Which movies would make your list of the best 80’s horror movies? It is impossible to argue the relevance or staying power of a movie genre, in this case, horror movies that have been around for decades and is probably older than most current day movie lovers. Movies that are written and made with the sole aim of scaring people out of their socks date back to the very early days of color television. And since then, horror, in all the glory of its ever-burgeoning sub-genre list has achieved milestones that few other genres can boast of.
However, most horror movie fans seem to have forgotten the glory days of old, giving credit of the success of the genre to relatively toddler-aged projects such as Hereditary, Us, and the Annabelle franchise. But the history of horror flicks will be appreciated more with a re-introduction to horror classics of the past like Carrie, Opera, Night of the Living Dead, and the Friday the 13th movies.
We’ve made a list of some of the horror classics of the past but we’ve decided to stick to projects made in the 80s, the truly golden era of the genre. Here’s our list of some of the best 80’s horror movies that can still scare anyone to pieces.
Best Horror Movies of The 80s
1. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Naturally, any such list should usually start with a movie like Carrie, unfortunately, this classic horror flick came four years too early. Our first movie, The Return Of The Living Dead, was made in 1985 by director Dan O’Bannon.
A guiding light in the zombie sub-genre of the horror movie sector, this movie was adapted from John Russo’s novel written 17 years prior. Russo, together with George Romero, was the brains behind the original 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead.
It was heralded for being sufficiently gory and hilarious in equal measure. It also accurately captured the youth movement of the time with a spectacular 80s soundtrack to provide the perfect backdrop to a really appealing project. Many don’t realize that The Return of the Living Dead was the progenitor of the widely held idea of zombies specifically targeting human brains for food.
2. Hellraiser (1987)
Undoubtedly one of the best 80s horror movies, Hellraiser tells the story of Kirsty Cotton who moves into a home belonging to her long-dead grandmother.
The movie’s story doesn’t come without its own sufficient dose of sick hate and even sicker love. Hellraiser tells the story of Kirsty Cotton and her parents (Frank and Julia) who move into an abandoned house formerly owned by her deceased grandmother. While here, Larry sustains an injury that spills his blood and unwittingly resurrects his dead brother Frank. In a bid to stay alive, Frank coerces Julia to keep furnishing him with blood to complete his resurrection. Meanwhile, Kirsty stumbles upon a puzzle box owned by Frank which in turn leads her to meet the hordes of hell known as Cenobites.
Interestingly, the leader of the Cenobites known as Pinhead features as the main villain but by the end of the movie, he has turned face and becomes the eventual hero of the movie. Perhaps, the only drawback is that this movie was so high up there that it inspired a series of sequels that were in a word, cataclysmic. Proof that some classics should just be left as standalone projects.
3. The Monster Squad (1987)
What’s not to love about The Monster Squad. This movie didn’t start out right, owing to its commercial performance; it was a disaster in that regard. However, the movie has since grown on people in the years since its release, to the point where it is now considered a cult classic.
The Monster Squad makes our list as one of the best 80’s horror movies for a few reasons. Firstly, director Fred Dekker and his co-writer Shane Black did an awesome job of writing and making a script that seamlessly combined horror and comedy without either element trivializing the other. The protagonists in this flick were characterized as a group of ordinary pre-teen human monster movie lovers known as ‘The Monster Squad’, an idea that was greatly loved by horror movie geeks all over. In the movie, The Monster Squad bands together to defeat Dracula and his minions to prevent them from plunging the world into darkness.
Perhaps one of its greatest successes is the fact that it stands as one of the very few movies to have garnered a significant appeal beyond the confines of the horror movie world.
4. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Since after the first ‘Friday the 13th’ movie premiered in 1980, the slasher movie franchise began a steady downward trend, as it lost steam and witnessed its loyal fan base slowly scraping away.
This prompted Tom McLoughlin, the writer cum director of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, to do quite a lot of reimagination to rekindle the franchise’s excitement and following. Simply put, it worked. This movie, being the sixth installment in the series, saw the resurrection of Jason Voohey, the infamous hockey-masked murderer, but this time significantly more powerful and as a truly undead killing machine, thanks to the circumstances of his resurrection.
Many critics and fans consider this movie to be a near-perfect combination of all the elements that defined the slasher-movie era of the mid-’80s.
