Halloween is finally right around the corner, so here, take this one last SPOOKUMS! Let me be clear, this list is not the SCARIEST horror movies, as movies don’t scare me. These are just the ones from this time period that I enjoy the most due to pure enjoyability, rewatchability, and probably a good deal of nostalgia as well.
I also avoided using more than one movie from a series just to keep things trim, and I’m sure you’ll notice that almost every movie on here is American. Well, I’m American so that’s just mostly the kind of stuff I grew up with. OH WELL! Anyway, here we go…
Actually the first one on the list is a Spanish film! Whatever. So Slugs is a pretty great example of an 80’s creature horror movie. You’ve got overly dramatic characters and music that are unintentionally hilarious, a creature (a killer animal in this case) that becomes deadly through completely nonsensical means, and some really crazy death scenes. It’s not at all original, but it has just the right level of chessyness, consistent pacing, and really impressive gore effects for its time and budget, which makes it the kind of horror movie that I can just put on in the background at any time and never get tired of it. Truly an underrated 80’s classic.
C.H.U.D. gets a bad rap. I always see people using it as an example of bad horror movies, but I just love it. It has a good cast, good tone, and the CHUDS are just damn cool looking (and quite violent). Again, not a super original or complex plot, but one that’s solid enough that it stands up to many, many viewings over the years.
House is another one that doesn’t sound particularly original, angry ghosts harass a dude in a house, but it disproves this notion by bringing a large variety of truly impressive practical creature effects to the table. This one doesn’t try too hard to be serious, it even feels a bit like some kind of old Looney Tunes cartoon at times. Another incredibly solid horror with great practical effects and near infinite rewatchability.
David Cronenberg brought us several highly memorable horror movies in the 80’s, but his best has to be the remake of The Fly. Jeff Goldbum and Geena Davis in their primes, with a heavy dose of Cronenbergian body horror, implemented with some more great 80’s practical effects.
You know, people always talk about how great the first Poltergeist was, and they’re not wrong, buuuuut…I kinda liked the sequel better. I seem to be in the minority on this, but I just found the pacing better, the creepy old man acting as a more tangible villain, and I just liked the various haunting scenes more. There was the whole haunted tequila worm scene, killer braces, and a really crazy looking trip to the afterlife. Good times.
Night of the Creeps manages to combine aliens, killer slugs, and zombies into a fun and bloody romp. I also never realized until I was older that the whole thing was a commentary on rapey frat bro culture too. Mostly it’s about the gratuitous exploding heads of the undead though…
Most people would probably say that the first Halloween was a bit better, but that one didn’t come out in the 80’s so here we are! Though he had a few missteps along the way, Michael Myers was (and now is again) one of the most iconic and creepy slashers. I always liked him a bit more than Jason because despite Jason’s typically more creative kills, Michael’s mysteriousness and silent lack of emotion always made him feel a little creepier. John Carpenter’s originals are still the best of the long-running series though.
A killer combo of director Tobe Hooper and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, Lifeforce tells the tale of some pesky space vampires invading Britain. More great 80’s practical effects, a great score, and one sexy evil space vampire leader lady make for another must-see 80’s classic.
Most likely everyone will agree that there aren’t a whole lot of great werewolf movies, but everyone knows that the best one was An American Werewolf in London. More great 80’s effects, some of which surprisingly don’t even involve werewolves. It’s billed as a horror comedy, but the laughs are pretty minimal. It’s just a really good and effective werewolf story.
Another of those rare super impressive remakes, The Blob is another superb example of 80’s horror, with a very simplistic story, but with just the right mix of perfect 80’s atmosphere, great characters and pacing, and some of the best creature and gore effects ever done.
Freddy was always my favorite of the big three (Jason/Michael/Freddy), especially in the days of the 3rd-6th movies where he took to being a goofball trickster that killed people in the most ridiculous and imaginative ways possible. He wasn’t the scariest, but he was definitely the one with the most style. Who else but Freddy Krueger could turn you into a cockroach and squash you or turn you into a video game and kill you with a power glove?
Re-Animator is cool and all, but I’ve always much preferred From Beyond. It’s an absolutely insane movie filled with interdimensional horrors and Jeffrey Combs sprouting a tentacled pineal gland from his forehead so he can eat some brains. Incredibly bizarre, dark, and brutal, and filled with…you guessed it…more awesome practical effects, as you’d expect from 80’s Stuart Gordon.
