The 1980s were a golden age for horror movies. Changes to social attitudes and the movie rating system, coupled with VHS players becoming common in homes and the explosion in video rental stores, led to many horror films becoming household names.
The genre also grew much more varied. Leading to everything from surreal psychological horror to blood-soaked slasher films. If you’re looking for something to send a chill down your spine, here are ten of the 1980s best horror films.
10. Motel Hell
1980’s Motel Hell is a unique fusion of comedy and horror. Directed by Kevin Connor, the film follows Vincent and Ida Smith. Two farmers who run a smoked meats store and a hotel. However, the meat products are not all that they seem as they’re actually made from humans the pair have kidnapped and stored in their garden.
A funny yet chilling satire of other horror films and 1980s society, Motel Hell is a strange film that is still very effective even to this day. It is the perfect movie night film due to its disturbing scenes and surprisingly funny comedy. Motel Hell feels like the stereotype you think of when you imagine a 1980s horror movie.
Written and directed by arthouse legend Andrzej Żuławski, 1981’s Possession is a unique film that stands out from the pack. Żuławski’s only English film, it follows a couple as they go through a painful divorce. However, it quickly becomes evident that something more supernatural is at work.
Utterly disturbing, Possession is a very different kind of horror film that fuses the horror of a human’s obsession with dark supernatural elements. It is quite unlike anything else ever produced, and certain moments will live in your nightmares long after the end credits roll.
Dario Argento is often referred to as the master of suspense, and 1982’s Tenebrae is a fantastic example of Argento’s skill as both a writer and director. Tenebrae is a return to the giallo horror subgenre that Argento helped popularize in the 1970s. It follows Peter Neal, a horror writer that takes a trip to Italy to promote his new book, Tenebrae. However, things quickly take a turn for the dark when a serial killer uses Tenebrae as the basis for a horrific crime spree, forcing Peter to try and solve the grisly crimes.
Suspenseful and horrific, Tenebrae will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. The film is full of the horror and surrealism that Argento is known for, making this more than your average serial killer thriller.
David Cronenberg’s 1983 sci-fi horror film Videodrome quickly became a cult hit with its dark satire of the television industry. Max Renn is the president of a UHF television station that shows controversial content to attract viewers. One day Max is shown a channel coming from Malaysia, called Videodrome. This channel shows various victims being horribly tortured and then murdered. However, Max quickly learns that Videodrome is not all that it seems as he becomes obsessed with the channel and its origins.
Packed full of strange images, body horror, and political satire, Videodrome is a unique experience that is quite unlike anything else on offer. Its commentary on the nature of sex, violence, and television still holds up to this day.
6. Friday The 13th
1980’s Friday the 13th spawned a gigantic franchise that is still going to this day. However, this first installment is a very different beast to the films that would come later as it doesn’t include series regular Jason Voorhees as the villain. Camp Crystal Lake is an average American summer camp until a young boy’s death forces it to close. When Crystal Lake gets reopened in 1980, a strange force starts to stalk the camp counselors and pick them off one by one.
A suspenseful slasher film that still holds up today. Friday The 13th might not fit the rest of the franchise, but it is still a great film with lots of suspense and many inventive kills.
5. Halloween III: Season Of The Witch
1982’s Halloween III is the black sheep of the Halloween franchise. This is because it was made when Halloween was going to be a series of unrelated anthology films. However, fans were expecting Michael Myers, and thus the film flopped.
However, those who can look past the lack of Myers are treated to a very unique supernatural horror film. It follows Ellie Grimbridge and Dr. Daniel Challis as they investigate Conal Cochran. Cochran owns the Silver Shamrock Novelties company, which is heavily promoting its line of Halloween masks. However, the pair quickly find that Conal has very sinister motives and a dark plan.
This movie features some memorably disturbing scenes and a plot that has no equal in cinema. Halloween III has become a cult classic due to its unique twist on several Halloween and horror movie tropes, and it is a great movie night film.
4. A Nightmare On Elm Street
Before Freddy Krueger became the wisecracking pop-culture sensation he is today, he was a very different monster. In 1984’s A Nightmare On Elm Street, Nancy Thompson and her friends are tormented in their dreams by a strange man. However, they soon realize that the wounds they get in their sleep are also on their body in the real world and quickly find themselves being picked off by the evil Freddy Krueger.
The surreal blending of dreams and reality leads to many disturbing and memorable moments and super creative murder scenes. While it lacks the camp factor that the later films had, A Nightmare On Elm Street is a superb horror film in its own right, and it still holds up today.
Written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor, 1982’s Poltergeist follows Steven and Diane Freeling and their children. When Diane sees her youngest daughter talking to TV static, she is confused. However, when strange ghostly events start to happen, the family find themselves targeted by some angry spirits, one of whom wants to kidnap their youngest daughter.
Full of creepy imagery, including a remarkably chilling ending sequence. Poltergeist is surprisingly dark for something written by Steven Spielberg. However, the film’s effects have held up well, and they’re still creepy even after all these years.
2. The Shining
The Shining has gone down in infamy due to both its success and its behind-the-scenes history. Famous for angering the story’s original author Steven King and because Stanley Kubrick abused the female lead, Shelley Duvall, whole books have been written about this 1980 classic.
When Jack Torrance agrees to be the caretaker of an old hotel in the hope of clearing his writer’s block, he and his family quickly find themselves in danger as Jack’s sanity starts to fray. A visual treat, this film is a perfect example of Kubrick’s knack for surprising and unusual visuals. The film has become legendary for a reason, and it is a harrowing tale about how easily people can slip into violence.
1. The Thing
John Carpenter’s 1982 movie The Thing is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time. When a US team is sent to a research base in Antarctica, they find that all the people there are missing or dead and have to work out what happened. However, they quickly learn that a strange creature is stalking the base. This creature can shapeshift into anything, even humans causing the crew to succumb to paranoia as they try to work out how to stop this creature and work out who has been replaced by a murderous double.
The Thing is a very atmospheric and suspenseful film that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The practical effects used for the creature are brilliantly disturbing and still look good, even to this day. The Thing is a horror classic that many films have tried to imitate, but none have ever bettered it.