My Favorite Movies of 1981


It’s been over a week since I touched this project, listing down my 3 favorite films from each year of my life. It’s all because of 1981, also known as the year that broke me on this endeavor. I can EASILY have a top 10 here. 1981’s crop of films were over the top in quantity, quality, and longevity. I had to make some serious decisions. Like, kicking Mad Max 2 to the curb to its 1982 USA release.  

Here’s a sample of what came out that year. Keep in mind these are the movies I LOVE, AND BECAUSE OF HBO, I was able to watch each of them as often as HBO “streamed” them, sometimes a year later, but still. It was this mindset that has saved me from buying video games on their release day and waiting until they’re a GREATEST HITS for $20. It’s still a new game to me, right? But movies, right? 

1981 was like Cronenberg’s Scanners, the films were mind blowing. Tobe Hooper took us to the Funhouse and Sam Rami started The Evil Dead. An American Werewolf in London is tied with The Howling and universally recognized as the greatest werewolf movies ever made. John Carpenter returned to Haddonfield for Halloween II and Jason came to life in Friday the 13th Part 2. Harrison Ford grabbed the whip as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark while Bond was For Your Eyes Only. Quest For Fire gave us an Iron Maiden song and sex ed with Rae Dawn Chong while Sean Connery went to High Noon in Outland. Disney gave us what I still consider to be the best screen dragon ever in Dragonslayer’s Vermithrax, and Ray Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans enthralled us with Hellenic mythology. Nighthawks gave us a super violent Stallone vs. Rutger Hauer. While Mel Brooks contemplated the History of the World Part I, Time Bandits went through the multiverse. Stripes and Porky’s made us laugh, and that’s a fact, Jack. Mommie Dearest destroyed the wire hanger industry, and I had to pick three movies as my favorites. I don’t think you’re going to be surprised by my choices.

3. From the poster featuring a science fiction Valkyrie, to the content, Heavy Metal is a total package, the first movie-soundtrack tandem to enthrall a 14 year old Tom. The radio played the music non stop, on every format station, Journey’s Open Arms. Devo’s cover of Working in the Coal Mine. Blue Oyster Cult’s Veteran of the Psychic Wars. Black Sabbath’s The Mob Rules. Sammy Hagar and Don Felder’s eponymous, yet different, songs. The movie itself is highly influential on me. I see it as a theatrical representation of the Blue Oyster Cult Imaginos mythology, with the Loc-Nar orb filling in for the black mirror. It’s no secret BOC was originally tapped to do more of the soundtrack, but the studio execs went in a different direction. The songs landed on Fire of Unknown Origin, and are some of BOC’s best. You can see the influence of the imagery from the Heavy Metal comics on directors like Luc Besson and the Wachowski Sisters. 

 2. “Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha…  Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha…” The Charm of Making… in Excalibur. John Boorman’s interpretation of the King Arthur legend is the best to appear on film, in my opinion. The cast is stellar: Nicol Williamson’s Merlin is the anti-Gandalf, the anti-stereotype of the venerated Druid and wizard. It launched the genre film careers for the likes of Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hines, Hellen Mirren, and Captain fucking Picard/Professor X himself, Patrick Stewart. Beautiful to behold, filled with iconic imagery. This film has made cultural and creative impacts with its take on the myths. Hell, alongside George Romero’s Knight Riders, Excalibur inspired Ronnie Dio to write NEON KNIGHTS for his Black Sabbath debut.  

 1. “President of what?” Anyone who knows me, knows John Carpenter’s Escape From New York is my second favorite film of all time, and if ever given the chance to contribute to his mythology, I’ll jump on it without hesitation. The soundtrack is my favorite, its wave synth rock and adds to the movie’s coolness. You see, everything about Escape from New York is fucking cool, and that’s why I like it so much. Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken is my favorite anti-hero, why? Because he’s just fucking cool from his eye-patch to his attitude to his empathy. Yes, I said his empathy. Lee Van Cleef’s Commissioner Bob Hauk is almost cooler as one of my favorite “mentor” characters in fiction, and fundamentally that’s what he is on Snake’s Anti-Heroic journey in an alternate timeline where the USA and Russia went to war. Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York is as formidable a villain as you can get – and one without a sympathetic backstory. None is needed, his motivations are clear, they want out of the dystopian nightmare known as Manhattan Federal Prison. The side characters are rich and memorable as everything else in this film. Romero, Brain, Maggie, Cabbie, even Tom Atkin’s handful of lines as Cpt Rehme. And to think Carpenter and company accomplished all of this on a near shoestring budget, 1000 miles away from NYC in St. Louis. 

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