Ahhhh, the 80’s. A time when teen heartthrobs took over the screen, cheesy dialogue took over the set, and practical effects took over my heart. Truly, some of the most iconic body horror and special effects moments came to fruition between 1980-89. This decade saw directors such as John Carpenter, David Chronenberg, and Stuart Gordon really finding their footing and showcasing their style on screen. Because of this, some of horror cinema’s defining films came to be. While some found themselves in the spotlight, many of the true gems of this decade flew under the radar until years later. This list includes my top five most bitchin’ horror films of the 80’s (with a few bonuses…because lets be honest, it’s too hard to choose).
#5- The Shining (1980)
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. You can’t do 80’s horror without Stanley Kubrick’s take on Stephen King’s The Shining. Although not much like the novel at all, the film still captures the dread that oozes in every scene. A rapid decent into madness, recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance relocates his family to a remote Colorado hotel for winter employment. As the hotel empties the guests are quickly replaced with the spirits that haunt the hotel and they begin to manipulate Jack’s mind. The scariest thing about this movie is definitely Jack Nicholson’s performance. Added bonus: the trauma in Shelley Duvall’s skittish persona in the film is real, Kubrick nearly tortured her into the performance (look it up, it’s disturbing). Available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
#4- The Evil Dead (1981)
In order to get this film made, Sam Raimi and his friends had to search for investors to raise enough money to shoot. What should have turned out to be a college group project ended up being a knockout cult classic. Ash Williams and a group of his friends take a trip to a cabin to do what college kids do in horror movies, discover and release ancient Kandarian demons. Things go horribly wrong, Ash quickly finds himself surrounded by what were once his close friends and must find a way to send the demons back from where they came. This film is campy to the max, and has classic Bruce Campbell one-liners. The lower budget led to some creative choices in how they filmed, and the effects end up being pretty grisly. This is one that will always make the top of my list. Available to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime!
#3- The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the best examples of how well body-horror and practical effects come together. Researchers at a base in Antarctica witness the death of a Norwegian Pilot and go to investigate their base. Upon arrival, they discover the charred remains of a humanoid figure which they bring back with them…a logical decision. Turns out that body is host to a creature that can imitate living beings. It infiltrates the American base and those remaining must fight to survive against what may be their friends, or the bloodthirsty hunter. Plus come on, Kurt Russell’s beard. Available to stream on Crackle and Amazon Prime.
#2- Near Dark (1987)
Now this is a hidden gem of the 80’s when it comes to horror, and better yet it’s female directed. This one went under my radar for years until a friend introduced me to it. Kathryn Bigelow, vampires, and Bill Paxton how have I missed this? The Western meets horror, small town farmer Caleb Colton meets a drifter girl that piques his interest. Turns out the drifter belongs to a clan of vampires, and she entices Caleb to tag along. The perfect mix of the Western environment and vampire bloodshed, this one is a good pick even for those who aren’t horror fans. This one is a bit harder to find, but well worth the purchase.
#1- Hellraiser (1987)
Clive Barker’s directorial debut, and based on his own story The Hellbound Heart, this one has stuck with me since the first time I saw it. Frank Cotton buys a puzzle box off of a dealer in Morocco, only to bring it home and suffer an untimely death. Larry, Frank’s brother, and wife Julia move into his home in attempts to repair their marriage which is suffering due to the fact that Julia had an affair with Frank. Long story short, Frank returns as a gnarly reanimated corpse after the puzzle box released a bunch of sadomasochistic Cenobites. Julia begins to help Frank by bringing him strangers to feed on, Larry’s daughter gets involved, and the Cenobites return from their hellish dimension. A wildly inventive story that is backed by incredible make-up and practical effects, this film will definitely leave a mark. Clive Barker did not hold back so be warned, there are some pretty gruesome scenes in this one. Available to stream on Tubi, and Hulu.
Five just never seems to be enough, so this week my mentions are getting a little more love! First up is Creepshow (1982) directed by George Romero, an anthology horror series that is genuinely just an enjoyable watch. Written by Stephen King this film features 5 short stories in the format of a B-Horror comic book, with an awesome cast and a few genuine scares this is a great pick for those who want to really enjoy their scary movie. Can’t forget Wes Craven’s classic A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), if you haven’t yet seen this it’s really a must watch if not only for the scene where they used a rotating room to simulate gallons of blood erupting from Johnny Depp’s bed. A fun and freaky slasher that will make you never want to go back to sleep. Finally, Stuart Gordon’s visceral From Beyond (1986). This movie is messed up, in true Gordon fashion, and incredibly weird. Camp horror icons Barbara Crampton, Jeffrey Combs, and Ken Foree are at their best in this mad scientist meets creature feature tale.