50 Best Horror Movies Of The 1980s

20. Scanners (1981)

Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Michael Ironside

David Cronenberg continues a theme established in his earlier films of scientists manipulating the human body and the consequences of such interference, though here he eschews the body horror of disease, infection and birth that informed his earlier work. Looking at it now the premise could be for an X-Men film. After an incident at a shopping mall, a troubled drifter, Cameron Vale, is taken into the care of scientist Paul Ruth. Vale, it turns out, is a scanner – someone who can read and manipulate the minds of all those around them. The good doctor introduces Vale to the organization ConSec and tells him that he can stop the incessant barrage of voices, but first he requires Vale to infiltrate a rival group of scanners led by the psychotic Darryl Revok.

In the close to half a century he’s been making movies, David Cronenberg has supplied the medium some of its most memorably disgusting images. The most iconic is probably still the Grand Guignol money shot of Scanners. Even those who haven’t seen the movie in years can usually recall its most infamous scene: A low-level telepath, working for the corporate research company ConSec, attempts to demonstrate his supernatural abilities to a room of VIPs. Unfortunately, his volunteer from the audience is no ordinary man, but a cerebrally powerful assassin. And after a minute or so of mental struggle, the stranger exhibits his superior gifts in the messiest manner imaginable. Splat!

19. The Evil Dead (1981)

Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker

We all know the story: The Evil Dead focuses on five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in a remote wooded area. After they find an audiotape that releases a legion of demons and spirits, members of the group suffer from demonic possession, leading to increasingly gory mayhem.

Even after all these years, director Sam Raimi’s no-budget debut effort isn’t simply a rollercoaster ride of a movie – it’s that flying-off-the-rails coaster from the beginning of Final Destination 3. Out of control from beginning to end, Raimi’s production is a jocular cut of the jugular. The film has a razor-sharp tongue that plunges through its own cheek in bloody fashion, creating a maniacal blend of horror and humor that has acted as an everlasting cult experience that continues to inspire horror directors to this day. It’s a testament to how bliss and the spark of inspiration can elevate a film of any budget in any genre from routine to sublime.

18. Hellraiser (1987)

Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley, Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins

It’s the classic that officially ushered British genre master Clive Barker into Hollywood, and, boy, is it one hell of an introduction. Throughout the author’s many works of fiction (namely his Books Of Blood short story collections), Barker routinely covers terror of the sexually disturbed, bodily revolting, and fantastically nightmarish varieties; Hellraiser, bless its cinematic soul, falls into all of those categories, sometimes in one given scene.

Hellraiser graphically depicts the tale of a man and wife who move into an old house and discover a hideous creature – the man’s half-brother, who is also the woman’s former lover – hiding upstairs. Having lost his earthly body to a trio of demons, the Cenobites, he is brought back into existence by a drop of blood on the floor. He soon forces his former mistress to bring him his necessary human sacrifices to complete his body… but the Cenobites won’t be happy about this one bit. You can best believe that the pain will be legendary!

17. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)

Director: John McNaughton
Stars: Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, Tom Towles

Viewing Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer is not for the faint of heart. Stark and unyielding, the film is a deeply unsettling look into the mind of an unrepentant murderer. The film centers on pathological murderer Henry, who discovers a kindred spirit in his roommate, Otis. The two engage in vicious murders as Henry schools Otis on the finer points of evading capture. Their relationship is tested when Otis’ sister Becky comes to visit and becomes enamored of Henry. Based on the life of Henry Lee Lucas, the film is both a psychological exploration as well as an explicit foray into gore

Despite its eye-grabbing title, Henry is not really about a killer, but about killing – the way killing is depicted in the movies and the way movie audiences have been conditioned to react to such violence. Henry doesn’t so much entertain as it shines a light on deep perversions couched in normality. In a world in which eight nearly identical Friday The 13th movies offer the adventures of Jason the ax-murderer as entertainment for teenagers, maybe we needed a sobering alternative.

16. The Blob (1988)

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.

15. The Changeling (1980)

Director: Peter Medak
Stars: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh

John Russell up sticks and moves across the country where Claire Norman helps him procure the rental of an impressive old Victorian mansion, in which he can start to rebuild his life after the death of his wife and daughter. It soon becomes apparent that he is not alone in the vast, imposing house. Doors behave erratically, windows shatter, and a presence leads John to a bordered up attic room, in which he discovers, among the decades of accumulated dust and cobwebs, a small wheelchair, such as a child would use. Convinced the ghostly presence and this room are linked, John enlists Claire’s help in finding out the truth; that a young boy called Joseph died in that room, in the most horrific circumstances. Now Joseph’s ghost wants recognition and revenge, and needs John’s help in achieving these aims.

