Plunge the Knife Back In! Top 5 ’80s Slasher Films That Deserve a Remake
I love slasher films. Among all the subgenres of horror, slasher films are likely my favorite. Like Kristen Bell says in the (unfairly) maligned Scream 4, there’s something scary about a guy in a mask who just… snaps. Not only are they scary when done right, though, but they are also categorically less likely to be boring. Boring is the worst sin a movie can commit, and slasher films have always excelled at keeping you entertained, even when they’re exceptionally, almost aggressively bad. Not all of them are, though, especially those produced during the slasher heydays of the 1980s. A lot of them, even though they were riffing on considerably better films, are quite good, even if the cracks around the edges start to show a bit more with age. So, I thought it high time to revisit five of my imperfect favorites that I think are long overdue for a remake.
The five films listed below all fall under the idealized umbrella of what I think a remake should do– improve upon an exceptionally promising original. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), for instance, is very much a product of its time, and as was made abundantly clear a decade ago, there was little a modern update could do to justify its existence. Conversely, films like My Bloody Valentine (2009) and Sorority Row (2009) showed just how worthwhile a solid template could be when reworked several years later. That is to say, as fond as I am of the films listed below, they do have some glaring weaknesses. Granted, some might be cult-classics in their own right, but there are still kinks and bumps, narrative and filmic trifles that could do with some tender love and care from a team of modern filmmakers. So, read on below for five slasher films I think deserve a remake.
1. The Prowler (1981)
A crazed World War II veteran gets revenge on his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend, then stalks teens 35 years later.
The Prowler is probably my favorite entry on this list. More than the four others, this is likely the movie I’m most inclined to revisit, and when introducing friends to older slashers they may not have seen, The Prowler is usually top of my list. Tom Savini’s gore FX are absolutely divine (that pitchfork in the shower is a thing of beauty), Vicky Dawson’s Pam MacDonald makes for an unusually resourceful and compelling protagonist (especially considering it was made in the early 80s), and perhaps most importantly, it’s actually scary. Granted, The Prowler isn’t likely to induce nightmares or catatonic shock, but the violence is genuinely shocking, even decades later, and the smattering of chase scenes are armest-clutching intense.
Nonetheless, as outlined earlier, there are some weak spots a remake could easily address, chief among them a pace that lags two-thirds of the way in. After Pam’s chase in the dormitory, there is only one worthwhile death before the climax, and there is an inexplicable and interminable visit to a nearby cemetery alongside a phone call to the cabin where the sheriff’s ostensibly staying that feels like it will never, ever end. A remake could bring in a modern savant of gore FX (e.g. Greg Nicotero) and iron out a few pacing issues while retaining both the spirit and savagery of the original. Worthwhile slashers are in short supply today, and this is one remake I wouldn’t mind buying a ticket (or 20) to see.
2. The Initiation (1984)
An amnesiac sorority member who has been plagued by a horrifying dream her entire life is stalked by a mysterious murderer in a deserted department store at night.
The Initiation is probably one of the strangest slasher films to emerge from the 80s. The entire thing feels like a hazy summer daydream, like this image of the past that’s familiar yet still too far out of reach, but it plays like a straight, economical slasher film. Nonetheless, Daphne Zuniga (in her first starring role following a bit part in 1982’s The Dorm That Dripped Blood) and company keep the enterprise feeling fresh, in spite of some unsound logic, nonsensical pop psychology, and serviceable, but nothing special, bloodshed.
A remake would do well to remove most of the textbook psychology– it’s silly and kills the momentum every time it’s introduced– and lean into the slasher stylings it’s so clearly trying to emulate. Truly, The Initiation feels like two movies in one, one of which is a well-acted, well-staged slasher with a fantastic setting, the other a brooding psychodrama about dreams and recovered memories, a conspicuous attempt to add some supernatural fluff (as was so popular in the mid-to-late-eighties) to an otherwise straightforward affair. Choosing one avenue over the other (and you can guess which avenue I’d prefer) would yield wondrous results. Add some more exciting bloodshed while retaining the awesome mall setting and, well, it’d feel like a dream come true.
3. Terror Train (1980) – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29%
During a hazing, a fraternity of pre-med students has a particularly sinister prank in store for one their more timid pledges (Derek MacKinnon). With the help of a coed, Alana Maxwell (Jamie Lee Curtis), they pull off the prank so well that the pledge needs to be institutionalized as a result. After several years pass and people forget the incident, those involved with the prank are ready to celebrate their graduation by having a costume party on a train, but they haven’t escaped their past yet.
