Throughout the 80’s they populated Video Rodeo, my childhood video rental store. In what was a dimly lit space with several rows of narrow aisles, the horror section was one of my greatest fears. The aisle was barely two feet wide and crammed wall to wall with grotesque images on VHS cardboard boxes that hung by velco strips. From my ankles to the ceiling, the aisle was consumed with every conceivable horror film distributed on VHS. Although there was the essential nightmare stalking monster and the machete wielding hockey masked killer, it was the tiny terrors that brought me that jolt of fun and fear. Sure these little monsters existed in the past and have continued since this era, but what was it about the 1980’s that created an abundance of this horror sub-genre?
Here are the ones that kept me checking under my bed every night:
Just the poster alone of the green goblin sticking its head out of a toilet bowl was the equivalent of a massive killer shark’s fin sticking out of the water. I refused to use the washroom for days.
Not only are you getting disgusting, fur covered, shit grinning rodents from outer space, but also a duo of shape-shifting bounty hunters that are tracking them down. The VHS cover art didn’t want to hide the physical imagery of these creatures. They are candidly displayed, staring and grinning right back at you. In just pure sadistic nastiness, these Critters can go head to head with the Gremlins.
The Gate (1987)
The VHS cover art had the demons starting to crawl out of the ground as their beady eyes lurked in the shadows. It wasn’t very frightening, hence why I most likely rented it. However once these demon freaks sprung up, they caught me off guard. These little monsters were butt naked, hairless and traveled in packs. Sure the gremlins were quite similar, but the fact these pint sized monsters had a human-fleshy look to them made it all the more gruesome.
Child’s Play (1988)
Chucky is perhaps the best of the lot. It’s not exactly a direct criticism of American consumerism ala Dawn of the Dead, but it certainly emphasizes the exhaustive toy market that consumed youth culture throughout the ‘80’s. There’s a reason Chucky looks like a Cabbage Patch Doll. The sequel’s cover art is Chucky with a large pair of scissors about to cut off the head of a traditional childhood jack-in-the-box. Looks like the new wave of toys were a lot more dangerous (brainwashing?) than anyone imagined.
Puppet Master (1989)
By the time we reached the late 80’s, the little monsters that were aliens and/or demons were now becoming a variation of toys or as in Puppet Master, a new breed of action figures like toys. The VHS cover art for this film featured demonic looking dolls with weapon accessories in a carrying case. What child wasn’t familiar with this concept? At this point one has to wonder who’s fears were being expressed with these type of films. I believe this sub-genre was moving away from the outrageously fun concept of tiny terrors and into a self-critical and fear based analysis of the responsibility of caring for a child and their (monstrous?) needs.
it climbed to the tip of her finger and she smiled… It stood up and reached for my hand. She placed it on my palm and just like with her, it was now climbing it’s way up to the tip of my finger back to her… but I didn’t notice, I couldn’t stop looking at her smile
Catch my latest Vocalo (90.7FM) feature on late 80’s/early 90’s underground Pilsen music venue: Club Naked.
You can also listen to the full feature with a bookend interview between Jesse De La Pena and myself: Club Naked with interviews.
Known for breaking barriers during a hostile period in their high school, the founders of Club Naked created a diverse venue that spun punk, industrial, new wave and house music. Punk or House Head, it didn’t matter, all were welcomed at Club Naked.
All the images are of the people behind Club Naked and their friends.