Over the last fifteen years or so, horror and science fiction films, as well as television shows, have been cashing in on the nostalgia people have for the pop culture of the 1980s. It’s a lucrative marketing tactic, one that works beyond the audience of childhood VHS junkies (just go look at the eBay prices of those NES classic systems from last year).
Luckily, it’s also a tactic that has generated some fantastic works of art.
From cerebral arthouse films like Beyond the Black Rainbow and less-than-subtle satires like Dude Bro Party Massacre 3 to the Spielberg/King inspired Netflix series “Stranger Things,” the influence of ‘80s pop culture has wormed its way back into the cultural zeitgeist and helped shape a generation of filmmakers and their fans.
This obsession with the ‘80s has become so omnipresent that it’s almost impossible to go to the theater without being subjected to trailers replete with neon logos and creepier versions of already creepy Police songs… and I love it.
I’m a sucker for so much of it.
I’ve found myself obsessing over just about every iota of ‘80s film pastiche that gets shoved in my face. And while I could spend the rest of this article beaming over The Void (no, but seriously, check that flick out if you haven’t already) or speculating as to what will happen in the next season of “Stranger Things” (so many Lovecraftian monsters), I’m going to instead champion Neil Marshall’s criminally overlooked and underappreciated 2008 film Doomsday.
Why? It pretty much nailed everything that was great about the horror and science fiction films we loved from the ‘80s.
Okay, full disclosure…
I am a big Neil Marshall fan. I believe The Descent is a masterpiece of modern horror in both the creature feature and claustrophobic thriller genres; Dog Soldiers is a damn near perfect werewolf movie, and he’s directed some of the most badass episodes of “Game of Thrones” to date. The guy is brilliant and knows how to shoot visceral, blood-soaked action like nobody’s business.
And those skills do not go to waste in Doomsday. The film embodies what made ‘80s classics like The Road Warrior, Escape from New York, Knightriders, and Day of the Dead stand the test of time, which is the genre-spicing ethos of “hey, let’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.”
And boy does it stick…
Doomsday takes pride in the batshit amalgam that it is. The film shifts gears between Romero horror to Carpenter sci-fi to medieval insanity in the span of an hour and does so pretty much effortlessly. It feels like walking through a museum of the great films from your childhood that you were never allowed to watch but totally did when your parents weren’t home, only presented with some better special effects and more technical proficiency.
It’s kind of like an HD remake of a video game you loved as a kid.
We see the insane car design from Road Warrior and the straightforward Arthurian translation presented by films like Excalibur or the made-for-TV movie King Arthur (which also stars Malcolm McDowell) bleed into the gore hound-pleasing splatter of [literally any ‘80s horror director] with ease – and damn does it make me feel right at home.
But the devil is in the details when it comes to Doomsday. There are countless nods to great ‘80s films and filmmakers. Some are about as subtle as a dropkick to the face (like characters named Miller and Carpenter or Rhona Mitra’s sweet Snake Plissken eyepatch for instance), but others seem to simply pay homage to the aesthetics. Marshall borrows (if not outright robs) visual style and tone from the aforementioned filmmakers to essentially create a greatest hits movie.
While a lot of ‘80s horror and sci-fi throwbacks being made these days lovingly poke fun of the films to which they pay homage, Doomsday remembers the good times. It wants you to reminisce over how cool it was the first time you saw Master Blaster in Beyond Thunderdome. It wants you to taste that pepperoni pizza-flavored, bile-ridden burp that bubbled up in your throat at the sleepover where you first watched Captain Rhodes be torn apart by an undead horde in Day of the Dead. This is a movie filled with reminders of great moments imprinted in your film buff psyche.
It’s unfortunate Doomsday never found its audience. Perhaps the fact that the film couldn’t decide on one movie to ape is why so many fans and critics didn’t enjoy it. But to me, that’s its charm. It’s not committing to one particular genre like Adam Wingard’s The Guest (a fine film in its own right), which leans heavily on ‘80s horror-thrillers like The Stepfather. Nor does it soak up 16mm film stock like The House of the Devil (another stellar retro film) to emulate that VHS look.
It’s odd, because in our current 140 character, binge-watching entertainment climate (damn, did that make me sound like an old man), a film with such a fantastic mash-up of genres, tones, and themes that keep its narrative propelling feels like it should be a smash hit, but alas…
I know we’ve talked about what a wonderful, forgotten gem Doomsday is on this site before, but I don’t think it can be put on a pedestal enough.