HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981)
Who needs pass the parcel and pink wafers when you suffer from alarming blackouts? Certainly not Virginia, especially as the self-elected 'top 10' at Crawford Academy are being butchered in grotesque ways, with the finger of suspicion pointing right at her. Of course, she could blame a freak accident that left her needing brain surgery and her mother dead.
Directed by J. Lee Thompson of Cape Fear (1962) fame, Happy Birthday To Me refuses to take itself too seriously, with a likeable cast and some inventive murders culminating in a thankfully bizarre final twenty minutes – managing to resuscitate the flashbacks we were forced to endure, which were as meaningful as birthday cards without money inside.
The big reveal may be a little over the top, and the whole party does drag its heels a little bit, but if you fancy seeing someone strangled by a motorbike wheel, another murdered as they're lifting weights, and best of all, death by shish kebab, this little oddity will be right up your street. Just don't expect a party bag.
Maniac was accused by critics of taking the slasher film and its accompanying gore effects to new, unpleasantly graphic heights. We're sure special effects maestro Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead) is really proud of that accolade. Frank Zitto (Joe Spinell) - a man who was abused by his mother as a child - takes out his frustrations on innocent young women. He scalps them and uses their hair to make wigs for his mannequins - everybody’s got a hobby, right?
Maniac was directed by William Lustig (he went on to direct the Maniac Cop series) and co-stars Caroline Munro and Gail Lawrence. Frank Zitto (The Godfather) makes for compulsive viewing as the deeply disturbed psycho of the piece, and it’s interesting to note that just before his death he received financing for a belated follow up to this underrated gem.
Tom Savini is the star of the show, utilising his special effects know-how to gloriously gruesome effect. He even makes an appearance in the film, and quite naturally saves the best showcase of his talent for himself; there’s no denying you’ll be blown away by his relentless commitment to bloodshed and brutality.
Lustig builds suspense throughout, calling on Savini to take over when the time is right with his industrious effects showcase. Maniac is a creepy affair, helped along by a wonderfully twisted lead performance. Talking of twists, it’s that which sets Maniac apart from its contemporaries. Perverse, contorted and drowning in a sea of gruesome imagery, Maniac is worthy of its title.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)
Twenty years ago the supervisors at the local mine were so eager to get to the annual Valentine dance they failed to check on the levels of methane gas. A massive explosion ripped through the mine and five workers were trapped underneath the debris. Harry Warden was the only survivor, the experience drove him insane, and one year later he returned to brutally kill the two men responsible. He cut out their hearts, placed them in candy boxes and sent them to the authorities. Harry was later captured and sent to the Eastfield Asylum for the insane.
Now in 1981, the fun-loving residents of this peaceful mining town are preparing themselves for the first Valentine dance to be held since that fateful night two decades ago. Memories of Warden's murder have long since passed and a group of fun-loving teens are looking forward to cutting loose. However, the night before the event the town mayor receives a bloody heart in a candy box with a poetic warning.
You can forget the recent remake because the original My Bloody Valentine is a vastly superior experience in every way. The group of friends are likeable creations, as was often the case in eighties horror movies, and the plot moves faster than a runaway mine cart. The only available UK release is hampered by severe cuts, but the original version can be found on import, which means My Bloody Valentine is a largely bloodless affair and lacking in token female nudity. The fact that it remains so highly enjoyable can be credited to a killer plot and several well-staged set pieces that really go for the jugular.
If you can track down the unedited version do so, it retains the blood and guts merely hinted at in the UK edition. Despite this tiny criticism, My Bloody Valentine remains a hugely inventive slice of 80s horror, and it’s a shame that the promise of further installments never came to light - I guess that’s why we had to endure so many Friday the 13th sequels.
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988)
A group of teens attend a Halloween party in a spooky funeral parlour, where a monstrous spirit takes possession of the host and suddenly the party becomes a living hell as the terrified teens, pursued by the murderous, demonic villain, try to get out of the house alive.
The spooky mansion takes centre stage and makes the perfect backdrop, while its Halloween theme allows the kids to go in fancy dress, allowing for a titillating spectacle. The make-up on the demons is decent enough, and the cast are clearly having fun.
The 'lipstick' scene is astonishing, the film takes itself seriously enough to stop it from descending into farce (considering the premise that's not bad going), and the set-pieces are handled superbly. There's something very innocent about Kevin Tenney's original, and although the murders aren't as thrilling as those in the remake, it's more of a satisfying watch overall. Watching pretty kids die in all manner of brutal ways has never been so much fun.
HELL NIGHT (1981)
If they manage to stay just one night in a supposedly haunted house, four pledges will be allowed to join the Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity and its sister sorority. While boozed-up, sex-crazed teens outside try to scare the foursome to death, a vengeful monster inside goes one step further...
If you take Hell Night too seriously you will probably switch off as soon as the monster, half-inched from many Hammer films, drags its awkward frame across screen for the first time. This would be a shame because the film is so much fun, complimented by genuine belly laughs and lots of stalk and slash mayhem, even if blood and nudity is surprisingly lacking.
With inventive set-pieces, atmospheric visuals (it helps that all the characters are wearing fancy dress) and a winning location, Hell Night revels in a cast worth rooting for - Linda Blair, after a shaky introduction, is oddly captivating as Marti, and the other protagonists are also endearing, apart from the Harry Potter look-a-like (no magic, and luckily, no tricks up his sleeves).
Hokey, camp, but frightfully good fun from beginning to end, director DeSimone manages to create a film that doesn't piss all over the movie that started it all just three years earlier - John Carpenter's outstanding Halloween. It may not be as brutal or as dark, but get a few friends round and allow yourself to indulge in a horror movie that doesn't need a mask to hide its sinister smile.