15 Best Horror Movies Of 1983

Horror films in 1982 brought us two of the few horror remakes worth a damn, an underappreciated Halloween sequel, and the best movie about murderous conjoined twins ever conceived. 1983 brings us three great Stephen King film adaptations, Tony Scott’s blood soaked directorial debut, and the most shocking slasher movie ending of all time.

As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1983.

15. Sweet 16

Director: Jim Sotos
Stars: Aleisa Shirley, Bo Hopkins, Susan Strasberg, Dana Kimmell

Melissa Morgan’s sixteenth birthday is coming up, and her parents are planning a traditional party just like the days long before. But Melissa is anything but traditional. She wants to drink and sleep with the guys, no matter who they are or what their motives are. It’s a shame that the people this troubled child keeps bumping into are ending up dead. Could this girl, not even of legal age yet, be a killer at heart? Perhaps the answer will come when Melissa finally turns the dreaded age of…Sweet Sixteen.

Sweet Sixteen was not generally a well-regarded slasher movie during its time since it did not contain a lot of graphic violence or gruesome Tom Savini-type special effects. It is more of a murder mystery. And though the identity of the murderer is pretty obvious, it is nevertheless pretty effective. It has a great small-town setting (whereas most other slashers were set in suburbia) and a potent atmosphere. Parts of it are quite masterful like a scene near the end (prominently featured in all the promotional artwork) where the central girl and a male admirer go skinny-dipping at night in a lake lit only by a single cross-shaped key light. The story is also a pretty different in that all the victims in this movie are young males rather than promiscuous young females. It’s kind of surprising that they haven’t remade this, although, released a few years back, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is probably the closet to such a thing.

14. The Lift

Director: Dick Maas
Stars: Huub Stapel, Willeke van Ammelrooy, Josine van Dalsum

Elevators always get a bad rap. You never see a movie dedicated to escalators, unless it’s intentionally humorous, and there hasn’t been a film completely set on a bunch of stairs, though steps have been featured in iconic scenes. The Lift is a Dutch horror movie that features a very peeved-off elevator bent on harming anyone who decides to take an unsuspecting ride – and it beats M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil to the punch by more than twenty years.

Right off the bat, there is some fairly questionable moments in this film. The scene when the lift first “strikes” is pretty odd/hilarious. The four actors – two female and two male – have very different reactions to being stuck in such a place. One panics, one is annoyed and the other two decide to have sex up against the wall. While the panic-stricken guy slams on the door and presses various buttons, his horny friends are quickly undressing and groping away. Even when he begins to hyperventilate they do not seem too bothered. Eventually they all succumb to a lack of oxygen. Still, with a wild mad-science explanation, creative kills, and an undercurrent of dry Euro-humor, The Lift isn’t a bad way to spend an hour and a half.

13. The Deadly Spawn

Director: Douglas McKeown
Stars: Charles George Hildebrandt, Tom DeFranco, Richard Lee Porter, Jean Tafler

A meteorite crashes in the woods near a secluded neighborhood. A small, unfriendly alien emerges and, after being exposed to water, begins to grow at an alarming rate. The beast and its brood take up residence in the basement of a home and goes to work making meals of each household member and anyone who happens to go downstairs.

This is Do It Yourself maverick horror of the highest order and one of the best micro-budget horror flicks of the ‘80s, bearing a look and feel on the level of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. The ‘70s and the first half of the ‘80s were populated by a dedicated group of guerrilla filmmakers, a number of which went on to successful careers of varying degree. The Deadly Spawn (aka Return Of The Alien’s Deadly Spawn) is a monster movie for monster kids and a dream project for all those involved. Regardless of the limited means at the disposal of the filmmakers, the dedication and love for the subject matter is evident in virtually every frame – most particularly in the overzealous gore sequences. It certainly isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but if you have a high tolerance for low quality than it’s definitely worth a watch. And the film’s last few seconds will bring a smile to your face for both its simplicity and awesomeness.

12. Curtains

Director: Richard Ciupka
Stars: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thorson, Lynne Griffin

Aspiring actress Samantha Sherwood is so committed to the role of “Audra” that she has herself committed to a mental institution; unfortunately, her director ditches her and leaves her stuck in there. In the meantime, he’s invited a group of six girls up to his mansion to audition for the part. When Samantha discovers this, she escapes the mental institution to crash the party; upon her arrival, the other girls begin to die off at the hands of a masked maniac. Is it Samantha, or is one of the aspiring actresses living up to her promise to kill for the part?

