Top 13 Horror Movies of the 1980s

As a child of the 80s and 90s I have seen so many horror movies. They used to show them on tv Saturday afternoons. That is what we did before Netflix and streaming watch whatever was on tv when bored. Sometimes the same network would play the same movie several times a month. You would see the same movies several times.

In a few weeks they will set the Halloween departments up at Wal-Mart and Target. I love watching familiar horror movies I loved as a child this time of year. They remind me of lazy weekends spent staying in and relaxing.

These are 13 of my favorite horror movies of the 80s. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

1. The Shining is on a lot of horror movie top lists. Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's titular novel is a classic. Although it strays from the novel and Jack Nicholson is a little over the top this move has stood the test of time. You witness Jack Torrance's descent into madness. Mainly due to isolation and his obsession with the Overlook Hotel.

2. Poltergeist is one of the best and most iconic horror movies ever made. Much like the shining the plot is a slow burn. Poltergeist follows the Freeling family. Diane and Steve and their three children. Who have strange and unsettling experiences in their home. When little Carol Anne goes missing they realize that their house was haunted. That the ghosts have Carol Ann. Poltergeist is one of the best movies that came out of the 80s. The movie uses suspense to frighten you. I cannot start the Halloween Season off without Poltergeist. 

3. Return of the Living Dead is a cult classic and an unofficial sequel to Night of the living dead. If you have not seen this movie, it is  hilarious. Released in 1985 and features the well known Tar Man and other bits that have become a part of pop culture. You could say Return of the Living Dead improved upon George Romero’s concepts of zombies. Day of the Dead came out a few weeks before Return of the Living Dead. I will discuss Romero zombies later in the post. In this film the zombies are smarter. Hence the famous send more paramedics scene. If you love the zombie genre Return of the Living dead is a must see. 

4. Creepshow an anthology series based on 1950s comics. This is a delightfully scary George Romero film. Five stories feature an ensemble cast. Which includes Leslie Nelson as a villain and Stephen King. King also penned the screenplay. Horror Author Joe Hill (Kings Son) even has a small role.

The five stories are:

  • Father’s Day

  • The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill

  • Something to Tide You Over

  • The Crate

  • They’re Creeping Up on You.

Creepshow is entertaining and scary. Stephen King who can be funny when he wants to. King adds humor into the screenplay to add a little comic relief to relive tension. If you have not seen Creepshow add it to your queue now!

5. Friday the 13th is a classic slasher film. While, this movie may have not started the slasher genre because it started long ago. Thanks to Hitchcock and the Italian horror movies of the 60s and 70s. We had Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween to usher in what we know as the modern slasher film genre. Friday the 13th is one of the largest franchises and the most violent and gory. They set the first film in the franchise released in 1980 at Camp Crystal Lake. Friday the 13th follows a group of camp counsellors. Terrorized and stalked by Jason Voorhees no one stands a chance. While this is not the best horror movie it is a classic for a reason. 

6. The Fog is another wonderful film by John Carpenter. Part ghost story part and zombie movie. This supernatural horror movie stars Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis. John Carpenter's wife at the time Adrienne Barbeau also stars. Leading man Tom Atkins the king of B horror movies rounds out the cast. This film is about the cursed sleepy seaside town Antonio Bay. I see this film pop up on a lot of top horror movie lists but people rarely mention this movie. If you like John Carpenter's other films and have not seen the Fog, you must watch this movie as soon as possible.

7. Halloween III Season of the Witch. Oh, that Silver Shamrock song always gets stuck in my head. Halloween III was meta before meta was a thing. This film dared to do something unusual for a franchise. Make a movie unrelated to the original franchise. The only mention of the film Halloween is on the TV at a bar during a scene. Tom Atkins has a cult following in the horror genre and his performance here is one of his best. The gist is Halloween III Season of the Witch is a wonderful film in its own right. 

8. House stars William Katt from Carrie and the Greatest American Hero. George Wendt of Cheers fame also stars. Katt is Rodger Cobb a famous author and Vietnam vet. His son went missing and then his aunt committed suicide so naturally he lives in her House. Wendt plays Harold his neighbor. Roger discovers a portal to another dimension in the bathroom. An underrated movie House is funny and scary. I do not see this movie recommended often enough.

9. Killer Klowns From Outer space. What can one say about Killer Klowns from Outer Space? Campy and Low budget this is one of the funniest horror movies ever made. I can watch Killer Klowns again and again. Any movie that name drops or shows Ameci pizza is ok in my book. This is one cult classic horror film that will make you laugh not terrify you. The film follows Mike and Debbie and her ex now a cop Dave who have discovered what they thought to be a comet. Instead, they saw a spaceship filled with you guessed it Killer Klowns from Outer Space. This movie is funny and not scary. If you want to watch a good comedy horror film, this is it. 

10. Lost Boys is a classic we all remember that saxophone player right? Brothers Michael and Sam move to Santa Carla a town filled with Vampires. This cult classic features and all-star cast including the Two Coreys. At this point I think almost every person on the planet has seen this movie since it is a classic. I also think Lost Boys helped shape the modern vampire movie. Without Lost Boys I do not think we would have had Buffy the Vampire Slayer or True Blood.

11. Day of the Dead. Yes Romero again. I know there is a reason because George was amazing! The opening sequence is so perfect the Gorillaz even Sampled it. This is the first Romero zombie film where zombie evolution was clear. If you had not picked up on the subtle hints in 1978's Dawn of the Dead.

BTW the trailer is amazing. Day of the Dead is the most cerebral of Romero's dead movies. Day also has a lot to offer cinematically. The opening really draws you in. George Romero in Dawn of the Dead hinted that zombies were getting smarter.

In Day he makes that clear if you had not picked up on that during Dawn. Rodger showed the zombies where to go. The point was clear. The zombies are evolving. Day of the Dead focuses on finding a solution to the zombies. Dr Logan wants to prove that zombies can be tamed. He even makes progress in training a zombie named Bub.

Being a Romero zombie movie the survivors are usually doomed. Day if the Dead is one of the Romero films people neglect to mention.

12. The Gate terrified me as a kid. Practical effects and forced perspective made it terrifying. A kids horror film Glen and Terry accidentally open the Gate to hell in Glens backyard. Glen's parents are out for the night so Glen's sister Al has friends over. As you can imagine there are plenty of teens for the Minions to terrorize. Kids horror movies were all the rage the 80s. The Gate is a classic that is awesome and underrated.

13. Psycho II does not get that much love. Like none. The court releases Norman Bates after 22 years in a Psychiatric Hospital. Norman must work in a diner and meets a young woman named Mary. Strange things happen making it look like Norman has gone crazy again.

This also stars a pre NYPD blue Dennis Franz who is great at playing a jerk. Also starring Jennifer Tilly this movie is so unappreciated. Anthony Perkins is so delicate and vulnerable you feel sorry for him. Is this the best movie ever made? No. There are thousands of crappy sequels. Psycho II is not one them. This movie helps you understand why Norman is the way he is.

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