An American Werewolf in London
Stay on the road. Keep clear to the Moors. Beware the moon, lads. Backpacking through the United Kingdom would never be the same after John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. It was a great time to be a werewolf in the '80s: The Howling, Wolfen and… Teen Wolf. Landis’ film edges out its hairy rivals by capitalising on its ‘strangers in a strange land’ themed plot and American anxieties towards Europe. It also features groundbreaking special-effects work by Rick Baker, whose werewolf transformation scenes would revolutionise how make-up was done for effects-driven films in the '80s. Baker won the first ever Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling, and set a benchmark for the entire industry that is still held in high regard today.
Driving Miss Daisy
Morgan Freeman’s career can be traced back to his breakout performance in Driving Miss Daisy. Freeman appeared in supporting roles throughout the '80s, making a big impression in the American Civil War drama, Glory, but Driving Miss Daisy put him in the spotlight. Adapted from an off-Broadway production, it tells the story of the relationship between the elderly Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy) and her driver (Freeman) over a 25-year period. A seminal film in the study of Australian filmmakers working in Hollywood with Bruce Beresford in the director’s chair. Beresford guided the film to 9 Oscar nominations, it won 4, including the big one: Best Picture.
‘Scanners’ are people with telepathic and telekinetic powers. A weapons company, ConSec, searches out scanners to use them for its own purposes. A renegade scanner, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), decides to wage a war against ConSec and people’s heads explode. The glorious skull popping in this pulpy sci-fi film is thanks to special-effects legend, Dick Smith (The Exorcist). Of course, with so many body parts exploding, Scanners can only be the work of one man: David Cronenberg, Mr. Body Horror. Scanners was a big hit for Cronenberg after labouring through the '70s with Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. The financial success of Scanners (his biggest money maker at the time) put Cronenberg on the path to having the freedom to make Videodrome, The Dead Zone, The Fly and Dead Ringers. Scanners is the gateway to a decade of splatter.
Another Beresford film, but long before he was taking home Oscars. Puberty Blues is one of the essential Australian coming-of-age films based on the novel of the same name by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette. It tells the story of two teenage girls trying to fit in with a gang of surfers over the course of a summer in Sydney in the ‘70s. Puberty Blues is remarkable for its honest approach to casual sex, drugs, alcohol and gender politics through the point-of-view of teenagers.
The Thin Blue Line
A documentary so good it got a man off death row. Filmmaker Errol Morris details the story of Randall Dale Adams, a man who was convicted of murder, but always claimed he was innocent. Morris met Adams while doing research for another documentary he was making about the judicial process around the death penalty. Morris was sceptical that Adams committed the crime and began investigating the case. The Thin Blue Line is a key innovator of the filmmaking techniques that would become staples of the documentary format such as re-enactments and interviews. A year after its release, Adams’ case was reviewed and he was released from prison. The Thin Blue Line was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being: "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The Last Emperor
One of the epic biopics of the ‘80s that stormed the Oscars and took home best picture. The Last Emperor centres on the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. Puyi's life is depicted from his ascent to the throne as a small boy to his imprisonment and political rehabilitation by the Communist Party of China.
Follow Cameron Williams on Twitter @MrCamW.
Need more '80s goodness?
Tune in on Wednesdays for the fascinating 8-part documentary series The Eighties, from Feb. 8th at 8:35pm, on SBS and later on SBS On Demand:
Watch Episode 1 now:
Then get your fill of killer '80s sounds and cold war drama with acclaimed German TV series Deutschland 83. Thursdays, from Feb. 9th at 8:35pm, on SBS and later on SBS On Demand:
Watch Episode 1: