Siskel and Ebert might have hated them, parents groups may have protested them and the British courts might have had them banned but the popularity of ’80s horror movies has never waned. It seems like every nonhorror fan in the world was hellbent on killing the genre dead but like the supernatural killers that inhabit most of the films within said genre, it was impossible to destroy. And that was because of the fans. For the first time ever, they had to fight in order to protect a genre they loved from seemingly everyone. Studios loved making them because they were cheap but they were also not afraid to pull some due to controversy.
The only thing that kept horror alive in the theatres is that the fans demanded more. The gorehounds came out in droves and because they voted with their wallet, their money outweighed the negative reception. I believe that’s partially why people are still nostalgic for that decade, specifically the genre fare, to this day. The passion of the audiences of that time has carried through the last forty years. This list is dedicated to not only the masters of the macabre that helped define the decade with their splatter effects and practical monsters but the fans that loved that shit so much, they kept it from dying.
This is The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of The 1980s.
30. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
When faced with the decision to do a follow-up on a great horror film, the tendency is to just do something similar because that’s what people fell in love with right? Not if you are Tobe Hooper. The only things recognizable to his follow up to arguably the greatest horror movie of all-time is the names Leatherface and the Sawyers. Oh and the chainsaw. That’s kind of a big one. Hooper changed everything from the original TCM that they don’t even seem like they belong in the same universe. Where the original was so gritty and real, the sequel was campy and more of a horror-comedy. Leatherface was a sexually frustrated big ol goof while Hooper introduced one of the most underrated horror characters of all-time in Chop Top. Alongside, Dennis Hopper who always goes full throttle on screen and one of the best final girls in Stretch, TCM 2 is a horror sequel like no other and is full of action from the opening kills till we are wandering around the Sawyer museum of horrors.
29. The Lost Boys (1987)
The coolest and most heartthrobiest (idk) pack of vampires this side of Nosferatu. It was as if Joel Schumacher just opened a Tiger Beat in 1987 and said, “I need as many of these people as I can get for my vampire flick”. The Lost Boys is just a fun vampire romp imbued with all the ‘80s goodness. Long hair, leather coats, and the Corey’s of course.
Jason Patric and Corey Haim are siblings who sense something is amiss in their new coastal California town, where a lot of people have gone missing lately. While Patric’s Michael falls in with hottie Star and her gang leader/vamp BF David, Haim’s Sam bonds with the nerdy vampire-hunting Frog brothers, Edgar and Allan, at the local comic book store. It’s super slick, cheesy and a nostalgia trip for the pre-Twilight generation. Schumacher scores bonus points for casting Dianne Wiest as a newly single mom, Edward Herrmann as her suspicious new suitor, and Barnard Hughes as the boys’ curmudgeonly gramps.
28. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
By the time the Elm Street series got to the 3rd entry, Freddy was well on his way to becoming a pop culture icon. He had Halloween costumes, toys, various merchandise, and even hotline. Seeing where the wind was blowing, the producers decided to shift gears and lean into it. They relocated Freddy out of the boiler room, moved him out of the shadows, and gave him the spotlight. He went from a dream demon into a wise-cracking movie star and while some horror fans still bemoan the sudden shift in character, audiences at the time ate it up. Dream Warriors was the film that made Freddy Kruger one of the most recognizable characters in the film, not just horror. The film gave him a personality he was lacking in previous films and it used his dream powers to great effect. It ups the creativity of his kills and introduces the concept of the victims fighting back with dream magic. Since it’s their dreams Freddy is haunting, they figure out that they too can manipulate their surroundings or give themselves powers in order to survive. It’s an ingenious idea no other film in the franchise capitalizes on. Dream Warriors isn’t as scary as the first or is as well made as New Nightmare but it’s fun as hell and that theme song still slaps 32 years later.
27. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
Not only do we get our first film with Jason as the killer but also get him at his scariest with that one-eye sack of creepiness. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hockey mask and it is what made Jason iconic, but sack-head Jason is the scariest Jason hands down. Here we get more of the same formula that the original F13 helped usher in. A group of youngins’ doing the drinkin’, the sexin’, and the pot-smokin’ who all need to die at the hands of momma’s baby boy. This is the only film in the franchise in which Jason actually feels like a real human antagonist. Director Steve Miner works in quite a few frightening shots throughout the film (the shot of Jason running towards the cabin Ginny has just sought refuge in stands out) and maintains a tense atmosphere throughout. The film is brutal, with Mark’s death being a highlight. The climactic chase scene with one of the best final girls of all-time in Ginny is a long, grueling sequence. It proves to be as exhausting for the viewer (in a good way) as it is for the character.
