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Top 10 Horror Films of the 1980s May 7, 2007

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Horror, Top 10s, Artfully Deranged, Genre, The Film Industry, Audience , trackback

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Where there is no imagination there is no horror.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The success, both in terms of the comment generated and the amount of visitors, this Top 10 list enjoyed is in no small part inspiration for my new site www.top10films.co.uk. Accessed HERE, the site includes hundreds of Top 10 film lists across a wide variety of topics with the purpose of providing you with a great choice of films to watch based on anything from a simple theme, to a genre, a time-period, or even special interest lists including world renowned filmmakers’ Top 10s.
Check out this feature with bells and whistles - video clips, interviews, and trailers!

I vaguely remember my introduction to the horror film. My cousin was visiting, the curtains had been drawn on a sunny afternoon, and John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London had been placed in the VCR. I was seven years old. I recollect that evening, and for many nights consequently, I hardly slept. There was something under my bed, and there was even something in the closet, I knew it too well. Of course, it was easy to see since I’d cry bloody Mary if anyone tried to turn my light off. Could I keep my eyes open? It was becoming more difficult, all I could see were those green hills shrouded in the black cloak of night, and the warning: ‘Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors,’ delivered in that Yorkshire twang. Bryan Glover’s short, controlled outburst – probably his unusual form of goodbye – ‘Beware the moon, lads.’ Then our hero David and best friend Jack are stranded. They’ve wandered off the path, there are no lights around, no one to help. They hear a sound, distant at first but growing louder. Could it be a dog, no, it sounds much bigger. Then the screams, the tearing of flesh, the quick cuts and extreme close-ups; we see a gun fire, all goes silent, and the darkness pervades.

I grew up as part of the video generation. Cinema was changing again – attendances were down and people were far happier watching videos or catching re-runs on television than they were venturing from the comfort of their own home. By the early 1990s, eighties babies were beginning to enjoy cinema beyond family movies, cartoons and the Wizard of Oz. In Britain, this audience - post-1984 Video Recordings Act - wanted to find their niche and what better place to start than the forsaken shelves of the video nasty. Bootleg, grainy copies of The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre tormented young minds, while the horror film cemented its place firmly in cult circles. This fervent popularity from both adults and teenagers for the horror film encouraged the industry (especially Hollywood) to produce some wonderfully surreal, engaging and stylish pieces of cinema. We saw the rampant emergence of the ‘Slasher’ movie from Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham, gore and special-effects from Tom Savini, the body horror of David Cronenberg, the dreams and nightmares of Clive Barker, the cross genre comedy-horror from John Landis, Tom Holland, and Dan O’Bannon. There was franchised sequels, villains-as-heroes, gothic homage, iconic theme music, lunch boxes, action figures and other cross-promotion. Indeed, the horror film was as much derided as it was loved. But the eighties produced some of the greatest examples of the genre following, and certainly inspired by, the fears and trend-setting new traditions of the new-age horror from the seventies.

The genre has failed for years to get recognition from a critical standpoint. Much of the recognition it did receive was negative – throughout the 1930s and 1940s, horror movies were thought to be harmful to society and many local authorities banned films they deemed unsuitable. During the 1950s, Hammer Studios used negative press and liberal scare tactics to promote their films, and it was as much the backlash from politicians and critics that helped cultivate underground following for the genre. However, by the late 1960s, there was a trend beginning in France that saw critics warming to the genre, and by the time Carlos Clarens and Ivan Butler’s books were released, there was a new feeling that looked at the films as serious art forms. Instead of lambasting horror movies as detrimental, even dangerous, to society, writers were beginning to look at the long literary traditions that had first inspired these films. And they also investigated the history and transformation of the genre since the first examples were seen in such German expressionism as Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. By the 1970s every critic who wanted a name for themselves had written about the horror movie, whether their point of view was positive, negative, or indifferent. Most importantly, horror had become a mainstream commodity with the obvious example being Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. It isn’t surprising that the seventies produced the best and most influential films of the genre (The Exorcist, Halloween, The Wicker Man, Dawn Of The Dead), with audiences, the art form, and the industry all benefiting from this budding type of film.

Yet, the eighties was a period not far behind the previous decade in terms of quality output. Certainly, the genre was much more diverse with self-reference, parody, and hybrids such as Kathryn Bigelow’s brilliant Near Dark, showing what could be done. On top of that you had some lovely original pieces of cinema with such films as Dan O’Bannon’s special-effects homage to Romero The Return of the Living Dead, Joel Schumacher’s coming-of-age vampire flick The Lost Boys, and beyond Hollywood with the Dutch/French production The Vanishing, and stylistic Italian director Dario Argento’s Tenebre and Inferno. Indeed, the vibrancy for the genre in the 1980s came from films which embraced and celebrated horror. Prime examples would be the self-referential Fright Night, gore-fest The Evil Dead, Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, and Brian De Palma’s Hitchcock-inspired Dressed To Kill. It has been said the eighties was, much like very early film, the cinema of attractions. It pushed the boundaries of the medium to new frontiers, backed by Reagan’s forward-thinking plans. Director’s thought visually, and nothing held their creative minds back. It was the period where dreams and nightmares were displayed on screen more realistically than had ever been seen. In effect, there appeared no better time for horror (much like science-fiction during the same period) – with its otherworldly themes – to prosper on a grand scale. In a sense you’ve got to thank George Lucas because with Star Wars he reintroduced audiences to escapism, which had somewhat been lost during the dominance of social-issue and character studies of the seventies.

The genre, which would continue to diversify into the nineties (postmodernism in A New Nightmare in 1994, which led to Scream and the revitalisation of the Slasher film; and the digital video revolution and use of new media with Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s masterful manipulation of the audience with The Blair Witch Project), still retained a very distinct set of conventions that primarily challenged normality and distanced the real from the unreal. Reading many different theorists views about how the horror film works makes for wide reaching, and often, very politically motivated ideologies, but it’s interesting nonetheless. There’s a school that believes American horror is dominated by the struggles created by consumerism, patriarchal social relations, and family struggle, and that the location of the horror is in the home and our way of life. Others believe the monsters prevalent in horror films represent institutional fears, like the affect the church, government, or the police can have on breaking or changing familial tradition, while some writers look at the way the audience is manipulated through the aesthetics of the films by the way they play on the insecurities that defy rational explanation. There are also people such as Stephen Neale who believe the genre satisfies a fetish for violence and terror that is inherited by the society and cultural structure we live in, while feminist theorists argue the genre is dominated by misogyny and the ‘female’ as victim.

Whether you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing, the fact remains that the horror film is, and has been, a very popular genre for audiences. Despite its early critical backlash, the genre has been important as far back as the 1930s when Universal produced Dracula and Frankenstein amongst others, which were so well received by audiences, it enabled the company to become a major Hollywood studio. In the 1940s RKO created many films including Cat People, which pioneered a style which would be imitated by filmmakers for years to come. Instead of showing the monster, filmmakers used off-screen space, sound, lighting and deep shadows, character reaction, and the ambiguity of the audience’s imagination to produce stylish and emotionally impacting movies. Independent production prospered in the 1960s with the most influential film being George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, which led to a new respectability with Roman Polanski’s mesmerising Rosemary’s Baby, and the best film the genre ever created, William Friedkin’s terrifying The Exorcist.

For me, the best decade for horror was the 1980s and that’s why I present my top 10. Below, you’ll also find my Top five favourite moments:

10. Fright Night (Tom Holland, 1985, USA)

‘’Apparently your generation doesn’t want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins.'’

Top 10, why?: Tom Holland’s superb self-referential horror-comedy is both delightfully funny and darkly sadistic, wryly telling the story of a teenager who knows a Vampire has moved in next door but no one believes him. A standout performance from Roddy McDowell is the centre point of a film that simultaneously celebrates and parodies the genre. This unique film inspired a lot of the post-modern sentiment later seen in the 1990s.

Critic quote: ‘…it’s hard to get into this movie and not have a little fun…’ (Nadd Yapp)

External review: Absolute Horror


9. Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987, UK)

‘’We will tear your soul apart'’

Top 10, why?: The film embodies the idea of nightmares displayed on screen as Clive Barker creates a terrifying vision of hell on earth.

Critic Quote: ‘I have seen the future of the horror genre, and his name is Clive Barker.’ (Stephen King)

External Reviews: British Horror Films, Blog of the Rotting Dead


8. The Vanishing (George Sluizer, 1988, Holland)

‘’The only way to tell you, is to make you share the exact same experience'’

Top 10, why?: Sluizer’s film is about pacing and atmosphere. He plays with audience expectation (even telling us who the killer is half way through) and concludes the film with one of the best and most devastating conclusions to any horror film ever made.

Critic Quote: Sounds like an overworked premise for Alfred Hitchcock (The Lady Vanishes), Roman Polanski (Frantic), or Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown), but The Vanishing quickly veers into new and intriguing territories. (Matthew Kennedy)

External reviews: Bright Lights Film Journal, Combustible Celluloid


7. The Return Of The Living Dead (Dan O’Bannon, 1985, USA)

‘’Did you see that movie, “Night of the Living Dead”?'’

Top 10, why?: Dan O’Bannon’s homage to Romero is fun, pacy and full of great production design and prosthetic effects. The film was essentially fighting against Sam Raimi’s excellent sequel to The Evil Dead, but I decided to go with O’Bannon’s effort because it’s a more polished affair with several good performances.

Critic Quote: ‘It’s kind of a sensation-machine, made out of the usual ingredients, and the real question is whether it’s done with style. It is.’ (Roger Ebert)

External Reviews: Dr. Gore, Apollo Movie Guide, Club IGN


6. The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986, USA)

‘’What am I working on? Uhh… I’m working on something that will change the world, and human life as we know it.'’

Top 10, why?: Anchored by a brilliant performance from Jeff Goldblum, director David Cronenberg continues his investigation into the renowned body-horror, as Goldbum’s Seth Brundle attempts metamorphosis but it all goes wrong when a house fly gets caught up in the machine. As Brundle struggles to find a cure to his problem, he falls deeper in love with Geena Davis’ concerned Veronica. When he learns that his body structure is becoming that of a fly, the fruits of his new powers soon challenge his own sanity, and his own survival. The Fly is one of several great horror films made in the eighties by Cronenberg but it stands out because it his most accessible, and probably most accomplished piece of work.

Critic Quote: ‘It’s hard to watch; not only because it takes a strong stomach to cope with the necessarily gruesome special effects but because the emotions depicted are so honest and direct that they eventually becomes overwhelming.’ (Mike Sutton)

External Reviews: Reel.com

5. Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987, USA)

‘’We keep odd hours…'’

Top 10, why?: Near Dark has always fascinated me because it’s a horror film that only really works within the constraints of the genre based on the audiences expectation and understanding of the gothic, and of past vampire films. It’s almost a western love story, with the premise setting the scene for two star-crossed lovers from distinct families that cannot mix. It’s the Romeo and Juliet of the vampire world. The film features half the main cast from James Cameron’s Aliens, with Lance Henrikson, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein all working together again, and Paxton and Henrikson are superb in their roles as rogue bloodsuckers. This small-budget film was a given an awful marketing campaign that saw it fail at the box office, and also saw Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys become the remembered vampire film of 1987. However, Bigelow’s beautifully paced tale is a fantastic film because it was the most unique horror movie of the 1980s, and looked at the gothic story from a completely different point of view than had been seen before.

Critic Quote:Near Dark is the best vampire movie you’ve never heard of…’ (Rod Armstrong)

External Reviews: My full review, Horror Movies.com, Alex Jackson, My New Plaid Pants (for an interesting take on the film), Grave Robber


4. A Nightmare On Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984, USA)

‘’Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.'’

Top 10, why?: It says a lot that this is the only teen slasher film to make the top ten. Wes Craven’s excellent film, much like Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, embodies the idea of a nightmare on screen. It’s also backed by a brilliant premise that has a killer who can only hurt you while you sleep. Fantastic!

Critic Quote: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street is tailor made for those who like their gore leavened with thought-provoking ideas - something that is a rarity in this genre.’ (James Berardinelli)

External Reviews: Alex Jackson


3. An American Werewolf In London (John Landis, 1981, USA)

‘’A naked American man stole my balloons'’

Top 10, why?: John Landis’ 1981 classic was an easy choice for a top ten spot because it’s one of my all time favourite films. It’s also a horror film that Roger Ebert absolutely hates, which means it has to be one of the best films ever made. Not that I’m trying to have a dig at the renowned critic (I’ve used one of his quotes for Return Of The Living Dead), but I do believe he simply doesn’t get Landis’ film. He seems to believe horror and comedy have lived seamlessly for years, but not like this they haven’t. An American Werewolf In London is equally funny and frightening, and Landis is one of only a few directors to actually make it work. Ebert, while celebrating special-effects maestro Rick Baker’s work on the film, merely disassociates that quality for his overall appreciation of the film. Baker’s werewolf transformation was not only one of the most realistic special-effects ever to be put to celluloid at the time, but it was underpinned by Landis’ superb use of music (the brilliant irony of classic Blue Moon). It works so perfectly because it flirts between a line that doesn’t tell the audience to laugh or cry, and by breaking convention, the audience is left not knowing what might happen next. The sequence makes for the best werewolf transformation ever put on screen, and is one of the primary reasons the film has such a cult following and is regarded by horror fans as one of the best examples of the genre ever made.

Critic Quote: ‘…in the summer of 1981 came John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, which has, in many ways, set the standard for the modern werewolf movie.’ (James Birardinelli)

External Reviews: DVD Times, Jeffrey Wachs, Chrissy Deberyshire, Darth Jamyz


2. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982, USA)

‘’I dunno what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.'’

Top 10, why?: Much like The Fly, I’d have to question whether to put this in the horror or science-fiction category but essentially they are both horror movies at the most primitive level. The Thing was John Carpenter’s sixth major feature production, and for me, it’s a work that he has never surpassed before or since. He made many excellent movies within the genre through the eighties, but the sense of paranoia amongst his ensemble cast in The Thing makes for wonderful, suspenseful viewing. The blood test sequence in the middle of the film is one of the best scene’s in horror cinema ever put to celluloid.

Critic Quote: ‘John Carpenter may be better known for Halloween or Escape from New York, but The Thing is easily the famed horror director’s best film.’ (Evan Pulgino)

External Reviews: James Berardinelli


1. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980, USA)

‘’Here’s Johnny…!'’

Top 10, why?: This was an easy choice for number one. It’s Kubrick’s best film and one of the greatest films ever made, no matter what genre. What I love about the movie is that it gets better with every viewing, and I know the next time I watch it I’ll enjoy it more than the last.

Critic quote: ‘Stanley Kubrick doesn’t anything by halves. What this die-hard perfectionist has created, during the years of post-production work that went on while tucked away in a British film studio, are exemplary pieces of artistic refinement: 2001, A Space Odyssey was a masterpiece in science-fiction, Barry Lyndon set a new standard for historical epics and The Shining redefined the meaning of horror altogether.’ (Der Spiegel)

External Reviews: Alex Jackson, Chris Justice, Robert Castle

Round up

There’s obviously many great films that didn’t make my top ten, notably the Evil Dead’s, Dressed To Kill, The Lost Boys, Innocent Blood, The Howling, The Fog, Christine, Prince Of Darkness, a whole heap of teen slasher movies, Dead and Buried, Manhunter, Tenebre and other European independent films, Bad Taste, Cannibal Holocaust and a lot of exploitative filth, Critters, Gremlins (but I always enjoyed the sequel more), The Hitcher, Scanners, Re-animator, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Silver Bullet, Child’s Play, the list goes on.

I probably realised this before making my top ten, but it confirms that I don’t like sadistic horror films that set out to repulse the audience. You may notice that I’ve chosen mainly mainstream horror films. It’s all well and good making social comments like Wes Craven’s The Last House On The Left, but when a film becomes the director’s perverted wet dream, it isn’t fun anymore. For all that the horror genre does to its audience it should always be fun and entertaining, leaving the viewer with a feeling of adrenaline, not sickness. For that reason, I think the eighties produced some of the best films from the genre (and don’t get me wrong, it also produced some of the worst). They were and still are entertaining movies. The improvement of special-effects may date the films now but the nostalgic feeling of watching them again makes up for that.


Top Five Moments from 1980s Horror

1. An American Werewolf In London – The Transformation

David Kessler tries to keep himself occupied in Nurse Alex’s house when she leaves him to go to work. As night falls, and the full moon comes out, he feels a terrible pain in his chest. His skin begins to burn, and his bones begin to crack, as his body changes into that of a werewolf. The great thing director John Landis does here is to make the whole scene painful to watch and clearly painful for David. This isn’t the easy transformation that had been seen in cinema before. This was bones, and flesh, moulding and changing; it hurt. The scene is very realistic, and the prosthetic make-up effects look better than any CGI would today. Landis beautifully underpins the scene with the blues classic Blue Moon which is sadistically ironic.

2. The Thing – Blood Test

Working out that alien and human blood react to each other, the surviving group conduct a blood test to work out which, if any of them, are alien. Carpenter infuses the scene with paranoia, creating a level of suspense he hangs on to for several minutes as the scene plays out.

3. Evil Dead II – Ash battles his own hand

When Ash’s hand gets possessed, he’s forced to cut it off. However, after the gruelling dismemberment, the severed hand (clearly pissed off at such an action), comes after him in one of the great comedic horror moments.

4. The Vanishing – The final twist and devastating conclusion

The film leaves both the viewer and main character Rex in completely darkness over the fate of his girlfriend. Although, we meet the man who abducted her, we are still unsure whether she is dead or alive. When Rex agrees to take a sleeping pill in order to find out what really happened, he awakens to have all his questions answered. This is one of the best endings to any horror film from the eighties. It’s both devastatingly affecting and cruelly ironic.

5. The Hitcher – They thought it was all over…it wasn’t.

The audience, and the characters, are left thinking the terror might be all over…but it isn’t. Jim leaves his hotel room to find Nash (the girl he had fallen for over the course of the film) tied between a truck and its trailer. If the police shoot the driver, his foot will leave the clutch and the truck will roll forward, ripping Nash in half. In order to save her, Jim gets into the truck with the driver to talk him out of it. He doesn’t succeed.


See video clips, interviews and trailers for the films mentioned above - right here


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Everything I need to know, I learned from 1980s Horror Films


1. Mike - May 7, 2007

Great article - brought back some memories of watching these movies for the first time as a teenager, perhaps the best time of life to see horror films.

The only omissions I can think of are Aliens (more an action flick?) and Poltergiest, one of the few to really scare the bejeesus out of me. As for American Werewolf, I remember seeing it for the first time late at night, on a horror double bill with Dead of Night. Needless to say, I was spooked…

2. Daniel Stephens - May 7, 2007

I’m saving Aliens for my science-fiction top 10, Mike! But yes, I’d agree I’d put it in the sci-fi action genre more than horror but when you start debating genre credentials you can easily say The Thing is Sci-Fi and Near Dark is a Western, and should I have included horror-comedies, and then it becomes confusing! For instance, I love Manhunter and would have included it here (I do reference it), but it’s perhaps more a detective/mystery-thriller.

I’m glad you mentioned Poltergiest - terrific film - it was one of those childhood horror’s that left me leaving the light on at night!

3. Stewart Buck - May 7, 2007

Lady In White would be a worthy addition.

4. Daniel Stephens - May 8, 2007

I remember watching Lady In White for the first time on television quite recently actually. It had that very eighties ‘feel’ with some dodgy blue screen special-effects, not that I would fault it for that. I did think it was more a fantasy movie for kids but I enjoyed it all the same. I’d go as far to lump it in with all those great eighties ‘kids’ films like Flight of the Navigator, Explorers, Battle Beyond The Stars, and The Neverending Story.

5. Dave - May 8, 2007

hey danny just a few you might of put in your list. Lost boys and gremlins possible horror/comedy. Also cannibal holocaust, pet cemetry and the children of the corn. Them kids are scary.

6. Rotting Dead - May 8, 2007

Excellent article!!! Very well thought out and explained.

7. RachelB - May 8, 2007

I agree… cool site.

The Shining would have been my number one too! what a creepy film!

8. Kizzy - May 8, 2007

I grew up on the Freddy Krueger movies. They used to scare the crap out of me!!

9. Piper - May 8, 2007

Man. Great article.

The 80s produced some of the best horror that still has yet to be beat.

I think the scene in The Howling where the guy takes the bullet out of his head and then changes into a werewolf is a pretty amazing scene also.

10. Rob Williams - May 8, 2007

Great article and I can’t argue with the choices, scrolling down I was hoping to see ‘The Shining’ and bang, there it is at No.1 and fully deserving it is too.

I would have included the first ‘Evil Dead’ movie- atrue splatter classic, and maybe even the first ‘Friday 13th’.

11. Michelle Wild - May 8, 2007

I’ve only seen two of those movies in the top ten, The Shining and An American Werewolf, but I agree with The Shining being one of the best horror films. I really think this article was good and well put together, I’ll be checking out more stuff like this for future reference.

12. DadDadDadWHAT - May 8, 2007

Looks like a good list to me. I really liked the treatise on Alien. Released in 1979, is this why it didn’t make your list?

As one of the first horror films where the females didn’t all simply walk backwards to a horrible death, I think Alien is one of the best horror films ever made. If it had stayed absolutely true to the book, I don’t believe anyone could’ve sat all the way through it in ‘79. Certainly one of those ones that should’ve NEVER had a sequel, let alone four. Like Carpenter’s remake of The Thing—Alien was actually scary, not just grisly.

For 5 years after Alien, I regularly wore a black baseball cap that read: IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM…

13. Daniel Stephens - May 8, 2007

Now I really want one of those ‘In Space no one can hear you Scream’ caps…I’d even settle for a t-shirt….ebaying now! I do agree with you that Alien is a masterful film - one of the best ever - but I only wanted to include films post-Jan 1980 (US release date) up until 1989. I also find it interesting how it changed the conventional use of the female character within the horror film, but I’m one of those film fans who thinks the sequel equaled it in terms of quality and excitement.

14. Daniel Stephens - May 8, 2007

An interesting article about 1980s horror films you might enjoy reading: Link HERE

15. Mike - May 8, 2007

Great also to see the inclusion of Hellraiser, a British horror that’s often forgotten. Whether you like Clive Barker’s unique take on the genre or not, it’s a movie that has a definite creep factor, and for me one that gives a rare glimpse into the eternity of hell. It freaked me for some time, a lot more than its silly sequels.

16. paulwjm - May 8, 2007

Good article but I should point out that Suspiria was actually released in 1977 (don’t think anyone’s already done so), but it certainly was one of the best of the 70s.

Some other films worth mentioning: Henry, Re-Animator, Videodrome, Day of the Dead, House by the Cemetery, etc… oh, and Burial Ground! You’re right - it was a great decade :)

17. Daniel Stephens - May 8, 2007

Cheers Paul, I’ve amended it to include a couple of Argento’s 80s films. I think I must have been having a brain lapse, probably thinking of Lamberto Bava’s Demons (Argento co-wrote it; released in ‘85) or something, but it’s like Dawn Of The Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, or Halloween - I had to remind myself they were indeed from the seventies, not the eighties. But I did read somewhere that eighties horror (the conventions, the styles, the technique, the story lines) really began with Halloween (1978) and Alien (1979), which isn’t surprising. Although, when you’re trying to remember film release dates offhand it can become confusing!

18. Tracey Stoltz - May 8, 2007

I’m a movie buff with an impressive collection that is neatly boxed up at my mother’s house in Melbourne (rolls my eyes with a deep, deep sigh). I miss my movies.

.. I don’t agree with all of your top 10 but I’d have been surprised if I had.. it’s so very subjective. I have serious issues with The Shining as a movie, let alone as number 1. My personal pick would’ve been Alien. Ripley RULES. It is Sci / Fi, but it scared the crap out of me each and every time I saw it.. it still makes my pulse jump and I know the script practically by heart. I still slip to the edge of my seat and yell ‘GRAB THE CAT’ and ‘EJECT EJECT’ at the screen. The fact that the sequels held their own and then some.. “Get away from her YOU B*ITCH” (hehehe).. would make them all my number two choice.

.. ‘The Hitcher’ is a big YEP (my introduction to Rutger Hauer) and ‘The Vanishing’ still makes my skin crawl. I want to throw the original ‘When A Stranger Calls’.. (have you checked the children?)..but it gets pipped at the post by being released in ‘79 (snaps my fingers in a ‘dammit’ kind of way).

.. ‘The Deliberate Stranger’ put me off watching anything starring Mark Harmon for a good three years. He did an all too credible Ted Bundy and I hated his GUTS.. creepy little man (Bundy not Harmon… sorry, Mark. You totally rock in NCIS)

.. probably at number 9ish would be ‘Manhunter’ (the original ‘86 version of ‘Red Dragon’ the prequel to ‘Silence of the Lambs’ starring William Peterson (CSI Las Vegas). It was a good foray into the ’serial killer’ genre). It was scary in it’s own right.

19. Heddy Johannesen - May 9, 2007

Hello, Yes, I would have to agree with all those picks. I grew up with Poltergeist, It movie by Stephen King, Friday the 13th, a Dracula movie. I enjoyed reading the great article. Books are scary too. Legend of Hell House by Matheson kept me up all night long. Fright Night though, was not that scary. I saw Lost Boys, Hill House by Shirley Jackson -Read the book, too. I saw ten mins of the Exorcist- another sleepless night. Classics, all.

