Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you’re scared or not.
The fun of horror movies – especially cheesy ’80s horror classics – is often to be found in the “holy shit!” moments.
Here are my favorite ’80s “Holy Shit” horror movie moments.
Cheryl turns, The Evil Dead
The Evil Dead was originally titled Book of the Dead. The studio changed it because they didn’t think stupid movie audiences would go to a movie about a book. So The Evil Dead is stuck with an awesome title that is nevertheless kind of a misnomer. The monsters are definitely evil, but not exactly “dead.” They are Kandarian demons who arise from the soil of the forest, possess the living, and turn ordinary humans into raving, murderous masses of vaguely humanoid, pulpy pus-y flesh.
After that long, long setup, the arrival of the true disrupting event of the movie – Cheryl’s demonic transformation – caught me completely by surprise and knocked me on my ass. It starts off innocuously enough, with a dazed Cheryl suddenly able to guess Linda’s playing card selections from across the room without seeing them. The other kids are barely aware that something has gone amiss, when Cheryl turns around and WOAH!
The lacerations, the milky white eyes, the blue-tinged flesh, the bestial snarl on the face of the otherwise dozy actress playing her …. she turned bad QUICK. Then to watch her levitate, as a distorted and multiplied voice that doesn’t even seem to come from Cheryl’s mouth utters dire threats. She gets worse and worse as the fight ensues to trap her in the basement, until it’s clearly not even Ellen Sandweiss playing her anymore, but an extra in a fucked-up wig and crazy make-up and prosthetics. The sheer speed at which she became a monster left me on edge for the rest of the movie.
Frank resurrects, Hellraiser
Ask anyone who is the villain of the Hellraiser movies and they will probably guess Pinhead. It’s one of those trick questions, like who the killer was in Friday the 13th (answer: Jason’s mother. Not Jason until the sequel).
Pinhead is definitely the most arresting image of the film, and as such he is displayed prominently on the cover of every Hellraiser poster or movie packaging. But although he and his Cenobite brethren are formidable forces starting in the first movie, their place in the plot is as more of a McGuffin. In fact, the demonic Cenobites lead by Pinhead end up unwitting allies of Kirstie, the protagonist.
No, the main villain of the film is a human being named Frank. He also had a formidable sidekick in Kirstie’s wicked stepmother, Julia.
We experience Frank’s backstory in torrid flashbacks from Julia – how bad-boy Frank seduced her mere days before she was to marry Frank’s milquetoast brother Larry (Kirstie’s father). But Frank is actually the first character we see – kneeling in an attic full of candles, solving a strange puzzle box, only to be rewarded by having the flesh ripped from his body by hooks.
Which leads us to the surprising “holy shit” moment that lands Hellraiser on this list. I, like everyone else, was ready for a movie about a weird demon named Pinhead – to see what makes him tick, how he got the pins in his head, etc.
Instead, when Larry spills his own blood on that same attic floor after a household accident, we pan to the subfloor and see a very 80s practical effect, looking like nothing so much as a plastic sandwich bag being inflated and deflated like a heartbeat.
The rats start to go apeshit as they know something bad is up. Some awesome music kicks in, fluid begins to ooze from between the floorboards … and suddenly two gooey flesh tentacles burst out of the floor. They fold over, alien and skinless, revealing themselves to be mockeries of human arms. A torso begins to form between them, and a brain. The arms begin to grow fingers, and attempt to lift the torso – merely a few ribs at this point, off the ground to connect a dangling brain stem to the exposed brain and lift it off the ground like a construction crane. The body continues to constitute itself, adding organs and bone and muscle, until it becomes clear that the pus and alien pseudopods thrusting themselves out of the ground with very 80s and yet very effective animation, has shaped itself into a skinless human male, emerging in mid-scream as if to finish what he started before he was torn apart. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on, and my jaw was on the floor.
Forget Pinhead – Frank is the real hellraiser (Julia helps). And watching him raised from hell in soupy claymation was my 80s-tastic wake-up call that this was to be a VERY different – and ultimately much better – movie than I expected.
The Beast revealed, Poltergeist
The antagonal force of the Poltergeist movies is first described by unflappable, dimunuitive medium Tangina as “the Beast” in an unforgettable monologue that is still disquieting to me. Nothing is shown, only described, but Zelda Rubinstein’s reading makes the Beast seem very real, very close, and very dangerous. Hold on to yourselves, indeed.
The sequel gives the Beast a name – Reverend Kane – and gets some creepy points for casting Julian Beck as Kane. Already diagnosed with the stomach cancer that would take his life before the movie dropped, the skeletal Beck was both visually and continentally disturbing.
But I think “the Beast” gained some power in anonymity. Maybe he once was human, but with no name, no motive, and no backstory, the “Beast” of the original film was a confounding, dangerous, and unpredictable enemy, inhabiting a world we didn’t understand with powers we couldn’t fathom.
We don’t get to follow JoBeth Williams into the spirit world, tethered to a rope for safety; we just watch her husband Craig T. Nelson gradually lose confidence, panic, and try to pull her out with her lifeline … only to pull something unexpected and terrifying too close for comfort.
Forget a creepy preacher played by a terminal actor … Coach, you just met THE BEAST!
What is your favorite “Holy Shit!” horror movie moment?