In terms of theatrical releases, 1989 marked a year of aquatic horror, major horror franchise sequels, and a lot of Robert Englund at the box office. Overall though, the final year of the decade was pretty light for horror. Notable films like Puppet Master and C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D. went straight to video, and other films like Warlock and Society fell into release limbo until the early ‘90s. The glut of practical effect driven ‘80s horror was coming to an end, and it really showed in 1989. Looking back, it’s interesting to note that we’re slated to receive new adaptations of Pet Sematary and Swamp Thing, almost exactly 30 years later. In order of theatrical release, these horror films are celebrating their major anniversary milestone. How many have you seen?
The first major aquatic horror film dropping into theaters on January 13 was helmed by director Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th). This one followed the experimental Naval facility, DeepStar Six, as the crew uncovers a massive cave system below during the final week of their operation. In it contains a strange, primordial ecosystem, and from it a menacing lifeform follows them back to the facility to wreak havoc. The creature effects are fun, especially the great kill highlighted on the movie poster, but the strongest aquatic horror of 1989 was yet to come.
Released on January 27, this strange horror comedy veered between satire and surrealism. Set in the 1950s, the Laemle family are the idyllic American suburban family. On the surface, anyway. Only child Michael has an overactive imagination, and after accidentally catching his parents having sex, he suspects they might actually be cannibals. He’s not wrong. Michael gets caught in a battle of morality and will, as his parents hope to teach him the family way of eating flesh. Parents stars Randy Quaid.
Yes, I know; The ‘Burbs isn’t horror. But this dark comedy was directed by Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins), and screenwriter Dana Olsen based the story from a simple question – what if his neighbor down the street was a serial killer? Starring Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller, Courtney Gains, and more, there’s a lot of genre vets in the cast. Hanks plays stressed suburbanite Ray, a man who suspects his new neighbors may be homicidal maniacs. The truth is delightfully twisted. This is the type of comedy that horror fans will enjoy, it’s adjacent enough. So, we’re including it.
The Fly II
Following up David Cronenberg’s pièce de résistance was always going to be an arduous task, no matter who picked up the reins. For this sequel, it was The Fly’s original creature effects creator Chris Walas who picked up the directorial duties, based on a story by Mick Garris. Picking up months after the events of the first film, poor Veronica Quaife dies after giving birth to a larval sac. Inside is a seemingly normal baby, who is then raised by the company that funded Seth Brundle’s experiments. As he ages, Martin Brundle (Eric Stotlz) seeks out a cure to avoid following in his father’s mutated footsteps. Walas also handled the creature effects design. It released on February 10.
This aquatic horror movie may borrow heavily from Alien, but it’s still a ton of fun and full of creature effect greatness. Released on March 17, it followed a deep-sea mining crew contending with one monstrous mutagen when a crew member drinks from a flask found on a sunken Soviet ship. Starring Peter Weller, Ernie Hudson, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Hector Elizondo, and Meg Foster, Leviathan also boasts Stan Winston Studios behind the creature effects. It was directed by George P. Cosmatos (Tombstone, Of Unknown Origin). Body horror meets creature feature meets deep sea adventure almost always equals a win.
In 1989, 976 was the 1-900 premium phone number prefix, and the plot themed around it meant you could dial 976-Evil and speak with Satan himself. He’d grant you supernatural powers, but the downside is that it would also turn you into a sadistic killer. Starring Stephen Geoffreys (Fright Night) as Hoax, a bullied teen who uses the hotline to get revenge, 976-Evil marked the directorial debut for Robert Englund. Enjoyment level will vary depending on how much you love Englund, Geoffreys, or ‘80s horror, but it’s definitely dated. It released in theaters on March 24.
Released on April 21, this Mary Lambert directed classic was adapted for screen by Stephen King himself. The result is a pretty faithful adaptation that sees the Creed family descend into horror and destruction when Louis Creed is introduced to an evil burial ground with the power to revive the dead. Lambert delivered pure nightmare fuel in the form of Zelda, and it still remains a standout today. Starring Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby, and Miko Hughes, Pet Sematary is the perennial reminder that sometimes dead is better.
The Horror Show
Another example that Hollywood releases similar movies in close proximity (like DeepStar Six and Leviathan), The Horror Show saw serial killer Max Jenke return from the grave, post electric chair execution, to get revenge on the detective responsible. Starring Lance Henriksen, this horror film released in theaters on April 28. In Europe, though, it was confusingly released as House III: The Horror Show. The better electric-chair-killer-turned-vengeful-ghost movie would follow just a few months later.
