The Future Imperfect: 5 Horror Movies Where Self-Improvement Goes Terribly Wrong

It’s only human to want to be the best version of ourselves. Regardless if the goal is kicking a bad habit, finding love, or finally grabbing that promotion, there’s an entire cottage industry that promises to cure whatever ails us in a few simple steps. Complex problems rarely have simple solutions, and the films on this list all have characters that attempted a fresh start, but got a fresh hell instead.

Cat’s Eye

Directed by Lewis Teague

Cat’s Eye is definitely the lesser-regarded of Stephen King’s 80s omnibus films. Yet, the first segment “Quitters, Inc” holds up as the most gleefully pulpy entry across the entire run.

A hapless yuppie (James Woods) struggles to stop lighting up. He’s recommended a smoking cessation clinic, only to discover the business reinforces clients’ willpower….with actual Mafia enforcers. This simple premise spirals outward into a series of self-referential jokes, spot-on needle drops, and sadistic punishments for infringements. Character actor Alan King’s hammy heavy of a “counselor” is perfect, equally menacing in business attire as he is in a late period Elvis jumpsuit.

Addiction is familiar thematic territory for King’s work, handled with a light touch here. The black comedy tone is just as effective an homage to the spirit of vintage EC Comics, as any of its more traditionally scary Creepshow cousins.

Berberian Sound Studio

Directed by Peter Strickland

Much like Shadow Of The Vampire, Berberian Sound Studio utilizes the process of filmmaking to recreate a bygone era. The incredibly elaborate sound design could be credited just as rightfully as any of the cast members.

Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a British sound engineer, travels to Italy for the chance to work on a feature film, which he innocently believes to be about horses. The Equestrian Vortex is instead a lurid giallo. His dream job quickly becomes a nightmare, as the language barrier alienates him from the rest of the crew. Obviously disturbed by creating the film’s violent soundscapes, he slowly heads toward a psychological breakdown.

Once the basic plot has been set up, large chunks of the film play like a radio drama. Gilderoy barely leaves the cramped confines of the studio. We hear the reel change cues, the smashed melons used to Foley decapitations, and the endless screams of the voiceover actors as they are blended into the larger sound mix.

The audience is never shown more than the opening credits of the meta film within a film. Only the day-to-day recordings offer some context clues as to its content. For those with the patience for its glacial pace and arty aural-focused framework, this eerie deconstruction of vintage Eurosleaze is the creepiest film you’ll never see.

Killer Workout

Directed by David A. Prior

There’s a genre film specific corollary to the internet’s infamous Rule 34. If you can think of it, there’s already an 80s slasher film about it. Enter Killer Workout, which is a refreshing change for this era of cinema, is exactly what the VHS box cover promises.

Two years after her twin sister died in an unfortunate tanning bed accident, Rhonda (Marcia Karr) is the unlucky owner of an aerobics studio where people keep turning up dead. This movie wasn’t ever going to win any awards for originality, and I’m sure even the most casual horror fan could predict the basic plot beats in the first 5 minutes.

What takes Killer Workout a step above similar slasher cheapies is how insanely era-specific it is. Gorgeous folks of all genders are constantly clad in skin-tight neon spandex. All of this eye candy exercise is backed by a bouncy synth-pop soundtrack the couldn’t be more 80s if it slapped you across the face with a stack of jelly bracelets. Add in a mile of moussed coifs and some random street fights and you’ve got a totally tubular time capsule. Rarely logical, but consistently entertaining, this fitness craze fueled slasher is a prime slice of cheesy cinema.

Long Weekend (1978)

Directed by Colin Eggleston

Wherever you go, there you are.

Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) opt for a seaside camping trip in a last-ditch attempt to save their failing marriage. Instead, the vacation meant to bring them closer together only highlights how disconnected they’ve become.

This Australian entry in the 70s eco-horror boom is slow-moving but has a genuine sense of isolation and dread. The central couple seems impossibly small, both in terms of the visual vastness of the remote location and as human beings. Peter and Marcia don’t treat their surroundings with any more care than they do each other, littering, shooting at any creature that passes by, and idly destroying an eagle egg in the course of one of their near-constant arguments.

Eventually, eerie wails are echoing through the night, birds circling perilously close. The corpses of the animals Peter killed seemingly inching toward their tent. This toxic twosome have been tearing each other apart since they arrived, and there’s genuine tension when Mother Nature finally steps in to finish the job.

Lisa (1989)

Directed by Gary Sherman

If Patrick Bateman starred in an erotic thriller toned down for the Tiger Beat set, the end result would likely resemble this forgotten gem from genre great Gary Sherman (Dead & Buried).

Single mother Katherine (Cheryl Ladd), is struggling to find a partner who is accepting of both her busy career and her precocious teenage daughter. Meanwhile, flirtatious fourteen-year-old Lisa (Staci Keanan) is starting to rebel against her mother’s restrictions on dating with a vivid fantasy life. Catfishing the phone numbers of attractive older men, she anonymously attempts to seduce them via phone.

Dating is hell, but Lisa’s latest crush is something worse. Richard is a suave serial killer who shares her penchant for telephone games, and now he’s targeting them both

The plot’s mix of female obsession tropes, improbable coincidences, and after-school special melodrama is incredibly silly, but the film never treats its central characters like a joke. For something so superficially soapy, Lisa is surprisingly sweet.



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter