Dressed to Kill (1980) | Brian De Palma



Angie Dickinson stars as Kate Miller, a housewife so unsatisfied sexually that she often finds herself having vivid and wild sexual fantasies, with violent overtones.  She has been seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine), about her marital problems, and even makes a pass at him, although nothing comes to pass.  Unable to resist the temptation, Kate has an afternoon fling with a complete stranger, only to end up the victim of a brutal and senseless slaying at the hands of a mysterious figure with a straight-edge razor.  Only one person witnessed the murder, a spunky prostitute named Liz (Nancy Allen), who describes the perpetrator as a blonde woman in sunglasses.  Meanwhile, Dr. Elliott begins receiving phone calls from one of his patients, Bobbi, a pre-op transsexual with homicidal tendencies, and Dr. Elliott’s stolen razor.


Bates Motel (1987) | Richard Rothstein



The events of 1987’s Bates Motel take place 27 years after schizophrenic serial killer Norman Bates is arrested and found guilty by reason of insanity for his crimes.  While in the institution, Norman is introduced to a troubled young boy named Alex West (Bud Cort), who murdered his abusive stepfather in a giant tumble dryer and ends up staying in the same institution.  Norman takes the lad under his wing until his death 27 years later, coincidentally the same year that Alex is finally allowed out of the institution.  According to Norman’s will (how he is deemed of ‘sound mind’ to do so is subject to debate), Alex inherits the Bates Motel and his family home that overlooks it.  Alex soon takes over the motel and aims to renovate it back to its former glory.  However, he finds the Bates house already illegally inhabited by a spunky runaway girl named Willie (Lori Petty), who worms her way into staying and helping Alex realize his dream of making a go of the motel business.  However, not everyone wants the business to succeed, as Alex begins to see the ghost of Mrs. Bates around the place, and calamities begin to happen that threaten the establishment’s livelihood before it can even begin. In what is obviously the first taste of what the “Bates Motel” series would be like, the final third of the film takes a detour as we’re introduced to Alex’s first guest to stay in the motel, an aerobics instructor named Barbara Peters (Kerrie Keane), who claims to be wanting peace and quiet to get some writing done, but in actuality, she aims to slash her wrists in the tub ).  At this point, she is visited by a young woman (Khrystyne Haje) who stops her and takes her to a 1950s-themed party happening at the motel (I think), where she is pursued by Tony (Jason Bateman), a young cruiser there, and the two have strong feelings for one another, despite her protestations about their age difference.  But there is much more to the events that transpire that night than meets the eye. Richard Rothstein directs this made-for-TV pilot to a series based on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho that never followed.


Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990) | Mick Garris



Psycho IV: The Beginning is the fourth and final film in Universal’s Psycho franchise, and the last to portray Anthony Perkins in his most famous of roles.  It’s the first of the series not to be released theatrically, debuting on the premium cable channel Showtime in 1990.  This film is a sequel in theory, as it does take a step forward in showing Norman Bates trying to live the semblance of a normal life today, finally in a relationship with a woman, with a baby on the way.  Trouble is, Norman does not want a baby, thinking that being a homicidal maniac is a genetic trait that passes on from generation to generation, and he wants his mother’s psychopathic tendencies to end with him.

On this night, Norman is listening to a late-night radio program about why sons kill their mothers, and after hearing what the doctors have to say about it, Norman ends up calling the show to tell how it really went down for him.  Under the pseudonym of ‘Ed’, Norman relates the tale of his adolescence, and how his mother Norma’s severe mood swings, psychological abuse, and sexual repression drove him to commit murder, including his own mother.

Although much talked about in the previous films, Psycho IV: The Beginning is the first to show a living Norma Bates (Olivia Hussey), and to give is a first-hand viewing of how bizarre an upbringing a young Norman (Henry Thomas) would have, resulting in an overwhelming feeling of guilt in his actions that he didn’t have the maturity or mental balance to keep a grip on. In addition to Norma’s stamping out of her son’s masculinity and sexuality, there is also an element of Norman becoming a bit of a surrogate for male companionship in her life in between finding a suitable partner, though never physically consummated between mother and son. Mick Garris directs from a screenplay from Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano.


Psycho III (1986) | Anthony Perkins



The events of Psycho III take place not long after Psycho II, as Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), still the sole caretaker of the Bates Motel, ends up hiring a temporary new assistant in the wily rogue musician who goes by the name of Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey). He also has a new patron staying in cabin #1, a spiritually faltering (and suicidal) former nun with an uncanny resemblance, not to mention the same initials, of victim Marion Crane, Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid)Norman is intensely attracted to Maureen, and the feeling is perhaps mutual, but with jealous Mother Bates always dictating Norman’s actions, that doesn’t bode well for her longevity. Meanwhile, tenacious reporter Tracy Venable (Tracy Maxwell) is trying to discover the whereabouts of a missing woman and is sure that she must have met her fate with Norman, though Sheriff Hunt (Hugh Gillin) thinks it another case of people just out to pick on poor Norman for his past transgressions. Anthony Perkins directs.


Psycho II (1983) | Richard Franklin



Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) finally gets his release from a California mental institution after he is found guilty by reason of insanity for the heinous murders he committed over 22 years prior. Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), sister of one of Bates’ victims, has her pleas for a non-release fall on deaf ears. Having been declared of ‘sound mind’ again, Norman returns to his gothic childhood home and Bates Motel near Fairvale, CA, and takes up a job while on parole at a diner nearby. Norman becomes fast friends with a waitress there named Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly), and he ends up offering her a room for a while after her boyfriend tosses her out for someone new. However, as much as Norman tries to put the past behind him, he is beginning to get that old feeling again, as he begins receiving handwritten notes and phone calls from his mother, as well as her appearance in the house at various times, and people begin to start dying once again.


Psycho (1960) | Alfred Hitchcock



Janet Leigh starts off the film as Marion Crane, a clerk in a real estate office engaged in a romantic fling with Sam Loomis (John Gavin), the manager of a hardware store in Phoenix, Arizona.  When she’s given the task of depositing $40,000 in cash into the bank, Marion impulsively decides to keep it, and drives off to California, perhaps to Sam’s hometown, Fairvale, with the freedom to pursue Sam without concern for finances. En route, her paranoid fears get the best of her, as she begins to have second thoughts, but a powerful storm forces her off the beaten track in search of a place to stay, and she comes to the Bates Motel, a completely vacant establishment with “12 cabins, 12 vacancies”.  The motel is run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a shy but friendly man who is excited to not only have his first visitor in weeks, but also one as attractive as Marion, who signs in under a pseudonym.  But Norman’s mother, who resides on a small hill overlooking the establishment, isn’t going to lose Norman to just any visiting trollop who comes along without a fight. Alfred Hitchcock directs.


Motel Hell (1980) | Kevin Connor



Motel Hell follows the exploits of Farmer Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun), who has three basic jobs: farmer, motel owner, and purveyor of the best straight-from-the-farm smoked meat products sold in the country. He and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) set up road accidents to abduct injured passers-by along the two-lane highway near their motel (it’s called “Motel Hello” but the last ‘o’ is on the blink), chloroforming them to knock them out, then planting their bodies into the ground up to their neck in their walled-off “secret garden” (with their vocal cords severed). They’re kept fed until it’s time to process them for their super-secret blend of pork and human flesh meat products (their coy slogan is, “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters”. Hanging around but completely oblivious is Vincent’s daft younger brother Bruce (Paul Linke), who happens to be a county deputy sheriff based in the nearby town of Grainville, and who has eyes for one of the abducted young women, Terry (Nina Axelrod).


The Shining (1980) | Stanley Kubrick



A dysfunctional family is hired as the caretakers for an empty, isolated Rocky Mountain hotel, the Overlook, during the snowy season. Young Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) is gifted with ESP, his father Jack (Jack Nicholson) is a tempestuous alcoholic, and his mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall) is racked with guilt. Jack hopes writing a successful play will rectify his dreary life. The hotel has a history of evil, including Grady, a former caretaker who slaughtered his wife and daughters. The Torrances experience supernatural occurrences, enticed by the ghosts of the Overlook to repeat its evil history. Stanley Kubrick co-writes and directs.


The Changeling (1980) | Peter Medak



The Changeling concerns an esteemed New York pianist/composer named John Russell (George C. Scott) who accepts a lectureship position in Seattle for solitude and restoration following the deaths of his wife and daughter in a roadside accident. Claire Norman (Trish  Van Devere), a volunteer at the local Historical Preservation Society, moves him into a massive old Victorian-Gothic mansion located outside the city that hasn’t had anyone living in it in at least twelve years. Russell soon discovers that the house isn’t as uninhabited as he thought, as things begin to occur (banging noises, bathroom water taps, a boy’s image is glimpsed within the water) though it could also be his grief-fueled imagination. He’s told that the house has a history and doesn’t want people living in it.

Later, Russell senses the house wants to tell him something. He discovers a locked secret room that resembles a nursery, containing a rusty wheelchair and an antique music box that plays a song he’d been composing since he entered the house. Claire tries to help, digging into the sordid history of the house, including a revealing seance that leads them to make contact with the spirit within who provides more clues to the 70-year-old mystery that must be solved to find peace.


House II: The Second Story (1987)



House II opens in the early 1950s, where we find Charles and Judith McLaughlin handing away their baby Jesse to adoption. This is to protect their child from retribution by a powerful ghost named Slim Razor, who has appeared in the couple’s mansion demanding they hand over a crystal skull. After the couple confronts Slim to reveal that they don’t have it or know where it is, Slim kills them.

Flash forward twenty-five years, and their aspiring artist son Jesse is all grown up, Jesse moves into his inherited but long-dormant home with his girlfriend Kate. Odd artifacts about, including a one that is obviously missing from a mantelpiece.  Jesse and Kate are soon visited by Jesse’s rambunctious friend Charlie and his pop-singer girlfriend Lana, aka Puce Glitz.

While looking through the family’s photo albums in the home, Jesse spies pictures of his namesake, his great-great-grandfather Jesse, who was an outlaw from the old West who earned his keep finding lost treasure, including a crystal skull with giant jewels in its eye sockets. Slim Razor also factors into the pictures, elder Jesse’s partner, and details of their falling out over the ownership of the skull are revealed.

An old book on Mexican legends tells more stories about the skull that will unlock the mysteries of the universe and grant everlasting life to those who possess it, as well as the ancient Aztec practice of burial with one’s jewels. Jesse and Charlie determine to dig up the grave of elder Jesse to find the skull. Unearthed, they find the elder Jesse reanimated to life, preserved by the skull’s magical powers, though looking quite old. However, it also returns the spirits of others who’ve been looking for the skull from various times and dimensions, including Slim Razor, who is out to claim what Jesse stole from him prior to abandoning him into the Mojave desert to die.


House (1986) | Steve Miner



An elderly artist named Elizabeth Hopper (Susan French) is found having hanged herself in the three-story Victorian house in Marin County, California, that she claimed is haunted. Hopper’s nephew, a famous horror novelist named Roger Cobb (William Katt), inherits the house and decides to move in so that he can have the solitude necessary to write his next book, a memoir of his harrowing time as an American soldier in Vietnam. His publisher as well as his fans don’t want him to write but he finds something is compelling him to get it down on paper.

Cobb underwent several traumatic experiences: his son Jimmy (Eric & Mark Silver) disappeared a year ago at his aunt’s home and is presumed dead. The ordeal resulted in a separation from his television soap opera actress wife Sandy (Kay Lenz).  In the home at night, Roger begins seeing things, unnerving things, around the house. They include harrowing flashbacks to his Vietnam War days where he let down a fellow troop named Big Ben (Richard Moll). Ben vowed revenge against Roger for abandoning him to be tortured by the Viet Cong.  Harold (George Wendt), the next-door neighbor, is a bit nosy and keeps coming around as Roger tries to catch these apparitions in the act. Roger is sure that his son is still around the house somewhere and that finding him will redeem what has happened to his life since his disappearance.


