The Changeling (1980) Written by William Gray & Diana Maddox Directed by Peter Medak
Does tragedy make a person more open to other planes of existence? If we come close to death or experience, profound loss, are we then able to brief make out the shades of another world that exists within our own? The Changeling explores these ideas in a tightly crafted and well made haunted house picture. Long before the days of Blumhouse, this was a movie that trafficked in many of the same tropes and themes but didn’t need to lean into empty jumpscares or tired formulas to keep audiences interested. That isn’t to say this is a perfect film, but it is made by people who understand what is genuinely horrific about existence.
Somewhere in Time (1980) Written by Richard Matheson Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
I approached this film with moderate expectations but found myself enjoying it quite a bit. Somewhere in Time is a melodrama dripping with maudlin sentimentality. But it’s a well crafted one, so those excesses and silly bits can easily be ignored or enjoyed. The film is based on the novel Bid Time Return, also written by Richard Matheson. Between this film and my Twilight Zone series, I have enjoyed Matheson’s work this year. I’d only previously read I Am Legend, but I think I may need to do a deeper dive into his work. Somewhere in Time feels like a Matheson episode of Twilight Zone, which is stretched out a little longer and gives us a relatively decent tragic love story.
The Fog (1980) Written by John Carpenter & Debra Hill Directed by John Carpenter
John Carpenter is a well-known master of horror & the fantastic and in the early 1980s he was doing the best work of his career. By 1980 he’d directed Dark Dark, Assault of Precinct 13, and the film that propelled him to greater heights, Halloween. Two years later, he would make one movie a year for five consecutive years. It began with The Fog. The idea for The Fog came over several years dating back to the early 1970s as Carpenter recalled a British horror film he saw from a child about monsters in the clouds. While visiting Stonehenge while filming in the UK, he noticed the eerieness of a fog that crept over the site. After hearing about a tragic shipwreck off the northern California coast, Carpenter sat down with then-girlfriend Debra Hill and worked out the screenplay.
Airplane! (1980) Written & Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, & Jerry Zucker
This is one of those films that had a profound influence on me as a kid, though I only knew it by the edited for television version I recorded on the family VCR. Airplane! is the origins of the modern spoof or parody film where a genre is taken and skewered with a non-stop barrage of jokes. Mel Brooks definitely helped pave the way with pictures like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, but even those movies still had a coherent plot arc. Airplane! doesn’t care about the plot and sees it only as a delivery device for hilarious comedy. This movie still holds up today because it doesn’t couch its jokes in the contemporary pop culture of its time.
Nine to Five (1980) Written by Colin Higgins and Patricia Resnick Directed by Colin Higgins
Nine to Five came to Jane Fonda after talking to an old friend who was part of a women’s office workers association called “9to5”. This organization is dedicated to improving the working conditions and ensuring the rights of working women in the United States. They have partnered with local unions to help collective bargaining efforts, establishing themselves by doing this in Boston in the mid-1970s. 9to5 continues their work to this day, expanding their reach nationally and rallying on issues from the pay gap, childcare, sexual harassment, and more. Fonda initially thought of the picture as a drama but decided that it would be too preachy and on the nose, so she opted for a classic Hollywood style farce.
Popeye (1980) Written by Jules Feiffer, Songs by Harry Nilsson Directed by Robert Altman
The making of Popeye began with a bidding war for the film rights to the Broadway stage adaptation of Little Orphan Annie. When producer Robert Evans found out Paramount had lost the bid to Columbia Pictures, he held an executive meeting about what comic properties they owned that could replace Annie. One person chimed in “Popeye,” and so it was decided they would make a movie musical based on the spinach-eating sailor man. The original concept was to cast Dustin Hoffman as Popeye and Lily Tomlin as Olive Oyl, but that fell through. At one point, even Gilda Radner was considered for Olive. However, when things finally settled and production began, we ended up with a picture that Paramount wasn’t too happy with, but that has become a cult classic.
The Blues Brothers (1980) Written by Dan Akroyd & John Landis Directed by John Landis
Saturday Night Live has spawned many film spin-offs and become the launchpad for many comedic actors. It began with The Blues Brothers, the first movie to take characters created on the show and put them in a feature presentation. The Blues Brothers were established in 1978, and over the years, Akyroyd and collaborator Ron Gwynne developed a backstory about the duo growing up in an orphanage and learning blues from the janitor. With the success of Animal House, director John Landis and star John Belushi were in a perfect position to get The Blues Brothers movie made.
Earlier, I looked at Max Lord, one of the villains in the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984. Today, I’ll breakdown the second villain, The Cheetah. Unlike Lord, The Cheetah has always exclusively been a Wonder Woman enemy, but there have been multiple people that worked under that name. In 1985, DC Comics launched Crisis on Infinite Earths, a company-wide event that rebooted the entire timeline and compressed many parallel Earths into one. Before this, there had been two Cheetahs, neither of whom had superpowers and were mainly knock-offs of Batman’s villain Catwoman. With Crisis, these versions were erased to make way for writer-artist George Perez’s overhaul of Wonder Woman and her continuity. This led to a new Cheetah, one who derived her powers from dark mythic gods.
The Quiet Earth (1985) Written by Bill Baer, Bruno Lawrence, and Sam Pillsbury Directed by Geoff Murphy
The Last Man on Earth trope is a prevalent one in popular science fiction, being the fodder of the Twilight Zone multiple adaptations of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and even a Fox television series. There’s the old scary story “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.” This is the foundation on which The Quiet Earth is built, exploring what it would be like to exist as the last member of your species, knowing that with your end, so goes all memory of your civilizations.
The upcoming Wonder Woman 1984 is set to feature two villains, and I am writing up a spotlight on each. First up is a character who has been both a hero and a villain, and it wasn’t until 2006 that they were even associated with Wonder Woman so directly.