2017 marks the 30th anniversary for a lot of horror classics. Box office juggernauts like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Predator, or The Lost Boys still elicit just as much fan enthusiasm now as they did back then. Others may not have accrued the box office numbers, but instead acquired a fervent cult following on home video. Whether big or small, each horror film released theatrically on this list has left an imprint on the genre in some way. 1987 marked a year of iconic villains, amazing franchise sequels, surprising anthologies, a major shift in how we viewed vampire films, and, of course, glorious practical effects. In order of theatrical release, these horror films are worth celebrating their major anniversary milestone.
The major component missing from the 2009 remake was the key that made the 1987 film so chilling; Terry O’Quinn as the titular character. Not only did O’Quinn’s performance earn critical accolades and award nominations, but it gave lead actress Jill Schoelen nightmares for a week after filming the final act. Based on the true story of John List, the dark subject matter snowballs into pure nightmare fuel with O’Quinn’s creepy take on the character. So creepy, that you won’t even notice there’s not much gore. The Stepfather first scared audiences 30 years ago in theaters, on January 23rd.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Released in theaters on February 27, this seminal sequel remains one of the best sequels today. The film was the highest grossing film for the studio that year, and 24th highest grossing film of 1987. Not too shabby. Its 30th anniversary just passed, and in commemoration, Trace nailed exactly why this sequel is so great.
Do noir films get any darker than Satan? Writer/director Alan Parker explores the noir detective film by way of Satanic occult, keeping the horror scares to a minimum while focusing on the creepy journey of Harry Angel, played by Mickey Rourke. It’s an effective tactic that builds to a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud. Atmospheric, well-acted, and full of graphic violence. Robert DeNiro is prone to overacting in his role as Louis Cyphre, though the scene that sees him eating a hard-boiled egg may change the way you think about them forever. This occult detective horror film is now 30 years old as of March 6.
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
A sequel so iconic that it’s been known to replace memories of the original film, at least in terms of tone. Increasing the special effects and injecting slapstick gore makes for the rare sequel that arguably surpasses its predecessor. Even hard to please critic Roger Ebert gave this sequel a favorable review, largely due to the satire. March 13 marks the date that changed how we saw Ashley J. Williams forever. Audiences still can’t get enough; merchandise is still in hot demand. Even a board game based on the movie is currently available for pre-order. I totally want it, too.
Written by George A. Romero, this anthology sequel isn’t nearly as beloved as its predecessor, but it’s still a worthy sequel nonetheless. With Tom Savini playing The Creep in the wraparound, the number of Stephen King based segments dropped from five to three due to budgetary constraints. Old Chief Wood’nhead and The Hitch-Hiker have their detractors, but The Raft proves strong enough to hold up the film on its own. The gruesome deaths by the lake blob makes this sequel long-lasting in memory, even 30 years later as of May 1st.
This PG-13 horror film still holds up as one of the best horror films geared toward a younger audience; serving as a perfect gateway for those looking to introduce their children to the genre. Starring Stephen Dorff in his first film role ever, the plot sees two 12-year old boys battling miniature demons that have emerged from a hole in the backyard. It’s a fun concept lead by very likeable child actors, but the real star of the film is the fantastic special FX. Play your metal records backwards in commemoration of this film’s anniversary on May 15th.
The highest grossing genre film of the year belonged to an Arnold Schwarzenegger starring sci-fi action flick that saw his character facing off against an elite hunter with a moral code from outer space. Upon initial theatrical release on June 12th, critics weren’t so kind though they’ve long since changed their tune. Spawning sequels, crossover films, comics, novels, and games, perhaps it’s only fitting that the franchise is about to come full circle just over thirty years later. Shane Black, who portrayed the geeky Hawkins in the original, is set to release a sequel that he wrote and directed next year. Whether good or bad, it won’t matter; we’ll always have the original, quotable lines, vicious kills, and all.
This wacky horror comedy is full of camp and heart, following a plot that sees two brothers collecting body parts to resurrect ancient goddess Shitaar. I should probably mention that these two brothers are screwballs and rely on the guidance of their smarter uncle, a talking brain in a jar. Originally conceived as a sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast, it was revamped as a standalone B-horror prior to production. Jackie Kong’s movie is so over the top is humor and gore that it’s hard not to love, and Shitaar’s revival doesn’t disappoint. Given a limited theatrical release on July 10th, count yourself lucky if you caught this one on the big screen.
The Lost Boys
Released in the thick of summer on July 31st, this horror comedy shifted the perception of what a vampire movie could be. In short; fun. The original screenplay was conceived more as a Goonies type of vampire movie featuring cub scouts, but we can thank Joel Schumacher for refusing to sign on unless he could change the characters to teenagers. It worked. The group of vampires lead by Kiefer Sutherland’s David may not have been scary, but boy were they cool. The success of this film rests largely on the talented cast, right down to the saxophone guy.
