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To access this bonus episode of WATCHING WITH STRANGERS, pledge at least one dollar to Patreon.com/KevinTheStrange
Quite a few people responded to my previous cult movie list, which was my top 5 kid-lead 80s movies similar to the new Netflix original series, Stranger Things. That list was made up of kids movies featuring a small gang of kids getting into shenanigans more or less without the involvement of adults. People threw out suggestions for other movies that have kid main characters, but didn’t have the gang or club element of Stranger Things or the movies on my list.
So I decided to compile another list of cool flicks with the similar theme of kid main characters, only this time, I’m listing my favorite horror movies that feature kids as the leads. Part of the uneasiness of these films is the lack of parents around to save the kids from the supernatural and monstrous horrors that they encounter.
As a kid who grew up mostly alone in a big house, I connected to these movies with a razor sharp focus. This was my life. All that was missing for 10 or 12 year old Kevin Strange was for a real monster to come oozing up out of the basement or through the walls. Isolation is a scary thing. Isolation for a child might be one of the scariest things there is.
6. Lady in White (1988)
Lady in White quickly devolves into a tale of isolation and horror when the kid who played Elliot in E.T. (not really but god damn do they look alike. Incidentally, this kid, Lukas Hass was in a movie on my previous list, Solarbabies.) witnesses the ghostly reenactment of the death of a little girl after being locked in a classroom closet after school.
For a movie about a little kid, this flick deals with really heavy themes such as racism and child murder, but at its core is a who-done-it picture as Elliot from E.T. follows a bunch of clues about the little girl’s death and after being haunted by her ghost again and again, eventually stumbles upon the killer.
As with all of the movies on this list, Lady in White really toes that line between being made for kids and simply being about kids dealing with adult situations. Regardless, it’s a pretty cool little supernatural thriller.
5. The Pit (1981)
This might just be the weirdest movie on the list and, unfortunately, one I didn’t see until my mid 20s. I would have adored this movie as a kid because I was just about as weird and introverted as the kid in this movie. I had a TON of stuffed animal toys from the 80s. My Pet Monsters, Boglins. And I talked to them just like he talks to his teddy bear in this movie. Only my stuffed animals didn’t suggest I murder people in cold blood to feed the little monsters in my back yard… But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Long story short, 12 year old pervert Jamie Benjamin is left alone with his hot babysitter when his parents go out of town, and he takes every opportunity he can to spy on her, and steal money from her to feed meat to the little monsters that live in the pit behind his house.
Wait, what? Yep. It’s that kind of movie. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out on some bizarre, post-70s no-boundaries kid horror that will leave you scratching your head asking, “How the fuck did this get made?”
4. Troll (1986)
Best known as the Troll movie that came before the worst movie ever made, Troll 2, Troll is actually a really, really cool little monster movie featuring a little kid named Harry Potter (yes really) fighting a wicked little monster.
Directed by John Carl Buechler, (one of the best FX artists of the 80s and 90s, responsible for some of the coolest monster FX from that era including the Ghoulies monsters and the most iconic Jason from the Friday the 13th series, part 7.) Troll would be a kind of forgettable movie if not for the crazy power the monster has to turn people into mythical creatures such as elves, goblins and nymphs. The transformations are horrific and disturbing.
Like most of these flicks, the parents are of absolutely no use and Harry has to trek out on his own and enlist the help of a witch who conveniently lives in an upstairs apartment and knows all about the curse of the Troll menacing the inhabitants of their domicile. Solid flick. Don’t let the awfulness of its sequel turn you off of it.
3. Little Monsters (1989)
Featuring Fred Savage of Wonder Years fame and the seemingly immortal Howie Mandel, Little Monsters embodies everything from the late 80s/early 90s gross out culture and I fucking love it. Seriously, it’s probably in my top 20 movies of all time.
So Fred Savage’s family moves to a new town (the plot of every Goosebumps book) and because reasons sets a complex trap that would make Rube Goldberg proud. Fred catches himself a monster.
Of course the monster ends up being Howie Mandel, bad-ass 80s rebel and troublemaker. Fred and Monster Howie hit it off and become best friends, leading Howie to show Fred the monster underworld and all its crazy rules and peculiarities.
Blah, blah, blah Fred’s little brother is captured by evil monsters and it’s up to Fred, Howie and a few of Fred’s closest friends to invade the monster world and rescue his little brother before they all turn into monsters. Solid flick. Would bang.
