10 most terrifying horror movies from the 80’s

The exciting and completely physical experience of watching an amazing horror movie is timeless and goes back to the earliest silent pictures. With the advent of new motion picture techniques and more realistic props and gore in the 1980s, the horror genre was plunged into a golden era of terror-inducing films. With the help of the movies released in the 70’s as a kind of springboard for innovation, the 80s broke new ground in special effects, costumes, set design, acting and directing. It is within this decade that great directors such as John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and James Cameron built film masterpieces that shaped the genre for years to come. Compared to previous decades, we see creators starting to take risks and start new directions within the genre that affects horror for decades.

One notable feature of ’80s film, however, is the appearance of genre compilations, of mash-ups. It’s the combination of several genres within one film, complimenting each style with a new, distinct feel. This stylistic choice led to the creation of some very unique films, such as Ghostbreakers, Predator, Beetlejuice, en Gremlins. Many of these movies consistently have comic or action elements. By ignoring these excellent but not strictly horror films, we enable us to focus on the most horrific, disturbing and truly gruesome films of the 1980s.

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10 A nightmare on Elm Street

Freddy's claw comes from Heather Langenkamp's bathing water in A Nightmare in Elm Street
New Line Cinema

This terrifying and instantly popular movie features a young Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp who, under the leadership of the great West Craven, is experiencing ghostly disasters with the murderous dream spirit, Freddy Krueger. This blade-wielding, fedora-carrying child killer is now one of the most iconic characters of the horror genre. The acting, set design, makeup and unique cold story all work to make A nightmare on Elm Street one of the scariest, most interesting and influential movies of the 80’s.

9 The thing

Kurt Russell watches a cave in The Thing
Universal pictures

Realism, of course, is incredibly important when trying to evoke fear when watching a movie, but the problem comes when trying to portray something that does not exist in the natural world. John Carpenter’s The thing finds incredible success in creating realism with unreal, disturbing things; the superb special effects, together with the extremely unique and deserted Arctic environment, make for a wonderful horror movie. The story arouses fear with its surprisingly tense investigation of American researchers stranded in a research base with shape-changing alien beings. On top of that, the music of Ennio Morricone is epic and grim, the perfect compliment to this haunting film (which this time receives another update a promising one from Blumhouse).

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8 Poltergeist

Child Heather O'Rourke puts her hands on the blue television set in Poltergeist
MGM / UA Entertainment Co.

Directed by Tobe Hooper and co-authored by Steven Spielberg (whose typical focus on childlike wonder is always present here), Poltergeist is a crowd-pleasing supernatural horror film, and one of the few scary movies not rated R (after Spielberg and Hooper appealed to the MPAA for a PG rating; Spielberg would help shape the PG-13 rating two years later). Focusing on a suburban family whose daughter is abducted by poltergeist, the juxtaposition of childhood innocence and demonic spirits evokes a sense of unrest, making an already disturbing story even more frightening. Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that four cast of the franchise died young and mysterious, leaving many (including documentary filmmakers) wondering if there is a ‘Poltergeist swear.’

7 Strangers

Child Carrie Henn wades into the water with her little doll while a giant disgusting alien pops up behind her.
20th Century Fox

Strangers may add some elements of science fiction to the original’s classic setting, but it’s an action-packed horror film at heart, with terrifying creatures and haunting suspense throughout almost the entire film. James Cameron, a master of sequels, adds a dose of novelty while still retaining the essence of Ridley Scott’s original film – Ripley (played by the irreplaceable Susan Sarandon) deflects monstrous aliens as she tries to protect her crew (including a young child, who game reinforced). A surprisingly tender meditation on motherhood does not deprive the film of its absolute abomination through several now-legendary series, and ensures the all-round film quality of the film Strangers remains one of the scariest movies of the 80’s.

6 Henry: Portrait of a serial killer

Michael Rooker looks in a mirror in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Greycat movies

Starring the great Micheal Rooker and directed by John McNaughton, this incredibly disturbing serial killer horror will make sure you close your doors at night. Loosely based on the serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, the film follows a man named Henry and his friend Otis as they kill strangers for fun and videotape their murders. Unlike other movies on this list that rely on supernatural or extraterrestrial elements, Henry: Portrait of a serial killer, prey on our very real fear of encountering an unhindered sociopathic killer. The film was heavily censored and banned for years, earning an ‘X’ rating from the MPAA, “some said the film was too violent and disgusting to be tolerated,” as Written by Roger Ebert in his review. Deadly serious and practically traumatic, the film is terrifying for how real, artistically confusing it is. The story has was recently re-investigated by Netflix, but is not nearly as authentic, gruesome and disturbing.

Related: Best serial killer movies based on true stories

5 Prince of Darkness

A woman's face melts in Prince of Darkness
Universal pictures

John Carpenter secures another spot on this list with this incredibly narrow and rough story. Prince of Darkness is a lesser-known Carpenter film, but has received critical reviews and is still punching a group of teenagers who discover a mysterious object in an abandoned church. They accidentally unleash an evil power over the world that has the ability to possess people, and as the darkness spreads around the world, the group must wrestle with the existential mistake they have made. Prince of Darnkess has good acting, set design and costumes, but where this movie really shines (along with Carpenter’s typically excellent music and special effects) is in his strange theology and the awful, Satanic mythology that gradually comes to light. This ‘demonic apocalypse’ story has all the reasons for a wonderful horror movie.

4 The shine

Jack Nicholson shouts
Warner Bros.

Possibly one of the most famous and respected horror films of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s The shine is still enjoyed more than four decades after its release. Throughout the film, Kubrick creates some incredible images that have left a lasting impression on popular culture – a large hotel corridor is soaked in a tidal wave of blood, a young boy grumbles “Redrum,” and a screaming woman is trapped in a bathroom. while an ax-wielding Jack Nicholson tries to break down the door. The film is full of details (which are carefully documented in the big documentary Room 237), which makes it easy and enjoyable to watch it again. This delirium-inducing film successfully captures the essence of 80s horror with artistry, paranoia and lots of blood.

3 Cannibal Holocaust

An unnamed cannibal eats a bloody human arm in Cannibal Holocaust
United Artists Europe

The controversial film Cannibal Holocaust exploring the edges of what is acceptable content, with a documentary team capturing the lives of indigenous people living in the Amazon rainforest, discovering far more than they bargained for in what is likely to be the first horror film found. The film was seized by Italian courts shortly after release and the director, Ruggero Deodato, was charged with obscenity. He was later charged with murder and dismissed after rumors that the murders on screen were actually real. Cannibal Holocaust was banned in the United States as well as other countries due to unnecessary and graphic malice, sexual violence and cruelty to animals. The movie, which gained notoriety for its controversy and censorship, is an ugly, grotesque film landmark that still frightens today.

Related: Video Nasties worth watching

2 Hellraiser

Doug Bradley is the Cenobite Pinhead in Hellraiser
Entertainment film distributors

The scary Hellraiser, brilliantly adapted by director Clive Barker from his own short stories The Helgebonde Hart, follows the story of couple Kirsty and Larry as they move into Larry’s youth home. Kirsty soon finds her brother-in-law in a strange way, partially resurrected and somewhere between life and death. She starts committing murders for him to heal his body and save him from terrifying, demonic creatures who want to take him back to their underworld. Nothing is lost in translating text to screen, with every unique detail (sometimes literally). Incredibly terrifying characters and haunting storytelling have several sequels (and even a video game) and made this one of the most terrifying 80s horror movies. A remake with a female Pinhead character is in the works and causes a lot of excitement.

1 Evil Dead

A demon-possessed young woman is all stuffed in The Evil Dead
New Line Cinema

Evil Dead follows a group of five friends as they travel to a cabin in the woods – classic setting but game-changing results thanks to excellent special effects, ironic acting and a truly unique film perspective. In the basement of the cabin, friends find an Egyptian book of the dead and a tape recorder belonging to a deceased archaeologist; the recording unleashes a man-possessed demon who forces the friends to fight for their lives. Sam Raimi’s breakthrough film introduced the beloved Bruce Campbell to the world, and went on to inspire an entire media franchise, including films that were later worshiped, television, comic books, and video games, with the new Evil Dead Rise come to HBO Max this year.

Vrees Street
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