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Scariest 80s Horror Movies

Nostalgia and terror combine to make the scariest 80s horror movies timeless classics.

By Geeks StaffPublished 8 years ago 7 min read

Mullets, leg warmers, and parachute pants weren’t the only scary things about the 1980s. In fact, the 80s are considered the golden age of horror movies because of how many fantastic films were produced during the decade. Whether you fancy a slasher flick, a paranormal haunting, or sci-fi horror, you can bury yourself under the covers and watch any of these 1980s horror films for a great scare. However, you might never sleep again if Freddy Kruger gets to you. The movies produced in this decade not only broke ground on their own but also spawned sequels which grew into franchises, some of which continue on to this day. One of the reasons horror films from the 80s are still considered masterpieces is how unique they were at the time. The writing was top-notch, the budget was low, and the expectations were higher than the clouds. Films such as Friday the 13th, Child’s Play, and The Evil Dead set the bar for horror films so high that the films we see today just don’t seem to match. But who knows? Maybe high-quality horror films will come back from the dead just like Jason Voorhees.

Chchch ahahah! Is that the swishing of your track pants or Jason Voorhees’ cue to murder? Friday the 13th is one of the longest lasting horror franchises in the world, but it got its start in the 1980s. The film follows a group of teenagers who attempt to re-open an abandoned campground where a young boy drowned to death. They are attacked and killed one by one by a masked figure, assumed to be the spirit of the young boy now grown up. Critics completely panned the film when it came out, but they began to see the film for the cultural gem that it is as time went on. Critic James Kendrick gave the film 3 stars out of 4, calling it "a campfire boogeyman story designed to do little more than build tension and deliver a few well-timed shocks, which it does with precision and even a bit of artistry." Since its release, Friday the 13th has spawned nine sequels and a crossover film with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Take that, critics!

Talk about a guy with his head in the wrong place. Re-Animator is about a medical student who brings his headless professor back from the dead using a special serum. Except the professor doesn’t really come back; Instead, the serum creates zombie-like beings. Dr. Herbert West becomes so obsessed with testing his new serum that he begins killing those around him in order to acquire new test subjects. Unlike other horror movies, the critics gave Re-Animator positive reviews. In fact, Roger Ebert wrote, “I walked out somewhat surprised and reinvigorated (if not re-animated) by a movie that had the audience emitting taxi whistles and wild goat cries.” Sequels The Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator were released in 1990 and 2003. There was also a Broadway musical of the film in 2011. Ultimately, Re-Animator has garnered a cult following that makes it one of the greatest horror films from the 1980s.

This film brought a whole new meaning to the word “pinhead.” Frank is a man who prefers the sexual pleasures of life, so much so that he puts together a puzzle that will bring him the ultimate carnal experience. Unfortunately, that also involves being shredded to pieces and haunting his own attic. When his brother and ex-lover Julia move into his home, he is able to contact Julia and tell her to lure men back to the house in order to harvest their limbs to put him together. By doing this, they open the portal to hell and unleash the iconic Pinhead. When the film was released in 1987, Melody Maker described it as “the best horror film ever to be made in Britain.” Hellraiser branched out into a franchise that consists of nine films, a series of comic books, and other merchandise for devoted fans.

In The Fog, what you see can’t hurt you… it’ll kill you! This 1980 film is about a town consumed by a mysterious fog. The townspeople get more frightened as people start dying, but the real fear is what’s found in the fog. This film was the first film horror legend John Carpenter released after his hit Halloween. One of the significant aspects of this film is that it starred mother-daughter scream queens Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis. The film was a commercial success, but critics were not fond of it at all. Years later, Carpenter called it, "a minor horror classic," although he also stated it was not his favorite film due to re-shoots and low production values. The Fog was just successful enough to spawn a remake in 2005, but that did not do well critically or commercially.

Be careful about which doll you bring home to your child. As an Ed Sheeren look-alike, Chucky is the main character in Child’s Play. The 1988 film is about a dying murderer who puts his soul in a doll, sort of like Voldemort putting a piece of his soul in a Horcrux. However, a woman buys the newly possessed dolls for her son and brings him home only to find out that it is capable of murder. When the film was released, a mob showed up to the main entrance of MGM and asked the film to be banned because they believed it would increase violence among children. However, the film has since seen five sequels titled Child’s Play 2, Child’s Play 3, Bride of Chucky, Seed of Chucky, and Curse of Chucky.

Gremlins was the film that made 80s kids weary of getting new pets. In this 1984 film, a father brings home a mysterious but cute new animal as a pet for his son. There are only three rules—do not expose it to water, do not let it in bright light, and do not feed it after midnight. Unfortunately, these rules are broken and Gizmo the mogwai spawns five more creatures from his back, which all turn into horrific gremlins. Robert Ebert praised the film for its depth, suggesting that the rule in which a mogwai cannot eat after midnight was inspired by fairy tales, and that the final scenes parody classic horror films. Gremlins ended up winning several awards, including Saturn Awards for Best Director, Best Horror Film, Best Music, and Best Special Effects.

Never sit too close to the television; You never know what might suck you into it. Poltergeist is a 1982 film about a family being haunted by a violent poltergeist. Things are begin broken around the house, but no one is too nervous about what’s happening. It’s only when little Carol Anne gets taken through a portal into another world that her parents realize how dangerous these spirits are. Some people say the film is cursed because two of the actresses in the film died under strange circumstances shortly before and after the films had been released. No matter what you believe, there is no denying that the film is frightening. The film received 3 Oscar nominations for Best Original Score, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects. Besides 2 sequels (Poltergiest II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III), there was also a reboot released in 2015 simply titled Poltergeist.

The Evil Dead tells the age-old tale of a group of friends going on a trip only to be brutally murdered, one by one. Ash, along with his girlfriend and three other friends, finds a book in an old cabin in the woods and decides to read from it. They don’t know that it is actually the Necronomicon, which brings back the dead when read aloud. Unfortunately, one of Ash’s friends gets possessed and he must decide to succumb to the madness around him or fight for his life. Critics and fans alike have praised the film as time has gone by. This film was the first in a trilogy, with the other films titled Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. Besides getting the reboot treatment in 2013, there was a new show aired on Starz on Halloween of 2015 called Ash vs. Evil Dead.

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you! A Nightmare on Elm Street has kept people from getting a good night’s sleep since 1984. The film is about a figure named Freddy Krueger who haunts teenagers in their dreams. The only problem is that if you die in your dreams, you die in real life. Since its release, the film has been named as one of the top films of 1984. It ranked at #17 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments and in 2004 Freddy Krueger was named the 40th greatest film villain on American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains. Over the years, A Nightmare on Elm Street has grown into a franchise that includes five sequels, two remakes, and a crossover with crossover with Friday the 13th’s Jason in Freddy vs. Jason.

Take it from us—you don’t want to stay at the Overlook Hotel on Halloween. When Jack takes a job as a winter caretaker at the hotel, he never knew that he would be chopping down a door with an axe in order to kill his wife. However, his son Danny probably saw that coming since he has psychic premonitions. While Stephen King has had some issues with this adaptation of his book, the film has garnered critical and commercial success. In 2001, the film was ranked 29th on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills list and Jack Torrance was named the 25th greatest villain on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list in 2003. In 2006, this film made it into Ebert's series of "Great Movie" reviews, where he said, "Stanley Kubrick's cold and frightening The Shining challenges us to decide: Who is the reliable observer? Whose idea of events can we trust?"


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