Lists

80 Essential Horror Movies of the 1980s

Reading Time: 29 minutes

Lists are always a challenge – what to put in, what to take out – but they’re even more daunting when someone asks you to do one. And for added pressure? Give us the 80 best horror flicks from the ‘80s.

Never one to back down, I decided to give it a go. Some titles are here because they have to be – they’re just that important – while others made the cut because they’re just favorites of mine. It’s a list, though, so I am fully aware feathers will be ruffled, but you know what, I’m good with that.

Our society has always had a thing for the ‘80s, but when it comes to horror, no decade meant more. The fascination for fright fans goes beyond nostalgia; it’s a way of life. And with that, we’re off.

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THE GAME-CHANGERS

Let’s face it, some movies just blew our minds and altered the way we look at the genre in a singular moment. These are those films.

 

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FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

It’s the OG, and though Jason wouldn’t assume the throne until a year later, Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) gave us perhaps the most iconic horror mother this side of Mrs. Bates, and that matriarch gave birth to one of the most prolific franchises in genre history, truly giving birth to the slasher subgenre.

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THE SHINING (1980)

Look, Stephen King hates it and I’m fine with that because Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of modern horror represents the one and only time that I’ve preferred a film to the novel. Who wouldn’t want to spend a night (or winter) at the Overlook Hotel? Oh, and before I go, THE SHINING works because of Shelley Duvall, not in spite of her. And make no mistake, no one plays terrified like Shelley Duvall.

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AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

“Ma! The meatloaf!” Thank eight-pound, six-ounce baby Jesus that the lads didn’t keep off the moors. There’s little better than a well-executed horror-comedy, and AAWIL definitely qualifies, but apart from the fact that it tickles me that Jenny Agutter pops up in the sequel to another game-changer further down this list, we all know that the transformation scene is what places this werewolf flick in this category. And my, oh my did Rick Baker deserve that Oscar.

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THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

I’m an EVIL DEAD obsessive, but the franchise eluded me for longer than I care to admit. That said, the first time I sat down to watch it, the picture wasn’t resonating with me, but that was when FilmFracture’s James Jay Edwards saved the day, and am I forever grateful that he did. Mr. Edwards told me that I’ve seen so many films that imitated EVIL DEAD that I was numb to the fact that Sam Raimi and company set the bar and encouraged me to watch it “with 1981 glasses.” If somehow you are like me (and in so many ways I hope that you’re not) and have yet to see EVIL DEAD, I implore you to heed James’ advice, you won’t regret it.

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CREEPSHOW (1982)

There’s a reason why everyone is losing their shit over the new Shudder series, and it’s because Stephen King and George A. Romero’s little project is, was and ever shall be the finest horror anthology ever produced. From funktastic Ed Harris to a day at the beach to the incomparable Adrienne Barbeau, CREEPSHOW will never get old.

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POLTERGEIST (1982)

Remember back in the day when dads would just enjoy a dart while their kid careened to and fro on their knee and the solution was to give them a sip of their Schiltz? Yeah, the well-being of children just wasn’t fretted over quite as much as today because POLTERGEIST was rated PG. Not gonna lie, I still find this film terrifying, but if you take nothing else away from this little snippet, know this – and it cannot be stressed enough – POLTERGEIST was directed by Tobe f***ing Hooper 

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GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

I’ll be the first to admit that GHOSTBUSTERS is weighted more giggles than gore, but I dare you to name a better horror-comedy. That said, for all the one-liners that have been seared not only into our collective memory but culture, the scene in the Ecto 1 when Winston (Ernie Hudson) and Ray (Dan Aykroyd) are discussing Judgment Day and Zeddmore drops “Ray, has it ever occurred to you that the reason we’ve been so busy lately is because the dead have been rising from the grave” is one of the greatest moments in cinematic history.  

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GREMILINS (1984)

Remember what I said about child welfare mingling with the MPAA’s rating system in the ‘80s? Yeah, Joe Dante’s Christmas extravaganza was also rated PG. Now, is it a chilling as POLTERGEIST? No, but prepping a Gremlin like it’s a box of Pizza Rolls wasn’t exactly a PG moment, nor was Stripe with a crossbow, but to this day I get laughs when I tell people that I’m like a gremlin – don’t expose me to sunlight. Whether they laugh because they get the reference or I’m just that unattractive is neither here nor there, because Gizmo will be adored forever, mirroring my sentiment toward Phoebe Cates 

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

Wes Craven read a story about men who were afraid to go to sleep because of vivid nightmares, but when they finally did, one shot up screaming and died on the spot. Much like Mary Shelley, Craven busied himself to think of a story and we have Freddy Krueger as a result. Though the NIGHTMARE franchise eventually turned the man with knives for fingers into a caricature of himself, the original film remains one of the most terrifying we will ever set eyes on. The bathtub scene, chasing Tina (Amanda Wyss) down the alley, the badassery of John Saxon, and that line we all know and love. Say it with me: “Whatever you do, don’t…fall…asleep.” 

