Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
I first saw Dark Night of the Scarecrow when I was nine years old and, appropriately enough, it was on TV. It used to be that not every made-for-TV movie made for network television was terrible—just MOST of them were. You used to get gems like this, Duel (Spielberg’s little experiment in fear) and Intruders with Mare Winningham.
Dark Knight of the Scarecrow is one of those movies that’s probably best when discovered, totally uninitiated, at a young age. To get the full effect of how awesome it is, you can’t know anything about it. Still, it aged pretty well today. I saw it again recently and the story is elegant in its simplicity: A mentally handicapped man who befriends a young girl is murdered by some good old-fashioned prejudiced rednecks who think he’s up to no good with that little girl. She gets injured, the simple-minded fellow is wrongly accused of hurting her and his murdered while he’s hiding in the clothes of a scarecrow. The rednecks dodge justice and are set free. One by one, they see a scarecrow as a calling card to their inevitable deaths.
Charles Durning stars and is awesome, as always. The performances from all the leads are pretty solid. The movie is spectacularly scary and macabre despite featuring very little on-screen bloodshed. Dark Night of the Scarecrow relies entirely on atmosphere and damn is it good, spooky atmosphere.
Night of the Comet (1984)
However you end up feeling about Night of the Comet probably depends entirely on how you feel about the 80s: Do you think that the Valley Girl soundtrack on vinyl would cause heart palpitations if you found it in a record store for under $20? Or are you one of those people who remembers how every song sounded sort of like it was recorded in a public restroom and you’re glad the cynicism of the 90s came along and wiped that decade’s smirk off of the century?
Night of the Comet’s charm depends entirely on the two leads. Kelli Maroney as Samantha, the cheerleader-outfitted teen, is awesome. She’s sort of like an exaggerated version of what adults probably think all teenagers are like, but when put under pressure ends up kicking ass.
The plot is derivative, but that’s sort of the point. The first 45 minutes or so are absolute camp perfection, and somewhere near the middle begins to drag a little bit. It picks up near the end, but the second reel is the only thing keeping this movie from being a true cult classic.
Night of the Creeps (1986)
Aliens, zombies, ax murderers on their way to a college… it’s all here. Night of the Creeps has it all, and wrapped up in a pretty package with a good sense of humor. In the 1950s, an extraterrestrial spacecraft carrying an experiment housed in a tube accidentally transmits something dangerous to Earth. A young girl is beheaded by an escaped lunatic and her boyfriend has a slug jump into his mouth. Some 30 years later, the havoc of those events finally reaches its climax.
Putting a fun spin on the traditional zombie is irresistible. In this, slugs from outer space burrow in the brains of people, lay eggs and turn them into mindless, dead things that walk around, act violent until their heads finally explode and spew more slugs everywhere which will infect, spread more slugs and so on until the entire planet is consumed by slugs. It’s sort of like if the movie Alien was less subtle, more disgusting and took place in a university.
Night of the Creeps is worth seeing. It’s great to see how many clichés can be worked in and actually carry the plot. Trope after trope is experimented with and while sometimes it doesn’t work, there’s enough imagination on screen to last awhile.
Night of the Demons (1988)
There are two great scenes in Night of the Demons. The first one is an awesome (if horribly cheesy) solo dance sequence lit by fire and strobe light to “Stigmata Martyr” by Bauhaus. The second one involves a tube of lipstick, a prosthetic breast and a magical nipple. Everything else is whatever. Craziness ensues, obnoxious people get their arms amputated by coffins and… you know, the usual.
Part of why Night of the Demons is actually a pretty awesome movie, or at least worthy of a VHS rental in the days of video stores, is the sheer madness of the plot. The makers of the movie obviously had all these scenes in mind that they’d always wanted to do and they just did them and it didn’t really matter if those scenes made in sense in the context of the actual film itself because, screw it, they always wanted to do it. After the insanity that is the titular night of the demons, an old man eats an apple with razor blades stuck in it, but he doesn’t cut up his mouth, his stomach basically explodes.
So, that’s what kind of movie Night of the Demons is. General mayhem with Linnea Quigley in the cast. So, it’s a pretty good time.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Are there any horror fans out here who’ve never seen this movie? I wonder that seriously, because Night of the Living Dead is so iconic, it’s aged so, so, so well, it would be interesting to see if any horror hounds out there have avoided it for any reason. It’s certainly one of, if not the, greatest zombie film of all time.
Night of the Living Dead is like punk rock years and years before punk rock. It was like a big, cynical middle finger to stuffy American values at the time, the war in Vietnam, and the sterilized horror movies that were all the rage. It didn’t pussyfoot around with anything. Straight from the beginning, horror is thrust into the viewers’ faces. Once the action starts, it never lets up and even then, with the horrible and depressing ending, that feeling of dread just follows you when it’s done telling its story. The rest is history. While everyone was expecting some Ed Wood clone based on the cheesy title, they were forced to watch desperate people make desperate decisions and characters you ended up caring about have their intestines chewed on by ghouls.
What I love most about Night of the Living Dead is, well, it’s obviously scary as hell. It’s terrifying. But because it’s so old and it’s black and white and it’s public domain, television networks will just air it on Halloween because it’s free… every year it lives and every year it gets to scare the crap out of another generation of young kids totally unprepared for how truly grotesque it really is.