20. James Wills - May 9, 2007

Nice list. While I wouldn’t dispute ‘The Shining’ has the best horror film of the 80s, but as Kubricks greatest? Big call.. 2001, Full Metal Jacket, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove.. you sure you’ve seen all these? Each to their own, that’s my only real gripe. Out of curiosity, did ‘Henry: Portrait of a serial killer’ qualify for this list? Now thats one truly horrible viewing experience! Good call on the blood test scene in ‘The Thing’, and how great is the line that follows: “I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS F*@KING COUCH!”

21. Daniel Stephens - May 9, 2007

Cheers James. Yes, in my opinion The Shining is his greatest film. Most influential…most awe-inspiring…maybe I’d look a little closer at 2001. But his space odyssey has always troubled me for the wrong reasons and never affected me in the way The Shining does. But, that is the great thing about Kubrick - he didn’t get tied down to being a genre director - in one attempt, making better films in areas that most filmmakers spend their lifetimes trying to perfect. Best comedy: Dr. Strangelove, best war movie: Full Metal JacketBarry Lyndon - maybe, I’m sure there’s many people who will sing all their praises.

Yet, for me, The Shining is his best film, if for no other reason than I enjoy it more than the others. It’s inspiration - the Stephen King novel - is one of my favourite books even if the film itself doesn’t stay too close to the text; Jack Nicholson provides one of the greatest performances I have ever witnessed; and some of Kubrick’s images (the blood-soaked elevator, the sweeping shots of the endless corridors, the empty expanse) are so very affecting. I also love the way Kubrick presents this disintegration of his characters - especially Nicholson - and how he uses the location (the hotel) as a character in itself. If anything, the only film that would get close to this in terms of ‘greatest achievements’ would be A Clockwork Orange: My full review HERE

22. Daniel Stephens - May 9, 2007

Cheers Tracey, I’d be interested to know why you don’t like The Shining. It’s certainly a film that has grown on me over the years, but now every time I watch it, it’s a better film.

23. Tracey Stoltz - May 9, 2007

.. Jack Nicholson freaks me out and he always has. It really is that simple. I read ‘The Shining’ and loved it (was a huge Horror fan in literature too.. Stephen King, James Herbert, John Saul, William Peter Blatty) but when it comes to the film, you’d have a better chance of this arachnophobic kissing a Tarantula than me sitting all the way through it without rocking like Rainman.

.. I’ve been told that my definition of ‘horror movie’ is a little blurry as I classify truly awesome ghost / supernatural stories in the genre also. ‘Gothica’, ‘Sixth Sense’ and ‘Final Destination (all of them)’ are prime examples of that.. they all successfully scared the crap out of me and that’s the hallmark in my books. I don’t like to be sickened and that’s the slide that ‘horror movies’ have taken in recent years.. ‘Saw’, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, ‘Resident Evil’ etc, etc.. I can’t deal with any of them anymore. I lost my nerve around the time I became a mother and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

.. Quentin Tarantino has the same effect on me as Jack and the only movie of his that I watched from beginning to end and enjoyed was ‘Dusk til Dawn’ and that was more comedy than anything else.. (something about a Clooneypire that just amused the hell out of me). Let’s face it.. how bad could it be with Cheech Marin (or was it Tommy Chong..?) front and center..? Ooohh, scawy, scawy..

.. Have you ever seen a movie called ‘Audrey Rose’..? (Starring a very young Anthony Hopkins). It was based on the novel by Frank de Felitta (he also wrote the screenplay which is why I love the movie as much as I did the book.. he did an awesome job).

24. hats - May 10, 2007

Ok, so I’m not the biggest of horror fan’s, so I will have to follow your judgment on what makes the top10 and the reasons for this, however, this is an excellent and very insightful article on the genre and you have managed to intrigue me with your views. I enjoy many films from the eighties, so I may just have to delve into some from the horror genre…although I will lock my door and keep the curtain’s closed!!! Very well written, I love the site, keep the articles coming. :)

25. thatollie - May 10, 2007

An awesome article Dan. I agree with the majority of your choices, especially your No. 1. It’s one of the two films from the 80’s that feature in my top 10 list. The other being Scarface.

26. Stewart Buck - May 13, 2007

The Keep deserves a mention seeing as it is NOT a complete film. The original assembly is confirmed to be in the region of 180min.
I’m writing full analysis for this film for publication in the summer

And Wolfen deserves a mention. The opening sequence is superb. There is an elusive longer cut of Wolfen that is said to exist, that I’d like to find.

Also I noticed Frank De Felitta. For a more old fashioned horror tale Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a good one

27. kayleigh - May 14, 2007

your article is great!

28. rv - May 15, 2007

Meh - mediocre list at best. Evil Dead 2 needs to be on the list as do Re-Animator and Alien (which is more horror than sci-fi - if Alien is sci-fi, so are The Fly and The Thing). Remove Near Dark, Fright Night, Return of the Living Dead. And The Shining is Kubrick’s “best movie”? Yeah, right…

29. Daniel Stephens - May 15, 2007

Honorable suggestions there ‘rv’ - I must say I debated long and hard about Evil Dead II but Re-Animator was never going to make my list. The Shining: Kubrick’s best film…of course it is! And Alien, while being a great film, couldn’t make this selection by default - the top 10 1980s Horror movies only includes films released in the 1980s.