The Return of Swamp Thing
Directed by Roger Corman protégé Jim Wynorski, who frequently dabbles in exploitation and soft-core films, The Return of Swamp Thing is a very different beast than Wes Craven’s 1982 Swamp Thing. Adrienne Barbeau’s Alice Cable is swapped out for Heather Locklear’s Abby Arcane, who’s much more fainting damsel here than Barbeau’s tough-as-nails heroine. The flip side is that Dick Durock is a better Swamp Thing in both makeup and performance. This sequel dropped into theaters on May 12. Considering the new DC show scheduled to premier sometime this year, it might be a good time to revisit The Return of Swamp Thing.
Fright Night Part II
Released on May 19, this follow up to Fright Night follows a very similar blueprint as its predecessor but switches up the gender. Now its Charley Brewster, who believes the events of the first film was simply his imagination, that’s become the damsel in distress while his girlfriend Alex and Peter Vincent work to save him. The vampire after Charley is Regine Dandridge, Jerry Dandridge’s sister out for revenge. She’s brought her monstrous henchmen with her. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch), this is a worthy sequel.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
The 8th entry in this franchise took Jason Voorhees out of Crystal Lake and put him on a boat. To Manhattan. The SS Lazarus becomes the new campground for Jason as he slaughters his way through a group of graduating high schoolers. Never mind that Manhattan doesn’t actually come into play until the very end of the movie. The lowest grossing film of the franchise upon release, this one is for the diehards, completists, or fans of camp (that boxing death is the best). It was released in theaters on July 28.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child
The summer of ’89 marked consecutive lows for major horror franchises. Following closely on the heels of Friday the 13th Part VIII, The Dream Child released in theaters on August 11. Set a year after the events of The Dream Master, Freddy Krueger once again sets his sights on final girl Alice Johnson. This time, he decides to get to her by way of her unborn baby. An all new low for the franchise in terms of box office and reception, The Dream Child is frequently ranked among the worst sequels. But we still love Alice.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
On October 13, franchise fatigue really set in hard with the release of Halloween 5. Ignoring the twist ending of the fourth film, which saw young survivor Jamie Lloyd turning homicidal, this sequel saw Michael Myers returning a year later to kill his now mute niece. To make it worse, the sequel also unceremoniously dispatches fantastic final girl Rachel very early on. In other words, this sequel is boring and uninspired, with one of the worst takes on Myers’ iconic masks. Halloween 5 marked the lowest point of the franchise, in terms of box office numbers.
October 27 brought Wes Craven’s horror comedy Shocker to the box office. Mitch Pileggi starred as Horace Pinker, a serial killer executed in an electric chair, who returns from the grave and uses electricity to seek vengeance on the college football star responsible for his arrest. Look for original A Nightmare on Elm Street final girl actress Heather Langenkamp, who cameos as a victim. Craven imbued this film with a serious sense of humor, though it also had a lot of gore trimmed to achieve on R-rating.
A horror anthology with a wraparound that sees two college students attending private lessons from a professor on his Psychology of Fear course. He tells them three tales of terror involving a car breakdown near an old house, teens stranded in a rough part of town with vicious dogs on the loose, and a night operator contending with a stalker. Directed by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat, co-writers behind A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, the most recognizable name in the cast is Marg Helgenberger. After Midnight arrived in theaters on November 3.
The Phantom of the Opera
Also dropping in theaters on November 3 was the gorier take on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel. Jill Schoelen stars as Christine Day, the young opera singer who finds herself the object of a disfigured composer’s obsession. The Phantom is played by Robert Englund. Christine finds herself transported to London in 1885 to discover the origins and horror of the disfigured composer. It didn’t perform well at the box office at all, and the sequel that Englund was contracted for was subsequently canceled.
Originally slated for direct-to-video release, test screenings impressed producers enough to give it limited theatrical release on November 3, a popular day for horror releases in 1989. Terry O’Quinn reprised his role as the creepy Stepfather, this time escaping the asylum and posing as a psychiatrist. He sets his sights on single mother Carol (Meg Foster) and her son Todd (Jonathan Brandis). Horror vet Caroline Williams plays Carol’s best friend Matty, the first to become suspicious of the new man in her friend’s life. This sequel went more traditional slasher in its format.