26. Day of the Dead (1985)
Closing out Romero’s original Dead trilogy, Day of the Dead is often passed over in favor of its predecessors and while they’re admittedly better, DOTD ain’t no slouch either. Taking place in an underground military facility instead of a farmhouse and mall respectively, the tone of this one is far bleaker. Not that the other two were chuckle-a-minute gag factories themselves but there’s something far more insidious about a power gone corrupt in an underground steel and concrete coffin. How the military is portrayed in this and the constant struggle for power is the inspiration for the 3rd act of 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead definitely wouldn’t exist without it. Not bad for a film fans consider a bronze place winner.
25. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
There were so many ‘a maniac killing promiscuous teens at a summer camp’ films made in the ’80s, That it became an honest to goodness genre. While critics bemoaned the lack of originality and the over-reliance on blood, sex, and violence, audiences suddenly became like fat guys at an all you can eat buffet, they couldn’t get enough. The cream of the crop (well, silver place because Jason will forever own the genre) is arguably Sleepaway Camp.
Sharing a lot of similarities with Friday the 13th, such as: a killers POV, summer camp setting, and both having amazing endings. Seriously, the ending to Sleepaway Camp is so great, the rest of the film could be shit and the film would still make the list. It’s one of the only things that has genuinely unsettled me. It’s amazing.
24. Re-Animator (1985)
Loosely based on the H.P. Lovecraft novel of the same, Re-Animator is Stuart Gordon reworking the Frankenstein mythos in the craziest way possible. Filled to the brim with the most demented shit 80s censors would allow (not the least of which includes a scene that redefines the term “giving head”), the film puts the mad in mad scientist. And speaking of mad, it’s impossible to talk about this film without mentioning the delightfully unhinged performance of Jeffery Combs.
Giving one of the all-time great horror performances as Herbert West, his loony scientist with a deep obsession with bringing the dead back to life is so much fun to watch, It’s impossible to take your eyes off of him. Which is saying a lot considering the bug nuts insanity that transpires within. And that’s a testament to his abilities as an actor, that he’s the main focal point when there’s literal insanity going on around him. It’s an iconic character in an infamous movie brought to life with an equally iconic performance.
23. Near Dark (1987)
Long before Katheryn Bigelow was churning out Oscar-worthy films like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, she made one of the best vampire movies of all time. The late ‘80s saw a revival of sorts for vampires going from more comedic and the stereotypical Dracula type to a grittier and more serious creature of the night. Bigelow’s Near Dark would be a key factor with a film that would mix genres of vampire, biker, and westerns.
A roaming band of vampires travels across the American West in search of human blood and ends up kidnapping a farm boy. As he struggles with being turn into a killer, the nomadic clan causes trouble most notably a fantastic bar scene where they terrorize and burnt the place down. This is a darkly amusing, completely engaging, and undeniably creepy tale of a vampire clan that finally comes up against a victim who fights back. It is beautifully shot, and Bill Paxton’s performance is worth the watch alone.
22. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
It’s rare that any franchise, horror or otherwise, gets better as the series goes on, however, that is the case with Friday the 13th. I know most would put the 1980 original on their list but unlike most horror franchises there is no consensus on which film is the best overall. Therefore, I simply decided to go with not only my favorite but the one that I feel is the best film of the F13 franchise and that is 1986’s Jason Lives. A huge departure from the rest of the films in the series up to that point, part 6 is the first to treat Jason like a monster rather than an unstoppable killer. Maintaining the grit and rawness of 4 but with a tongue in cheek sense of humor, the film gives every type of audience the perfect horror experience. Filled with great characters you want to see survive the night, a hulking Jason who’s arguably scarier here than he’s ever been before and some of the best kills in the franchise, Jason Lives should’ve been the last film in the series. We would’ve missed out on Kane Hodder but we would’ve gotten the perfect end to the series. Fairtrade in my book.
21. Creepshow (1983)
If you were to replace the old slave owners of Mount Rushmore with four of the greatest masters of horror, Stephen King would undoubtedly be the first head on the mountain, and right beside him would be George Romero. The two are undeniable titans of the genre. One has created more hit novels than almost any other author and the other fucking created zombies. They’re absolutely indispensable to the world of horror. So what happens if you were to combine their unique talents into one movie? You get the film Creepshow.
Much has been written about the faithfulness of certain comic book adaptations like Sin City or Scott Pilgrim vs The World but one that always gets overlooked is Creepshow. I don’t know if they forget it’s based on a series of comics or if they just plain ol’ forget it exists but Creepshow nails the tone and humor of the comics while also faithfully recreates panels straight from the books. There might not be a better love letter made for comics or horror in general. A rarity among horror anthologies in that every segment is great (the King one is a bit wonky but it’s still entertaining), Creepshow is, as King himself put it “the most fun you’ll have being scared.”
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite horror movies of the 1980s? Maybe they will show up further on the list!