As a movie, Curtains is probably somewhere in the B to B+ range. It has tons of atmosphere, boasts a killer wearing one of the coolest masks ever, and the infamous “ice skating” scene is an all-time great. It’s not perfect, and it certainly could have been a bit bloodier for our tastes, but Curtains is an above average effort from the golden age of slasher flicks.

11. Angst

Director: Gerald Kargl
Stars: Erwin Leder, Robert Hunger-Bühler, Silvia Rabenreither, Edith Rosset

Famous provocateur film director Gaspar Noé has cited Angst as a major influence on his filmmaking style. He has been quoted many times talking about the film: “Then there’s an Austrian movie, Angst. It’s about a man killing a family just in order to go back to prison, where he felt better. It’s like a very dark, European version of Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, but much more baroque in its filming. It was banned all over the world – even in France it was one of the last movies to be X-rated for extreme violence. I think it’s going to be rediscovered everywhere in the next few years.”

What happens in this film is pretty straight forward — a psychopathic man is released from prison, and becomes overwhelmed by the urge to kill. And since he’s, you know, a psychopath, he succumbs to his appetite for brutality, and goes on to terrorize an innocent family in their home. It’s a familiar story that’s graced the screen time and time again, but it could be argued that this is the most disconcerting film of the home invasion variety that you’re likely to see. And the funny thing is, it doesn’t exploit or indulge or rely on crazy effects or devices. Rather, it utilizes a combination of A+ camerawork, totally realistic acting, and a solid score to create this sinister and claustrophobic realm that’s driven by paranoia, confusion, and terror.

10. A Blade In The Dark

Director: Lamberto Bava
Stars: Andrea Occhipinti, Anny Papa, Fabiola Toledo, Michele Soavi

Bruno is a film composer hired to create music for a new horror movie directed by the lovely Sandra. He leases a beautiful, but spooky Italian villa to give him the right mood for the music he is to compose. Soon, two women go missing not long after visiting the villa, and Bruno suspects that they may have been murdered. But, by whom? And for what reason? With no proof, and plenty more bizarre goings-on occurring by the minute, Bruno finds himself ensnared in a murderous game of cat-and-mouse with a deranged, blade-wielding killer. The murders seem to have something to do with the villa’s mysterious former tenant, Linda, and they may or may not also be connected to the plot of Sandra’s new movie that Bruno is composing for. Will Bruno figure out what the murderer wants and who he or she is, before his own life is gruesomely taken?

Like his father before him (we love you Mario Bava!), Lamberto Bava knows how to craft himself one effective giallo; A Blade In The Dark is tense, atmospheric, bloody, creepy, confusing and poorly dubbed… in short, it’s a blood-soaked treat for us all.

9. Twilight Zone: The Movie

Directors: Joe Dante, John Landis, George Miller, Steven Spielberg
Stars: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Vic Morrow, Burgess Meredith

Based on the popular television series created by Rod Serling, this film of horror and the supernatural tells four separate stories – each by a different director. In one, a bigot is taught a lesson when he is transported to experience the lives of three different victims of prejudice and intolerance. Another takes a trip to an old-age home where the arrival of a special man turns some of the residents into youthful people once again. In the third, a woman befriends a timid young child who turns out to be a maniacal brat with bizarre powers. The final segment shows how a man with an aversion to flying has a rough time when he panics and then sees a strange creature on the wing outside his window seat.

Where does this movie land? A fifth dimension beyond that known to most films. The middle ground between wowing and worthless, between so great and so what, and it lies between the pits of recklessly fatal hubris and the very summit of spirited genre filmmaking. Also, you’re not going to be able to get Creedence Clearwater Revival’s rendition of Midnight Special out of your head.

8. Cujo

Director: Lewis Teague
Stars: Dee Wallace, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Danny Pintauro, Christopher Stone

When a mother and her child are put into a horrific situation, it definitely seems to make for a much more compelling story, because there is a lot more at stake for the characters, and the audience. In the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Cujo, Donna Trenton shows us her motherly dedication when she and her young son Tad are trapped in a hot car with a rabid dog outside, preventing them from easy escape.

