The Greatest Year in Horror Film History Part II: 1986

Let me take you back to a better time in history. Imagine that Mark Harmon is People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, the Reagan Administration is illegally selling weapons to Iran and Lionel Richie is dancing all over that ceiling. We can even head over to the neighborhood bookstore and pick up Stephen King’s It, the New York Time’s top selling book of the year. If you’re not the reading type, we can just cuddle up with our Pound Puppies and watch ALF or Pee-wee’s Playhouse. That’s right, Fiends, it’s the middle of the 1980’s and the livin’ is easy.

Last week we discussed the films that made 2017 the #3 Greatest Year in Horror Film History. This time around we are looking at the year that came in at number 2. Here’s a quick recap of the method behind the madness:

   

OUR METHODOLOGY OR: HOW WE LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE EXCEL

We took a look at all of the horror films from 1970 to 2017. (The early 1970’s were a starting point for us because A) We needed one and B) The frequency of quality and iconic horror films really picked up during this time).

To determine a “score” for each year, we took a look at 5 different rating sources-

  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer Score
  • RT Critic’s Average Rating
  • RT Audience Score
  • RT Audience Average Rating
  • IMDB Viewer Ratings

– These ratings were averaged to find the “Fiend Score” for each film. We then combined the Fiend Score of the top three horror films from each year to give that year a total. I admit, the selection of the top three films was sometimes difficult. It was necessary to take other factors into account, such as the size of release, box office total and iconic status to determine which films were included in the top three. These three films were totaled and given an official number which we are calling its “NOFS Score”. These NOFS Scores ranged anywhere from 142 (Ouch) to 255.

So, now that you’re all caught up, let me introduce you to the #2 Greatest Year in Horror Film History:

The Greatest Year in Horror History

PART II- 1986

NOFS Score- 243

Most horror fans associate the 1980’s with one thing and one thing only, the slasher film. It’s true that moviegoers were treated to a steady diet of slash and gash, but by 1986 audiences were ready for something different. We were already on our sixth installment in the Friday the 13th franchise and we have already met both Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger twice. Add to that all of the copy-cat films, both good (Sleepaway Camp, Slumber Party Massacre, The Burning) and bad (Chopping Mall, Final Exam), and you have a market flooded with films full of expendable teens being hacked to pieces. That’s why you start to see a significant increase in audience enjoyment and engagement with non-slasher films in the mid-80’s. Here are the three films with the highest Fiend Scores from 1986, and they are all three examples as to how the movie going public was turning away from the slasher film:

 

The Greatest Year in Horror Movie History

#3- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Directed By: Tom McNaughton
Written By: Richard Fire, Tom McNaughton
Starring: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

Fiend Score- 75

I can hear the chirping birds already… “Henry didn’t see a wider release until 1990, so it shouldn’t be included here!”. First of all, birds are super-weird and secondly, the film premiered at the Chicago international Film Festival in September of ’86 and saw just as many midnight-showings in NYC that year as in its limited release in 1990. So, I’ve decided to include it here as the #3 film of 1986.

Most horror films have uncomfortable sequences peppered throughout their run time. It’s what makes them “horrific”. There are few films, however, that are as disturbing from start to finish as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The film follows the killing spree of Rooker’s Henry and shows how he slowly involves his roommate Otis (Towles) and Otis‘ sister Becky (Arnold). While this synopsis seems pretty pedestrian to most horror fans, it’s not the subject matter of the film that makes it so disquieting.

When the film’s producers Malik B. and Waleed B. Ali gave McNaughton the money to make Henry, they were expecting a slasher much like the ones that came before. What they received, when all was said and done, was the exact opposite. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is an “anti-slasher”. It displays the crimes committed by Henry and Otis with an honesty that was shocking to audiences at the time. The director forced us to watch as these two men raped and murdered with impunity instead of trivializing or fetishizing the violence like slashers are wont to do. By 1986, the public had already been fascinated with real life serial killers, some even going so far as to idolize monsters like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Richard Ramirez. This film is a direct answer to that fascination, showing us all what a real monster looks like. It’s a difficult watch, but it is necessary viewing for every horror fan. Michael Rooker delivers one of the most powerful performances in horror film history and the cold gray muck of the inner-city Chicago setting make this one of the best films of the 1980’s.

