15 Best Horror Movies Of 1988

While perhaps not reaching the sheer volume of excellence saw in 1987 and 1986, 1988 holds its own as another fantastic year for horror. 88′ saw the emergence of the last great horror icon of the ’80s and, additionally, continued to display the excellent of legendary directors Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Beyond this, we were given a fantastic and grossly underrated Hellraiser sequel and other great sequels including Phantasm II, Ghoulies II and Return Of The Living Dead II.

As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1988.

15. Monkey Shines

Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten

Allan Mann has got it all. He’s a healthy man with a hot bod girlfriend. But one morning on his jogging run a car hits him and changes his life forever. He becomes fully paralyzed, he’s slapped in a wheelchair, his girlfriend leaves him for his doctor and a bitchy nurse moves in with him. His bud Geoffrey, who’s doing research on monkeys to make them smarter stops over and decides to donate his smartest test subject, Ella (also trained to help paralyzed folks) to help Jason out a bit (and to advance his research). An intense bond grows between the monkey and Allan. But when Allan’s temper begins to flare up for no reason, people he wishes dead turn up just that way and dreams of running outside, seeing through Ella’s eyes invade his mind, he knows something isn’t right. There’s some monkey business going on here…

Monkey Shines is a superb adaptation of Michael Stewart’s interesting but rather pedestrian book of the same name. Indeed, apart from the incredibly thin secondary/victims characters, a slow start and a dream sequence where a monkey pops out of someone’s chest (likely a studio insert) this flick is pretty solid. When this movie was released, it had a really bad marketing campaign. The cover was a rip-off of Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew cover (an evil monkey holding cymbals). It was advertised like a monster movie (though, its emphasis was on drama and suspense…not horror) and went to the theaters unnoticed. Well, now you have a chance to discover it.

14. Waxwork

Director: Anthony Hickox
Stars: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Jennifer Bassey, Michelle Johnson

A group of college students are invited to the exclusive opening of the Waxwork museum by the strange magician proprietor. The wax displays all contain iconic monsters and gruesome death scenes, and also have the power to transport the viewer to the world that they portray. If you are killed in the display, you die in real life and become a part of the display forever. When his friends go missing inside the displays, one of the kids is determined to find out the truth about the man who runs the place.

Waxwork is a totally off the chain horror movie that could have only have come out during the ’80s. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why so many fans love this time period so much – exploitative horror was kind of gone but sophisticated horror was yet to come. In between, we got movies like this. It’s silly, yes, but it’s genuine and fun, and very entertaining. This movie is viewed best when you have a group of friends over, and pizza being delivered.

13. The Serpent And The Rainbow

Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield

In one of the more underappreciated films from the late-great Wes Craven, David Allen is an ethnobotanist who is sent to Haiti by a pharmaceutical corporation to investigate a powder drug used in Haitian voodoo rituals that turns people into zombies. Allen embarks in a violent and at times surreal journey to gain access to this drug, but what he discovers will change his life forever. He gets mixed up in a game where he is the pawn in the middle of voodoo priests, corrupt government officials and his own sanity. In the end, he must decipher what is science and what is black magic.

The Serpent And The Rainbow is one of those “based on a true story” horror films. This time, the source material is Wade Davis’ book The Serpent And The Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist’s Astonishing Journey Into The Secret Societies Of Haitian Voodoo, Zombies, And Magic, which posited a scientific basis for the legend of the undead. And while we can’t speak on the vility of the book, we can definitely say that the film is quite disturbing indeed.

12. Maniac Cop

Director: William Lustig
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree

On the mean streets of New York City a man in a police uniform is savagely murdering innocent people. Detective Frank McCrae is heading up the case whilst fingers are pointing to young cop Jack Forrest, who is seemingly being framed. In a bid to escape his marital problems, Jack has sought the company of a fellow police officer, Theresa Mallory, and when the body count starts rising it’s left to McCrae and Theresa to prove his innocence.