2. The Gate (1987)
Another one of my favorite movies of all time, The Gate is a genuinely scary ass movie! This was one of my favorite movies to watch as a kid because really NONE of the weird ass monsters that crawl up from every corner of this poor kid’s house are explained. It’s just horrific monster after horrific monster with no punches pulled just because all the characters in the flick are little kids. My kind of movie!
So lightning strikes a tree behind a kid’s house and opens a portal to a hell dimension because that’s just exactly the kind of shit that happens in the 80s. Something about blood, something about an incantation read aloud and we’re off to the races.
This flick is so hauntingly bizarre. The kid is constantly hallucinating these insane monsters. Even his parents show back up at home (he’s left alone for the weekend with his teenage sister in charge) only to turn out to be zombies instead.
The whole thing culminates with a giant demon appearing in front of the little kid and essentially giving him a high five that results in him having a demonic eye placed in the center of his hand. It’s a really, really fucked up movie. Oh, and the little kid is Stephen Dorff.
1. Invaders From Mars (1986)
Another one of my all time favorite flicks, Invaders from Mars (directed by Tobe Hooper who directed my number 2 favorite movie of all time Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and written by Dan O’bannon of Alien and Return of the Living Dead fame.) encompasses everything that freaked me out as a kid.
Mean teachers, parents who may or may not be who or what the seem and… giant meatball aliens? Yes!
So there’s a meteor shower and a kid named David is seemingly the only person who realizes that this is actually a Martian invasion. Everyone from his parents to his teachers are turned into aliens or controlled by aliens or something. There are weird spinning things in the backs of their necks. It doesn’t really make any sense, but it doesn’t have to because the FX are cool as fuck and the little kid actor seems genuinely freaked the fuck out by all the weird shit going on in the movie.
The only person who believes the kid is the hot school nurse. Together they convince the army to come blow the alien space ship to high fuck and save the planet. There’s a scene where a teacher eats a dissected frog. Awesome.
Inspired by the new Netflix original series Stranger Things, I’ve decided to put together a top 5 list of my favorite Kid-led movies from the 80s. What does kid-led mean? It means that a group of two or more kids are the main characters of the movie, not that it’s necessarily a kid’s movie. Not like they make kid’s movies now, anyway.
In the 80s, movies targeted at kids aged 10-14ish weren’t all loud, obnoxious, soulless corporate drivel (not that there wasn’t a lot of that at the time.) A surprising number of movies from that era actually spoke to us with respect, knowing that being a kid didn’t mean we were dumb, it meant that we were learning and that each summer when school got out, we grew and changed in huge ways and made friendships that were sometimes strong enough to last entire lifetimes. Days felt like weeks and months felt like years. The only way to deal with the intensity of life as a kid was to gang up with a group of your most trusted allies and do it together.
These five movies are my favorite 80s kid flicks:
5. The Explorers (1985)
The Explorers, starring a young chubby River Phoenix and a debuting Ethan Hawke, directed by prolific 80s cult movie director Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Burbs) starts off as your standard young kid 80s flick, but quickly becomes something much more.
The boys discover a weird technology that creates an air-tight bubble and promptly use it to build their very own space ship. The third act takes an insane turn with the boys finding an actual alien space ship with real live aliens on board, who happen to be more like them than they initially realize.
This flick has everything a great kid oriented 80s movie needs. Boring school scenes, bullies, bike rides, awkward scenes with girls and the theme than runs throughout these types of films: The seemingly unbreakable bond of childhood friendship. This theme will pop up over and over again and is one of the threads that holds Stranger Things together, giving us all that awesome 80s kids movie nostalgia feeling.
4. Stand By Me (1986)
What can I say about Stand By Me that hasn’t already been said? This is THE quintessential coming of age childhood movie for us 80s kids. Based on the Stephen King short story The Body and directed by Rob Reiner.
This flick, like The Explorers, also features River Phoenix, strangely enough. Also starring (and launching the careers of) Jerry O’connell, Wil Wheaton and Corey Feldman, Stand By Me is the story of a group of friends who find a dead body and all the weirdness that ensues, including a rival gang of miscreants (lead by a young Kiefer Sutherland) laying their own claim on the body.
Expertly written, acted and directed, Stand By Me would probably claim most people’s number 1 spot on a list like this. But I’m not most people, and my top spots are dedicated to weirdos and monsters. While I love this flick, there’s just not enough craziness for it to make the very top of my list.
