Retro sci-fi horror films inspired by the 50s reigned supreme in 1986


If you wait long enough, it all comes back into fashion. After two decades of poking fun at 1950s popular culture for being conformist, overly traditional, and wary of anything that could be called subversive, the 1980s saw a wave of nostalgia for the era. You see it in movies like Back to the future, tunes from The Stray Cats and other rockabilly bands, and retro fashion styles from the early 1980s.

In some ways, that makes sense. The Reagan era in the United States was seen as a throwback to traditional American values, and therefore a sort of cultural revival of the 1950s. But in 1986, horror films thoroughly reflected this homage to the past. Several retro-themed horror films have been explicitly adapted from 1950s B-movies. Or, they had the slightly schlocky spirit of sci-fi horror from that era. This mini-era celebrates the inventive genre cinema seen in a 1950s drive-in.

The night of the crawlers presents a story about alien slugs landing on Earth. They make their way into the human body, transforming their hosts into bloodthirsty zombies. It is clearly inspired by Invasion of the Body Thieves and other alien invasion films; However,

The night of the crawlers

is not interested in paying homage to these films. Instead, it creates an authentic take on a B movie. It fits perfectly with the genre’s sense of humor and charming, absurd antics.

The film is cold opened even takes place in the 1950s. Two teenagers in a Lovers’ Lane situation witness what they think is a shooting star and meet aliens. This gently leads audiences to view this film in the context of a classic B-movie. But despite his clear reverence for 1950s horror,

The night of the crawlers

refers to all of the original horror that came before it. Not only is this an alien / zombie / slasher invasion mashup, but it also features characters who are all named after prominent genre directors. (This includes David Cronenberg and James Cameron, who also released sci-fi-inspired horror films in the same year.)

In the same way, Little shop of horrors manages to do a bit of both. It is based on a non-musical 1960 film of the same name starring Jack Nicholson in one of his first on-screen roles as a sadistic dentist. But rather than updating the setting to reflect the 1980s, the film basks in retro New York. The costumes, the Greek choir performing Motown-style songs, the creepy-colored creature design of Audrey II, and even the concept of a run-down little florist in Brooklyn all testify to a conscious desire to keep the film rooted in an aesthetic from the late 1950s. And despite its brilliant musical tone, it presents a deceptively dark tale of the familiar trope of the alien invasion.

Mall departs from the creature-based horror design that dominated the 1950s, but nonetheless draws inspiration from a similar style. On the surface, it feels deeply rooted in the 1980s. The entirety of the film takes place in a shopping mall, a bastion of 1980s materialism. And it features a brand of killer robot much more sophisticated than what would have been available in Canada. in previous decades. But director Jim Wynorski has said repeatedly that he is inspired by the 1954 movie Gog, where a supercomputer at a top-secret nuclear facility controls two overpowered robots that embark on a killing spree. Even when building a narrative that doesn’t seem overtly reverent of the 1950s B-movies, it was impossible to escape the long arm of their influence in those kitschy 1986 genre films.

Of course, we know that David Cronenberg and James Cameron did things a little differently. Their films are undoubtedly inspired by 1950s horror, but they give it a stylish upgrade. “High horror,” or whatever they call it these days. Cronenberg gives a new twist to Fly, which was created to be nothing more than a silly monster movie to terrify audiences of the 1950s. It turns it into a truly macabre exploration of disease and rot. When Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) merges with the fly, he can no longer trust his body. He can feel it deteriorating more and more with each minute, aware of how he will soon miss it completely. Released in the midst of the AIDS crisis, FlyParticularly poignant is the graphic representation of a declining body.

a split photo of characters from 1986 horror movies, mall, creepy night and little shop of horrors

Warner Bros./Concorde Pictures / TriStar Pictures

Cameron, on the other hand, inherited a 1950s sci-fi horror vibe from director Ridley Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon, who were responsible for the original. Extraterrestrial. O’Bannon in particular has never shied away from acknowledging the influence of pulp science fiction on his screenplay. In fact, he said, in his own words, “I did not steal Extraterrestrial of anybody. I stole it from Everybody! ”

He quotes movies like The thing from another world, Forbidden planet, and Planet of vampires like clear inspirations. Succeeding Ridley Scott on the 1986 sequel to Extraterrestrial, Cameron picks up the thread, further expanding Aliens the reasons established previously. There’s the social commentary on the super-powerful company putting Ripley and his team at risk for profit. But, there is also the perpetual exploration of traditional masculinity and femininity, particularly in the character of Ripley herself. (Surprisingly, the two Aliens and The night of the crawlers present the concept of unwanted penetration of extraterrestrial beings as a source of bodily horror.)

Why do we see so many of these types of horror movies in 1986? The simplest explanation is that this is the natural cyclical nature of cinema. Directors and screenwriters refer to films they loved as a teenager, which typically came out 20 to 30 years ago. There is certainly some evidence to suggest that we tend to see a repeat of the trends over a cycle of around thirty years (the reason why, say, anything from the ’90s is incredibly underway right now.)

It would be fun to imagine that there was, for example, in 1983 a connection event that inspired all of these filmmakers to produce films all referencing the same subgenre of 1950s horror films. But more likely, it’s just a fun, quirky coincidence. For a brief shining moment in 1986, the 1950s B-movie finally had its heyday.

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