As horror fans, we go crazy for practical effects. Genre output from the 1980s was rife with expertly rendered practical FX work. By the mid-’80s, the effects had become the main attraction of many of the films released in that era. In some cases, the practical FX work was the only draw. With that in mind, we are taking a look at a series of films from the ’80s and ’90s with effects work that outshined the film in which it was featured.
Some of these movies are outright bad; some simply aren’t as good as the effects are. Either way, they’re worth watching for the creature FX and gore.
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With this list, we’ll be looking at pictures from all across that range. Most of them are low budget features that spent the bulk of their money on effects, and in a lot of cases, that was probably the right choice.
Waxwork II: Lost in Time
Waxwork was a movie with great FX by Hellraiser’s Bob Keen, but it had a story to back it up. In Waxwork II, the effects are almost as good but the script is half as good as that of its predecessor. While Waxwork II is somewhat fun and watchable, it wouldn’t be nearly as easy to digest without such impressive creature design.
One of Full Moon’s many H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, The Lurking Fear had great potential that it did not meet. Despite some acting talent with Ashley Laurence and Jeffrey Combs, it’s just a mess. But, at the very least, it has really strong and surprisingly creepy monster design.
The Unholy is a fairly by-the-numbers, low-budget, religious horror feature about resisting temptation. When the demon, who normally presents itself as a beautiful redhead, shows its true form, it’s pretty neat. While still a little silly in terms of execution and movement, it’s a solid creature design.
This may be an unpopular one, but while The New Blood has some things going for it—especially Bad News Crews—it’s that Jason design that’s truly the star. Kane Hodder’s first performance behind the best-designed makeup in the series to date, that’s the true appeal of Friday the 13th Part VII. Without it, the film would not rank as high on the list of so many fans.
Cellar Dweller has a really interesting concept, but falls apart somewhere in the execution. It’s about a comic book artist—played briefly by Jeffrey Combs—who actually brought to life the things he drew. After his death, the creature stayed behind to haunt the basement of the artistic commune where the artist did his work. While the low budget shows and the movie is fairly flat, the monster design is still pretty cool.
Lucio Fulci did some great work with the first two movies in his “Gates of Hell” trilogy, City of the Living Dead and The Beyond. House by the Cemetery doesn’t work nearly as well, for a lot of reasons. It’s much smaller and doesn’t benefit from that, having the most claustrophobia yet the least effective atmosphere of the three. The main zombie looks pretty neat and the gore effects are as good as ever, but everything around these elements isn’t as impressive.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 suffered pretty heavily from the writers strike at the time, despite having a talented screenwriter. The goal was to be bigger and better than the smash-hit Dream Warriors, and on some levels, it succeeded. The Dream Master is still the highest-grossing solo Freddy movie and required four separate effects teams to pull off all the insane things Krueger gets up to. But it’s mostly an effects-fest and doesn’t fare nearly as well on the story level.