As someone who has been a radio DJ, I can appreciate the spooky potential of the radio station studio. More than a few films have explored these dynamics. Sure, some stories on this list are more radio-oriented than others, but they all have moments where a DJ or radio station figures into the story. In fact, a few involve some crazed fans of radio personalities. Yikes!
1. Play Misty for Me (1971)
Before Glenn Close or Kathy Bates, there was Jessica Walter as crazed stalker Evelyn Draper in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me. So, where does radio come into play? Eastwood’s character, Dave Garver, is a radio DJ, and apparently an alluring one at that… that is, if Draper’s obsession with him is any sign. This was quite a departure for the actor, who usually plays a gruff but lovable country-western outlaw or a renegade Dirty Harry type.
Nowadays, one can picture Eastwood doing a lot more things, like talking to chairs or maybe attending the occasional celebrity golf tournament. However, Play Misty for Me is a different kind of thriller, and Eastwood seems surprisingly at home in the role of a man terrorized by an obsessed fan. The film demonstrates that he has some range, playing a character who is actually on the vulnerable side (though, to be fair, there are a few other movies where he played characters who got their asses kicked). When the show ends, it might make any famous broadcaster wish to be careful with who they bring back to their apartment.
2. The Severed Arm (1973)
Gary Adelman’s The Severed Arm seems to escape many horror fans’ radars, but it is a decent little film for what it is. The story involves survivors of an accident while exploring a cave who, believing they are stranded and in need of food, resorted to eating the arm of their buddy, Ted Rogers (Ray Dannis). In a sick twist, a rescue crew arrives shortly after they enacted their little severance plan. To make matters worse, they lie to the press and claim their buddy’s arm was crushed under falling rocks.
Years later, one of the survivors, Jeff Ashton (David G. Cannon) receives an arm in the mail. Rather than contacting the FBI, Ashton brings the unusual artifact to the attention of fellow cave explorers Doctor Ray Sanders (John Crawford) and Sergeant Mark Richards (Paul Carr). Upon further inspection, their first suspect is Ted, whose mental health began to deteriorate after experiencing his pals’ gruesome handiwork. Is Ted getting revenge instead of simply being catatonic, or taking his own life, or doing arts and crafts projects in a mental hospital somewhere?
For the most part, this is a mysterious, serious movie, but there is some light comedic relief from a radio DJ named “Mad Man” Herman (Marvin Kaplan), who also was on that fateful expedition. We all know someone like Herman. When another person is quite contentious, he’ll likely try to calm things down a bit.
What makes this movie pretty decent is that, for the most part, one might be able to understand the killer’s potential sour grapes. Might some people in real life develop their own weird and violent whims if they felt so cruelly cheated? There are no strange creature sightings here or nigh-invincible, mask-wearing killers. That’s why, to me, a movie like this might hit home a little harder than some others. There are also some ethical and philosophical questions, such as whether these characters should have attempted to clean up and hide what happened. In an odd way, their decision to deny responsibility for the severed arm is nearly as ambiguous as the killings themselves. That’s what I call a good concept, and any story that has layers like that will tend to shine through whatever flaws the film might otherwise have.
3. The Fog (1980)
What ignites an all-consuming fire in your heart? A good ghost story? Well then, you might want to hop on board the vessel called The Elizabeth Dane. Or not, because it’s inhabited by a bunch of pissed-off revenants hellbent on afflicting revenge on the ancestors of the townsfolk who wronged them (or something like that). There really isn’t that much mystery below the surface here but, if you’re of the right kind of mind, the tension of John Carpenter’s The Fog might be thick enough to cut with a knife.
Meanwhile, there are some random characters in the movie, like a hitchhiker named Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis) who unwittingly stumbles into the town’s curse. Then, of course, you have the radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), who uses her station to aid others in evading the revenants (who leave little time for townsfolk to investigate what’s going on). She is playfully seductive at times, saying stuff like, “Keep me turned on for a while.” Feisty! Fortunately for this list, she actually isn’t a minor character
While not my personal favorite horror flick, The Fog does have some refreshing elements to it. For example, the film does have a few strong female characters, but we’re spared the standard battle-of-the-sexes thing here overall as it’s mainly about a town trying to survive the night of a ghastly, ghostly curse involving the mysterious, glowing fog and those dang revenants who travel into town on their old clipper ship. It’s refreshing. Not every story needs that whole boys vs. girls thing, especially when we know that, sometimes, crisis situations bring people together. Here, Stevie Wayne successfully uses the airwaves to help save lives, which is really what heroism is all about.
