The 25 Best 80s Horror Movies

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70’s-era horror laid the groundwork for the modern horror film. Then the 80’s built a haunted house sideshow on top of it. Vintage horror standbys — vampires, zombies, ghosts, werewolves — were given new, um, life, while a seriously freaky band of new monsters made sure we didn’t sleep well for a while.

It’s the decade that spawned a slew of horror franchises, some of which just keep on coming (Halloween 2018, anyone?). With buckets of blood, terrorized teens, thousands of imaginative ways to die, and just the right amount of cheese, 80s horror movies gave fans exactly what we wanted.

Turn out the lights and go back to where Jason and Freddy began, where Michael and Leatherface kept going. Re-experience the sick genius of the masters of horror from Romero to Carpenter to Hooper. These are the 25 best 80s horror movies that managed to claw (machete, axe and chainsaw) their way to the top of the carnage pile and we think you’ll see a few here that have earned a dark place in your movie collection.

Pet Sematary 1989

Pet Sematary (1989)

“Sometimes, dead is better.”

The lesson here is: “Careful what you wish for.” When the family cat comes back to life (though a bit more terrifying than before) after being buried in the pet sematary, a grief stricken father hopes it will work on his son too. See above lesson for clues as to how that turns out. By ‘89, a dozen or so Stephen King works had crossed over into film but this is one of the few that he wrote the screenplay for… and the only one with an original song by the Ramones. – Amazon / iTunes

Poltergeist 1982

Poltergeist (1982)

“Hello? What do you look like? Talk louder, I can’t hear you.”

Thanks to the 24-7 nature of modern television, we don’t see a lot of static on our sets these days. Which is good. Because, as Poltergeist taught us, that’s how the ghosts get in. This is a classic when it comes to horror (despite its PG rating—the only one on our list) because it made the familiar frightening. TVs, closets, trees, toy clowns (OK, those are always creepy). The very house itself turned on its family and that’s what horror film is about, the revelation of terror just beneath the otherwise placid surface of the everyday. – Amazon / iTunes

Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers 1988

Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers (1988)

“We are talking about evil on two legs.”

Halloween II picked up immediately after the events of the first film and proceeded to bring Michael Myer’s story to an “end.” But this is horror. The bad guy is never dead. When he didn’t return for Halloween 3 the general sigh of disappointment was heard clearly by the producers and, like the subtitle says, Michael Myers returned for round 4. This time he’s awake from his coma, and since there’s no more Laurie Strode to terrorize, he sets his tunnel vision on her daughter, with his tireless doctor in pursuit. – Amazon / iTunes

Friday The 13th 1980

Friday The 13th (1980)

“But… then he’s still out there.”

What was it about the 80s? It seems like every horror title that began in the decade went on to become a franchise, with some of those sequels/remakes/spin-offs continuing into our current remake-hungry decade. Go back to where this one started, before a Final Chapter gave way to a New Beginning — before the hockey mask even. Start here where a drowned kid, a summer camp lake and a bit of vengeance mix pleasingly with a diminishing handful of teens and many, many sharp weapons. Easily the quintessential 80’s horror movie that every movie buff must watch this time of year. – Amazon / iTunes

Child's Play 1988

Child’s Play (1988)

“I’m your friend ‘til the end!”

If you came up in the 80s, you probably remember commercials for a doll for boys Hasbro was selling called My Buddy. Three years later, the idea of bringing home a doll for boys, or for anyone else, was made unthinkable with the introduction of Chucky—a talking, overalls-clad toy who happens to be possessed by a serial killer. Soon the bodies start to pile up in increasingly unpleasant ways. It’s one of those films that manages to balance laughs — and the laughable — with some genuine scares. – Amazon / iTunes

The Evil Dead 1981

The Evil Dead (1981)

“Soon all of you will be like me… And then who will lock you up in a cellar?”

The Evil Dead proved you don’t have to have a huge budget to make an enduringly great horror film. With a little bit of cash from investors, a cabin in Tennessee and infectious kinetic energy, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell shot a gory, over acted, deliciously unhinged movie. With a basic plot — 5 teenagers find a recording that unleashes demonic forces — the fun begins when the demonic forces start systematically possessing the teens, and dismemberment is the only cure. – Amazon / iTunes

The Shining 1980

The Shining (1980)

“You are the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker.”

Kubrick’s film rises above any genre limitations to the level of cinema artistry, but it also does a fine job of being scary, creepy and very very unsettling. The Overlook Hotel doesn’t have a rosy past: the last winter caretaker murdered his family. Jack promises that won’t happen but then proceeds to descend into madness as his psychic son sees visions of the hotel’s bloody past and future, and Jack’s wife just wants to get out. – Amazon / iTunes

A Nightmare On Elm Street 1984

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

“Nine, ten, never sleep again.”

Here’s the movie that made teenagers in the 80s afraid to go to sleep. Instead of the lurking silent-type killers we have in Jason and Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger liked to talk and taunt his victims. Which made him all the more terrifying (yes, the glove covered in knives also helped). The film dipped into nightmarish landscape, making you wonder what was real and what was a dream, but since Freddy kills people in their sleep, it didn’t really matter. – Amazon / iTunes

Fright Night 1985

Fright Night (1985)

“All your generation seems to be interested in is ski-masked murderers slashing young virgins.”

What would you do if a vampire moved in next door? If everything you knew about vampires came from the movies, getting a guy who once hunted vampires on screen might make total sense. And so goes the plot of Fright Night. The visual effects are gruesomely convincing and watching Roddy McDowell transform from has-been actor to true believer is fun to watch. With just enough camp to be satisfying and a competent blend of horror and humor, Fright Night deserves its cult status. – Amazon / iTunes

Children Of The Corn 1984

Children Of The Corn (1984)

“Outlander! Outlander! We have your woman!”

Would 80s horror movies exist without Stephen King? Of course. But the list you’re reading now would be about 5 titles shorter — to say nothing of the influence. King originally wrote the screenplay here (based on a short story that first appeared in Penthouse) but it was scrapped for a script with more violence. The story follows a couple who drive through Nebraska and encounter a cult of children who really don’t like adults. Seeing a bunch of armed kids chanting “Kill” leaves a uniquely disturbing impression. – Amazon / iTunes

Creepshow 2 1987

Creepshow 2 (1987)

“Thanks for the ride lady.”

While it might not keep you up at night, the second collaboration between George Romero and Stephen King is one of those rides you just love to take. Featuring 3 gleefully creepy stories — about a vengeful statue who punishes thugs for murdering his keepers, a lake blob that punishes teenagers for being teenagers, and a hit-and-run victim that just won’t die, Creepshow 2 was a horror anthology that our parents let us watch as kids, and for that we are thankful. – Amazon / iTunes

The Thing 1982

The Thing (1982)

“Nobody trusts anybody now, and we’re all very tired.”

Antarctica is frightening to begin with, just a million acres of desolation and ice. Add an isolated research station and an ancient, alien life form that assumes the shape of its victims and you have the perfect formula for a horror movie. John Carpenter’s 8th feature is scary because you never really have a complete grasp of what’s stalking the men of the research station, and neither do they. Not surprisingly, paranoia sets in as the men try not to die… or let the alien make it to civilization. – Amazon / iTunes

Night Of The Creeps 1986

Night Of The Creeps (1986)

“What is this? A homicide, or a bad B-movie?”

The 80s enjoyed mixing a little comedy with its horror and Night of the Creeps takes that mashup one step beyond and blends together all the B-movie stuff it could think of: zombies, alien body invasions, wise-talking detectives, axe murdering asylum escapees. It’s more of an homage to B-horror than a spoof, with the very names of the characters playing tribute to some of the genre’s directors (Romero, Raimi, Carpenter). – Amazon / iTunes

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 1986

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

“But the saw, the saw is family.”

After making Poltergeist, the director of the B-movie classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre was given a bit more cash to make his second installment about the chainsaw wielding Leatherface and his cannibalistic family. This time around, the gore is ratcheted up, along with the dark humor, including a chainsaw duel between Leatherface and Dennis Hopper’s Texas marshall, who began stalking the clan after the events of the first massacre. – Amazon / iTunes

Day Of The Dead (1985)

Day Of The Dead (1985)

“I call him Bub”

In the 3rd instalment of Romero’s Living Dead series, the fortifications have improved. The Pennsylvania farm house of the first and the shopping mall of the second film get traded up for an underground military base. A handful of soldiers and government scientists hole up as a growing ring of undead amass upstairs. It seems the safest scenario yet for surviving the zombie onslaught, until human differences, weaknesses and avarice combine to render an underground bunker thin protection from the eviscerating inevitable. – Amazon / iTunes

Killer Party 1986

Killer Party (1986)

“Don’t put me in there with her!”

You might not find this on every “best of the 80s” rundown, but it’s fully worth checking out. Featuring solid 80s/horror conventions including frat/sorority hazing (complete with togas), costume parties, cursed houses, demon possession, and an extra-80s soundtrack. It delivers just enough camp and humor, and keeps up a pace that makes it thoroughly re-watchable while offering some decently executed scares and an excellent twist ending. – Amazon / iTunes

Hellraiser 1987

Hellraiser (1987)

“It’s just a puzzle box!”