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FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)

It’s a simple story of a horror-loving teenage boy trying to score with his girlfriend when a vampire moves in next door. Tom Holland has long said that FRIGHT NIGHT was his gift to the horror community, and though Max Schreck has nothing to do with it, between the soundtrack, “you’re so cool, Brewster,” Marcy from Married…with Children, and Chris Sarandon’s sensual performance, FRIGHT NIGHT was more than a gift, it may be the finest vampire film ever produced.  

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RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

“Cat dead. Details later.” Who tells H.P. Lovecraft-inspired tales better than Stuart Gordon? It has all the laughs and the scares that you can handle, and what’s more, this flick showed us that few on-screen pairings have more chemistry than Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton 

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RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

All right, Dan O’Bannon wrote ALIEN (1979) and decided he was going to direct this one. Alas, no one could ever say it better than Joe Bob Briggs from MonsterVision, so I’m not even going to try: “RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD deserves serious consideration as one of the finest zombie, exploding head comedies of all-time. What we got here is a bunch of corpses that the U.S. Army decides to stick inside pressurized Spam canisters, perfectly preserving them like giant Starkist tunas on Quaaludes.” Fin.  

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HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986)

This one felt too real, and that’s why it was a game-changer and had such a hard time making its way into theatres because the dreaded “X” rating was constantly held over its head. As Roger Ebert said, though, “this movie deserves to be seen” and thankfully it’s now a must-see for horror fans everywhere. Much like Tobe Hooper’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), it’s what we don’t see that allows our minds to fill in the blanks. While budgetary restraints played a large role in that – because the home invasion scene is in the conversation for most terrifying scene in genre history – that John McNaughton decided to give us glimpses of the aftermath of violence while audio of the event played over the top gave us license to frighten ourselves, and nothing is better than that. Also, when Michael Rooker opens the trunk and we get the piano cord when it reaches its zenith may be the most effective music cue I’ve ever witnessed.  

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EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN (1987)

Wait, how can the EVIL DEAD follow-up also qualify as a game-changer? Well, have you seen it? Raimi and Bruce Campbell altered the course of horror in 1981 and six years later did it again. It was here that Ash started to become Ash, before going full Ash in ARMY OF DARKNESS (1993). Sequels need to up the ante in both body count and action, and DEAD BY DAWN accomplished that in spades. To say nothing of Henrietta (Ted Raimi), because can we ever heap enough praise upon Ted Raimi? 

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HELLRAISER (1987)

Never forget that Clive Barker gave Doug Bradley the choice between two small roles: a furniture mover with limited dialogue near the beginning of the film, or of a Cenobite with limited dialogue toward the conclusion. Bradley was just beginning his career and thought it might be better that his face is seen whilst on screen, but in the end elected to sit in the makeup chair, a decision that led to one of the most iconic characters in horror history. 

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THE LOST BOYS (1987)

Sure, we got peak Kiefer Sutherland, the Frog brothers and the bloodsucking Brady Bunch, but what I can never stop thinking about when it comes to all the damn vampires in Santa Carla was the lineage of horror royalty. Kiefer descended from Donald who was brilliant in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), but what’s more, Jason Patric’s father was Jason Miller (THE EXORCIST), and regardless of filmography – horror or otherwise – we just haven’t gotten enough Jason Patric 

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CHILD’S PLAY (1988)

Creepy dolls are a staple of the genre, but the game changed when Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) inhabited the rubbery shell of Chucky and gave new meaning to the phrase “friends to the end.” It’s not unlike the concept of Batman – a six-foot bat cavorting around fighting crime – it’s a preposterous idea, but Don Mancini’s script and Tom Holland’s direction sold and sold hard, and immediately turned Chucky into an iconic character. Mancini has been involved through the franchise’s entire ride, which has provided continuity and consistency where others have long gone off the rails, but despite the success of other installments, the original will never cease to be effective. And by the way, when discussions turn to mothers in horror, rank Catherine Hicks higher than you normally would.  

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PUMPKINHEAD (1988)

First of all, Lance Henriksen is one of the most underrated actors to ever grace a screen, and as per usual he killed it. However, what monster is more sinister, and what’s more, cooler looking than Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead? And now that I’m thinking about it, how the hell does Lance Henriksen not have an Oscar on his mantle? 

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THEY LIVE (1988)

The list of filmmakers who created not one but two classic sci-fi/horror pictures isn’t a long one, and if we’re honest, that list may only be comprised of one name – John Carpenter. THEY LIVE resonated 31 years ago, but has a movie aged more gracefully? Carpenter’s satire about power and consumerism holds more water more than three decades on than it did upon initial release. And please, whatever you do, always remember that Carpenter didn’t have a line for Roddy Piper when he walked into the bank so he told him to just make something up, and as Piper told Joe Bob Briggs during a MonsterVision interview back in the day, “I was out of bubble gum and the next thing I was gonna do was kick ass.” 

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NEXT LEVEL SH*T

Perhaps they didn’t change the game, but they’ve stayed with us and inspired many who followed in their footsteps, one of a kind gems that always quicken the beating of our black little hearts.

 

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THE CHANGELING (1980)

I’ve come to realize that I thoroughly enjoy slow-burn horror, and THE CHANGELING would be king if THE WITCH (2016) didn’t exist. For starters, all films need their opening scenes to harness your attention, and THE CHANGELING may be unrivaled in that department. George C. Scott helplessly watching his family perish from the confines of a phone booth leaves quite an impression. It communicated the anguish anyone would feel after such an event and allowed Scott’s subtle, nuanced performance to thrive as a result. The atmosphere was creepy throughout, the house may not have had the eerie façade of Amityville but it certainly got the job done, and the reel-to-reel scene will never fail to resonate. 

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THE FUNHOUSE (1981)

I don’t think I need to elaborate much further than my friend Albert Muller who penned the following sentence for Daily Grindhouse about this very flick: what always made Tobe Hooper stand apart from his contemporaries and other horror masters, is his pure ability to provoke a sense of confrontation. If that doesn’t entice you to give it a watch, then I can’t help you.  

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THE HITCHER (1986)

If one wanted to cast someone who could leave an audience equally unsettled with a glance or line of dialogue, one could have done far worse than Rutger Hauer. The man was a marvel who had the distinct ability to leave us wanting more but never unsatisfied. And the truck scene. That truck scene.  

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MONSTER SQUAD (1987)

Wolfman’s got nards.” Kinda sorta Stranger Things before Stranger Things? Much like FRIGHT NIGHT, what horror-loving kid wouldn’t have wanted this experience? And it had Tom Noonan, and anything with Tom Noonan is already 27 percent better than it would have been otherwise.  

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PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)

So yeah, another fantastic Carpenter entry, but all I can think about right now is that Alice Cooper is the only person not named Carpenter who made the list both as an actor and musician (JASON LIVES, wait for it).  

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SH*T SO NEXT LEVEL IT GETS ITS OWN CATEGORY

I have been obsessed with the Thomas Harris universe for as long as I can remember, so there was no way this wasn’t getting its own segment.

 

Mindhunter (1986)

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MANHUNTER (1986)

It was our first exposure to Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (MANHUNTER spelling) and Will Graham, and it is so Michael Mann it’s ridiculous. And I mean that as a compliment. Mann’s decision to employ Dante Spinotti as his cinematographer was stroke of genius because his shots and use of color make the film. The soundtrack is off the charts, but above all, it’s the performances that have left me obsessed for years. The aforementioned Tom Noonan is terror personified as Francis Dollarhyde, because “you owe me AWE” still makes me incontinent. William Petersen wasn’t allowed the luxury of three seasons to delve into all the nooks and crannies of Graham as Hugh Dancy was in Hannibal, but he captured the essence of the character perfectly for an ’86 movie. Brian Cox’s take on Hannibal the Cannibal gets better with each viewing, and Kim Greist’s quiet strength is one of the most underappreciated on this list—or any list. If you haven’t had the pleasure, do yourself a favor and track MANHUNTER down immediately. 

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SOMETIMES SEQUELS ARE BETTER

You read that in Jud Crandall’s voice, didn’t you? It’s okay, you can admit it.

 

Halloween 3

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FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981)

To begin, I’m a Friday freak, so get used to seeing a lot of Crystal Lake. That’s not an apology, just a heads-up out of courtesy. The story was better, and if this had been the original, Amy Steel would be just as revered as Jamie Lee Curtis and Heather Langenkamp. We got Jason for the first time, Steel and John Furey are the best one-two acting punch in franchise history, and despite ten chapters since, PART 2 still has some of the eeriest shots in Friday lore.  

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HALLOWEEN II (1981)

When the studio informed Carpenter and Debra Hill that they wanted to do a sequel, they shared that they felt the story had been pretty well mined, but when word came production would move on without them, they decided to do up a script. The rest is history, and clearly, the story had not been exhausted. Donald Pleasence rocked it once again, with an even more desperate performance that backed up Joe Bob’s belief that “it’s Donald who really makes these movies work.” Whether you’re talking “I shot him six times!” or “How do you guys do it, fire a warning shot, right?” the good doctor never disappoints.  

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FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982)

So, they delved into 3D. But those silly paper glasses with the red and blue lenses weren’t all the third installment had to offer. Creeping away from Camp Crystal Lake, we were transported to Higgins Haven, an incredible setting for a horror film, and between Shelly and Richard Brooker as Jason in the beginning stages of mastering his craft – which included the mic drop of horror – PART III is just a good time forever worth yours. 

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HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

Do people who still insist it sucks because of the absence of Michael Myers still exist? I think we’ve finally reached the point where people understand that this movie rocks on its own merits, but if not, consider a few things: Tom Atkins rockin’ a ‘stache and some silos of High Life as he drinks and doctors and beds a woman half his age, that Silver Shamrock jingle and the can-never-receive-enough-praise performance of Daniel O’Herlihy as Conal Cochran. The seething anger behind “you never thought past the strange custom of your children wearing costumes and going out begging for candy” is enough for me, every time. If somehow you’ve missed this one, remedy that straight away. 

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PSYCHO II (1983)

It took balls to even attempt, but Tom Holland took it on, convinced Anthony Perkins to sign on and handed us a gift two years before FRIGHT NIGHT. This follow-up to Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal classic may very well be the finest sequel in genre history. 

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FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)

It was the first of the Jarvis trilogy and in the opinions of many, the best Friday film to date. Corey Feldman was neck-deep in a run of films that would include GREMLINS, THE GOONIES, and STAND BY ME, and he knocked little Tommy Jarvis out of the park. What sets THE FINAL CHAPTER apart, though, was the performance of Ted White. For the first time, Jason had honed his skills and was a killing machine, and yes, he still ran. Not only was he brutally efficient, but he also seemed to revel in his work, a point that just made watching his employ his craft that much more enjoyable. But the cherry on top? Crispin Glover. Who wouldn’t want to take classes at the Jimmy Mortimer School of Dance? 

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DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)

The third of George A. Romero’s DEAD trilogy featured Lori Cardille, who was the daughter of “Chilly Billy” Cardille, who played himself as the field reporter in the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), one of the most gruesome death scenes ever recorded, and Bub. And I think we all salute Bub. 

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FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985)

Some take umbrage with A NEW BEGINNING because we didn’t get Jason, but rather an imposter, but let’s look past that and consider the tourniquet, and more importantly, John Shepherd. His greatest crime was he played Tommy Jarvis in the least liked entry in the Jarvis trilogy and didn’t have the name recognition of Feldman and Thom Mathews. However, his Jarvis was damaged, and he perfectly displayed the PTSD that would surely follow anyone who had endured his ordeal. The most human and believable Jarvis resides within this film, so if you’ve avoided it because Jason wasn’t Jason or you just haven’t seen it in a while, go back and give it another shot. You won’t regret it.  

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985)

Any time a wildly successful film boldly deviates from its original take deserves our respect, but at the time, FREDDY’S REVENGE didn’t click with audiences as well as the original. Some didn’t like it at all, but the benefit of hindsight has shown us that sometimes films deserve another look. Mark Patton assumed the protagonist role which meant no Heather Langenkamp, and while that was risky, Patton was fantastic and what this movie means to queer horror cannot be overstated. Patton’s performance and this movie’s stance would be better suited to today’s audience, but it was ballsy as hell in 1985, and that deserves our respect.  

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ALIENS (1986)

Seven years after Ridley Scott’s classic, James Cameron came in and gave us more action and comedy, but didn’t skimp on the horror, and the end product was one of horror’s hallowed sequels. Sigourney Weaver once again killed it (literally) and Newt (Carrie Henn) was just adorable, but it was Cameron’s usage of some of his TERMINATOR cohorts that put it over the top. Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen were amazing additions to the Xenomorph universe, but Bill f***ing Paxton was the gem. “Game over, man. Game over!” 