I’m just going to say it: Terror Train is not a particularly memorable movie. Were it not for Jamie Lee Curtis and the (admittedly) novel slasher setting, the movie would likely not be as fondly remembered as it is today. This isn’t a knock against anyone who likes or even loves the movie (I have a whole list of guilty pleasures that you could absolutely annihilate my authority with), but rather an observation on how precarious the minutiae of 80s slashers are, how the most arbitrary or abstemious of decisions can either elevate or sink a movie’s legacy.
Terror Train, though, does have both Jamie Lee Curtis and an awesome setting, so I’d be curious to see what a modern update could do with all the slasher schematics minus (obviously) Curtis’s charisma and commerciality. There are some good elements here, including a fun face-swap ploy with the killer’s various masks, the aforementioned setting, and a genuinely surprising (if logic-defying) killer reveal. That is to say, a modern, R-rated reboot about hedonistic teens being killed by a maniac on a train seems right up my alley, and I’d love to see what filmmakers might do with a more modern setting (modern trains scare me a great deal).
4. Out of the Dark (1989)
An employee at a telephone fantasy service helps hunt for the killer preying on her silken-voiced colleagues.
I don’t even remember how I encountered Out of the Dark last year. It had never been on any of my watchlists and I’d never heard anyone talk about it. One evening, it was just there on my list of Amazon Prime recommendations, and a cursory reading of the summary convinced me to spend the $1.99 to rent it. I was both pleasantly surprised and supremely disappointed by what I watched. Like most of the movies on this list, Out of the Dark is a film in two parts, one of which is exceptionally more engaging than the other. The best way to think about it is to consider 1979’s When a Stranger Calls, a movie fondly remembered despite a middle act that most fans concede is, well, just not very good. It’s difficult to evaluate a movie that manages to both thrill and bore, and fortunately and unfortunately, Out of the Dark does both in about equal measure.
The first half of the movie is a sex-positive exploration of phone-sex workers being targeted by a killer dressed in clown garb. The kills are savage, the costuming is well done, the staging (particularly for one bait-and-switch kill scene that legitimately sent shivers down my spine) is professional, and both the acting and characterization exceed whatever your expectations might be for a movie about a clown killing sex workers. The second half of the movie, however (after that aforementioned kill) is laborious. There are no good deaths, too many red herrings, and most of the compelling characters have already been killed off. What you’re left with is a languid traipse toward the finish line, with an ending that truly fizzles out before it even starts, alongside a killer reveal that manages to both confound and be depressingly obvious.
The bones are there, however, for a modern, feminist take on the original, one that retains the integrity of the narrative while removing the flat-out boring last act. Clowns are scary, and clowns that murder sex workers are scarier. More than any other on this list, an Out of the Dark remake has the potentiality to not only be a good time at the movies, but a genuinely terrifying one at that.
5. Opera (1987)
A hooded figure forces a young diva (Cristina Marsillach) to watch as he murders performers in a production of Verdi’s opera “Macbeth.”
To get it out of the way right away, I love Dario Argento, and I love Opera. Among his ’80s outputs, Opera is unequivocally my favorite. Still, there is a little nagging pit in my chest every time I watch one of his movies– for as much as I love him, I sometimes wish they were a little less wonted Argento. I get that dreamlike logic, bad dubbing (dubs are the most commercially accessible), incomprehensible plots, and a lasseiz-faire approach to earnest character development are settled law in Giallo films, but I sometimes wish the narrative substance might, if only just once, match the truly remarkable style on display.
Opera is likely one of Argento’s most streamlined plots, and for the most part, characterization is sound and rational, the narrative is straightforward, and the style accentuates a pretty involving slasher wherein a young soprano is targeted by a masked killer during her opera house’s production of Macbeth. Still, there are nagging inconsistencies, particularly as the plot develops, and a killer reveal that, like so many others on this list, fails to impress. Argento can be difficult to remake because his style is so singular, though I’d love to see a modernized retelling that prioritizes narrative a bit more over style (unlike another certain Argento remake). While that is likely never going to happen (he has far more remunerative properties worth remaking should anyone choose to do so), there is still enough worth watching in the original to make it okay.
Well, those are just five of my picks for ’80s slashers I’d love to see remade. Let me know what I missed, and which slasher films you’re dying (ha) to see reimagined.