Some critics deny that Maniac Cop is in fact a slasher/horror picture and instead label it as a revenge flick in the same vein as Death Wish. It’s fairly easy to disagree with this assessment, because the strong, silent bogeyman and countless examples of genre self-recognition mean that it’s definitely got the right recipe to sit alongside its brethren on this list. In fairness, the larger budget allows the filmmakers to crossbreed various cinematic styles and there is something here for action audiences, those who like vigilante flicks and also back-street exploitation thrillers.

11. Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark

Director: James Signorelli
Stars: Cassandra Peterson, Phil Rubenstein, Larry Flash Jenkins, Susan Kellermann

Fairly-renowned “vamp of camp” Elvira is hosting B-movie horror films on basic cable. She’s broke and trying to get enough money to do a live show in Vegas. After the TV station’s owner sexually harasses her, she quits and all her dreams of Vegas seem to be dashed. That is, until she gets a telegram informing her that her great-aunt has died and left her an inheritance. Nice timing, right? So she’s off to Fallwell, Massachusetts, only to discover that she’s been left a decrepit old house, a dog, and a mysterious “cookbook”. Soon, though, once the stuffy locals get an eyeful of the scream queen’s ample assets, all hell busts out and breaks loose. Can the Madonna of the Macabre find love with a studly cinema owner, avoid her creepy great uncle, titillate the town’s teens and become a Las Vegas dance sensation all without being burned alive at the stake?

With Mistress Of The Dark, Elvira busts out in her first feature film and offers us exactly what we’d expect from her: revealing clothes, tit jokes, sex puns and more tit jokes. Oh, and did w mention that we get a lot of tit jokes? Tits, tits, tits, tits, tits, tits… sheesh. In order to fully enjoy this piece of candy, you have to ask yourself this important question: Do you like Elvira? If not, why not? She’s smart but lovably naive, she’s sexually driven but not a slut and let’s face it, did you see the set of headlights on that ride? DAMN!

10. Killer Klowns From Outer Space

Director: Stephen Chiodo
Stars: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, John Vernon

When a small town is invaded by aliens from outer space who are capturing and killing the townspeople, no one takes them seriously. Why? The aliens all look like circus clowns, use weapons that look clown like, and all have painted on smiles. Only a few of the young people in the town realize the danger and of course no one believes them. Armed with an ice cream truck they try and rescue their friends.

The title of the movie should make this patently obvious, but for those of you who still don’t get it, we’ll spell it out for you: you absolutely have to have a sense of humor to even remotely enjoy Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Unless you’re pathologically terrified of clowns, then Killer Klowns isn’t a scary horror movie. It’s a self-aware tongue-in-cheek horror comedy and if you can’t get into that then, well, you might as well not bother. To illustrate how crazy and demented this movie is, one of the clowns uses the corpse of a police officer as a ventriloquist’s dummy and just to be totally original, they have a huge, overlord clown called Jojo the Klownzilla. It’s great.

9. Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood

Director: John Carl Buechler
Stars: Kane Hodder, Lar Park Lincoln, Kevin Spirtas, Susan Blu, Terry Kiser

While this isn’t technically the greatest Friday The 13th film it could probably be considered the “fan favorite” of the series. This was the first time Jason went up against someone who could actually stand their ground. Namely, a young lady named Tina Shepard (who fans affectionately refer to as Carrie White) who has telekinetic powers.

With her powers Tina strangles Jason with an electoral cord, flings deadly weapons at him and even sets him on fire. And the best part of all, she actually lives to tell the tale. So, not only does she go toe to toe with Jason Voorhees but she proves that the greatest horror slasher of all time was no match for her. If this chick isn’t badass then we don’t know the meaning of the word!

8. A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Director: Renny Harlin
Stars: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Danny Hassel, Brooke Theiss

It’s been about a year since the events of Elm Street 3. The surviving teens (Kristen, Joey, and Kincaid) have settled into a normal high school existence far removed from their days in Westin Hills Asylum. Kristen, however, can’t let sleeping dream demons lie, and everyone’s favorite night stalker is back and ready to claim the last of the Elm Street children before moving on to fresh meat in the form of Kristen’s friend, Alice. Krueger eventually manipulates Alice’s dreams, which he uses as a gateway to reach her friends. The formerly shy and reserved Alice must now step up and become a guardian for all the souls that Freddy is out to consume.