For a horror film that skips the schtick and digs deep into the terror, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser fits the bill. When a man buys a mysterious box from a merchant in Africa, solving it and abruptly being torn apart is just the beginnings of the puzzle box’s handiwork. Featuring the nightmarish SMBD Cenobites and scenes of hellish unpleasantries that stick with you long after the credits roll, this is one you watch to really get the fear flowing. – Amazon / iTunes

The Howling 1981

The Howling (1981)

“We should never try to deny the beast — the animal within us.”

1981 was a really good year for the werewolf. An American Werewolf in London and the less well-known Wolfen came as the same time as The Howling . This one concerns a television anchorwoman who helps the police capture and kill a serial killer. The trauma leads her to recuperate in a secluded “colony” recommended by her psychiatrist. Where the people are not quite human. With tons of references to classic werewolf cinema and 8 follow-up films this is a werewolf treasure chest. – Amazon / iTunes

Halloween II 1981

Halloween II (1981)

“An hour ago I stood up and fired six shots into him and then he just got up and walked away.”

The first Halloween ends with Michael Myers shot but surprisingly/not surprisingly still alive. Round 2 begins immediately, with Laurie Strode in an (unfortunately spooky) hospital. Myers makes his way to Laurie, inventively and gruesomely killing all who stand in his way. Adding a bit of warped family psychology to the mix, we find out that Laurie is Michael’s sister and, like Judith before her, must be killed. Dr. Loomis makes extra sure Michael is stopped for good this time, but the 4th installment in the franchise proves that not to be the case. – Amazon / iTunes

The Funhouse 1981

The Funhouse (1981)

“Oh my, my. That is a gruesome sight.”

When a friend suggests you stay the night in a carnival funhouse, say no. This is the film director Tobe Hooper made after the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre and before Poltergeist. It’s a kill-the-teens jaunt that takes a little while to get started, but like a roller coaster that must crest the top of the drop before the thrill begins, once the freakish monster and his pop start the carnage, it continues along at a gratifying clip. – Amazon / iTunes

My Bloody Valentine 1981

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

“Every February 14th, Harry comes back to town.”

Canada gets into the slasher game with this dark entry to the genre. Set in one of the better fear-inducing locations (shot in an actual coal mine) My Bloody Valentine employs a different holiday, swaps out teens for working class adults and kills its victims with a more utilitarian set of weapons than other films. The setting is eerie and the surprises are effectively executed. Throw in a mine cart chase/battle and you have a take on the 80s slasher that has a few new ideas (and pickaxes) to throw around. – Amazon / iTunes

The Fog 1980

The Fog (1980)

“Almost midnight. Time for one more story…”

This is what happens when a campfire ghost story turns out to be true. Set in a California coastal town, The Fog was Carpenter’s first feature after Halloween and he brought back Jamie Lee Curtis to get chased not by a single unseen figure, but a whole horde of them, hiding in the fog. Like his previous work Carpenter builds the the tension with what we can’t’ see. Ultimately It’s the eerie atmosphere and overall weirdness of the setting that makes this ghost story succeed. – Amazon / iTunes

Christine 1983

Christine (1983)

“You better watch what you say about my car. She’s real sensitive.”

The love a guy has for his car can border on obsession, especially when he restores it himself. But what if the car loves him back? According to King and Carpenter, that’s when things get dangerous. The 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine turns bullied and nerdy Arnie into a cool kid as he returns the car to her former chrome and cherry glory. But when Arnie gets a girlfriend, Christine gets deadly jealous. Like the car, this is a classic — and the only one on our list to involve a car vs. bulldozer death match. – Amazon / iTunes

The Fly 1986

The Fly (1986)

“I’m becoming something that never existed before.”

Another lesson: when you get in the teleportation machine, makes sure you’re the only one in there. Chronicling the transformation of scientist Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) from human to human/fly hybrid, the shift is both fascinating and disgustingly horrifying. From the mind of David Cronenberg who does unnerving really well, this exploration of science gone wrong leaves a grotesque aftertaste, and it’s not just from watching Brundlefly eat. – Amazon / iTunes

Aliens 1986

Aliens (1986)

“Get away from her, you bitch!”

Before he sank a ship and created blue forest people, James Cameron did the impossible: he followed one of the greatest sci-fi/horror films on record with a sequel that did not suck. In fact, it was about on par with Ridley Scott’s iconic vision of the xenomorph. RIpley is awoken from her stasis following her escape from the alien of the first film. Now she’s headed back to the exomoon where it all began, to find out what happened to a terraforming colony that hasn’t been heard from. – Amazon / iTunes

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