50 Best Horror Movies Of The 1980s

30. Opera (1987)

Director: Dario Argento
Stars: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Daria Nicolodi

A young opera singer gets her big chance when the previous star of a production of Verdi’s Macbeth is run over by a car. Convinced the opera is bad luck she accepts, and becomes the target (in horror master Dario Argento’s unmistakable style) of a psychopath – a man she has been dreaming of since childhood.

Opera is a masterful giallo of the more modern ’80s age. The sub-genre, of course, had been around for a few decades prior, but by the time films like A Blade In The Dark, Opera, and Stage Fright were made, they seemed to draw a heavier influence from their American “body count” slasher cousins than they did the original pulp Italian detective films that started the giallo. Opera features a much stronger emphasis on the murders and the stalking by the killer, and less emphasis on the investigation. In fact, the one detective on the case is given very little to do from Dario and Franco Ferrini’s script. The mystery aspect of the film is actually one of Dario’s weakest, but to those who have never seen it, it does work well enough to pass. The killer’s presence is chilling enough to keep you on edge. Agento’s killers are often ghost-like in their movements and execution of murder sequences, and the masked and black gloved assailant in Opera is just as good as any of the killers in his other more recognizable films. With its grand scale and brooding themes, the art of opera fits neatly with Argento’s lavish stylistics and dark preoccupations as a filmmaker.

29. The Fog (1980)

Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Tom Atkins

For a director, following up a mega hit is always going to be a daunting task. The expectations and the pressure must be immense. No one wants to find themselves relegated to the ‘One Hit Wonder’ barrel after all. This was the position that John Carpenter found himself in 1980. His 1978 film Halloween had been a knock out success, and people were keen to see what this new master of horror was going to come up with next to strike fear into the hearts of cinema going audiences. Instead of sticking with the slasher genre he had helped create, he chose a different tack, and directed (and co-wrote with long-time collaborator Debra Hill) The Fog – a low key, small scale chiller, full of the essence of old folk tales told around bonfires.

As the centennial of the small town of Antonio Bay, California approaches, paranormal activity begins to occur at midnight. 100 years ago, the wealthy leper Blake bought the clipper ship Elizabeth Dane and sailed with his people to form a leper colony. However, while sailing through a thick fog, they were deliberately misguided by a campfire onshore, steering the course of the ship toward the light and crashing her against the rocks. While the town’s residents prepare to celebrate, the victims of this heinous crime that the town’s founders committed rise from the sea to claim retribution. Under cover of the ominous glowing fog, they carry out their vicious attacks, searching for what is rightly theirs.

28. Prince Of Darkness (1987)

Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong

A sinister secret has been kept in the basement of an abandoned Los Angeles church for many years. With the death of a priest belonging to a mysterious sect, another priest opens the door to the basement and discovers a vat containing a green liquid. The priest contacts a group of physics graduate students to investigate it. Unfortunately, they discover that the liquid contains the essence of Satan himself, and they also discover that he will release HIS father – an all-powerful Anti-God! The liquid later comes to life itself, turning some of the students into zombies as the Devil comes forward to release his father. Will these students be able to stop him?

Crossing the boundary at the outer reaches of the physical world where science meets superstition and reason collides with the irrational, Prince Of Darkness tells a tale as miraculous as the Bible and as dry as any technical text. “This is not a dream,” indeed!

27. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Director: Chuck Russell
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Patricia Arquette, Craig Wasson, Jennifer Rubin, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Penelope Sudrow, Laurence Fishburne, John Saxon

Hands down, the greatest Nightmare On Elm Street sequel, Dream Warriors was like a breath of fresh air after the relatively disappointing Freddy’s Revenge. Co-written by original NOES creator Wes Craven, the film follows our favorite dream-stalking psychopath Freddy Krueger as he takes his deadly crusade away from Elm Street to a psychiatric hospital for troubled teens.

This movie has so many wonderful qualities but let’s start with the kills. Dream Warriors offers some of the best death scenes of the franchise; from Freddy turning a kid into a human puppet using his own veins and tendons to Freddy posing as a topless nurse only to reveal his true self. Another thing to point out is the fact that none of the kid characters in the film are annoying. In a horror film such as this, that is a true rarity. When each one of the kids get killed you genuinely feel bad about it, you want them to succeed. It’s no wonder that this is the third entry of the series. In this instance, the third time was most definitely the charm.

26. Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Director: Joseph Zito
Stars: Ted White, Corey Feldman, Kimberly Beck, Erich Anderson, Crispin Glover, Peter Barton, Barbara Howard, Lawrence Monoson, Judie Aronson, Camilla More, Carey More

If somebody was unfamiliar with Jason Voorhees and the Friday The 13th films and you could only play one movie for them, which one would it be? Answer: this one.

Friday The 13th Part IV is like a “best-of” compilation of the entire F13 franchise – the perfect distillation of everything the series had achieved up until that point. Everything that the series is known for is presented without restraint; horny teenagers, drug partaking, skinny dipping and machetes to the face. The film enjoyed the luxury of a much bigger budget than its predecessors. It also was the last entry of the series to present Jason as simply a masked killer, before he more or less became an unstoppable monster who couldn’t get hurt. The film has memorable kills, great characters and an irresistibly amiable atmosphere. Don’t let Roger Ebert tell you otherwise.

25. Sleepaway Camp (1983)

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.

24. The Lost Boys (1987)

Director: Joel Schumacher
Stars: Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Dianne Wiest, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz

The Lost Boys tells the story of Sam Emerson, whose parents’ divorce sees him moving to the small beach town of Santa Carla along with his mum and brother Michael. Eager to get involved with the local nightlife, Sam and Michael go to a party where Michael becomes enamored with a girl called Star. Unfortunately, Star hangs around with a dodgy crowd, a crowd who don’t like the daylight, if you catch our drift. They’re not fans of garlic. They can’t see themselves in mirrors, if you follow what we’re saying. They’re freaking vampires! So, in an attempt to get in with the in crowd and win Star’s heart, Michael decides to join the gang and become a vampire too.

If you want to see how to do a teenage vampire movie properly, here’s a handy guide. Step one – take the Twilight films (either DVD or Blu-ray format). Step two – shove them right up your arse. Step three – watch The Lost Boys instead.

23. Near Dark (1987)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton

Charming cowboy Caleb meets the wrong girl on a dark night and receives a life-changing hickey which launches vampirism into his blood. Under the guidance of Mae and her extended bloodsucking family, he’s about to learn about the hardcore night life the hard way. Once Caleb is turned into a vampire, he’s expected to kill to fit in the group. Thing is, he’d rather not. He’s just not a killer, plus, he realizes this isn’t your typical refined group of sharp-teethed killers. Hell, they don’t even suggest breaking into a blood bank.

Released in the summer of 1987, Near Dark went head-to-head with the more brashly comic The Lost Boys and, in box office terms at least, took a heavy beating. Yet it was the superior movie for sure. Its mix of edgy romanticism (the film is also a love story) and haunting melancholy makes it, as an immediate proposition, less accessible but far more memorable. These are vampires of a postmodern world in which belief has faded to the point where the paraphernalia of myth and religion are no longer effective. Director Kathryn Bigelow, echoing the games the Coen brothers play, reconstructs genre conventions from the inside out. Near Dark is a subtle study in the seductiveness of evil and a terrifying ride to the edge of darkness.

22. The Howling (1981)

Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone

After being assaulted by a bizarre serial killer, Karen White, a TV news reporter traumatized by the incident, heads off for the country to recover. Once there, Karen and her husband discover that something is seriously wrong with the people living in and around this isolated retreat.

Superb hair-raising horror from the fabulous filmmaking hand of New World ex-cohort, Joe Dante, who, along with his crew, manage to imbue this modest production with a frightfully wicked sense of dread laced with an endearing self aware sense of humor. As opposed to eliciting laughter, the humor here is more akin to bringing a smile to a horror fans face from all the references and cameos from notable genre personalities. Although occasionally eclipsed in conversation when [insert the name of the next film on our list] is brought up, it’s nigh impossible to discuss one without the other not to mention both films coming out just a few months apart. Aside from one film being an independent and the other from a major, The Howling was the first film of its type in a good number of years.

21. An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Director: John Landis
Stars: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine

Arriving a few months after The Howling, John Landis’ seminal werewolf film is more expensive and more adventurous, with frequent 180-degree shifts in tone that make Evil Dead 2 look straight-faced by comparison.

In the film, a couple of American backpackers wander through the English moors. A werewolf attacks. One of them dies, although he’s not that dead; the other one gets bitten. And then the movie sets off on a series of tangents: A screamingly funny werewolf-soldier dream sequence, a screamingly horrifying transformation sequence constructed by effects legend Rick Baker. A freaky nighttime attack sequence leads into a farcical scene in which the protagonist, having transformed back into a human, finds himself naked at the zoo. There’s an extended interlude set inside of a porno theater; there’s an elaborate action scene set in London’s busy Piccadilly Circus. Then it ends. Werewolf movies are all about releasing the monster within, and American Werewolf In London is a magnificently energetic mess that feels directed by pure id. Carnivorous lunar activities definitely don’t come any more entertaining than this.

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