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FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986)

I could go on for days, but I’ll spare you the diatribe. Tom McLoughlin wanted to add some humor to the proceedings and Paramount said that so long as he didn’t make fun of Jason, all would be well – and it was. JASON LIVES is jam-packed with action and creative kills, C.J. Graham wasn’t afforded four films to portray zombie Jason like Kane Hodder but he was the first and spot-on, at that, but it was the ensemble that makes the movie. David Kagen as Sheriff Garris was uber-macho but nailed the most dramatic moment of the franchise without a single word, Jennifer Cooke never gets enough credit for her final girl Megan, Thom Mathews was our last studio version of Tommy Jarvis and as a result is the favorite of many, and Vinny Guastaferro… what more needs to be said than “wherever the red dot goes?” 

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THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 (1986)

Hey, “Dog will hunt!” Bill Moseley has long said that this was the flick that really put him on the map and we can’t thank Tobe Hooper enough for that. Did I mention Dennis Hopper and Caroline Williams? If you haven’t seen TCM’s follow-up, make it happen.  

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987)

This may be the only horror franchise where we get three deep before we reach its finest effort. I mean, we get Laurence Fishburne, yes, but Freddy puppeteering a victim with his own veins? That’s primetime, bitch. Top that.  

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FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988)

For two reasons: it’s basically Carrie meets Jason, and THE NEW BLOOD represents Kane Hodder’s first foray behind the mask. Before we move on, however, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank the late, great John Buechler for pushing to get Hodder the role.  

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HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988)

This flick would make the list for its opening sequence alone, but RETURN also introduced us to Danielle Harris, gave us another over-the-top, yet subtle Pleasence performance (that’s not an easy thing to pull off), and Ellie Cornell’s Rachel is one of the most underrated final girls, period.  

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HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988)

“Trick us again child and your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell.” Doug Bradley was a bit more present in this installment, but just the same he was overshadowed. As hard as that may be to believe, go back and watch Clare Higgins’ performance. If one is going to be sinister, then they might as well do it with a little flair. In HELLBOUND, Higgins is downright flamboyant. And I kind of love it.  

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PHANTASM II (1988)

It loses points because it was the only PHANTASM without A. Michael Baldwin, but Angus Scrimm gave us “you think that when you die you go to heaven, but you come to us” and it also provided the single most terrifying scene Joe Bob Briggs has ever witnessed, “ a perfectly good Hemi Cuda flippin’ over, rollin’ on its side an’ burstin’ into flames. I cried for two hours.” 

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GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)

The header says everything you need to know, not all sequels are created equal. Though it can’t hang with its predecessor, GHOSTBUSTERS II is far better than it gets credit for, and we’re not allowed to forget that the single funniest line from the franchise came from the follow-up: “Very cheerful. My parents didn’t believe in toys.” You didn’t even have a Slinky? “We had part of a Slinky, but I straightened it.” 

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KILLER KOMEDIES

The line between humor and horror is a thin one, and even better when it gets blurred.

 

Killer Klowns

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NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984)

Kelli Maroney. That is all.  

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ONCE BITTEN (1985)

Yes, it’s a goofy comedy, but it’s a goofy vampire comedy with a young Jim Carrey. And it features “He doesn’t want you because you’re mean and evil, he wants me because I’m nice and sweet and pure. So FUCK OFF!” Plus, Lauren Hutton. Don’t sleep on ONCE BITTEN.  

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THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987)

We’re talking Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cherand Susan Sarandon, and yet all you can think about is Veronica Cartwright. And you know what? That’s as it should be. 

 

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988) 

Just grab some booze and a handful of cotton candy and enjoy John Vernon shenanigans. Oh, and don’t forget to turn your brain off, because you won’t need it. Also, as it should be.  

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THE ‘BURBS (1989)

I mean, I know that THE GODFATHER (1972) exists, but for my money, THE ‘BURBS is the greatest movie ever made. Not only is it hilariously funny with an incredible ensemble cast, but it is also on point with the horror elements, too. Not much of a surprise with Joe Dante at the helm, but very few flicks can be watched over and over but never lose an ounce of humor, but THE ‘BURBS is one of them. Oh, and I’ll love Rick Ducommun till the day I die.  