For many, The Dream Master represents the end (or, at best, the beginning of the end) of Freddy as a viable horror icon. Many lament the turn towards comedy and popcorn fun in lieu of the horrific and dark material of the earlier entries. However, we simply do not agree with this assessment. These people are looking at this all wrong. The Dream Master takes the highlights of its predecessors – funny Freddy, elaborate kill scenes, top-notch effects – and turns them up to full volume. It’s a bit blaring, but a good hook is still enjoyable, even when it’s too loud. It’s undeniably Freddy past his prime, but it’s also undeniably still Freddy (as opposed to the caricature of himself he becomes in the later films). It also boasts one of the franchise-best nightmare sequences as the bug-phobic Debbie’s undergoes a Cronenbergian transformation into a cockroach. The Dream Master is A Nightmare On Elm Street in the skin of a straight up summer blockbuster.

7. Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers

Director: Dwight H. Little
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, George P. Wilbur

Including sequels, remakes and sequels to remakes, there have been ten Halloween movies so far. But let’s face it, there’s only one truly great film there – the original, John Carpenter classic.

That being said, Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers stands out as another great film in the series. Intended to revitalize the brand, following the unsuccessful, Michael Myers-free Halloween III, the 1988 sequel – released ten years after the first film – did what the title promised and brought back the masked serial killer. With original protagonist Laurie Strode’s days fighting her homicidal brother behind her (for the time being), the character was killed off-screen, as Michael set his sights on his niece, a young girl given the in-joke name of Jamie. In short, the film is better than any fourth sequel in a slasher flick franchise deserves to be.

6. Hellbound: Hellraiser II

Director: Tony Randel
Stars: Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence, Clare Higgins, Kenneth Cranham, Barbie Wilde

There are some sequels that blend with their predecessor so seamlessly that you’re left with the impression that they’re just the second half of one really long movie. Hellbound: Hellraiser II is one of those movies. Despite being directed by a different person from the original, it has all the atmosphere and presence of Clive Barker’s original Hellraiser to the point that if you were ill-informed (or maybe just illiterate) you wouldn’t be able to tell.

Hellraiser II picks up moments after Hellraiser. Kirsty has been admitted to a psychiatric facility after essentially seeing the zombie of her uncle Frank wearing the skin of her father being dismembered by supernatural creatures. Her story catches the attention of the hospital’s founder and head practician Philip Channard who turns out to be an occult freak. He owns several lament configurations and heard many stories of their mythical powers. Encouraged by Kirsty’s testimony, Channard requisitions the mattress where Julia has been left for the Cenobites to feed on in the first movie and brings her back to life using a poor self-mutilating patient’s blood for her to feed on. And things just get more insane from there…

5. Pumpkinhead

Director: Stan Winston
Stars: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John D’Aquino, Kimberly Ross

Loving father Ed Harley is living a simple life in some boonie town. That’s until some “Big City” teens arrive, accidentally kill his son and ruin his life. Full of hate, Ed, with the help of some creepy witch, conjures up a nasty demon, a demon who only has one purpose… vengeance. The demon is loose and the fatalities are racking up.

Stan Winston – the man who helped create visionary special effect in movies like The Terminator, Aliens and Predator – helms his first film. It’s a triumph. This is a grim movie that doesn’t shy away from emotions. We understand Ed’s pain and also understand the teens situation. This flick could have easily fell into the derivative slasher mold but it avoids all the pitfalls. The teens are not horny and the teens do the right thing… “they run”. The movie feels old fashioned, almost like a children’s tale. The witch in the woods, the nursery rime, the demon buried in the pumpkin patch, all those elements contribute to that. Pumpkinhead is horror, fantasy, supernatural thriller and tragedy all wrapped up in an enthralling, phantasmagorically realized whole.

4. Child’s Play

Director: Tom Holland
Stars: Brad Dourif, Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon

In the first of many more films to come, serial killer Charles Lee Ray (aka Chucky) is shot as he tries to escape the police. Nearing death, he ultimately transfers his soul into a “Good Guy” doll he comes across in a toy store. Little does he know a little boy by the name of Andy Barclay will soon be the new owner of him. Charles confides in Andy while he commits numerous murders. Once the adults accept Andy’s story as truth, it’s too late.