30. paulwjm - May 15, 2007

Kubrick was a master film-maker, probably one of the greatest, so while I wouldn’t actually consider Shining to be the best of the 80s (that would be American Werewolf for me), anyone who knows anything about the art of making films shouldn’t be able to deny the technical perfection he attained almost 100% of the time and, while not entirely faithful to its source (Kubrick didn’t have great respect for the book, more so the core idea itself), the fact that The Shining is also extremely enjoyable (to a varying degree depending on subjective perception) qualifies it for a top ten list easily. So I think I’m with you on that one, Daniel.

Any top ten list is going to contain material that others don’t agree with, and miss out on things that others should be there, so I think RV should make his own list if he disagrees so vehemently.

31. michael - May 19, 2007

i think evil dead II should be the first in the list, it is true horror and in my opinion this movie should be in the top 10 of horror movies through history.

32. Raj - May 25, 2007

I believe the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre deserves a mention as it was exceptionally scary. but now leatherface is nothing but a cartoon character as the sequels dumbed him down inevitably.

33. the babysitter stalker - May 27, 2007

In my opinion, slasher films aren’t about gore, splatter films are, they’re about suspense,masked stalkers, and a scene where bodies fall out during the lengthy pursuit between stalker and protagonist, usually female. My list would be: Halloween, Friday the thirteenth,
Texas chainsaw massacre (original), Prom night, A nightmare on elmstreet, Mother’s Day, He knows You’re Alone, Happy Birthday to me, and When a Stranger Calls(original or remake.)

34. Alex Hammond - May 27, 2007

I must disagree with the fact that slasher films of the 80’s have to be made in the 80’s. As far as i’m concerned, Halloween was made in the late 70’s but other horror films owe much of their success if not inspiration to Halloween not to mention the fact that most of them are cash ins and competitors!

35. the babysitter stalker - May 27, 2007

I don’t include movies that don’t include a murderer but have aliens or werewolves in a slasher film list. Also, i believe that slasher films aren’t about gore and T and A, splatter films are, they’re about masked killers, a female protagonist, a lengthy chase and a scene where all of the bodies fall out. My list (all are originals, not remakes): Halloween, Friday the thirteenth, A nightmare on elm street, Prom night, Texas Chainsaw massacre, Hitcher, When a stranger calls, He knows you’re alone, Mother’s Day, Happy Birthday to me.

36. Carene - June 4, 2007

Watch the old old Black Christmas again. That was terrifying - the crazy voice on the other end of the phone. I will never forget that voice. When I rewatched it (NOT THE TERRIBLE REMAKE), I couldn’t believe what the person was saying on the other end of the phone. I was a kid when I first saw that and I am sure I didn’t know what any of those words meant. Sick and dimented.

I also have to agree completely with The BabySitter Stalker’s list. Happy Birthday to Me - taht is a blast from the past with Mary from Little House on the Prarie!

37. Steven Miller - June 4, 2007

An interesting list that, like everything else, is open to interpretation.
While I agree with most of your choices, in my opinion, The Shining was one of the biggest disappointments as to what I had seen advertised as “possibly the scariest movie of all time” when it was
released. I rushed to the theater the first night expecting to jump
out of my seat at least a couple of times only to find that “Here’s
Johnny” just didn’t make me afraid of the dark( or the Tonight Show)
I was told that I needed to read the book first, but even a good book
doesn’t guarentee a good movie. Ex. Dean Koontz’s Phantoms. Let
me say that I could not include The Shining in a list of the 100 greatest horror films of the 80s. This is only my opinion and I respect
your right to list those films that you judged to be your favorites. One
last note: Although I did enjoy The Thing remake, I liked the original
even more as it seemed to use more atmosphere and less gore and
we got to see James Arness fried.

38. Kelly Kinstrey - June 12, 2007

Hi! Glad to see some 80s horror films have such dedicated fans -loved your blog. I am a PR respresentative for a great t-shirt company called 80sTees.com. This site features a variety of merchandise from films like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Evil Dead, An American Werewolf in Paris, Friday the 13th and many more! Check out 80s Tees and let me know if you would be interested in any items offered on the website! Thanks for your time!

39. Justin K - June 13, 2007

“The film was essentially fighting against Sam Raimi’s excellent sequel to The Evil Dead, but I decided to go with O’Bannon’s effort …”

I have to ask, why didn’t you include both? If you felt that they were so close that you had to choose between the two, wouldn’t that mean that they were both worthy of inclusion on the list? Why didn’t Evil Dead 2 end up at the eight, nine or ten spot?

40. Daniel Stephens - June 14, 2007

Hi Justin - I didn’t mean the two films were fighting for the seventh spot - I’d say the 6-10 positions are a bit arbitrary. I didn’t want too many horror-comedies either so there was no place for Evil Dead II.

Cheers for the heads-up Kelly….I’ll definitely be checking out 80stees.com!

41. Joshua Daniels - June 17, 2007

I’m sorry but I disagree with this list. Where are the top horror films like Blood Diner,I Was a Teenage Zombie,and Parents.

