A Playground for Authors Jason White and Michael Schutz-Ryan

The Ultimate 1980s Top 10 Horror Movies

I love top 10 lists, don’t you? I always come across these and look at them and have fun, sometimes, disagreeing.  Lately, I’ve seen a lot of top 10 horror movie lists focusing on the 1980s, and I almost always disagree. I don’t disagree with the entirety of each list, just with some of the choices.

No top 10 list is perfect. However, this one just might be. I have had a long love affair with horror movies from the 1980s. It was during that decade where I first fell in love with the horror movie. My first horror movie was Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter (which isn’t in this list, surprisingly). Most these movies are a nostalgic memory but still hold up after watching today. This was a big part of how I came to choose these movies. They had to thrill me when I was younger, and they still have to hold up today.

So, without further adieu, the ultimate top ten of 1980s horror movies:

10 – House (1986)

Soldier zombie from House

I have memories about watching House, released in 1986. I remember the quirky novelist, played by William Katt and Norm from Cheers (George Wendt), his nosy neighbor. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie for me is, for some unknown reason, where these two characters meet for the first time. William Katt’s character, Roger Kobb,  is taking out the garbage and meets Harold Gorton – George Wendt – at the end of the driveway. It doesn’t take long for Harold to recognize Kobb as one of his favorite authors. He’s such a favorite, in fact, that he has one of the author’s books at the ready in his pocket. It’s spine is broken and it falls apart in Harold’s hands, landing like a deck of cards onto the ground below.

There is so much more to house, of course, and I absolutely adore it. It’s a black comedy with some Lovecraftian horror dropped in there for good measure. Watch it and enjoy.

9 – The City of the Living Dead (1980)

Girl from City of the Living Dead

Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead is just plain old fucked up fun. It’s full of graveyards, zombies, a dead priest haunting everything, and a woman who coughs up her stomach and intestines. What kid would want more? Watching it again recently, and many times may I add, I still feel that not all that much happens in this film. The plot is pretty slim. A priest hangs himself in a graveyard and thus opens one of the gates to hell.

Insanity follows. A lot of it. Watch it, and feel sick inside.


8 – Evil Dead (1981)

Poster art for Evil Dead

My brother is a cool guy, but he used to be much cooler. I was with him when I first saw the cover to the first Evil Dead. The cover freaked me out a little, and I suggested to him that we rent it. He turned to me and said that I wouldn’t be able to handle the craziness of The Evil Dead.

I hated him for that.

But he was right.

When I finally did see this movie, not too long after that confrontation, I pooped a little in my pants. What I like about this movie over the others within the franchise is that this one is more serious and yet doesn’t take itself seriously, if that makes sense. It’s fun and disturbing.

7 – Re-Animator (1985)

an Zombie holdinh severed head

 Okay, I’m cheating a little here. I didn’t see this one until sometime in the late 90s, but I was still pretty young at that time, I suppose. What counts is that this movie is still a hell of a lot of fun to watch. If you’ve ever read the H. P. Lovecraft story Herbert West: Reanimator, then you might agree with me that Stuart Gordon was perhaps perfect for bringing this story to the  big screen. Both Lovecraft’s and Gordon’s versions don’t match, at all, but Gordon does take the idea and built upon it.

The result is this awesome movie. It’s fun and gory and nobody could play West better than Jeffrey Combs does. It’s like they were meant for each other.


6 – Hellraiser (1987)

Picture of Hellraiser Cenobites

Clive Barker haunted my childhood. If you’ve read my article on Rawhead Rex, then you know one-half the reason why. The second half is this movie: Hellraiser. The trailer alone was enough to seep its way into my nightmares with a determination competitive to any Cenobite. That string of bone and thin, slimy, and grey flesh crawling up through the wooden floorboards and reaching for the ceiling was what did it for me.

Scary stuff!

It wasn’t until a couple more years after the release of this movie that I actually saw it. There was nothing to disappoint. Although Pinhead and fellow cenobites are in the movie for approximately ten minutes, the things that Uncle Frank and his lover Julia do are purely horrific. The Cenobites seem like angels in comparison.

5 – Pumpkinhead (1988)

Pumpkinhead meets boy

Like Slasher movies? I certainly do. On top of that, Pumpkinhead is probably the best slasher movie of the 80s. If the sequels were any good – which they are absolutely not! – then  perhaps Pumkinhead would have made more of an impact, sliding itself beside the likes of Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. Although one could argue whether or not this is indeed a slasher film, one cannot deny that Pumpkinhead has a lot of the elements that make up a good slasher flick.

Plus, it has a kick ass monster. It also has a good story and reason for all the murders you witness. AND it has Lance Henrikson. There’s no arguing with that.


4 – The Shining (1980)

Picture of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance

If you want some honesty here, I had trouble whether or not I wanted to even add The Shining to this list at all. The reason for this is many. Let me break upon a few. One big one is that I’ve read the book, and although the story-line between book and movie pretty well match up, there’s a reason why they are, in fact, worlds apart. First, the character of Jack Torrance is so much more sympathetic in the novel than he is in the movie. Jack Nicholson plays the role brilliantly, but he plays a different, more cruel and asshole version of Jack Torrance. His wife, Wendy Torrance, is again played brilliantly by Shelley Duvall. Despite this, I can’t stand the movie version of Wendy. She cries all the time. She whines whenever she speaks. She’s weak and yes, pathetic. Stephen King’s original version of Wendy is so much more an individual we can root for. She’s strong and decisive and doesn’t put up with any of Jack’s shit. They are universes apart.

So, why did this movie make the list if its author felt so controversial about it? It’s because, Stephen King’s book aside, this is a classic movie in its own right. If you take the book away, this movie kicks some serious ass and has some very creepy moments that stick in the mind like mashed potatoes to rib-cages. I saw the movie before reading the book. They are very similar in story, as mentioned, but are worlds apart within the inner workings of differing universes. But so what? I feel that one can enjoy both movie version and book version to any story for it’s own unique qualities and interpretation.

3 – Day of the Dead (1985)

Shot of Bub from Day of the Dead

Again, I cheat. I saw the Romero classic Day of the Dead for the first time in the early 2000s. A friend introduced it to me long after we had watched Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Zombi, and many others. He said to me, “A lot of people think that this is Romero’s worst,” which probably lowered my expectations. Yet once the movie was playing and we were privy to Sarah and Rhodes and Doctor Frankenstein, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen. With the zombie Bub introduced and it’s kick ass, gore-filled ending, I was seriously hooked.

This movie has been in my DVD, and now Blu-Ray, almost every year since.

2 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Picture of An American Werewolf's classic transformation scene

How can anyone deny this classic movie? It not only has one of the best werewolf attack scenes within the first five to ten minutes, it also has the best, if not a little long, human to werewolf transformation scenes in all of cinematic history. The story itself is also pretty neat, following a European backpacker who loses his friend to a vicious attack (not a spoiler as it’s that first awesome werewolf attack within the first five minutes) and is then haunted by his dead friend who has some seriously horrifying news and visions for his best bud.

One of the best, if not the best werewolf movie ever filmed.

1 – John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

A picture of the thing


At the beginning of this article, I stated that I’ve seen a lot of these top 10 lists regarding 80s movies. One thing that didn’t surprise me is that almost all of them have had John Carpenter’s 1982 adaptation of The Thing on them. What did surprise me is that almost, if not all, did not have this classic listed as the number one!

Seriously. WTF!

The Thing encapsulates everything a great horror movie aught to be. It has isolation. It has paranoia. It has a monster in it that will not only disturb dog-lovers, but probably humanitarians as well. And it has the Antarctic with flavors of Lovecraft sprinkled on top. This is perhaps one of the most brutal horror movies to come out ever. It makes you want to both sing and cry for humanity. It is John Carpenter’s masterpiece, never to be duplicated by anyone! Ever!


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