5. Society (1989)
If you were looking for a conversation starter or a reason to start a debate about insular societies and how real they are, Brian Yuzna’s is arguably the best place to start. Aptly titled Society, this movie tells the story of a teenager, Bill Whitney, a product of wealthy parents. Society’s plot follows Whitney as he suspects and eventually confirms that his parents and all the other elite members of his community are actually part of a sinister cult for only the wealthy and famous who literally feed on the poor.
Society is every bit as gory and cringe-worthy as any A-list horror movie would be. As you watch it, there’s a sense that the plot is building up to an explosive revelation at the end and it truly lives up to that suspense. Plus, it helps that as per the special effects of the 1980s, Society delivers pictures and sounds that can only be sufficiently regarded as crazy.
6. Dead & Buried (1981)
A worthy inclusion to our list of best 80’s horror movies is Dead & Buried. Knowing that this movie is about zombies may turn a few people away as this is a theme that can easily turn off horror movie lovers, given that it has been somewhat overused.
However, Dead & Buried does not disappoint in the least. For one, it uses the zombie element in a completely unique way. The zombies in this part horror, part murder mystery flick are indistinguishable from humans. They can think and act autonomously (even though they are still answerable to their leader who is unknown) and walk among humans who believe they are town visitors.
During casting, the makers of Dead & Buried were also brave enough to go for people from outside the traditional horror pool of actors and actresses. These included the pre-horror Robert Englund and Jack Albertson who played Grandpa Joe on the iconic Willy Wonka. It cements its horror classic status, thanks to the frighteningly gross makeup work done by the legendary special effects make-up creator, Stan Winston.
7. Opera (1987)
Dario Argento’s career as a director has been hit-and-miss, to put it mildly. He is known for making movies that can best be described as belonging to the ‘Giallo’ subgenre of horror movies.
All of his movies seem to tape themselves to either end of the movie critic spectrum, either gaining massive praise or unprecedented ridicule. Either way, it does show his penchant as a risk-taker in movie making, and with Opera, he definitely hit the bull’s eye.
This horror flick tells the story of a young actress who seems to have an admirer in an unknown homicidal nutcase. As the plot unfolds, it seems that everyone who says or does something to impede her career ends up dead in the most unusual and dramatic circumstances. Considered a slasher equivalent of the Phantom of the Opera musical, Opera is truly a worthy foundation of horror craftsmanship.
8. Night of the Demons (1988)
Kevin Tenney’s Night of the Demons draws from Evil Dead 2 and Return of the Living Dead in terms of plot, characterization, and casting.
It tells the story of a bunch of high school seniors who decide that it is a good idea to stage a party at a funeral parlor. As is expected, things go south as a seance gone wrong releases demons from the depths of hell who quickly set about the predictable task of killing each and every one of the teenagers in the most creatively gruesome ways.
Night of the Demons is considered one of the best 80’s horror movies, not because it gave anything by way of innovation in its story. In fact, it was extremely predictable for any horror lover. However, it was the way it executed its story that grabbed attention. The ingenuity in the kill scenes, the special make-up effects and so on make it a worthy flick for fans of supernatural horror during the Halloween season.
9. The Shining (1980)
On this perfectly horrifying flick based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel of the same name, Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, a family man wintering at a haunted hotel with his family. True to its promise of bone-chilling horror, it doesn’t take time before Jack finds himself in a horrible situation, possessed by the demons of the hotels past that spurs him on to kill everything and everyone in his path, his wife and son included.
Of all the Stephen King novels that have been adapted for the screen, the celebrity writer particularly does not like what director Stanley Kubrick did with the script. This is perhaps due to the fact that the original material is significantly altered for the movie. Still, The Shining is considered by most horror movie fans as the pinnacle of the 1980s horror.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)
After the massive success of the original Texas Chainsaw movie in 1974, it put pressure on director Tobe Hooper to make something just as good or better for the sequel. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was eventually released in 1986 and what resulted from this decade long break was a movie that matched the original’s scare factor in all the right ways. However, Hooper did something different with this movie; he went in a decidedly more comedic direction.
This helped the movie stand out the more from the shadow of its predecessor. While it was not as commercially successful as the first movie, it offered up the perfect balance of grit, gore, and laughter to make for a truly enjoyable horror movie. One that has become a cult-classic right alongside its predecessor.