Patrick Bromley is Editor-in-Chief at fthismovie.net and host of the F This Movie! podcast. He also contributes to Daily Dead and Blumhouse.com. He loves all kinds of movies. Especially the good ones. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickbromley.
As a lifelong lover of genre movies — horror, action, sci-fi, exploitation — the 1980s were a Golden Age of Greatness. Between the proliferation of genre films getting made within the Hollywood system and the explosion of VHS that demanded a glut of low-budget, sensationalistic titles, so many of the movies I love and continue to watch to this day were released during the decade. By 1987, though, that trend was beginning to wind down, making it the last best year for a certain kind of movie. Some of them, like RoboCop and Predator, were big box office hits and are still rightfully regarded as classics. Some of them, though, fell through the cracks but are no less deserving of our attention. Here are but a few of those movies.
Number One With a Bullet (dir. Jack Smight) I’m a huge fan of both buddy cop movies and the movies released by Cannon Films in the 1980s, so of course I have to include Cannon’s 1987 buddy cop movie starring Billy Dee Williams and Robert Carradine as a pair of mismatched narcotics detectives attempting to bring down a drug lord. I can’t tell if the screenplay — credited to none other than Jim Belushi, among others — is meant to play straight or if it’s intended to be a spoof of buddy cop movies. Carradine seems miscast as Det. Nick Barzack (aka Ber-zerk), but that's part of the fun. Billy Dee Williams gets nothing to do but be cool, sleep with women and play the jazz trumpet like he just walked off the set of a Colt .45 commercial and no one told him he was shooting a movie. It seems to be a legitimate entry in the buddy cop genre, but then we'll get Doris Roberts playing a cartoon of a mother or a shot of Carradine cutting up pieces of raw steak with his pocket knife for dinner and chasing it with swigs of Worcestershire sauce straight from the bottle and I'm convinced it's all supposed to be funny. You know that scene in Cobra where Stallone cuts up a piece of pizza with scissors and eats it? That’s Robert Carradine’s entire character here. Fun fact: the music for the movie is done by Alf Clausen, best known for scoring 25 years of The Simpsons. This one comes and goes from streaming services and an MGM Vault DVD is available, but it’s the kind of movie that’s perfect for a Kino Lorber Blu-ray release.
The Barbarians (dir. Ruggero Deodato) 1987 was one of the last gasps for the sword and sorcery genre that was hugely popular for a few years in the ‘80s, and though The Barbarians isn't one of the best examples of the genre I would lying if I said I don't have a lot of fun with it. The first of only a handful of attempts (others include Think Big, Double Trouble and Twin Switters) to turn bodybuilding twins David and Peter Paul -- aka "The Barbarian Brothers" -- into movie stars, The Barbarians is part action movie, part fantasy and part goofy comedy. It's pretty dopey and the brothers, while looking the part, demonstrate a lack of charisma, but there's a lot of good stuff here, too. Ruggero Deodato is a great filmmaker who knows how to put a movie together and Pino Donaggio's score is terrific, plus you get creepy Richard Lynch as a creepy villain. The Barbarians has a deliberate Saturday matinee quality and should be watched as a Saturday matinee.
Enemy Territory (dir. Peter Manoogian) This solid little siege movie from the heyday of Empire pictures finds Gary Frank and Ray Parker Jr. (in a rare acting role) trapped in an apartment building while a gang called the Vampires -- led by Tony Todd -- tries to take them out. Parker Jr. is not a natural movie star, but this is a tight and tough little movie that has some things to say about race and class (Frank has a stack of cash he has to burn through as he navigates his way through the building). Jan-Michael Vincent and a young Stacey Dash show up as well. It's never been released on DVD and can be a little hard to come by, but worth seeking out if low-budget '80s action movies are your jam.
Vicious Lips (dir. Albert Pyun) I can’t imagine making one of these “underrated ‘80s” lists without including a title from ever-prolific Albert Pyun, an oft-dismissed filmmaker who made a series of low-budget genre movies in the 1980s. By the late ‘80s and early ‘90s his aesthetic and personality really became clear thanks to films like his sci-fi horror/comedy musical Vicious Lips tells the futuristic story of an all-girl rock band who book a gig at a club on another planet, but they're stopped en route to the gig by a killer mutant who has boarded their ship. Though it sounds like a sci-fi horror movie, Pyun plays it mostly for laughs -- it's more Earth Girls are Easy than Alien. It's got the futuristic post-apocalyptic setting, the emphasis on musical numbers, the dream-like narrative -- all things we would eventually come to associate with Pyun's work. While it's not necessarily one of his best movies (though it is a lot of fun), Vicious Lips is one of the purest early expressions of an Albert Pyun movie. As proof that we are living in the Best Timeline for collectors of cult and genre movies, Vicious Lips — a title long unavailable on DVD at all — is now getting a Blu-ray release courtesy of Scream Factory. Lunar Madness indeed.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (dir. Bruce Pittman) Outside of some '80s slasher charm and Jamie Lee Curtis' dancing, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the original Prom Night, a movie I find to be just ok. The sequel, Hello Mary Lou, is an improvement in every single way. A high school student is possessed by the spirit of a dead prom queen looking for revenge, and the results are spectacular. It’s basically an ‘80s riff on Carrie; the change to more supernatural horror improves the sequel, which has way more humor and energy than its predecessor and at least one kill (involving some lockers) that's an all-timer.
Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home (dir. Alan Smithee) A cable-TV staple of my youth, this troubled production went through two directors, Paul Aaron and Terry Winsor, both of whom took their names off the movie in favor of the pseudonymous “Alan Smithee,” and set on the shelf for a a few years before it was finally released in 1987. But as a kid watching it on HBO, none of that mattered. What mattered is that main character Morgan Stewart (Jon Cryer) was a huge horror fan who wears a Day of the Dead t-shirt and waits in line to get George Romero’s autograph and takes his new girlfriend — who loves horror movies as much as he does! — to see Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Morgan Stewart was a hero and a role model to young me. The rest of the movie, a standard teen comedy in which black sheep Cryer gets wrapped up in his political father’s campaign, is fun but unremarkable. What makes it special to a horror nerd like me is that it presents a main character who loves all the same stuff that many of us reading a site like Rupert Pupkin Speaks love. We’re not often represented outside of the horror genre.
As a huge fan of Rupert Pupkin Speaks and these “underrated” series, it’s a true honor to be able to participate with this list. Thanks to Brian Saur for inviting me to take part, for writing this blog and for doing so much to foster an endless love and enthusiasm for all kinds of movies all year long.