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ALL HAIL THE KING

Stephen King has given us so many unforgettable tales of terror, how could I not devote some time to his macabre mind?

 

Stephen King

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CHRISTINE (1983)

“Show me” may not be the greatest scene in a King adaptation, but it’s certainly one of the coolest. Beyond that, a few thoughts: we never got enough Keith Gordon, Harry Dean Stanton was the bonus of all bonuses, and just to be safe, regardless of appearance, be careful insulting someone’s car. Just in case.  

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CUJO (1983)

You’ll recall my statement that THE SHINING was the one time I preferred a film to the novel that gave it life, and that holds true with CUJO. Little Tad didn’t make it in the book, but the movie gave us that happy ending, so yeah, King > celluloid. More than that, however, how in the hell did Dee Wallace not only not win the Academy Award for Best Actress, but fail to get nominated? 

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THE DEAD ZONE (1983)

This hits a little too close to home these days, so Christopher Walken forever but moving on.

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CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984)

“He who walks behind the rows” probably needs to stop making sequels at this point, but Linda Hamilton will always be worth 92 minutes of your time.  

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FIRESTARTER (1984)

I know, Drew Barrymore, but David Keith and Louise Fletcher deserve more love, and if I’m honest, George C. Scott could have had his way with me, so that’s all I got.  

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NOT ALL REMAKES ARE CREATED EQUAL

If you’re one of those people who insist that remakes are just a waste of good celluloid, read through the next few paragraphs and remember, always keep an open mind.

 

The Thing (1982)

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THE THING (1982)

With apologies to ALIEN, Carpenter’s tale of the events at Outpost 31 is the greatest sci-fi/horror effort of all-time. The setting itself is bleak, and the story bleaker, but it’s a testament to the genius of Carpenter that it’s a place you just want to keep going back to. And forget Cujo, the finest canine acting ever put to film was Jud. That one-shot of the pup/Thing looking for a host and settling on Clark (Richard Masur) is jaw-droppingly effective. Speaking of, if you want a real treat, watch THE THING with the Carpenter and Kurt Russell commentary track. You may never watch it without it again, it’s that good.  

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THE FLY (1986)

The greatest compliment you can give any horror film is that a ridiculous premise – a man turning into a fly – is actually fascinating. “You heard me, alright. You just can’t handle it.” Absent exorbitant cheese, David Cronenberg gave us a tale of terror but enough drama and story that we felt an emotional connection to the characters, it wasn’t just “the practical effects were amazing!” Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis were perfect together and if it weren’t for the superb efforts of that trifecta, “I’ll hurt you if you stay” wouldn’t have sent chills down our collective spine.  

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THE BLOB (1988)

It’s not lost on me that THE BLOB doesn’t belong in the same category as THE THING and THE FLY, but this is my list and Shawnee Smith was going to make it, dammit.  

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HORROR CAN (AND SHOULD) HAVE A BROAD DEFINITION

Horrific elements. That’s all it requires so far as I’m concerned.

 

Robocop

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THE TERMINATOR (1984)

The battle for the future would be fought in our present. Is THE TERMINATOR sci-fi? Yes. Is it an action film? Yes. But it’s also horror. “Listen and understand.” Very few films fall under a single category and make no mistake, James Cameron’s creation is horror. Think of it in these terms, Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) is Laurie Strode, and the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is Michael Myers. He stalks her at every turn with one immutable objective: “it can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop – ever – until you are dead.” Sounds like Haddonfield West long before H20 (1998) to me.  

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PREDATOR (1987)

Would any list of ‘80s cinema be complete without at least a pair of nods to Arnie? So far as I’m concerned, PREDATOR is Schwarzenegger’s finest film, and it has everything to do with its horror aspects. We can talk about Alan Silvestri’s score and the ensemble cast and the one-liners for hours, but at the end of the day, it was Kevin Peter Hall’s performance as the Predator that leaves us hesitant to turn the lights out when we go to bed at night. It wasn’t just his imposing size, it was his background in ballet and basketball that gave him agility that belied that size – we believed him capable of the carnage left in his wake, and that was all Hall. As he once said, “when you want big and performance to go along with that big, I’m the one they call.” Because PREDATOR is an action film at its core, it doesn’t always get the horror credit should, but when it comes to blood-chilling monsters, what was more terrifying than Hall’s Predator? 

