YEAR OF FURIOUS FILMS: 1981

Year of Furious Films is our newest series on FC where we’ll be choosing our favorite films from each designated year. You may notice that we won’t be going in chronological order, it’ll be more random, but thats really part of the fun. We’ll be covering a wide array of movies from various eras spanning from the 20th century to the modern age. We hope you enjoy these lists and that they’ll inspire you to give the movies a watch or even a rewatch if you’ve already seen them.

1981

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Dir: Steven Spielberg)

Inspired by the exciting adventure serials of the early 20th century, film geek pals Spielberg and Lucas blended them all into one superb modern action classic. Starring Harrison Ford as Henry “Indiana” Jones, mild mannered college professor by day, legendary treasure hunter by night.

Escape From New York (Dir: John Carpenter)

In this futuristic action classic Kurt Russell plays Snake Plissken, an ex-soldier turned outlaw is hired by the US government to rescue The President (Donald Pleasence) after his plane crashes on the island of Manhattan which has become a modern prison for criminals. Co-starring Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine and Isaac Hayes.

Blow Out (Dir: Brian DePalma)

In the tradition of films like Blow Up and The Conversation, John Travolta plays a movie sound man who accidentally records the assassination of a US Senator and must prove what actually happened before he and another eyewitness are knocked off by the same psychotic hitman who was responsible.

Body Heat (Dir: Lawrence Kasdan)

This steamy neo-noir which could be seen as a modern spin on Wilder’s Double Indemnity, is filled with thrills. William Hurt plays Ned Racine, a sleazy lawyer who gets involved in a torrid affair with Matty (Kathleen Turner) a married woman. The two soon decide that the only way for them to be together is to kill her husband (Richard Crenna) when Matty relays she wants his money but wont get it due to a prenuptial agreement.

Das Boot (Dir: Wolfgang Petersen)

To this day, no submarine movie has come close to this ultra-realistic and claustrophic experience. Depicting the adventures of a German submarine during WW2, the movie (there is also a longer mini-series version that ran on TV and was quite a sensation at the time it was broadcast) shows a desperate, tense crew that is pushed to their limits, fighting for survival under the rough seas. The movie stars Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Groenemeyer, Heinz Hoenig, Sky du Mont and a number of other German actors, under the direction of Wolfgang Peters, who went on to become one of Hollywood’s favorite blockbuster directors.

The Burning (Dir: Tony Maylam)

In this early slasher gem, an idyllic summer camp is the target of a badly disfigured maniac named Cropsey who is out to get revenge on the counselors and kids that did him wrong. Featuring early appearances from Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter.

8166 An American Werewolf in London (Dir: John Landis)

Best friends David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are hitchhiking across Europe when they’re attacked by a werewolf one night. Jack is killed but David barely gets away with only a scrape. His only problem is that during full moons he finds himself transforming into one of the extremely hairy, blood craving creatures.

Cutter’s Way (Dir: Ivan Passer)

A man named Bone (Jeff Bridges) whose car breaks down in an alleyway one night sees a body being dumped there. He soon becomes a suspect in the murder. While attending a parade in town Bone thinks he recognizes the man who was there the night it happened: it’s a wealthy tycoon. Soon he and his eccentric eyepatched, hard drinking friend Cutter (John Heard) get caught up in solving a conspiracy theory to cover the crime up. An excellent but often overlooked mystery thriller.

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Mommie Dearest (1981, Dir: Frank Perry)

Faye Dunaway gives a furious performance in her portrayal of glamorous Hollywood star Joan Crawford. This film was based on the book by her adopted daughter Christina and its a pretty unromantic look at Crawford’s obsessions and flaws as a person. She definitely hated wire hangers. An interesting experiment you can do is watch this movie then Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It’ll make you wonder what character she was better suited to play in reality.

The Cannonball Run (Dir: Hal Needham)

Burt Reynolds and an all star cast including Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Jackie Chan, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dom DeLuise come together for one helluva high octane, hilarious, rollicking road race.

Death Hunt (Dir: Peter R. Hunt)

When Canadian mountainman Albert Johnson (Charles Bronson) is forced to defend himself from crazy poachers he must fend off the Mounties and a vengeful lynch mob who are out to bring him in. Co-starring Lee Marvin, Andrew Stephens, Angie Dickinson and Carl Weathers.