The Changeling is a classic old school haunting film that every horror fan needs to see at least once. Practical effects, great acting, and perfect location set the film apart from several of the same era. Queue this up the next time you’re home alone and have a storm brewing. Good times.

14. Day Of The Dead (1985)

Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Lori Cardille, Joseph Pilato, Terry Alexander, Jarlath Conroy

Day Of The Dead is the third in George Romero’s classic “Dead” trilogy and perhaps the last film he produced that has been universally accepted. While he has, to date, produced three more zombie films (Land Of The Dead, Diary Of The Dead and Survival Of The Dead), Day Of The Dead is considered something of a closing note on Romero’s epic zombie apocalypse saga – perhaps the other three acting as appendices. Either way, it’s a strong little film which holds together relative well. It will never be as iconic as the two earlier films produced – The Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead – but it still feels like a fitting companion piece.

Set in a now completely overrun world of the dead, a small band of human scientists and soldiers hunker in an underground bunker and try to figure out how to live with the zombies rather than destroy them. Things don’t work out well. And the film’s climax, in which the zombies gain access into the bunker and get to finger-ripping, eye-gouging work, is a thing of visceral, and viscera-packed, beauty.

13. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Director: Ruggero Deodato
Stars: Robert Kerman, Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen

A New York anthropologist named Professor Harold Monroe travels to the wild, inhospitable jungles of South America to find out what happened to a documentary film crew that disappeared two months before while filming a documentary about primitive tribes deep in the rain forest. Well, not only does he discover what happened to them but it turns out they had a run-in with some natives who don’t mind indulging in rape, beheadings and some cannibalism.

Cannibal Holocaust is nasty, sometimes quite difficult to watch and is worthy of any depraved adjectives you could think of. It’s also a near masterpiece by its director Ruggero Deodato. It’s a horror film in the most literal sense. It isn’t necessarily scary, though it doesn’t try to be. Despite its scenes of horrendous violence it’s not simply a gross out movie like the torture porn films of today. What Deadato attempted with this film is to disturb the viewer, provoke a reaction and make that person think. Cannibal Holocaust truly stands in a league of its own – and its reputation is quite well-deserved.

12. From Beyond (1986)

Director: Stuart Gordon
Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel, Ken Foree

Dr. Edward Pretorius and his assistant, the physician Crawford Tillinghast, a machine called the “Resonator”. This device creates a force field that stimulates a part of the brain, gives you pleasure, makes you a junkie and also opens the door for hideous creatures to slip into our world. When Pretorius gets his head eaten by one of those creatures he joins them on the other side while Crawford is sent to a loony bin, prime suspect to Pretorious’ murder. Dr. Katherine becomes Crawford’s shrink and decides to recreate the experiment with the help of Crawford and Shaft wannabe cop Bubba. Before you can say “acid trip” phallic monsters appear, Pretorius comes back in many hideous forms, somebody eats brains and Doc Kat slips into a leather bondage outfit… yum.

The team behind the next film on our list, Re-Animator, offers us another grisly scientist horror flick based on another HP Lovecraft tale. And what can we say… this is one messed up movie. From Beyond is one of those rare films that manages to both work on a metaphorical level and as pure entertainment. By translating Lovecraft’s brand of horror into real-world terms, director Stuart Gordon manages to once again strike gold with a subject that is frequently a minefield of unwatchably awful films. Now if only the directors still churning out Lovecraftian crap would figure it out and do the same.

11. Re-Animator (1985)

Director: Stuart Gordon
Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale

Taking cues from The Evil Dead’s innovations in gore but prefiguring the splatstick zeitgeist ushered in by its sequel, Stuart Gordon’s Re-animator is one of horror’s great one-offs and undoubtedly the best HP Lovecraft adaptation to date (even if it is based on an underwhelming serial that’s not especially representative of the esteemed author). The story, of course, follows two med students who discover a way to re-animate dead things, but not how to make anything more then mindless and bloodthirsty brutes.

For gore-hounds, Stuart’s cult favorite truly has it all: blood, guts, boobies, cunnilingus with severed heads, and the darkest of comedy. And, surprisingly, critics such as Roger Ebert and old New York Times writer Janet Maslin loved Gordon’s flick, the latter going so far as to call Re-Animator “ingenious.” Filled to the brim with black humor, to call Re-Animator campy and leave it at that seems like a knee-jerk reaction to discredit, or disregard, the clear skill behind a truly excellent horror movie. Even at its most outrageous, it’s controlled by a steady, confident hand with a plan.

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