Another refreshing thing: If memory serves correctly (that is, if it isn’t too foggy, ha!), there aren’t any drawn-out scenes with characters who deny the existence of ghosts or spirits in the ship. I also like that, as too many movies go in the other direction where they’re hellbent on denying the obvious phenomena unfolding before their very eyes. I also don’t recall characters aiding and abetting the revenants, the kind of people who would build a shrine to the monsters, to serve them, pray to them. As another bright point, Carpenter somehow is able to move the movie along pretty fast, despite these rather slow-moving villains who, frankly, are reminiscent of the ones in the Italian Tombs of the Blind Dead series.
The Fog also stars John Houseman, Tom Atkins, Psycho’s Janet Leigh (Jamie Lee Curtis’s actual mother), and Hal Holbrook. Of course, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, and Tom Atkins also appear in George A. Romero’s Creepshow. Finally, I’ll mention that The Fog was remade in 2005 starring Tom Welling and Maggie Grace, but fans and critics alike seem to strongly dislike it.
4. Night of the Comet (1984)
Thom Eberhardt’s disjointed 1984 comedy sci-fi horror flick, Night of the Comet, is hard to describe. It consistently feels like a 1980s overdose with so many tropes available to be easily identified. Nevertheless, the artificial and light feel of the apocalyptic film makes it fun. How would it feel to survive an apocalyptic event? Would it be a soul-crushing tragedy, or more like a perpetual Christmas Eve? Would you do your best to explore the world? Which are the best parts to see? None of this film’s characters make it very far, but maybe that’s part of its charm.
A radio station is a highlight of this story, as a character named Hector Gomez (Robert Beltran) draws in other survivors with his broadcasts. The main characters briefly take refuge in a cheesy radio station, gathering their senses after much of the human race was burnt into calcium dust. There are also some Dawn of the Dead elements, as the characters end up in a shopping mall, too. Night of the Comet stars Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Beltran, and Kelli Maroney. Interestingly, it also has Sue Ane Langdon and Stanley Brock, who both appear as George Newman’s aunt and uncle in the Jay Levey/”Weird Al” Yankovic film UHF (which prominently features a TV station rather than a radio station).
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 offers us a radio DJ character named Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams). During her show, Stretch accidentally broadcasts the bizarre chainsaw murder of two yuppie douchebags (Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon) by Bubba “Leatherface” Sawyer (Bill Johnson), because they were speaking with her over the phone as they were being murdered! Honestly, the scene’s a bit silly as Stretch would have been able to hang up on them, especially after they made remarks offensive enough to draw the ire of the FCC.
In any case, Stretch’s crazy re-broadcast is heard by Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow), relative to Leatherface and seemingly the head honcho of the Sawyer cannibal clan. Wanting to procure the taped evidence of the broadcast and kill any witnesses, good ol’ Drayton sends Leatherface and his brother, Chop Top Sawyer (Bill Moseley), to take care of business. Leatherface refuses to kill Stretch, however, as he has feelings for her, simultaneously revealing a gentler-yet-pervier side to the big lug. Later, his allegiance to his family is put to the test when they find out he let Stretch live. Can you imagine?!
Other family dynamics take shape in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, too. Franklin returns from the original film, albeit in skeletal form. Still, the most interesting issue is between Stretch, Leatherface, and the Sawyer clan. He does seem to really like Stretch, so one almost feels bad for the guy. Had he not been corrupted by his fam, he might have been a simple-yet-lovable sweetheart. Of course, the burgeoning romance between him and the DJ is awkward, to say the least. In fact, it may be more awkward than the relationship showcased in Let the Right One In, although not more awkward than the one in Psycho.