There’s nothing all that remarkable or interesting about Donna when the audience first meets her. She is a normal housewife and mother, often very quiet and unobtrusive. But there’s definitely something going on beneath the surface. Donna doesn’t seem depressed or unhappy, but rather just bored and directionless with the life she has built with her husband. This is why she has been having an affair with the “local stud,” Steve Kemp; however, even this doesn’t really fulfill her. It only leaves her with feelings of guilt. The audience needs all this backstory to understand the biggest part of Donna’s character arc – her realization that she has been taking her family for granted. And this is the secret to Cujo’s success – the way in which subtext is more the star of the show than the literal horrors on display. This is what elevates it from simply being an ultra-mundane monster movie (not that we don’t love good ole fashioned monster movies as well).

7. Christine

Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky

Arnie Cunningham is an awkward teenager. His only friend is his childhood buddy Dennis Guilder, who is a hit with the girls, is on the football team and drives a flashy car, but one day when Dennis is driving Arnie home from school they meet Christine, a 1958 Plymouth Fury currently decaying in the garden of George LeBay after his brother committed suicide in it. Arnie buys Christine from LeBay and immediately sets about fixing her up, and it isn’t long before she is back to showroom condition – but along with the restored look of the car comes a newly polished Arnie, complete with renewed confidence, a harder attitude and a date with the hot new girl in school, Leigh Cabot. Over time Dennis begins to notice a big change in his friend and begins to question just how much of an influence Arnie’s new obsession really is.

Christine is essentially a slasher movie with multiple parts: revenge, high school drama, possession, and obsession. That’s a lot of parts but it mostly works due to the fact that the movie focuses on the Fury, which director John Carpenter never reveals too much about, leaving the unexplained power of it to drive the film. Based on Stephen King’s novel, it’s well known that Carpenter altered quite a lot, including the purpose of the car (the book made it clear it held the soul of a man). It’s nice that Carpenter shows that it was born evil direct from the assembly line. And just as Carpenter made Michael Myers a mute icon, he does the same here and probably could have swapped Myers for the car and the movie wouldn’t play much different.

6. Psycho II

Director: Richard Franklin
Stars: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia

Despite the desperate pleas of Lila Loomis (whose sister was brutally killed in her shower at the Bates Motel all those years ago), a court releases schizophrenic murderer Norman Bates under the watchful eye of his psychiatrist. Norman finds a job at a nearby diner and befriends a young woman having relationship troubles. Having been kicked out of her apartment, Norman invites the girl to stay at the Bates house. However, coming back home brings back many memories for Norman, and it isn’t long before Mother Bates’ presence is felt in the house once again. All the more troubling are the mysterious notes and phone calls Norman begins receiving, allegedly from Mother. Soon, the line between reality and insanity begins to blur, and certain homicidal cravings begin to rear their ugly head once again.

The great thing about Psycho II is that it doesn’t over-concern itself with trying to top its predecessor, and instead focuses on delivering a solid continuation of that film’s events. Attempting to outdo a Hitchcock film would be a completely foolish task, so it’s refreshing to see the filmmakers here being perfectly content to just do their thing without soiling the sandbox too much. Scary and fun, Psycho II is as worthy a sequel as one might reasonably expect.

5. The Dead Zone

Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom

On the face of it, David Cronenberg’s decision to take on an adaptation of Stephen King’s 1979 novel The Dead Zone must have seemed a strange one at the time. Having just directed the disturbing and downright brilliant Videodrome (which we‘ll get to in a minute), Cronenberg then signed up to direct a relatively mainstream movie, an adaptation of another writer’s work (his first) with a paranormal subject matter – an unusual topic for a cerebral director with little time for the supernatural. But as Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining proved, the pairing of an analytical filmmaker with a pop horror premise can produce movie magic, as though the collision of these two opposing forces somehow creates a unique spark of its own.

The film, of course, follows a man who awakens from a coma to discover he has a psychic ability. Foreseeing the future appears to be a gift at first, but ends up causing problems… naturally.

