When I was attempting to think of the ten best horror movies of all time, I realised it was a hopeless project, hopeless because there are way too many. I decided to cut it down to a decade, and I still went back and forth dozens of times with this list, but I finally narrowed it down, based on my own opinion and longevity of the films involved, to ten. Ten of the best 80’s horror movies. Now, please don’t take this as me ignoring certain titles, because I’m aware that there are hundreds that could, and maybe should, be on this list. These are just ten of the best, ten 80’s horror flicks that I think are must-see’s for horror fans, and truly representative of their era. So, without further ado…
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Wes Craven is a horror director who is responsible for some true gems of the genre, from The People Under the Stairs, which remains one of my favourite horror films to this day to cult fare like Last House on the Left, but if one film stands at the top of the list of films he is known for, it is undoubtedly the wonderful original Nightmare on Elm Street. With Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, a child-killing dream demon with a gloved hand of blades and a sinister, yet somehow likeable, sense of humour, he became one of the biggest horror icons of all time, and it all began here in 1984. A great movie that holds up today, the story of being stalked, and possibly killed, while you’re dreaming is one of the best concepts in horror history. Spawning numerous sequels and a dire remake, you can’t get much better than this if you want a horror film that ticks all the boxes and entertains thoroughly.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Sam Raimi’s pièce de résistance is without doubt his foray into the woods with a guy named Ash, the 1981 classic, The Evil Dead. A downright creepy atmosphere, an interesting lead character played by Bruce Campbell, and some of the most iconic scenes in horror history, it is just a joy. True, the sequel is just as good, and in some views even better, but it all began here and without this, the more serious toned Evil Dead film, the sequel wouldn’t have worked. The setting of a cabin deep in the woods has been ripped off and re-used so many times, but it hadn’t at this point, and shows just how influential the film has been to the whole landscape of cinema in general.
The Shining (1980)
A truly remarkable film, The Shining is one of the best, and also one of Stanley Kubrick’s best, which is saying a lot. The cinematography was ground-breaking, the visuals were amazing, and the performances, especially from Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, going mad as he spends the winter in a desolate and empty hotel with his wife and young son. It’s one of the most terrifying and intense realizations of a character ever seen. There are so many theories about what many of the things mean in the film too, and though many are far-fetched, it is a completely intriguing idea that some of the things we see in the background in some scenes were not just randomly placed, but rather metaphors for deeper ideas and opinions. An experience as much as it is a movie, it is one of those that never gets boring regardless of the amount of times you revisit.
Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, a doctor attempting to bring the dead back to life with his special green serum, Re-Animator is pure fun. Directed by horror maestro Stuart Gordon, this endlessly enjoyable slice of gory, cheesy and hilarious horror comedy features some of the most out-there moments in 80’s horror. Don’t agree? Tell me about another 80’s horror flick in which a severed head that has been brought back to life attempts to administer oral sex to a restrained woman on a stretcher. It’s a wild, crazy delight, and never lags or feels slow and tedious. Excellent.
“No tears please, it’s a waste of good suffering”. One of the few darkly philosophical lines from the quotable and demented brilliance that is Hellraiser. Based on The Hellbound Heart novella by Clive Barker, who also directed the film, the story of a puzzle box that, when used, opens the gates of Hell, unleashing the nightmarish creatures from the netherworld onto earth is one of the most fantastically macabre tales ever put to celluloid. Doug Bradley, as Pinhead, is another one of those horror icons. Like Leatherface, Michael Myers, Jason and Freddy, yet with a deep, booming voice which speaks in a calm yet doom-bringing manner, Pinhead remains one of the best designs for a horror villain, and his fellow cenobites, demons from Hell with various twisted and horrific features, are a brilliant addition, bringing a true sense of other-worldly terror to Hellraiser and the numerous sequels that followed. Bloody and twisted, the original is still the best, and though it does look a little dated, it remains one of the true “big boys” of 80’s horror film, for sure.
Day of the Dead (1985)
Following Night and Dawn, George A. Romero welcomed us to the daytime in 1985 with Day of the Dead, and, like his two previous “dead” titles, brought us one of the very best zombie movies of all time. A military bunker swarming with flesh eating and brain munching ghouls, Day of the Dead not only brought about a strong story of survival amid zombie violence, but also introduced us to Bub, a zombie that was given warmth and character, something new at this point in zombie films. Arguably up there as one of the best zombie movies of all time, it was possibly Romero’s last amazing film.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
John Landis should be given an eternal pat on the back for contributing what is arguably the greatest werewolf film of all time to the horror genre back in 1981. 33 years later and it still holds up, and the transformation scene when David becomes the howling wolf-man is still a spectacular thing to watch, and one of the most famous scenes in the horror history books. Funny and scary, the werewolf film has never been as good as this. There’s a reason why American Werewolf in London keeps getting re-released every couple of years.
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Dan O’Bannon took what George Romero made famous with his zombie classics and turned it on it’s head, creating a comedy horror that turned the gore and silliness up to 11, resulting in one of the finest slices of zombie cinema ever made. Sure, it isn’t metaphorical or philosophical, nor does it say anything politically, but it is a hoot, and pure entertainment from beginning to end. The practical effects, over the top characters and squirty slimy gore make it a cult favourite to this day, and it has spawned a mixed bag of sequels. A must see.
Friday the 13th (1980)
One of a handful of horror villains that stand out in the minds of fans as well as non-fans. Jason Vorhees and his hockey mask is one of the big-boys of horror, but he wasn’t really a part of the first film in the franchise he became synonymous with. A slasher that genuinely was a head-scratcher when trying to decide who was responsible, and with some original and brilliant kills (Kevin Bacon’s bunk-bed death being the best of the bunch) making it stand apart from the pack. There were so many slasher films in the 80’s, and many that used the setting of a summer camp too, but none of them were as influential and entertaining as Friday the 13th. My favourite of the vast franchise and with one of the most memorable endings in the genre, it is another classic that is well thought of for good reason.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter is responsible for some great films, but I’d struggle to find one better than this, his remake of The Thing from Another World. While Halloween was iconic and featured some major horror moments in the 70’s, his icebound tale of paranoia and terror with some physical effects that still look, dare I say, out of this world, today. The Thing is one of the best horror movies of all time, and it is the best remake ever made too. Kurt Russell as the lead is excellent, brooding and layered, and the whole cast do a great job at keeping us guessing who has and who hasn’t been taken over by the alien parasite. Some of the freakiest and most interesting horror moments ever, and a setting that still feels fresh and original, it is a classic and one that is still thought of with such warmth from genre fans.