Horror movies have been around since the invention of film but I’d argue they didn’t truly let their freak flag fly until the 1980s. This Renaissance of Horror brought about a lot of vocal detractors like conservative groups, Christian groups, conservative Christian groups and those bastards, the Reagans. But no organization was as detrimental to the creativity of up and coming horror artists as the gosh darn MPAA, led by some asshole involved with assassinating JFK. As we near both Halloween and the election this year, let’s defiantly celebrate with this ridiculously over-the-top and wildly inventive sub-genre of cinema. Fuck censorship (unless it’s hate speech, ya’ll) and let the proud boys choke on our cronenbergs!
Let’s continue the list of my personal Top 50 80s Horror films are selections #30 through #21.
30. The Evil Dead (1981)
Low Budget * Demonic Possession * Violent * Gory * Funny * Awful Tree Scene * Claymation
This is the very definition of gung-ho, do-it-yourself, fuck-it-we’ll-do-it-live cinema. Sam Raimi was up against everything and manage to manipulate almost all of his budgetary shortcomings to his advantage. While he did a much better and more polished job on his sequel Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (more on that later) the original Evil Dead is quite effective. Minus that awful tree rape scene, which really threatens to bring the fun-trashy mood to a screeching halt.
directed by: Sam Raimi ; screenplay by: Sam Raimi ; starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManicor, Betsy Baker, Teresa Tilly, Ted Raimi, Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel. AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX.
29. Scanners (1981)
Canadian * Science-Fiction * Head-Exploding Mutants * Violent * Gory
The most memorable scene of this movie happens just 10 minutes in when Michael Ironside makes this dude’s head explode. It’s probably the most insane practical effect I’ve ever seen. This motherfucker’s head completely explodes like a watermelon getting hit dead-on with a 12-gauge. It’s intense, surprising and actually quite humorous, and will have you rewinding over and over and over again. The rest of the movie isn’t as great, but Scanners is still a smart and fairly relevant low-budget thriller pretty much all of the way through.
directed by: David Cronenberg ; screenplay by: David Cronenberg ; starring: Michael Ironside, Stephen Stack, Jennifer O’Neill, Patrick McGoohan. AVAILABLE ON HBO and HBOMAX.
28. Gremlins (1984)
Family Friendly * Little Smart-Ass Creatures * Cute * Funny * Christmas
Steven Spielberg presents a fun, cute and safe diet horror film for the masses. That may sound like a knock but This is easily one of the funniest movies on this list that is basically an Animals Do The Funniest Things episode on a teaspoon of crystal meth. Just a teaspoon, though.
directed by: Joe Dante ; screenplay by: Chris Columbus ; starring: Zach Gilligan, Phoebe Cates, Corey Feldman, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain, Dick Miller, Judge Reinhold, Howie Mandel, Jonathan Banks, Glynn Turman. AVAILABLE FOR $3.99 RENTAL ON AMAZON PRIME.
27. Day of the Dead (1985)
Zombies * Satire * Goofy * Violent * Heavy Latex Makeup Effects
It’s not as poignant or as well-crafted as Romero‘s previous entry in the Dead series, Dawn of the Dead, but it’s a damn good time and too damn weird to dismiss. Only in the 80s could something this graphically violent be so damn funny.
directed by: George A. Romero ; screenplay by: George A. Romero ; starring: Lori Cardille, Anthony Dielo Jr., Terry Alexander. AVAILABLE ON HBOMAX.
26. From Beyond (1986)
H.P. Lovecraft * Science Fiction * Heavy Latex Makeup Effects * Violent
Re-Animator‘s superior in almost every way except as a comedy, From Beyond is another Stuart Gordon H.P. Lovecraft adaptation with a bigger budget and more ideas. Barbara Crampton is the mad scientist this time, delivering a much better performance than she did in Re-Animator, while Jeffrey Combs is as brilliant as usual as the ingenue. Throw in Ken Foree in his underwear, and you got yourself a party.
directed by: Stuart Gordon; screenplay by: Dennis Paoli ; starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Ted Sorel. AVAILABLE ON SHUDDER.