42. Jason - June 19, 2007

I have always loved the one scene in Friday The 13th, it is very subtle and short. The shot right before the guy kills the snake that is in the cabin, the way he holds the knife and how the feathers from the pillow are floating in the air he has this look on his face for a split second. The atmosphere of that scene conveys to me that anyone can kill. that scene is liek a precursor to what is to come. But it is done perfectly.

43. Voodoo - June 28, 2007

Hey, I just saw this article, and it was a nice list indeed. Don’t agree with it 100%, but mostly.

I remember my first “real” (watching the entire movie and not hiding behind the sofa) horrors when I was a kid (13-14 yrs old) and Demons were the one that scared me shitless back then, so it would have made the list on nostalgic value alone :]

Spoorloos (The vanishing) was the freakiest movie I had seen in my teen ages, but I wish I hadn’t seen the terrible remake first. That ruined it for me. The idea is still creepy.

I recall Fulci’s The Beyond being really good, and luckily I will be able to test that theory as I received the dvd just yesterday. Price, 2e. Heh newbies…
What about Cujo ? That one was really scary when I saw first time. I don’t remember much so I don’t know if it holds up. One that I do know that does hold up is Angel heart, not sure if that’s proper horror tho. DeNiro is still spooky

Regarda, and Imma go scout the blog ;)

44. Pepe - August 1, 2007

Good selection
but you have missed some
horror movies that were good in the time
like evil dead, both were good, but i would put
the first one
an also i dont agree on kubrick’s best film
in deed the shinhing its a great and i love it
but i think that kubrick’s best can be foun in a clockwork orange
or dr. strangelove

good article though

45. Andrew F - August 18, 2007

Good list for 80s horror.

46. Will Pattenden - August 31, 2007

Hey, I’ve been looking for a film for about 7 years now, maybe more or less i can’t remember. It was aired on channel 4 on terrestrial television in the uk. I can’t quite remember the film, but i think it was about a writer, he was in this strange village, there was a huge church that was white inside. he was staying at a hotel which the owners were a middle aged married couple, but also into BDSM. As the man tried to flee the town his girlfriend/wife catches him, she then contorts her body and you hear crunching bones. I can also remember the man ending in an insane asylum but then everybody disappears and he is the only one left. I think he may have been killed by zombies. Im sorry about the vague description but if anybody could tell me the name of the film or point me in a good direction where i could find it would actually make my life. Thanks a lot, Will.


47. paulwjm - September 1, 2007

Are you talking about John Carpenter’s In The Mouth of Madness, Will? Doesn’t sound exactly like it but there are similarities in your description. If so, it’s not available on UK DVD but the US disc is very nice. If it isn’t then it sounds like something I’d love to watch myself!

48. Daniel Stephens - September 3, 2007

…it must be In The Mouth Of Madness!


49. Alan Thomas - December 23, 2007

Replace “The Fly” with “Evil Dead” and “Near Dark” with “Friday the 13th”, and your list is perfect. :)

50. momel - February 1, 2008

Is “The Shining” and “The Fly” really that good? I haven’t seen them yet, although I have copies, and I have heard a lot of good things about them.

I don’t agree with your werewolf movie in the top three. But I like everything else. Werewolf movies are just gayer than me.

51. Dylan - February 9, 2008

I love all of these movies, but they’re not that scary.

52. Maria - May 28, 2008

the best movies ever! my favorite is nigthmare on elm street.. Its incredible to know that movies at that time had this kind of influence on people for the excellent way they were done.

53. ian - December 14, 2008

Feb 17, 2008 I have looked everywhere for this episode. I was sure that it was either the New (colorized ) Alfred Hitchcock Presents or the New Twilight Zone series that were released in the 80’s, but I can’t find a remotely similar episode listed on either. I believe it was early or mid-80’s, it was in color and on t.v.The episode starts out with a boy at his birthday party? and he receives a gift of a music box or bank or something that has a character on top of it that looks like Abraham Lincoln (ok weird, but that’s how I remember it). The episode goes on to show him being terrorized by his babysitter, I think she turns out the lights or power on him to freak him out. She’s really mean. Anyhow, it ends with her looking for the boy in the house and she thinks he’s hiding in the closet, so she opens it only to find the “Abraham Lincoln”-looking guy in the closet now like 6 or 7 feet tall and you know he’s taking care of the boy and he’s going to do the some damage. Does anyone know this show?

54. Wynne - November 11, 2009

Holy mackeral! I just inserted Near Dark into my MacBook Pro, using Handbrake to create an mp4 version for iTunes and my iPod. While searching for a good cover image for iTunes, I stumbled upon this article.

Needless to say Near Dark is approaching completion of the first pass of the DVD. Once I started reading this article, I could not stop until I poured through the entire story.

You have identified some terrific films and great scenes. I grew up watching the Universal horror films of the 1930’s with my dad: Frankenstein, Bride of (…), The Wolfman, The Invisible Man (which I truly wish someone would give another shot at a remake with the original story line, or something more similar than “Hollow Man”. I have enjoyed many a remake of these classic films with a new one just around the corner.

I am really looking forward to seeing Benecio del Toro in the Lon Chaney Jr. role of The Wolfman after the year end holidays. With Anthony Hopkins as his father, the cast is more than strong enough to create an oustanding remake of one of my favorite horror films of the period.

Thank you for the terrific article.

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