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ROBOCOP (1987)

I also happen to think that MOON (2009) is a horror film because the genre isn’t just about blood and guts, but also the psychological effects events have on characters, and ROBOCOP qualifies. Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) is a whole category of scary unto himself, but it was more about what OCP did to Murphy (Peter Weller) than the horrific way he died at the hands of Boddicker and his minions. Taking a life is terrible enough, but taking his life is a whole other level of evil. Making a man into a machine, left tormented by memories that could not be erased in an inescapable cell is as horrifying as it gets. ROBOCOP was over-the-top action and cheese, but it was also social satire that took the time to connect with Murphy’s humanity, and that is why it has stood the test of time. No matter what the establishment does to our collective consciousness, they can never take away who we are.  

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I’M A LITTLE TOO OLD TO BE PLAYIN’ THE HARDY BOYS MEET REVEREND WEREWOLF!

I know  I’m in the minority, but werewolves > vampires.

 

Silver Bullet

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THE HOWLING (1981)

Do I need to go much further than Joe Dante werewolf flick? Probably not, but I will. For my money, this was Dick Miller’s best performance. As per usual, not the lead but a character role, Miller delivered his lines with such authenticity and confidence you believed every word that escaped his lips. I mean, that’s what a salesperson is supposed to do, but Miller owned every second of his screen time. The late Christopher Stone was magnificent alongside his then-wife Dee Wallace, but to the surprise of no one, was overshadowed by his better half. Wallace’s on-camera, newsroom transformation was not only a powerful performance but elevated THE HOWLING into another stratosphere the moment it happened. Now and forever.  

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SILVER BULLET (1985)

I’m a bit biased here. SILVER BULLET is my favorite horror film of all-time, so I apologies if I come off as a fanboy for the next few moments. I fell in love with Everett McGill in 1985 and my feelings haven’t waned, they’ve only intensified. McGill absolutely killed the part of Reverend Lowe, and as with all healthy relationships, I accept the flaws (aka the werewolf suit). The man’s line readings were deliciously sinister and nothing will ever sway my adoration. And while some contend that SILVER BULLET is a cheesy ‘80s werewolf movie, I disagree for one reason and one reason only – Kent Broadhurst. His “private justice” scene set the stage for a film that focused less on transformation and more on the very real turmoil and pain that a family and town endured, and opened the door for the very human performances of Gary Busey, Corey Feldman, and Megan Follows afterward. “I wasn’t always able to say that, but I can say it now. I love you too, Marty. Goodnight” still gets me. Every damn time. But without Kent Broadhurst, it would have fallen on deaf ears. SILVER BULLET may be a cult classic, but it is far better than it ever gets credit for.  

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THANK GOD FOR REDNECKS!

Whether they were featured on MonsterVision or The Last Drive-In, many classic ‘80s fare got the Joe Bob treatment.

 

Joe Bob Briggs.png

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THE FOG (1980)

Granted, it was on MonsterVision and not The Last Drive-In, but doesn’t that make it cooler? THE FOG doesn’t get the love that HALLOWEEN and THE THING do, but it’s still a classic. Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis doing the Silver Shamrock is just kind of a giggly little moment for HALLOWEEN fans, but Adrienne Barbeau’s silky, sultry tones emanating from a lighthouse works for me.  

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MADMAN (1981)

Because Gaylen Ross (as Alexis Dubin) and Paul Ehlers was a horror aficionado who wanted nothing more than to get some ink from Fangoria but never made it. Not quite the same, but I got you, Paulie 

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THE PROWLER (1981)

Some flicks just resonate with you, and this one did with me. Now, Joe Bob may not have dug the title so much, but he did rave about the efforts of Tom Savini on effects, and however you feel about the film, I’m sure we can all agree on that.  

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BASKET CASE (1982)

Because Belial is just a blessing, Frank Henenlotter made batshit insane movies, and Kevin Van Hentenryck is just fun to say.  

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Q THE WINGED SERPENT (1982)

Michael Moriarty was pure magic. For a role that was so out there in a film that was even further out there, Moriarty was pitch-perfect at every turn. Easy to see why he was a favorite of Larry CohenAnd speaking of Larry Cohen, no one understands the late legend quite like Joe Bob. Briggs may not go to bat for Cohen quite like he does with Tobe Hooper, but he doesn’t need to, that’s a completely different ballgame. That said, Joe Bob is right, there is no mistaking a Larry Cohen movie, it’s like art or pornography—you can’t describe it—but you know it when you see it. Take my word for it, if you haven’t seen Q, it will be love at first sight. You’ll know it when you see it.  