Triumphantly, with every kill and every swear word, Chucky brings this movie to life and, in turn, provides the seed (pun totally intended) for which the entire franchise would grow. Had Chucky not worked, either because of the effects or the performances, this would just be another silly horror movie to poke fun at. Yet, through the magic of cinema, Chucky is brought to horrible life. The efforts of all those involved turn a potentially ridiculous idea into a legitimate scare fest (the subsequent sequels, on the other hand, are a completely different story).

3. Night Of The Demons

Director: Stan Winston
Stars: Cathy Podewell, Alvin Alexis, Hal Havins, Linnea Quigley

On the night of Halloween, 10 teens decide to go to a party at an abandoned funeral parlor. “Hull House”, rumored to be built on an evil patch of land and underground stream, is the place. Why wouldn’t you go there? While starting the party, the teens gather around a big mirror to perform a seance. They subsequently awaken an evil force and find themselves trapped and taken over one by one. They deserve it.

Night Of The Demons is probably most known for its scary demon faced poster art which by image alone seemed to do the trick. That face which stared out scaring shelf shoppers year after year was able to entice genre fans like none other. This movie was indeed one of those staples for rental in the early ’90s (particularly for sleepovers). Despite being a little hokey, silly, and, by today’s PC standards, could be considered completely racist, sexist, misogynistic, etc (by uptight people) – it is actually pretty damn awesome. It was made at a time when monsters were created with makeup, matte paintings were used as backdrops instead of CGI, the “slut” characters were abundant and gratuitous, and what may be thought of now as bad writing or acting, were all just endearing qualities of horror films.

2. The Blob

Director: Chuck Russell
Stars: Shawnee Smith, Kevin Dillon, Candy Clark, Donovan Leitch Jr.

In 1988, thirty years after the release of The Blob, a new and more expensive version was unleashed upon the world. The remake turned out to be almost diametrically opposed to its predecessor: the 1958 Blob was a low-budget production filmed in–house by a company and crew that had never worked on a feature before; the 1988 Blob was a big-budget production from a major studio and an experienced team of professionals, blessed with a longer schedule and the advantage of a thirty-year advance in technology. Ironically, the old Blob had been a sleeper hit in its day; the new Blob, while eventually becoming a cult classic, was a box office disaster.

Following closely the premise of the original, the updated version of The Blob takes place over a single night in a small town setting, where the town delinquent Bryan Flagg must settle his differences with the local police in order to save the town from being completely absorbed by a rapidly growing mass of protoplasm which has arrived from outer space inside a meteorite. It’s an old story retold with a fresh voice, eager to make improvements where they’re needed and unwilling to tamper with scenes that don’t.

1. They Live

Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower

Reminiscent of alien body snatcher movies of the silver screen, John Carpenter’s They Live involves a small band of humans fighting to save the Earth from an alien invasion. Instead of spaceships that destroy much of human civilization, ala War Of The Worlds, or parasites that inhabit human hosts, the invaders transmit a signal that smuggles subliminal commands through the visual spectrum and into the general populace. The commands hypnotize the working class, blinding them to the aliens who live in plain sight in the finest clothes with the highest paying jobs and encouraging them to think only of commercial consumption and procreation. Their ultimate goal is to turn the human population of Earth into a slave class.

As an otherworldly exploration of upper-class snobbery and materialism, They Live hits enough intelligent notes to transcend mere camp appeal. How can you not love a movie about an alien invasion that shamelessly includes a random eight-minute fight scene involving zero aliens? Or a flick that offers such amazing quotables as, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.” With Carpenter’s clear, widescreen direction and his skill and enthusiasm at their highest peak, They Live is undeniably a masterpiece.

What was your favorite horror movie of 1988? Let us know in the comments below.

Honorable mentions: 976-EVIL, Brain Damage, Cheerleader Camp, Evil Dead Trap, Fright Night Part 2, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Jack’s Back, Lady In White, Out Of The Dark, Phantasm II, Prison, Rabid Grannies, Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, Return Of The Living Dead II, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, and The Nest.

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