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 shit goblins, 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!
Continuing this list of my personal Top 50 80s Horror films are selections #20 through #11
20. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Freddy Krueger * Sequel * Fantasy * Violent * Funny * Zsa Zsa Gabor Cameo * Heavy Latex Makeup Effects
My favorite movie as a twelve-year-old, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is the perfect example of a perfect horror sequel, one that respects the original while successfully expanding upon it. Dream Warriors really rides the line in terms of being almost too goofy, creating something that is funny and entertaining while providing genuine chills. The inferior, bigger budget sequel, Dream Master, takes Freddy head first into goofy town, from which he would only partially recover in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. If you’re going to watch a Freddy movie this Halloween, watch the original, but if you want to do a sequel, hands down, check out Dream Warriors.
directed by: Chuck Russell ; screenplay by: Chuck Russell, Frank Darabont, Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner ; starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Craig Wasson, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin, Laurence Fishburne, John Saxon. AVAILABLE FOR $2.99 RENTAL ON AMAZON PRIME.
19. The Changeling (1980)
Classic Ghost Story * Slow Burn * Creepy * Sad * Great Lead Performance * Atmosphere 4 Dayz
The best ghost stories are tragic because it’s all about the sins of the past come back to haunt us. This deceptively sleepy George C. Scott ghost thriller follows a grieving music teacher who tries to help the spirit of a young disabled boy who was murdered by his billionaire dad. This is powerful stuff. AVAILABLE ON SHUDDER.
directed by: Peter Medak ; screenplay by: William Gray, Diane Maddox, Russell Hunter ; starring: George C. Scott, Melvyn Douglas, Trish Van Devere.
18. Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Zombies * Dark Comedy * Punk Rock * Violent * Heavy Latex Makeup Effects * Naked Graveyard Dancing
More of an incredibly violent screwball comedy than a straight up horror movie, Dan O’Bannon‘s (writer of Ridley Scott‘s Alien) Return of the Living Dead takes place in a reality where characters are already aware of zombies as pop culture icons. Two warehouse workers accidentally spill a container of military chemicals, that when released in the air re-animate the dead. Good thing they’re so close to a morgue and a graveyard. Veteran character actor James Karen delivers a legitimately fantastic here and Night of the Demons‘ Linnea Quigley dances naked in a cemetery for at least 20 minutes of combined screen time. AVAILABLE FOR $3.99 RENTAL ON AMAZON PRIME.
directed by: Dan O’Bannon ; screenplay by: Dan O’Bannon ; starring: Clu Galager, James Karen, Don Kalfa, Thom Matthews, Linnea Quigley, Miguel A. Nunez, Jr.
17. Hellraiser (1987)
Demons * BDSM * Female Villain * Violent * Heavy Latex Makeup Effects * Fuck Puzzles
Basically about an BDSM Tinder box that spiritually horny people use the summon demons that simultaneously torture and pleasure them. Julia (Clare Higgins – excellent) is in an unhappy marriage to some suburban dork so she re-animates the dead body of his criminal brother Frank, who she used to fuck, who died using the Tinder box. That triggers Pinhead and the cenobites of hell (basically Tinder admins) to come and claim both of them for violating the user agreement. AVAILABLE ON HULU and SHUDDER.
directed by: Clive Barker ; screenplay by: Clive Barker ; starring: Clare Higgins, Andrew Robinson, Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman, Oliver Smith, Grace Kirby, Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford.
16. Creepshow (1982)
Anthology * Campy * Violent * Funny * Heavy Latex Makeup Effects * Meteor Shit * Monsters * Beach Zombies * Cockroaches * Old Racists
The horror anthology to end all horror anthologies, Stephen King and George A. Romero team up to bring you five hilarious and spooky short stories about assholes finally getting their just desserts. My favorite segment features Stephen King as a rural yokel who discovers a meteor crash landing on his farm and unsuccessfully tries to capitalize on it. AVAILABLE ON AMC+ and for $2.99 RENTAL ON AMAZON PRIME.
directed by: George A. Romero ; screenplay by: Stephen King ; starring: Leslie Nielsen, Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, E.G. Marshall, Ed Harris, Stephen King, Ted Danson, Tom Savini, Bingo O’Malley, Richard Gere.
15. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Werewolves * Dark Comedy * Violent * Nazi Monsters * Shower Sex * AMAZING PRACTICAL EFFECTS
This will forever be the definitive werewolf movie, The Howling can suck it. John Landis‘ 1981 hit is just infinitely better filmmaking than its contemporaries, expertly balancing genuinely terrifying material with some of hardest gut laughs of any mainstream 80s horror film. MVP goes to Griffin Dunne as the lead’s best friend, mauled to death by a werewolf, but back in various states of decomposition to warn the lead he will soon turn into a werewolf, but also just to kind of fuck with him. AVAILABLE ON HBO and HBOMAX.
directed by: John Landis ; screenplay by: John Landis ; starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne.
14. Near Dark (1987)
Redneck Vampires * Mobile Homes * Star-Crossed Lovers * Violent * Evil Kid * Texas * Dark Humor
One of the most compelling vampire films I’ve ever seen and impossible to find. Kathryn Bigelow directs the shit out of it and even if the two leads are a bit wooden, the supporting performances of the redneck mobile home vampires played by Lance Henriksen, Jeanette Goldstein and a potent Bill Paxton are fucking flawless. NOT AVAILABLE ANYWHERE.
directed by: Kathryn Bigelow ; screenplay by: Eric Red, Kathryn Bigelow ; starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jeanette Goldstein, Joshua John Miller.
13. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Serial Killer * Whodunnit * Campy * Short Shorts * Male Sexualization * Twist Ending *Multiple Open Pedophile Characters Nobody Has A Problem With * Creative Kills
Apparently much of Wet Hot American Summer was inspired by this low-rent, barely logical and unintentionally hilarious camp thriller whodunnit. It’s Angela’s first summer at camp, too bad it’s the year everyone is either getting murdered or a total bitch to her. This ridiculous film inspired one of the best How Did This Get Made?! episodes and will be around as long as people ironically like shit. Also, fuck Judy. AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME.
directed by: Robert Hiltzik ; screenplay by: Robert Hiltzik ; starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathon Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin, Katherine Kahmi.
12. Altered States (1980)
Science Fiction * LSD * Surreal * Great Lead Performance * Visually Stunning
A far out, acid-soaked horror movie from the writer of Network. Weird sentence I know, but Altered States is a weird movie and a completely engrossing one. William Hurt plays a scientist working with the effects of LSD and somehow breaks a barrier with his mind that alters our shared reality. The movie is pretty consistent all the way through and really captures the spirit of the late 70s. It’s fucking groovy, man. AVAILABLE ON HBOMAX.
directed by: Ken Russell ; screenplay by: Paddy Chayefsky ; starring: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban.
11. Videodrome (1983)
Satire * Evil TV * Political * Violent * Heavy Latex Makeup Effects * Dark Humor
From David Cronenberg, the master of body horror, comes the definitive body horror picture. In a bit of a stretch, James Woods plays a sleazeball television exec who stumbles onto this mysterious TV signal that shows a straight up snuff program. Since he’s incredibly unethical, he puts it on the air but he’s not anticipating how it will physically and mentally alter human beings, including himself. I see this as a great satire on how the Christian right sees naughty programming. It’s a hoot! AVAILABLE FOR $3.99 RENTAL ON AMAZON PRIME.
directed by: David Cronenberg ; screenplay by: David Cronenberg ; starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry.