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50 Best 80s Horror Movies - Top1980s Horror Films

UniqueThis 10 Sep 22

The '80s were a phenomenal time for aficionados of the gruesome, the gory, and the ghoulish. Both independent and mainstream cinematic offerings delivered chills that stayed with you long after you'd left the theater and curled up in bed, wondering about what might be lurking in your closet, or just outside your window.

In honor of an era that took major risks with the malleable horror genre, we present a ranked rundown of the 50 best horror films of the '80s.

Doll, Fiction, Human body, Flesh, Musical instrument, Room, Toy, Musician,

United Artists

50. Motel Hell (1980)

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A satiric take on some of its most famous genre predecessors, this wacko horror-comedy involves a motel-operating couple who sell smoked meats that are really their guests/victims, whom they bury up to their necks in a "secret garden" until they're ready to be harvested.

Fiction, Room, Darkness, Photography, Fictional character, Art, Black hair, Games,

Universal Pictures

49. The Funhouse (1981)

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper goes back to the deformed-masked-psycho well with this entertaining 1981 B-movie, in which four teenagers decide to spend the night at a carnival—which already sounds like a bad idea—only to then have their fun ruined by a giant mutant freak with a penchant for violence.

Fun, Gesture, Long hair, Hand, Smile, Photography, Brown hair,

Paramount Pictures

48. April Fool's Day (1986)

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Buoyed by one of the all-time great horror-movie posters, this 1986 cult classic hybridizes the slasher film and the manor house murder-mystery, detailing a group of college kids' weekend getaway that turns bloody when someone begins picking them off.

Plaid, Snapshot, Facial hair, Fun, Standing, Human, Shoulder, Design, Mouth, Beard,

New Century Entertainment

47. The Gate (1987)

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The big-screen debut of Stephen Dorff (at the age of 14), Tibor Takács film is a superior midnight movie about some kids who, left home alone for the weekend by their parents, discover that the construction worker-created hole in their backyard is actually a portal to Hell—and furthermore, that clues to how it works can be found in a heavy metal album's lyrics.

Personal protective equipment, Gas mask, Mask, Costume, Helmet, Headgear, Fictional character,

Paramount Pictures

46. My Bloody Valentine (1981)

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George Mihalka's 1981 slasher film isn't particularly inventive, but it makes up for its rote premise (about kids being stalked by a vengeful fiend on Valentine's Day) with decent plotting, a memorable villain in a mining mask, and a level of violence that was deemed so extreme by the MPAA, the uncut version has still never been released.

Face, Head, Hat, Headgear, Fashion accessory, Photography, Smile,

New World Pictures

45. Children of the Corn (1984)

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Based on Stephen King's short story of the same name, this adolescent nightmare charts the ordeal of a couple that winds up in a Nebraska town where the kids—highlighted by the unforgettably sinister Malachai (Courtney Gains)—have decided that ritualistically killing adults is the best way to guarantee a good corn harvest.

Barechested, Chest, Flesh, Chest hair,

Universal Pictures

44. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

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John Landis' seminal 1981 horror-comedy strikes just the right balance between the terrifying and the absurd through its story of two American backpackers in England who are attacked by a werewolf, leaving one dead and the other to await his lycanthropic fate. Frequently amusing, it also boasts groundbreaking monster-transformation effects by Rick Baker.

Head, Sculpture, Forehead, Human, Art, Statue, Wrinkle, Smile,

Image Entertainment

43. Bad Taste (1987)

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Peter Jackson's splatter-ific calling card, this gonzo 1987 effort is nominally concerned with a small New Zealand town under siege from aliens, but it's really about the insanely gory, over-the-top B-movie special effects that Jackson created on his own.

Hair, Face, Nose, Cheek, Chin, Child, Blue, Hairstyle, Head, Lip,

United Artists

42. Child's Play (1988)

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Tom Holland's franchise-starting 1988 hit tapped into the underlying creepiness of kids' playthings with its story of a serial killer who transfers his soul into a popular doll, and then attempts to leapfrog back into a young boy's body—a loopy idea that's largely sold by the design of Chucky, and by Brad Dourif's voicework for the villain.

Portrait, Art, Games, Illustration,

United Artists

41. Pumpkinhead (1988)

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Special effects maestro Stan Winston's directorial debut is a sturdy supernatural revenge saga about an Appalachian mountain man (Lance Henriksen) who, with the aid of a backwoods witch, conjures the legendary (and magnificent-looking) Pumpkinhead demon to kill those who murdered his son—a decision that ultimately comes back to haunt him.

Santa claus, Christmas, Facial hair, Fictional character, Beard, Holiday,

TriStar Pictures

40. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

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One of the most traumatizing horror movies of the era (especially if you were (un)lucky enough to see it at an early age), this scuzzy slasher film concerns a young boy who witnesses his parents' brutal murder at the hands of a lunatic in a Santa Claus costume, and then years later turns into a likeminded killer.

trick-or-treat, Pumpkin, Jack-o'-lantern, Vegetarian food, Art,

Universal Pictures

39. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

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The only Halloween film to not feature Michael Myers—it was intended to turn the franchise into more of an anthology-style series—Season of the Witch (about a conspiracy involving Halloween masks) remains a uniquely unsettling stand-alone film in an E.C. Comics-by-way-of-John-Carpenter tradition.

Forehead, Head, Chin, Nose, Barechested, Human, Chest, Fun, Cool, Neck,

Greycat Films

38. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

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The film that launched the career of Michael Rooker, John McNaughton's seminal 1986 serial-killer film takes a gritty, no-frills docudrama approach to its story (based on real-life convict Henry Lee Lucas) about a psycho and his partner-in-crime acting on their murderous impulses.

Tree, Glasses, Cool, Beard, Facial hair, Headgear, Adaptation, Temple, Plant, Photography,

Paramount Pictures

37. Pet Sematary (1989)

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It may not quite live up to its Stephen King source material, but Mary Lambert's 1989 adaptation nonetheless captures the overarching don't-make-deals-with-the-devil mood of its story—about a man who uses a mystical pet cemetery to bring his toddler son back from the grave—while also climaxing with a depiction of childlike evil that three decades later remains downright disturbing.

Fictional character, Movie, Fiction, Shout, Screenshot,

Columbia Pictures

36. Fright Night (1985)

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Tom Holland's stellar horror-comedy pits a young suburban teenager (William Ragsdale) and his midnight-movie TV host idol (Roddy McDowall) against a new next-door neighbor (Chris Sarandon) who, it turns out, is actually a bloodsucking creature of the night.

Human, Movie,

United Film Distribution Company

35. Day of the Dead (1985)

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The third installment in George A. Romero's pioneering zombie series is a scary and smart story about a group of post-apocalyptic survivors in an underground bunker who find themselves increasingly at each other's throats, all while a team of scientists attempt to find a cure for the plague through research that includes domesticating a brain-muncher known as Bub.

Cheek, Finger, Fun, People, Hairstyle, Skin, Photograph, White, Happy, Facial expression,

Cecchi Gori/CDI

34. Opera (1987)

Apple TV

No one stages murder quite like Dario Argento, who continued to cement his reputation as the master of the giallo (a particular strain of lurid Italian thriller) with this saga of an opera understudy who becomes the lead in a new production of Macbeth, only to then be terrorized by one of Argento's trademark, never-seen-except-his-gloved-hands fiends.

Face, Facial expression, Head, Nose, Eye, Human, Mouth, Organ, Lip, Snout,

Embassy Pictures

33. The Howling (1981)

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Joe Dante's contribution to the werewolf genre was this 1981 gem (co-written by John Sayles), which tracks Dee Wallace's TV news reporter—still traumatized by her run-in with a serial killer—to a remote resort where she finds herself in all sorts of full moon-triggered trouble.

Flesh, Fictional character, Screenshot,

New World Pictures

32. The Stuff (1985)

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Fringe auteur Larry Cohen delivers an amusingly horrific satire of American appetites with this underappreciated B-movie about a mysterious yogurt-like diet snack that becomes a national sensation. There's just one side-effect: The Stuff turns consumers into zombie-like monsters.

Nose, Mouth, Cheek, Flesh, Jaw, Eating, Human, Lip, Close-up, Neck,

United Artists

31. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

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With all due respect to its equally revolting kindred spirits (Cannibal Ferox in particular), Ruggero Deodato's infamous Cannibal Holocaust still stands as one of the most morally repulsive—and, admittedly, effective—horror movies of the decade, courtesy of extreme violence that was either thought to be real (involving humans) or was real (involving animals).

Photography,

TriStar Pictures

30. The Hitcher (1986)

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Further emphasizing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's point that picking up strangers on the side of the road is a very bad idea, Robert Harmon's 1986 thriller offers up Rutger Hauer as a psycho hitchhiker who makes life a living hell for nice-guy driver C. Thomas Howell.

Lighting, Temple, Night, Darkness,

Associated Film Distribution

29. The Changeling (1980)

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George C. Scott brings a measure or gravitas to this haunted-house tale, about a composer who, still mourning the death of his wife and child, moves across the country to an eerie estate that boasts a ghost who likes to play ball.

Art,

Warner Bros.

28. Creepshow (1982)

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Inspired by the macabre tales of E.C. Comics, this Stephen King-George A. Romero collaboration is a phenomenal anthology, highlighted by a short in which Leslie Nielsen gets revenge on Ted Danson by burying him up to his neck in sand right in front of the ocean's tide line.

Face, Forehead, Chin, Jaw, Neck, Dress shirt, Pleased,

New Century Vista Film Company

27. The Stepfather (1987)

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Long before he was stranded on Lost, Terry O'Quinn was a nutcase weaseling his way into new families as a stepfather—and then going off the bloody deep end like a cross between Jack Torrance and Norman Bates when things don't conform to his Reagan-era values.

Canidae, Dog, Dog breed, Carnivore, Dog walking, Photography, Companion dog, Leash, German shepherd dog, Kunming wolfdog,

Fulvia Film

26. The Beyond (1981)

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Famed Italian horror director Lucio Fulci's The Beyond is a gruesome head-trip about a Louisiana hotel that contains the doorway to Hell, and the new owner who unwittingly opens it, thus instigating all sorts of nasty, hallucinatory Satanic madness that concludes with one of the great shots in all of '80s horror cinema.

Musical instrument, Musician, Music,

Warner Bros.

25. Creepshow 2 (1987)

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George A. Romero may not have directed this sequel to his anthology hit, but he and Stephen King nonetheless had a guiding hand in its production—and in making it better than its predecessor, thanks to the strikingly sinister tale, "The Raft."

Zombie, Face, Head, Flesh, Fictional character, Mouth, Forehead, Human, Fiction, Jaw,

Universal Pictures

24. Prince of Darkness (1987)

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More than a little bit bonkers—and better off for it—John Carpenter's severely undervalued Prince of Darkness stars the director's Halloween lead Donald Pleasance as a priest who believes that a cylinder of green goo is actually Satan.

Darkness, Performance, Games, Photography, Performing arts, Scene, Flash photography, Night,

New World Pictures

23. Hellraiser (1987)

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Clive Barker paved the way for S&M-style horror with this adaptation of his novella The Hellbound Heart, about a mysterious puzzle box that functions as the portal to a sadomasochistic dimension ruled by a race of nasty "Cenobite" creatures led by the porcupine-y Pinhead.