The Horror Show (aka House III) (1989) | James Isaac



After viciously murdering over 110 people, the serial killer known as ‘Meat Cleaver Max’ Jenke (Brion James) gets the death penalty, sentenced to fry in the electric chair. Max doesn’t go easily, staying alive for nearly ten minutes as they zap him with everything they have before expiring. However, something happens in the process of electrocution that allows Jenke to live on as a supernatural entity of electricity – one that seeks revenge on the cop that arrested him, Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen). McCarthy suffers from PTSD, forced into a leave of absence while seeing a psychologist until well enough to return as a detective. However, despite seeing Jenke executed with his own eyes, McCarthy sees him everywhere – in his dreams, on his TV, and popping up whenever he’s out and about. Either Jenke truly is a supernatural being taking up residence in McCarthy’s furnace, or McCarthy’s delusional and putting his family in grave danger.

Erratum: Once again, I refer to composer Harry Manfredini as Henry Manfredini, likely because of the composer Henry Mancini.


Shocker (1989) | Wes Craven



A college football star named Jonathan (Peter Berg) experiences horrifically vivid hallucinations following a concussive collision with a goal post. His first vision depicts the murder of his foster mother and siblings. When he awakes, he finds that his dream actually happened. He’s an eyewitness, but wasn’t physically there, leaving the cops skeptical. Jonathan realizes his visions are a telepathic link to the murderer, Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), which he uses to thwart the next murder in the Midwestern town of Maryville before he kills again. Pinker gets caught and his verdict is death by electrocution. Before Pinker sits in the electric chair, he makes a Faustian deal his jail cell to a television set that allows him to live on after the experience as an entity of electricity that can channel into any electrical network, including people’s bodies, the power grid, and anything plugged into a wall socket, including televisions from coast to coast. After he reveals himself to b Jonathan’s biological father, Pinker makes a violent escape, only this time, he can be anywhere – or anyone – and only his son’s psychic powers might be able to stop his rampage. Wes Craven writes and directs.


Pulse (1988) | Paul Golding



Electricity lines between the houses in a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood allow an unseen but powerful malevolent force to enter homes, where it begins twisting the house’s wiring and everything that is plugged into it to its liking. Eventually, it begins using the home’s appliances to torture the inhabitants within. In one home on a cul-de-sac, the father went crazy and began destroying his home. Now it seems to be threatening the home across the street, where an 11-year-old boy named David (Joey Lawrence) is visiting his divorced father (Cliff De Young) for the summer. David seems to know what’s going on, but he can’t leave until he convinces his skeptical father before they’re stuck in a high-voltage death trap.

Roxanne Hart and Matthew Lawrence also appear in this 1988 eerie story written and directed by Paul Golding.


Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)



In this made-for-network-TV entry, a crack team of Catholic priests comes in to exorcise the demonic presence within the possessed Amityville home. Cornered, the demon finds refuge by traveling through the power cable into a hideous-looking floor lamp. Sensing the evil is gone from the home, the contents of the home are put up at a yard sale, where a frolicsome older woman spies the lamp for a hundred dollars that would make for a great gag gift to send her sister in California.

That sister is Alice Leacock, who lives in a Victorian house overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the fictional northern California town of Dancott. Alice is a bitter fuddy-duddy set in her ways, and unhappy to have to take in her newly widowed daughter, Nancy Evans, and three grandchildren until they can get back on their feet. Alice receives the lamp, placing it prominently in her home, despite her household cat and parrot reacting with alarm to its presence. Not long after, strange occurrences erupt as the evil gets unleashed throughout the house, with the malevolent spirit especially targeting and influencing the youngest of the grandchildren by convincing her that it is her dead father. Meanwhile, one of the priests concludes that the evil may have transferred into one or more of the house’s yard sale items and begins sleuthing, trying to warn the family that they are in possession of a powerful demonic presence that will surely destroy them all.