3. Solarbabies (1986)
Post-apocalyptic movies–if you’ve read my books, this will come as no surprise–are some of my all time favorite flicks. So it would be remiss if I didn’t include an apocalyptic coming of age movie in my top 80s kids movies list.
Solarbabies is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. But this is a top 5 list, not a best of list, and while this flick might not be good, exactly, it’s still a major staple of my childhood. My household had a lot of bootlegged VHS movies in a time long before the advent of the internet. So watching movies on the weekends, holidays and long summer days is what most of us weirdo kids who didn’t have any friends did with the time we didn’t spend reading comic books or playing Nintendo. (Actually, sometimes I read comic books and watched movies at the same time.)
One of the movies I came back to time and time again (this included the original Star Wars trilogy, Legend, and Ernest Goes to Camp) was Solarbabies. I’m not sure exactly what was so appealing about this movie other than its bizarre setting, but I probably watched it every other week for years.
The plot is more or less the same as the glut of post-Road Warrior apocalyptic movies. Yada, Yada, Yada, all the water on Earth is gone and what little there is left is controlled by really bad guys while our really cool protagonists wish really badly that they had some of that sweet, sweet H2O.
The big gimmick in this movie is that most of it takes place on roller skates which puts it more in line with The Mighty Ducks as sort of a teenage sports drama than any kind of futuristic cannibal tale. Anyway, the flick is a mess, but I loved it as a kid for some reason.
2. The Goonies (1985)
Another absolute 80s classic that my dumb ass isn’t going to be able to articulate nearly as well as any number of skilled film historians and super movie geeks, but I’ll give it a go, anyway.
As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, but the couple that I did have loved all of these crazy ass 80s flicks as much as I did. And we’d often run around quoting scenes from Robocop or Predator. But the movie we’d end up quoting more than any other (except for my number 1 spot below) is, of course, The Goonies.
If it wasn’t for the fact that there aren’t actually any real monsters or ghosts in The Goonies, it would for sure be my number 1 pick for best 80s kids movie. But since it ends up being a straight up mystery/thriller/adventure story for kids, it’s going to have to settle for number 2 on this one.
Written by future Harry Potter visionary Chris Columbus from a story by Steven Spielberg and directed by another 80s movie stalwart, Richard Donner (Superman, Scrooged, Lethal Weapon) The Goonies is the story of a gang of oddball friends who find themselves mixed up in an insane treasure hunt for “One Eyed Willy’s” pirate treasure. Hot on their heels is an equally bizarre family of criminal miscreants called the Fratellis who will stop at nothing to get that gold for themselves.
Full of madcap action and quotable one liners, The Goonies really is the perfect 80s kids movie and sort of personifies everything great about that era. Looking back on it today, The Goonies is what movie geek nostalgia is made of.
1. The Monster Squad (1987)
One of my all time favorite films in general, outside of this list, The Monster Squad was written by Predator scribe Shane Black and directed by Fred Dekker who also directed one of my other favorite films of all time, Night of the Creeps.
The Monster Squad is the 80s kids movie take on the Universal Monsters, all done up by FX wizard Stan Winston who makes these baddies look legitimately scary and mean while existing inside a really quirky, innocent movie about a group of kids who love to hunt monsters, that is until they actually find some!
The plot centers around some kind of amulet, some kind of incantation and the sort of once every hundred years gobbletygook that makes up the story of these kinds of schlocky flicks. But the real stars of the show here are the monsters. Featuring an indestructible (unless you have sliver, of course!) wolfman with very sensitive balls and the best goddamn creature from the black lagoon we’re ever likely to see in a live-action film, the monster squad was absolute eye candy for a young Kevin Strange.
My friends and I would quote this movie more than The Goonies, more than Robocop, even more than Total Recall when we ran around acting like monsters and shooting fake guns at each other.
The Monster Squad and all the rest of the flicks on this list instantly transport me back to the days of my youth, and the creators of Stranger Things managed to do exactly the same thing with their carefully crafted homage to all things 80s kids movies. Bless them for taking all of us big kids, now pushing 40, back to the days when our bikes were our weapons, our wits kept us alive, and the world was ours for the taking, right up until the street lights came on and mom yelled out the front door that it was time for supper.
Stranger Things season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.