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SWAMP THING (1982)

Let’s just break this down for a moment. Adrienne Barbeau, Wes Craven, Ray Wiseand Dick Durock as Swamp Thing. Do I need to keep going or are you ready to watch it? That’s what I thought.  

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SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

It truly is “a carpenter’s dream.” The beauty of this slasher classic was that you truly don’t know who’s doin’ the killing until the very end. And then we get the twist of twists. And if you aren’t a Last Drive-In aficionado, just keep two words in mind: mangled dick.  

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C.H.U.D. (1984) 

So, it was 34 years later, but the crew’s audible reaction when Joe Bob noted that Daniel Stern wanted to turn C.H.U.D. into a musical was blissful. It has a funky theme and it’s all over the place, but the cast is solid – including brief turns from John Goodman and Jay Thomasand it played a role in Jordan Peele’s thinking with US (2019), so definitely worth a peek. Even if you never peek again.  

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DEMONS (1985)

So, Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento got together and if nothing else, it’s just fun to hear Joe Bob say “Demoni.”  

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THE STUFF (1985)

Michael Moriarty just needs to be crowned the official actor of The Last Drive-In. He and Garrett Morris made a hell of a team, and I know I would have watched more of their buddy exploits, but two things above all else came from THE STUFF. I use “No one is as stupid as I appear to be” at least once a week, and I actually cook more now that I have a STUFF pot holder.  

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BLOOD RAGE (1987)

Its theme was far better than it had any right to be and every time I hear it I want it on a loop for the rest of my life. Plus, Ted Raimi hocking rubbers from vest in the men’s bathroom at the drive-in is the most drive-in thing ever. Oh, and by the way, this is the third Joe Zito directed film on the list. Dude only directed nine movies throughout his career, so much like baseball, a .333 average puts you in the Hall of Fame, brotha 

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SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWLORAMA (1988)

My fantasy football team is named Dukey Flyswatter, plus Brinke Stevens and Linnea Quigley – what more do you want? As Joe Bob Briggs proclaimed during The Last Drive-Inevidence that in the ‘80s you could basically write a script on Tuesday, film it on Wednesday, and have it in the video store by Thursday.” When it comes to SORORITY BABES, invite some friends over, grab your sixer or choice and enjoy the evening.  

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BEFORE I FORGET…

 

Shocker

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CREEPERS (1985)

It’s a Dario Argento picture that essentially communicates that sleepwalking causes telepathy. The soundtrack is sensational, you have a mother who’s basically a guano crazier version of Mrs. Voorhees with a pre-Academy Award Jennifer Connelly, a “right turn Clyde” moment and Donald Pleasence as Professor X. Some movies just embody ‘80s horror, and CREEPERS is one of them.  

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NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)

The good news is that your favorite flick made the list, the bad news is it’s at the end.

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MANIAC COP (1988)

Sometimes less is more, so all that needs to be said is Robert Z’Dar, Bruce Campbell and Tom f***ing Atkins. 

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PET SEMATARY (1989)

Some posit that it hasn’t aged well, and to an extent that’s true, but “no fair,” I choose to focus on what they got right. The truck scene remains one of horror’s hardest to watch, and not just for its heartbreaking result, but because Dale Midkiff nailed it. Running after Gage (Miko Hughes) but losing his footing – who hasn’t had that dream where you’re trying to get to someone but you just can’t stay on your feet? To say nothing of his visceral “Noooooo!” with flashes of his baby boy lighting the screen, which may have inspired Rob Zombie’s choices filming Annie’s death scene in HALLOWEEN II (2009). Brad Greenquist was haunting as Victor Pascow, Church will never not be creepy, Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek) was pure nightmare fuel, and when the dust settles, Fred Gwynne > John Lithgow. PET SEMATARY ruled in ’89 and it rules today.  

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SHOCKER (1989)

Craven wanted to create the next Freddy Krueger, and though Horace Pinker didn’t quite attain that level of notoriety, pre-Skinner Mitch Pileggi was delightful and any and Vinny Guastaferro employing a Jackie Gleason-inspired meltdown to score his role. And if nothing else, any flick that gave Adam Green’s missing hamster its name in Holliston deserves a spot on this list.  

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And there you have it. Our epic break down of the essential 80 horror movies of the 1980s – and just in time for Halloween. Did your favorite make the list? Do you agree with our writer’s choices? Let us know if it’s a trick or a treat in the comments section below, and please like and share on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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