4. The Hunger

Director: Tony Scott
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, Cliff De Young

The Egyptian vampire lady Miriam subsists upon the blood of her lovers. In return the guys or girls don’t age… until Miriam has enough of them. Unfortunately that’s currently the case with John, so his life expectancy is below 24 hours. Desperately he seeks help from the famous Dr. Sarah Roberts. She doesn’t really believe his story, but becomes curious and contacts Miriam, subsequently getting caught in her ban, too.

Upon its release back in 1983, critics saddled The Hunger with a tag that would haunt most of director Tony Scott’s career: “style over substance,” they said, and they weren’t completely wrong. However, to dismiss the film in such a fashion is to ignore the very pertinent and contextual horrors informing it. Looking back on it thirty years later, it’s a work that feels clearly defined by the burgeoning paranoia surrounding AIDS; much like David Cronenberg’s The Fly, though, it also digs deeper than that to tap into the universal fears of aging. Most vampire films explore the horrors of immortality from an existential standpoint, but the terror is made unsettlingly visceral in The Hunger, as Miriam’s lovers deteriorate into mummified husks that find themselves locked away like some kind of insect collection once she’s through with them. It’s the setup for a great, nightmarish moment later on, but there’s a more quietly disturbing moment early in the film that finds John slowly aging while waiting for Sarah in a waiting room. We’re all nothing but a mortal coil, and The Hunger confronts the act of shedding it with an unflinching eye.

3. The House On Sorority Row

Director: Mark Rosman
Stars: Kate McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Janis Zido, Robin Meloy, Harley Jane Kozak

Seven graduating seniors of the Pi Theta sorority decide to finally get back at their evil house mother Mrs. Slater when she refuses to allow them to throw a graduation party at the house. They come up with a horrible idea for a prank that ends with Mrs. Slater’s death, which the girls smartly decide to cover up. But either she didn’t really die or someone else knows what they did because the girls start getting picked off one by one.

There is something so sumptuous and lush about this film. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “classy slasher”, they must have been referring The House On Sorority Row. From the music to the women to the photography, it’s all just about perfect. Luckily, 2009’s bigger budgeted remake turned out to be good enough not to be an embarrassment to the legacy, but it still never got close to the refined style that was delivered by its predecessor.

2. Sleepaway Camp

Director: Robert Hiltzik
Stars: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Katherine Kamhi

After a horrific boating accident kills her family, Angela, a shy and gloomy youngster, moves in with her oddball Aunt Martha, alongside her protective cousin Ricky. One summer, Martha sends the kids to Camp Arawak. Soon after their arrival, a series of bizarre and increasingly violent accidents begins to claim the lives of various campers.

In short, Sleepaway Camp is one of the greatest slasher films ever made. The film manages to create a truly creepy atmosphere, the killings are original and gruesome and the disclosure of the murderer’s identity is one of the most shocking climaxes in the history of cinema. Throughout the film, there is a constant thread of “uhhh, what?” in just about every scene, from the opening tragedy right to the face-crinkling ending. It’s nutter butters. It’s made all the more disturbing by the fact that the campers are almost entirely played by real 13-ish year old kids instead of the usual 19-year-olds playing younger. If you’re a slasher aficionado, or just want to watch a super weird movie, Sleepaway Camp is most definitely the movie for you.

1. Videodrome

Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky

With Videodrome – a tale that follows the CEO of a small television station who discovers a broadcast signal (Videodrome) featuring extreme violence and torture – David Cronenberg displayed that he was way ahead of the curve in suggesting how integral technology was becoming a part of the culture by literally physicalizing the concept on screen. The film also touched upon the theory of media images supposedly having a detrimental psychological effect on the spectators, by again, physicalizing the concept. I.e. – Nicki Brand stubbing a cigarette out on her chest, or any one of Max’s grotesque transformations brought on by watching Videodrome the show.

Today, thanks largely to the rise of the internet, as people get desensitized to sexual and violent imagery, mass media constantly pushes the envelope to bring new, distorted and twisted ways to capture their viewer’s attention. As Max says in the movie: “They need something rough”. How long will it take until all-out snuff movies become acceptable for mass consumption? Some say that we are already being introduced to the twisted underground world as a lot of snuff is actually already in mass media and we don’t even realize it. Long Live the New Flesh, indeed.

What was your favorite horror movie of 1983? Let us know in the comments below.

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