Decline of Western Civilization (Dir: Penelope Spheeris)

This look at the late 70s/early 80s punk rock scene in Los Angeles is a cultural time capsule and cult classic that every music fan should see. Featuring bands like The Germs, Black Flag, The Weirdos and X.

The Entity (Dir: Sidney Furie)

A single mother (Barbara Hershey) is repeatedly attacked by an unseen poltergeist in her home. She then calls on paranormal investigators to help her. A supernatural psychological thriller with a ton of fury.

The Evil Dead (Dir: Sam Raimi)

A group of college students travel to a remote country cabin to party but when they arrive spirits of the undead begin to ruin their good time in gruesome and gory ways.

Excalibur (Dir: John Boorman)

One of the best films made about the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. Starring Nigel Terry and Helen Mirren with early appearances by Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne.

The Howling (Dir: Joe Dante)

A TV Reporter (Dee Wallace) who’s being stalked by a serial killer decides to goto a resort in the country as a way to deal with her traumatic experience. What she finds when she arrives is a whole other kind of horror since a ravenous werewolf has been causing mass panic in the area. Featuring mind blowing werewolf special effects by Rob Bottin (The Thing)

The Road Warrior (Dir: George Miller)

Ex-police officer Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is now living in his car on the highways of the outback trying to evade a roving band of crazies led by another nut called Lord Humongous. When he finds shelter at a large refinery in the desert, he gets caught in the center of a war for the precious fuel.

Ms 45 (Dir: Abel Ferrara)

When a young mute woman (Zoe Lund) is sexually assaulted she becomes a walking judge jury and executioner wielding a 45. A grimy but great grindhouse classic!

My Bloody Valentine (Dir: George Mihalka)

The small Canadian town of Valentine Bluffs is ready to celebrate their yearly Valentine’s Day until a psychopathic miner named Harry Warden returns to wreak bloody revenge on the citizens there. Another early 80s slasher gem.

Cheech & Chong’s Nice Dreams (Dir: Tommy Chong)

Two pot selling jokesters have a wild n’ crazy adventure as they’re being spied upon by a police officer looking to bust them.

On Golden Pond (Dir: Mark Rydell)

A touching story about seniors (Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn) who reunite with their estranged daughter and bond with her fiancee’s rebellious teenage son at their summer cottage.

Roadgames (Dir: Richard Franklin)

Stacy Keach is Patrick Quid an American truck driver working in Australia who becomes entangled in a mystery revolving around a serial killer who’s knocking women off across the territory. Co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis.

Scanners (Dir: David Cronenberg)

A group of telepathically gifted human beings referred to as “scanners” are sought by ConSec a weapons and security systems company for use in their special programs. When a renegade telepath named Daryl Revok (Michael Ironside) wages a one man war on ConSec, the company brings in aother Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) to try to stop him. One of the film’s main main highlights is Revok’s ability to explode people’s heads with his focused telekinetic powers.

Southern Comfort (Dir: Walter Hill)

A group of unreliable Louisiana National Guardsmen must fight for survival when they cause trouble with some deranged Cajun bayou dwellers. Starring Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward, Franklyn Seales, Peter Coyote and Bryon James.

Stripes (Dir: Ivan Reitman)

Bachelors John Winger (Bill Murray) and his best friend Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) want a new lease on life so they decide to join the Army and that’s when the fun starts. Co-starring Warren Oates, John Candy, Sean Young, PJ Soles, Judge Reinhold.

Thief (Dir: Michael Mann)

A professional diamond thief (James Caan) is offered a chance at making a huge amount of cash by working with a new partner but he soon finds his plans of quitting the biz after one last score isnt going to happen as easy as he planned. Co-starring James Belushi, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky.

Time Bandits (Dir: Terry Gilliam)

This was the first part of Terry Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination” which included Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The story follows a young boy named Kevin and a group of little people that take him on a wild journey through time as they use a special map to steal riches from different eras. Starring Kenny Baker, John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelly Duvall, Ian Holm, Michael Palin.

Conclusion

1981 was a very good year for movies with a variety of genres containing really outstanding cinematic work for all kinds of audiences. Michael Mann, George Miller, Walter Hill, Sam Raimi, Wolfgang Petersen, John Carpenter… they delivered some of their finest work that year. We will continue our exploration of years of furious films. In the meantime, what are your favorites?

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Peter

Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database/Furious Cinema contributor. Pete is a rabid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation/cult flix to big budget mainstream classics. His other interests include: graphic design, cartooning and music.

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