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Taking a look at some 1980s movie gems

Posted on June 11, 2014 by Taber Times

As the summer months settle themselves upon us, and the traditional Hollywood blockbusters begin to grace the big screen, with every passing year it appears North America’s obsession with comic books and super heroes  is having a more profound impact on the major studios command decisions.

As well as their pocket books, which is where all the content decisions eventually find themselves anchored for approval in the starry lights of Los Angeles.  It also appears — perhaps not surprisingly — that the religious right is beginning to make increasing inroads in Hollywood, and that the era of the big-budget Bible epic is making a comeback.

The drawbacks of today’s hub of filmdom in Hollywood — for better or for worse, depending on your perspective — often leaves the more seasoned filmgoer wondering what happened to the films they might have watched when they were younger.

Past decades of film, like decades in general, seem to have a unique flair and flavour that is hard to reproduce. And like a fine wine, sometimes they get better with age.

So without further ado, here’s a selection of films of the 1980s that might need to find their way back into your VCR — er, DVD player?

The Elephant Man (1980): A disturbing epic of a severely deformed man in 19th century England (are they ever not disturbing when directed by David Lynch?), The Elephant Man was shot entirely in black and white, and seems remarkably like something out of the 1950s. A dark but classy film, it’s a great place to start a reel journey throughout the decade.

The Road Warrior (1981): In many ways, this post-apocalyptic classic launched young Mel Gibson’s career. Detailing a showdown between survivors and a ruthless road gang for control of the precious “juice,” it is punctuated by the arrival of the mysterious hero (Gibson). The Road Warrior hearkens back to the days when special effects were actually shot on film, and captured stunts that are still stunning today. The culminating tanker chase scene at the climax of the film is now almost legendary.

Conan the Barbarian (1982): Far from being simply a muscle-bound Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, this film features an exciting story of revenge in some kind of pre-history sword and sorcery fantasy world.

Replete with unrelenting graphic violence and martial moral themes, Conan the Barbarian probably benefitted greatly from a script collaboration between director John Milius and the largely-unknown Oliver Stone.

Although Schwarzenegger manages to steal the show, James Earl Jones’ turn as Thulsa Doom is easily one of that actor’s finest roles.

Krull (1983): In the very same vein as many of the heroic fantasy-science fiction films that punctuated much of the early part of the decade (mostly on the heels of the success of Conan the Barbarian) Krull wasn’t exactly a box-office success, but has since developed a cult following.

One of the most expensive films of its time, Krull was shot on 23 sets spanning 10 sound stages at Pinewood Studios in London.

Red Dawn (1984): A plausible, if jingoistic, account of a Soviet invasion of America and a youth resistance against the occupiers, Red Dawn (also directed by John Milius) is another 1980s cult classic. The 20th highest grossing film of 1984, at the time it was released, Red Dawn was considered the “most violent film” by the Guinness Book of Records and The National Coalition on Television Violence, with a rate of 134 acts of violence per hour, or 2.23 per minute.

Day of the Dead (1985): What many have considered a disappointing follow-up by director George A. Romero to his roaringly-successful zombie classic Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead is a film that never received its due in 1985. A gore-fest extraordinaire for the hard-core zombie fan, and again featuring pioneering make-up effects specialist Tom Savini, the film also explored themes of racism, prejudice, and social acceptance and responsibility in what was then Reagan-era America.

Aliens (1986): Director James Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s atmospheric 1979 classic Alien, there are scenes in this memorable film that are so famous they have really become part of the pop culture experience. A more action-oriented film that its predecessor, Cameron’s take on the genre is still extraordinarily creepy and equal parts terrifying, and would go on to spawn three direct sequels/prequels (and counting), as well as spin-offs such as the Alien vs. Predator franchise.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987): Arguably one of the most hilarious films ever made, this John Hughes classic paired comedy legend Steve Martin with the late, great John Candy in a three-day odyssey of travel misadventures in middle America. Considered a new departure at the time for teen-angst director Hughes, the film is often cited as one of Candy’s finest comedic roles.

The Abyss (1989): Another Cameron classic, this film is hard to pigeon-hole into a genre, as it mixes elements of action-adventure, nautical fantasy, and science-fiction into one all-encompassing film. An inaugural entry into what now can only be described as the “riggers save the world” genre (think 1998’s Armageddon), The Abyss captured the 1990 Oscar for best visual effects.

Field of Dreams (1989): There’s no denying this film isn’t exactly your typical baseball-sports-buddy film. On the other hand, perhaps that is what makes it so enduringly charming — to baseball fans and non-fans alike. Kevin Costner in the main role gives an outstanding performance, especially for an actor who is often noted as hit and miss throughout his career.

So popular is the film amongst baseball fans that where it was shot in Dyersville, Iowa has since become a preserved mecca which sees thousands of visitors each year hoping to “disappear in to the corn.”

So this is a homely homage to only nine films from the 1980s. Apologies, of course, are in order in advance, as limited column space only affords this meagre selection — there are many more films deserving of re-discovery. But that — as we say in this business — is perhaps another story.

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