By Nick Mamatas
When I received the synopsis for my novel Sabbath from Macmillan Entertainment, it came complete with a Hollywood style logline: “Highlander meets Seven.” A dude from the past, in this case an eleventh century English knight inexplicably named “Hexen Sabbath,” travels to modern-day Manhattan and cuts off the heads of the Seven Deadly Sins—damn, it was almost as though the logline came first!
In addition to those two movies, reviewers and other writers have noticed the nacho cheese fingerprints of Terminator, Warlock, and other more obvious 1980s touchstones all over my manuscript. However, it is not as though I deeply contemplated or revisited the films of my youth while writing, but now that the book is out I realize just how deeply I was influenced by the following movies. Here is a list of six 1980s films, and one more recent one, I threw into CRISPR gene-editing tool in order to produce Sabbath.
Liquid Sky (1982)
When I was ten years old, New Wave music was the most mind-blowing thing in the world but my neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn was a handful of miles and one million years away from lower Manhattan. So it took me a few years to see Liquid Sky, a bizarre and avant-garde science fiction film, with a literally painful score. Liquid Sky is about an alien invasion, fatal sex, and failed actors and writers. It’s basically what people feared lower Manhattan was like. A typical dialogue exchange: “Have you ever done Quaaludes before?” “I’ve done more Quaaludes than you have aspirin; they don’t impress me.”
If you liked Christopher Lambert in Highlander, you’ll love him… probably in something, but not this movie, though I love it, and him. Subway was a big deal in France, but went nowhere in the US—I recall renting it because the US box cover art made it look at though Lambert was holding some kind of lightsaber. Lambert plays a criminal who rips off the wrong gangster and then falls in love with the gangster’s wife. He also hides in Paris’s subway system, encounters a number of underground figures (including a bodybuilder for some reason) and starts a band. Isabelle Adjani as love interest/gangster moll Helena is the best, especially when she delivers the thematic line of the entire film at a dinner party: “Stop! Tell your story to someone else, because I don’t give a fuck about all this bullshit.”
The Barbarians (1987)
You know who liked this movie? My mother. Mothers can surprise you sometimes. This vehicle for twin bodybuilders Peter and David Paul was a frequent VHS rental in my house as a kid. It’s a dumb movie, of course, but it’s refreshing because it’s funny. The Pauls had some surprisingly good comic timing, and everyone involved seemed to know that sword and sorcery films are intrinsically hilarious, so they may as well embrace that fact. Best moment: as the twins, both wearing face-obscuring helmets are made to fight one another to the death in a strange alleylike combat arena, a random fan gets his hand bloodlessly cut off. (Sabbath doesn’t spare the blood spray, but then I didn’t have any budgetary concerns.)
The Brother from Another Planet (1984)
An excellent film by the genius John Sayles, starring the underrated Joe Morton in a non-speaking role as an alien who happens to appear as a human being of black African descent. A true fish out of water exploring Manhattan as it existed in the 1980s—there’s even a scene in a video arcade, a warm community up in Harlem, a bit of a struggle against the criminal element, a sudden burst of sex, that sort of thing. It takes an outsider to understand just how absurd the modern world is.
This film is needlessly obscure, while movies such as Legend and Ladyhawke are still widely discussed despite being awful. Of course, Dragonslayer’s leads are all obscure, the film is lazily shot, and the effects are second-rate except for the amazing dragon Vermithrax Pejorative (a name so hilarious I nearly used it for my son!). But the plot is surprisingly complex, and features one of my favorite tropes: a character purposefully choosing to die in the first act in order to set events in motion. There’s weird tongue-in-cheek humor, and also surprising darkness for a PG-rated Disney film. Best horrific bit: a virgin sacrifice nearly degloves herself trying to escape the cuffs holding her in place, but Vermithrax arrives and incinerates her anyway. You know, for kids!
Maybe I just like Isabelle Adjani? This is another mash-up of sorts; it’s a classy picture about a disintegrating marriage in the background of the Cold War, and it’s also about a lady who has sex with a humanoid octopus and goes nuts, as does everyone she encounters. Possession is shot like an art film because it is an art film, and it literalizes the existentialist angst typical of arthouse cinema by having characters struck blind and mad by their encounter with the divine. It’s just that divine in this case happens to be a twisted and grotesque humanoid. Best bit: Anna, talking about the hideous devil-creature to a man who has tracked her down—“He’s very tired. He made love to me all night.”
BONUS: Save the Green Planet! (Jigureul Jikyeora!)
This 2003 South Korean masterpiece of science fiction, comedy, noir, and horror is my favorite film…which is different than saying it is the best film I’ve ever seen. However, it does have the best ending of any film I’ve ever seen, and in these days of climate change, mass corruption, and international reaction, pretty much any novel that purports to reflect society or culture should have the same exact ending. The best bit is the premise: a poor working-class slob finds his boss so evil and annoying that he decides that the big man must be an alien from the Andromeda galaxy.
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