The Monster Squad
Stan Winston creature effects, a classic monsters team up, the discovery that The Wolfman’s gots nards, and kids who love monsters, what’s not to love? I’ve long outgrown the demographic this horror-comedy is aimed toward, and I still want membership to the club. Upon the film’s August 14th release, initial success was lacking. But, like most genre films, it found a huge following on home video. Rewatch for Jonathan Gries take on The Wolfman that feels in line with Universal’s original, and Tom Noonan’s performance as Frankenstein’s monster will break your heart. Bogus!
From a Whisper to a Scream
Also known as The Offspring, this horror anthology marked the last horror film role for Vincent Price. Well, unless you could screwball horror-comedy Dead Heat. Price plays a town historian who relays tales of horror to a visiting reporter. It’s a deliberately paced anthology comprised of four segments all spanning various time periods within the same town. Price also reportedly hated the film, and perhaps its depraved subject matter is to blame. Necrophilia, mutant babies, gory FX, and more keeps this anthology worth revisiting. Its 30th anniversary coincides with its September 4th theatrical release.
Directed by actor David Keith, this joint Italian/American production adapted H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”. Produced by Ovidio G. Assonitis (Beyond the Door) and Lucio Fulci (The Beyond), the film centers around young Wil Wheaton’s character, and also stars his real life sister Amy in one of her only acting credits. While the acting is terrible, and the plot is full of inconsistencies, there’s a lot of gross out effects once the meteorite crash lands on the farm. Mutated farm folk, puss-filled chicken eye sockets, and liquefying corpses almost makes up for the cheesy acting. Originally released in theaters on September 11 under the title The Farm, it was changed to its current, more memorable title upon home video release.
Based on Clive Barker’s novella “The Hellbound Heart”, the studios felt that title was more appropriate for a romance than a horror film. So Barker offered to name the film “Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave.” Luckily, the title didn’t stick, though it did give indication of the trouble Barker would have with MPAA censorship prior to its September 18th theatrical release. The rest, though, is horror history. Iconic Cenobites, hellish puzzle boxes, and a long-running franchise that’s threatened to reboot for years has made the last 30 years fly by for this favorite.
The recent loss of Bill Paxton is devastating, but perhaps the silver lining is that this underrated flick will find a larger audience. Not the first beloved vampire film released this year, but the first to forego a light-hearted sense of humor for a more visceral approach. Katheryn Bigelow’s take on a vampire story went straight for the jugular. While there are numerous great performances, Bill Paxton once again steals the show. As John Squires rightly pointed out, Bill Paxton’s character introduction is the stuff of legend. Though it turns 30 on October 2, this one is worth celebrating now.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2
Originally written and filmed as The Haunting of Hamilton High, Samuel-Goldwyn Company purchased the film and marketed it instead as a sequel to 1980 slasher Prom Night. It’s a move that likely hurt the film upon its October 16 theatrical release, but personally, it’s what caused me to fall in love with the series for the first time. Written by Ron Oliver, this sort of sequel is a clear love-letter to the genre; each character is named after well-loved genre directors. The vengeful ghost of prom queen Mary Lou Maloney is iconic, and the film is worth revisiting for the weird rocking horse scene alone.
Director Jack Sholder’s sci-fi/horror/action mashup didn’t exactly take the box office by storm when released on October 20th, but it’s a solid film that earned positive critic reviews and has since gone on to amass a cult following. The concept sees an alien parasite hiding in human hosts as it commits a violent crime spree across Los Angeles, transferring hosts often when the body wears out. An alien cop with a personal vendetta must team up with a human detective while in pursuit. The alien cop, also sporting human skin, is played by Kyle MacLachlan, who clearly translated some of his character quirks to FBI Agent Dale Cooper in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks just two years later. Considering that Twin Peaks is getting a revival series later this year, that makes one more reason to revisit this underrated gem.
Prince of Darkness
Released in theaters on October 23, John Carpenter took on a possession/supernatural horror film the way only John Carpenter can; by infusing the supernatural elements with theoretical physics and atomic theory, complete with the trademark synth soundtrack. When a mysterious cylinder full of green liquid is discovered beneath an old church, a research team and a priest must team up to prevent the coming of the Anti-God. The fantastic cast is led by Donald Pleasance and Victor Wong, and includes a fun cameo by Alice Cooper as a street Schizo with a penchant for bugs. Look for weird green liquid possessions, Satanic zombies, and a unique mythology wrapped in a metaphysics bow. Definitely not the Carpenter flick with the most wide stream appeal, but it’s an amazing classic regardless.
What’s your favorite 1987 horror film?