It is interesting to ponder how that would have worked, though. I can picture Leatherface relaxing at Stretch’s house, puffing on a pipe through his dead skin mask, pretending to read a newspaper while his best gal is away DJ’ing. Could you imagine her being pregnant with Bubba’s baby? Would it be the Devil, growing up to tout his superiority over mankind the way Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow) proudly brandished his award-winning chili? Could Stretch have rejected Leatherface’s heart without having her heart removed?
In any case, love is tough, the saw is family, and the best chili recipe all but proves that Satan was in control of the world from the beginning (watch out for surprise gastrointestinal pains and hardshell peppercorns!). Somewhere down the line, someone messed with Texas, and it fell into a state of complete madness.
6. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
In Danny Cannon’s I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, a character named Karla (Brandy) wins a trip to the Bahamas from a radio contest, despite getting the answer wrong. What does that mean? Well, it might mean that she and her three pals get hacked and slashed to bits on their little vacation. However, they don’t know that, at least not right away. Her boyfriend, Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer), a guy named Will Benson (Matthew Settle), and the first film’s Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) go with her. As one might expect, the sequel builds on the intense guilt Julie still feels about the previous events, especially with insistent I Still Know What You Did Last Summer notifications popping up to haunt her.
It’s unfortunate that they can’t all spend time together relaxing, swimming in a cove, hearing the sounds of dolphins, and snorkeling while hanging out with resident pothead, Titus (Jack Black). Heck, even if you’re the type who stays in the cabin, you’d probably rather spend more time hanging around with Karla than, you know, dodging attacks from one or more mysterious killers.
That being said, it could make Karla feel better knowing she could survive a crazed assailant. Wouldn’t that be quite an adventurous vacation? It’s almost like another exciting contest: “Can you survive even a single night on this wonderful trip to the Bahamas?” It seems obvious that some people would sign up just to prove what absolute badasses they are. Plus, you’d have a lifetime supply of nightmares and, let’s face it, if you’re a drug addict, there would be incentive to not stay in the cabin to snort cocaine (or whatever drug it is) lest a killer shows up to bum your high. Maybe Jack Black’s character could give you primo weed and advice on how to properly sport dreadlocks? There are lots of neat little reality TV contest angles one could throw into the mix.
On a serious note: By part 2 of the I Know What You Did series, the premise was already wearing a little thin, but not to the extent that it was absolutely unbelievable. That makes this a pretty worthwhile sequel, similar to Scream 2. It is true that rage can be long-lasting enough to consume a person’s entire lifetime, which would make it easier to assume a pissed-off fisherman (Muse Watson) could strangle, stab, and slash his way through a number of films. Even with a new TV show revitalizing the franchise, we haven’t fully reached the I No Longer Care What You Did 25 Summers Ago point, at least not yet.
7. The Night Caller (1998)
In Robert Malenfant’s The Night Caller, a lowly convenience store worker named Beth Needham (Tracy Nelson) is a superfan of radio show host Dr. Lindsey Roland (Shanna Reed). With her life falling apart, Beth has an epiphany that inspires her down the darkened path to violence and obsession with Dr. Roland’s life. If you check this out, you’ll entertained by the tangled web of death that Beth weaves, proving that excessive fandom can easily get out of hand.
Of course, anyone who dismisses the idea that this could happen is sorely mistaken. Just as certain people are subconsciously more receptive to advertisements, there’s always someone out there unstable enough to become a stalker. Maybe a celebrity is ultra-attractive or always has the right words. Maybe a stalker wants them to fall in love with them like frickin’ Valentine’s Day. There are many ways to get one’s name in the morning headlines.
Just as importantly, this film is an entertaining trip as opposed to being 100% drama. It’s a memorable jab at the culture of American relationships, and, if you want, maybe even a slick, darkly parodic take on girl power as Beth initially treats their relationship as if they’re ordinary women taking on the world. Never mind that. If Dr. Roland has her way, the two would rarely be seen together in public places, as Beth has an ordinary life, not at all like a career-woman who’s going places. Also buried in Beth’s obsession must be some degree of jealousy and disdain, as her life isn’t enough like the good doctor’s. Given what this story is, it could have been among the most cringeworthy movies ever, but it’s actually very well done. Check it out!
Did we leave out any movies with memorable radio station scenes? Maybe we’ll mention them in part 2 of this list! Either way, let us know what we missed in the comments!