 

The Greatest Year in Horror Film History- 1986

#2- The Fly

Directed By: David Cronenberg
Written By: Charles Edward Pogue, David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Fiend Score- 80

David Cronenberg’s The Fly is one of the most entertaining horror films ever made. Jeff Goldblum has never been better as Seth Brundle and the film is filled with incredible practical visual effects that get gloopier and nastier as his Brundle transforms into Brundlefly. His chemistry with Geena Davis’ Veronica is amazing, as well, and invests the audience in their relationship as things begin to go downhill. All of that being said, The Fly turns my stomach in a way that makes it difficult to revisit as often as it deserves.

The body horror isn’t necessarily what bothers me. I watch films like The Thing multiple times a year with no problems, so I can handle gross and disgusting as well as the next person. The Fly brings something else to the table, however, that makes me really uneasy. In other body horror films, the danger comes from the outside, from the eponymous “other”. In this film, however, we bring this horror upon ourselves. If I don’t want to get all gloopy and nasty, then I know to avoid Antarctic expeditions and ads for free medical procedures. This film shows that even someone with the best of intentions can still turn into an inhuman monster. All it takes is a simple mistake.

Brundle starts the film as an unassuming scientist who’s only desire is to aid mankind and to change the world for the better. He admits early on that the company funding his research will own his creation, so there’s very little monetary gain for him. Even so, he makes a dumb mistake (after a classic Champagne-induced overreaction) and completely destroys his humanity. As someone who makes an average of 6,000 mistakes a day, what happens in The Fly is absolutely terrifying.

 

The Greatest Year in Horror Film History- 1986

#1- Aliens

Written and Directed By: James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser

Fiend Score- 88

Anyone who claims that Aliens is not a horror film can go fly a kite!

I’m sorry for the strong language, but it had to be said. Those that say that this film is simply an action movie in space is incorrect and a harsh rebuking is the only way they can be corrected. For the sake of this article, and being correct, I am classifying Aliens as a horror film.

An what a horror film it is! The entire second half of the film is a non-stop roller coaster ride of tension and anxiety. From the moment the Xenomorphs show their faces to Ripley’s climactic fight with the Queen, this film does not let up on the audience. The first film gave us one of the greatest monsters ever in the Xenomorph, and this film gives us dozens of the nasty creatures. What else can someone ask for? There is a ton of great action and adventure within the film, but it’s the evolution of the aliens themselves that make this film so horrifying.

Aliens shows us what can happen to a colony when just one of the creatures is introduced. It shows that we have no chance for survival as a species when put up against an alien that can reproduce and evolve so quickly. It’s this futility that gives the film the impact that it has. The plight of young little Newt, played by Carrie Henn, is that much more dire because we have already been shown what the ‘morphs can do to a colony and a squadron of Space Marines. Couple that with Weaver’s outstanding performance (one of the greatest of all time) and the desperation of the Queen to protect her “children” and you have a film that ranks as one of the finest of all time.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

  • Aliens sports the second-highest Fiend Score of any film we studied. At a total of 88, it ranks behind only a tie between The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and a film to be discussed next week.
  • Wes Craven didn’t have a great year in 1986. His incredible run of The Last House on the Left/The Hills Have Eyes/Swamp Thing/A Nightmare on Elm Street officially ended with 1986’s Deadly Friend. Although it has lower review numbers than his other films, its Fiend Score of 37 is the lowest in his filmography.

Join the Discussion:

So, we have uncovered two of the top three greatest years in horror film history. What do you think about 1986 being ranked as the number 2 year of all time? Join our Official Facebook Group and let us know what your thoughts are. What do you think will be the greatest year in horror? Keep your eyes locked onto Nightmare on Film Street to find out!

Tyler Liston

Purveyor of fine books, films and records by day; Mediocre (but improving) Dad by night.