As someone who became a teenager in the 80s, there has never been a better time in horror cinema. The nostalgia I have for this era is immense. The movies were amazing and the scares intense.
Everything from slasher flicks to cosmic horror found its place in 80s cinema. There are so many amazing horror movies to choose from in the 80s that this might be the hardest list I've ever done. To make it easier I'll add a huge honorable mention list at the end of the article.
Did you miss my list of the best 70's Horror Films? You can find a link to it here...
The Criteria for this List
The most important criteria for this list is the film has to be one I saw in the 1980s. As an adult, I've gone back and watched almost every 80s horror film my parents wouldn't let me see, but I'm not adding them to this list. (ok, some are in the honorable mention list.)
Again I want to thank late-night HBO and Cinemax for giving me the chance to see all these films over and over again as a teenager!
Before we go on, I try not to provide any plot in my reviews BUT there may always be slight spoilers. Just a fair warning for readers who haven't seen these films yet.
That's enough of an intro let's get onto the list
5. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
I'm not much of a slasher film fan, but Nightmare on Elm Street took the genre in a brand new direction and made something unique. The concept was absolutely frightening to 11 year old me and resulted in many restless nights.
Freddy is my all-time favorite slasher and is much scarier than Jason or Michael Meyers could ever be. His banter with the teens is both disturbingly creepy and hilarious.
Nightmare on Elm Street is a gore fest but looking back at the gore it's almost comical. A young Johnny Depp literally pours about 100 gallons of blood during his death scene. Yeah, it's gross but I can only laugh when I watch it now.
If you love teen slasher flicks and haven't seen the best, what are you waiting for?
Fear Factor: 7/10 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃
Can kids watch this: uh, lots of blood and some really scary shit happen in this film
Does it stand the Test of time?: This is my favorite slasher horror film of all time. While slasher flicks have fallen out of favor, Nightmare on Elm Street is still a must-watch for any horror fan.
4. Night of the Comet (1984)
Probably the greatest B movie ever made, Night of the Comet takes the #4 spot for the best horror film of the 1980s. If this list judged purely on 80s aesthetic, this film would win by miles.
The plot revolves around a mysterious comet that has finally made its way back to Earth. The last time it arrived was the time of the dinosaurs. The comet nearly wipes humans off the planet except for some plucky teens and turns the rest of the population into zombies!
Part comedy, part zombie movie, part apocalypse, part Christmas movie, Night of the Comet has everything you would want from an 80s film. From excellent shopping montages to a teen undressing and almost a boob shot, this should be on any 80s horror fan list.
Is Night of the Comet cheesy? Of course, but that's the point. I've already done a full write up on this movie earlier. If you'd like to read a more in-depth analysis of Night of the Comet and its amazing aesthetic, follow the link.
Fear Factor: 4/10 🎃🎃🎃🎃
Can kids watch this: yes, there might be a few jump scares but that's about it.
Does it stand the Test of time?: This is the film that all 80s aesthetic should be judged on. From Stranger things to the latest vaporwave vinyl, they all owe a debt to Night of the Comet
3. The Fly (1986)
The first of 2 reboots on this list, The Fly is a masterpiece that puts the original film to shame. Grotesque, heartbreaking, and scary as f@ck, I remember having nightmares for weeks after watching this film for the first time.
Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis are fantastic in this film and David Cronenberg delivers some of the most real and visceral special effects caught on film. The Fly shows that you don't need millions of dollars in CGI to create realistic and horrific imagery. It's a shame that more films don't utilize practical effects any more.
Fear Factor: 10/10 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃
Can kids watch this: Nope, Nope. The gross out factor is turned up to 11 and the story is probably too much for kids.
Does it stand the Test of time?: The special effects in this film looking better than most $100 million dollar blockbusters. the story is amazing and the cast is perfect together. If you haven't seen The Fly yet, do you even like scary movies?
2. Hellraiser (1987)
I love how 80s horror films were so diverse and delved into a wide range of subjects and styles. From science fiction to dream worlds, no where was safe.
Hellraiser made sure of that. While he may not have had a major part in Hellraiser, the film birthed Pinhead. One of the most iconic horror film icons, Pinhead taught us there is little difference in the extremities of pleasure and pain.
As a 14 year old boy, I was astonished that this film existed. As an adult on his 1000th re-watch, I appreciate the film even more. As an adult, I am obsessed with fiction that centers around the unknown, cosmic horror, and the unimaginable terrors that exist in the universe. Thank you Pinhead and the Cenobites for my introduction.
Fear Factor: 10/10 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃
Can kids watch this: Good god are crazy? The S&M, intense violence and sexual violence are probably too much for today's kids.
Does it stand the Test of time?: One of the all time greats. The original is a must view film for any serious horror fan. I only wish the studios would give Clive Barker back his creation to do a sequel or reboot.
1. The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter's The Thing is the greatest horror movie ever made.
Whoever says reboots suck has never seen the two on this list. The Thing is a masterclass in story telling. A whodunit mystery coupled with cosmic horror, you will be horrified throughout the films runtime.
Practical special effects reach their pinnacle in The Thing. Every iteration of the monster is hideous and unimageable. Carpenter and his effects team truly capture Lovecraft's vision of cosmic horror and unspeakable horrors from beyond.
Cosmic horror is probably my favorite genre of horror. The thought that there are things out there that are so monstrous and evil that you can't even describe them makes me ecstatic Weird? Yeah I suppose, but I love it.
Fear Factor: 10/10 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃
Can kids watch this: Maybe? If they can handle being grossed out, they should be fine
Does it stand the Test of time?: Literally, the greatest horror film and one of the best science fiction films of all time. John Carpenter outdid himself when he created The Thing.
1980s Horror Lightning Round
Man, this was a really tough list to finalize. As a teen in the 80s, this era hits home the most for me. There were so many amazing films that I left off this list. The 5 above are definitely my favorites and I continuously watch them again and again.
Here's a list of my favorites that didn't make the cut
- The Shining
- An American Werewolf in London
- Child's Play
- Fright Night
- The Howling
- Creepshow 2
- Prince of Darkness
- The Evil Dead Series
- Swamp Thing
Another quick note... I don't consider Aliens, The Lost Boys, Beetlejuice and many other amazing films to be horror. I'll save them for a later list that fits their genre better.
Thanks for Reading and Have a Spooky October!
Did I leave your favorite off my list? Let me know which films I missed. I'm always looking for something to watch.
I appreciate everyone who takes the time out to like, comment and read my posts. I hope these films can give you some spine-tingling chills before Halloween arrives!
Next Stop, We're off to 1990 and Beyond!
A little about me...
Currently based in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I'm a solo-traveling digital nomad. Due to the pandemic, I've been living in Siem Reap for almost 2 years now. While I'm hoping to get back on the road soon, I'm not in a rush.
I'd love to connect with other travelers, digital nomads, gamers, or residents of Cambodia. Don't hesitate to say hi or send me an upvote!
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