25. Society (1989)
Satire * Evil Rich Folk * Heavy Latex Makeup Effects * Funny * Violent
Eat the rich? More like fuck the rich. This bizarre and utterly hilarious satire on the 1% begins like a shitty Beverly Hills 90210 episode and ends with people’s faces where their buttholes should be.
directed by: Brian Yuzna ; screenplay by: Rick Fry, Woody Keith ; starring: Billy Warlock, Connie Danese, Ben Slack, Evan Richards, Patrice Jennings. AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME.
24. The Gate (1987)
Tween Horror * Portal to Hell * Campy * Funny * Dark * Claymation
For a PG-13 horror film, The Gate gets into some seriously dark shit. Two kids, one a little dork (a young Stephen Dorff, pre-True Detective) and the other a metal kid (Louis Tripp) discover a gate to hell in their backyard while their parents are away one weekend. What ensues is a lot of monster shit involving claymation fat naked goblin men who are simultaneously cute and terrifying. It’s a blast and super underrated among 80s horror films.
directed by: Tibor Takacs; screenplay by: Michael Nankin ; starring: Stephen Dorff, Louis Tripp, Kelly Rowan, Jennifer Irwin. WATCH WITH MOVIESPHERE FREE TRIAL ON AMAZON PRIME.
23. Chopping Mall (1986)
Killer Mall Security Robots * Fucking Stupid * Unintentionally Hilarious * Problematic Sexual Politics
The title makes no sense whatsoever in that these killer mall security robots shoot lasers, they don’t chop anything. But some marketing thought the title would attract more moviegoers, so what we get is a completely misleading title and poster that I’d argue undersells how ridiculous and fun this movie really is. This is an awful film, a bona-fide pile of misogynist, exploitive crap but it’s done in such earnest it’s almost impossible not to love. It’s 70-some odd minutes of horny teenagers having a sleepover in a shopping mall and cheap trashcan robots shooting them with lasers. Take it or leave it. I took it all the way.
directed by: Jim Wynorski ; screenplay by: Jim Wynorski, Steve Mitchell ; starring: Kelli Maroney, Barbara Crampton, Dick Miller, Angus Scrimm, Gerrit Graham. AVAILABLE ON SHUDDER.
22. The Dead Zone (1983)
Psychic Protagonist * Political/Relevant * Thriller * Stephen King Adaptation
Possibly the least Cronenbergian entry of David Cronenberg‘s filmography, this Stephen King adaptation is pretty straight forward in its themes. Christopher Walken plays a man who after a life-changing car accident becomes psychic and must stop a greedy, money-grubbing, orange politician from eventually becoming president so he doesn’t end up nuking the world. Okay, he’s not orange, he’s just Martin Sheen. This is a very well crafted paranormal chiller but you always forget it’s a Cronenberg.
directed by: David Cronenberg; screenplay by: Jeffrey Boam; starring: Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Tom Skerritt, Brooke Adams. AVAILABLE ON AMC+ and for $3.99 RENTAL ON AMAZON.
21. They Live (1988)
Anti-Fascist * Action * Six Minute Fight Scene * Alien Conspiracy * Funny * Campy
It’s hard to imagine a more relevant 80s movie right now than John Carpenter‘s rage letter to the Reagan administration. Two working class drifters (Roddy Piper and Keith David) discover a box of x-ray sunglasses that reveal all Republicans to be ugly-ass skeleton aliens here to drain our planet of its natural resources. In a race against time, they attempt to blow the whistle and kick a little ass along the way. What else are they going to do? They just ran out of bubble gum.
directed by: John Carpenter; screenplay by: John Carpenter, Ray Nelson ; starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, Peter Jason. AVAILABLE ON STARZ.