Chronicle Recommends: Films from 1981

Experience cinema from the Chronicle's founding year

Every month, the Chronicle’s film critics select a theme and offer movie recommendations. In honor of the Austin Chronicle’s 35th anniversary, we're celebrating films from 1981.

An American Werewolf in London

This, my first underaged side-door foray into the toothy red maw of R-rated horror – I was 14 – today remains every bit the mind-blowing, meta-lycanthro-comedy that earned practical effects godhead Rick Baker his first Academy Award. Director Landis helms an absolutely dead-on brilliant cast working from his own gloriously surreal/hyperreal melding of yuks, yuck, and Jenny Agutter as the sexiest and most compassionate nurse in movie history. I cried at the end. I still do. And I stick to the road, always. A perfect film. – Marc Savlov

Honky Tonk Freeway

There are some who say that the British director John Schlesinger (he of such gritty dramas as Midnight Cowboy and Sunday Bloody Sunday) had no business making a lightweight American comedy like Honky Tonk Freeway. And the film’s paltry box office take and brutal reviews certainly support that theory. However, this little time capsule with a terrific cast offers an amusing panorama of dyspeptic families and other vacation seekers, mercenary bureaucrats, and small-town concerns. And, to this day, it still makes me laugh to think about that elephant up on water skis. – Marjorie Baumgarten

Continental Divide

You could probably rattle off a half-dozen iconic John Belushi characters without taking a breath, but not a one of ’em is a romantic lead. And that’s what makes Continental Divide not a great movie, but an interesting one. Released just six months before his fatal speedball overdose, and roundly rejected at the time by his fans, the film cast Belushi as a hard-driving Chicago journalist forced to hide out in the Rockies, where he spars with, then woos, an eagle protectionist (Blair Brown). It’s sweet, and kinda sad, wondering what Belushi might have done with more parts like this that challenged his clownish persona. – Kimberley Jones


Militant Native Americans, wolf gods, and gentrification swirl around in this criminally underrated crime/horror film which places Albert Finney in the center of a mystery that starts with the brutal murder of a real estate magnate and ends with a shapeshifter showdown in the slums of the South Bronx. The film’s stunningly bleak cinematography matched by great performances by Finney, Gregory Hines, and Edward James Olmos make this an Eighties classic worth revisiting. – Josh Kupecki

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