thing Lucio Fulci ever made.  It's tense, silly, gory, creepy and quite simply a work of mad art.

4. The Evil Dead

San Raimi made a hell of a debut with this enjoyably gory flick.  The story is pretty well known: five friends go to a cabin and unwittingly awake something evil in the woods which proceeds to make a gory mess out of everything.  Bruce Campbell is fun as always as the put-upon hero and the film makes every bit of its low budget count.  I kind if like the sequels better, but the original is still pretty damn effective.  The recent reboot is pretty solid as well.

3. The Road Warrior

It hit theaters in the U.S. the following year but given how loaded 1982 was, I decided to give it a prime slot in the 1981 best of the year list. The Road Warrior is a pure and simple, balls to the wall action movie. Mel Gibson is good once again as Max and the action is simply extraordinary.  It just plain works.

2. Escape from New York

In 1981, two pretty important post-apocalyptic action films were released.  The aforementioned Road Warrior and John Carpenter's Escape From New York.  Kurt Russell is great as anti-hero Snake who is tasked with rescuing President Donald Pleasence from the hellhole that is New York.  Carpenter directs everything well as well as contributing a nice music score, the cast is great and the action, while low key is solid.  It's a real classic.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark

You can put him in a overly dark second film, toss him into a rather underwhelming fourth one, but the first Indiana Jones film still holds up as an all time classic.  Great acting from all concerned, Steven Spielberg does maybe his best directing job, John Williams contributes an iconic score and the action scenes are still some of the best ever captured on film.

Whew, what a great year!  1981 was truly a landmark year for cinema.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.