Written by: Greg McCabe
I had originally planned to include the entire decade of the 1980s in this list, but as I analyzed the data, I realized that movies released in the early 80s don’t quite “feel” like 80s movies. They’re more like leftover 1970s films, which is not necessarily a bad thing. A prime example of this is The Shining (1980), which if including the entire decade, could’ve easily been first place. But everything about The Shining—from the haircuts to the clothing to the musical score—looks and feels very 70s.
Other examples of this would be Friday the 13th (1980) or An American Werewolf in London (1981). While these would certainly make just about any top 80s horror movie lists, they still feel distinctly 70s.
For this list, I want horror movies that completely embody the outrageous style of the 1980s. I want stonewashed jeans, big hair, and other questionable fashion choices. I want soundtracks and musical scores with too much synth. I want Corey-Fucking-Feldman!
Without further ado, here is my list of the ten greatest horror movies of the mid-late 1980s:
10) The Monster Squad (1987) – This one probably slipped in because of personal nostalgia. Often billed as “The Goonies with monsters” because both films feature a group of kids on an adventure for the ages. However, as far as antagonists go, I’ll take Drac, Frank, Wolfman, Creature, and The Mummy over pirates any day.
9) Child’s Play (1988) – This strange little 80s horror flick features a child’s doll that’s been possessed by the spirit of a serial killer. With a premise like that, it’s no wonder that this bizarre concept spawned sequels for decades to follow.
8) Near Dark (1987) – Kathryn Bigelow, who also directed Point Break and The Hurt Locker, has crafted a dark and utterly fascinating film. This highly underrated movie crosses over into other genres such as western, drama, and romance with an almost dream-like harmony.
7) The Fly (1986) – In addition to being masterfully disgusting, The Fly is classic 80s horror. Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum have matching mullets for crying out loud!
6) Silver Bullet (1985) – Based on the illustrated Stephen King story, Cycle of the Werewolf, and starring a young Corey Haim and a Gary Busey in his prime, with a soundtrack heavily dominated by synthesizers, this movie couldn’t be more 80s if it tried.
5) Hellraiser (1987) – This unsettling movie was based on Clive Barker’s novel, The Hellbound Heart. Not only that, Mr. Barker also penned the screen play and directed the film, so you really got to see his vision of the Cenobites come to life.
4) The Lost Boys (1987) – “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” The tagline just about says it all. A family moves to a beachside California town and ends up taking on a local gang of rock-n-rolling, dirt biking vampires. Plus, it has Corey Haim AND Corey Feldman, a total 80s bonus.
3) Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987) – This movie gained a massive cult following for a reason. It blends high-octane gory action with offbeat hilarity absolutely seamlessly. A brilliant performance by Bruce Campbell makes this a film that will be cherished by horror fans for many years to come.
2) Aliens (1986) – Director James Cameron took Ridley Scott’s dark, foreboding premise of the original Alien and ratcheted it up on every level. Academy Award winning visual effects, righteous action sequences, and an amazing cast made this movie the bar by which all future sci-fi/horror films would be judged.
1) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – This movie has it all: an imaginative plot, a terrifying villain, convincing performances, a menacing score, creepy boiler room sequences, and 80s Johnny Depp. Wes Craven birthed an iconic franchise with this horror masterpiece.
About the author: Greg McCabe is a born-and-raised Texan. His debut novel, The Undying Love, was published in 2013. Greg enjoys all genres of fiction, but seems to gravitate towards horror and science fiction.