My second favorite John Carpenter movie surprisingly has a pretty low amount of death, gore, and monsters in it, but it makes up for it with a fascinating plot that takes a look at the darker side of Christian mythology, i.e. Satan, from a scientific perspective. The amazing script carries this movie quite along way, despite it clearly having a much, much lower budget than some of his more popular films.
There’s just something special about The Gate. I remember begging my mom to take me to this when it came out. It was 1987 and I was seven years old. I said, it’s only PG-13, it’s probably not too scary! It creeped me out so bad we had to leave and go see The Chipmunks Adventure instead, but if you ever tell anyone I said that I’ll deny it!
Anyway, this is a movie about some 80’s kids who get invaded by demons, and while these demons don’t actually appear in person until later on, don’t think that this is one of those boring movies where nothing good happens until the end. No, the demons mess with them in some really inventive and disturbing ways for most of the film and there are new and original (at the time anyway) scares taking place on a regular basis. Highly recommended viewing.
Next we have the Italian classic Demons. People often mistake this for a Dario Argento film since it has his name up at the top in big letters. In fact I remember when I bought a copy on DVD back in the day it was sold as part of The Dario Argento Collection. While you can certainly see the influence of Argento in some of the creature effects, but this is a film by Lamberto Bava, who would come to be my favorite Italian horror director.
Demons is kind of like if you crossed Evil Dead with a zombie movie and set it in a locked theater. The plot is nonsensical and the dialogue and characters are absolutely ridiculous, but all in the very best of ways. There are so many delightfully disgusting and unintentionally hilarious moments. So very many incredibly quotable lines. So much 80’s hair metal. This is the kind of movie you need to watch with some friends and with a lot of drinks in you.
I feel like my love affair with horror really started with Phantasm 2 and Evil Dead 2. on some day in the late 80’s when I snuck to the living room and secretly taped them both on some late night HBO Halloween marathon or something. I got over my fears pretty quickly, watched them both over and over again and have been obsessed with the stuff ever since.
Phantasm I always found particularly interesting because the premise was so unusual. No standard ghosts or demons or zombies here. Instead you had a mysterious undying Tall Man who liked to steal corpses to turn their bodies into super strong undead midget slaves and put their brains inside these crazy flying death orbs. It was so unique and weird and the mysteries surrounding the true origins of the Tall Man kept getting more and more fascinating (despite the questionable quality of some of the sequels).
I’m not very pleased with how the series finally ended, with a different director taking the reins to finish things off, yet not explaining almost any of the huge dangling plot threads that had been lingering for decades, but the Phantasm series will always hold a special place in my heart anyway.
And then there’s Evil Dead, of course. You can’t have one of these lists without Evil Dead. I know I just mentioned the second one before, and people usually share the opinion that it’s the best one of the trilogy, but y’know…I kinda liked the original the best. As great as Evil Dead 2 is, there was just something creepier about the original. It was just so cheap and raw, and yet so effective anyway. Everything just felt more dark and gruesome, especially since Raimi hadn’t really started packing everything he did with jokes yet. There are definitely some funny moments still, but they’re mostly unintentional ones.
Another rather obvious 80’s classic is Hellraiser. The series has long since become a joke that people only seem to make sequels to for what I can only assume are elaborate money laundering schemes or something. In the early days it was one of the best horrors to ever hit the screen though. The second one has always been my favorite, with the creepy Dr. Chanard, Julia’s brutal resurrection scene, and a trip into hell itself. I really hope that someone that knows what they’re doing finally gets their hands on this series again so we can finally have a good Hellraiser movie again, but at least we had some good times with the first five.
Truly the greatest creation of the late, great Dan O’Bannon, Return of the Living Dead is both the ultimate horror comedy and the ultimate zombie movie. The cast of 80’s movie cliche characters are absolutely hilarious and the zombies are surprisingly aggressive and brutal for a comedy. There’s not much else to say about it. If you’re into horror and comedy and you still haven’t seen this SHAME ON YOUUUUUU!
Finally at number one is John Carpenter’s The Thing. John Carpenter will always be the king of horror to me and The Thing, his absolute horror masterpiece. The shapeshifting monstrosities and sense of claustrophobic dread in The Thing have yet to be topped and I’m not sure if they ever will be. If you learn nothing else from this post, at least do yourself the single favor of watching this ultimate horror classic. If you don’t like this one, then you probably just plain don’t like horror, and if that’s the case