Movies & TV

The 10 Best Horror Films From the 1980s

Viewer beware, you're in for a scare.
IMAGE New Line Cinema

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.

10| Videodrome (1983)

A year after Poltergeist suggested that television was a disruptive force in the American family, David Cronenberg suggested that it was a conduit toward a "new flesh" in Videodrome, a madness-infected film about a Canadian TV station owner (James Woods) who stumbles upon—to his eternal, hellish-hallucinatory dismay—a broadcast of red-room torture.

9| Tenebre (1982)

Dario Argento's best film is this superlative giallo from 1982, in which an American writer, while in Rome to promote his new book, becomes embroiled in a police case about a serial killer whose methods may be modeled after those found in his novel. Few horror films have ever been this vividly awash in issues of twisted sexuality, voyeurism, gender power dynamics, mirror-image doubling, and the role between artist and spectator.

8| The Fog (1980)

John Carpenter's follow-up to 1978's Halloween is an old-fashioned ghost story about drowned mariners who return to exact revenge on the descendants of those who lured them to their death—a tale that's elevated by Carpenter's unparalleled mastery of widescreen visuals.


7| The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

How do you follow up one of cinema's all-time scariest films? If you're Tobe Hooper, you take things in a decidedly more comedic direction, and in the process, deliver a second helping of Texas Chainsaw Massacre mayhem that's as goofy as it is grisly. "Dog will hunt!"

6| Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)

Sam Raimi's Evil Dead sequel is, in large part, a big-budget remake-cum-overhaul of his 1981 original, marked by better special effects, more outrageous camerawork, and a truly larger-than-life performance by ably chinned leading man, Bruce Campbell.

5| A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Wes Craven turned Freddy Krueger into one of modern movies' great bogeymen with his dreamlike 1984 hit, in which a child-abusing evildoer returns from the grave to punish his killers by attacking their children through their dreams.

4| Possession (1981)

The craziest possession film ever—and potentially the craziest film ever—Andrzej Zulawski's relationship drama charts the disintegration of a marriage between a spy (Sam Neill) and his wife (Isabelle Adjani), who's soon sleeping with a tentacled monster. In the signature scene, Adjani writhes around a subway station floor while miscarrying. As I've said before, it has to be seen to be believed.

3| Aliens (1986)

For this sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 original, James Cameron shifts the focus away from horror and toward action, though that doesn't change the fact that his continuation of Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver) battle against the alien xenomorphs is an unforgettable monster-movie ride.

2| The Thing (1982)

Far surpassing its 1951 Howard Hawks source material, John Carpenter generates nerve-rattling anxiety through his science-fiction-y horror story about a group of Antarctic researchers whose snowbound situation turns lethal when they're visited by an alien who can take human shape—and thus co-exist with them in hiding. Come for the creepy creature effects and non-stop unease, stay for Kurt Russell's first-class performance.

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1| The Shining (1980)

Never mind that Stephen King doesn't love it. Bolstered by Jack Nicholson's unhinged performance as a father increasingly determined to off his family, and by direction that creates an overpowering sense of dread in every methodical pan and tracking shot, Stanley Kubrick's haunted-hotel classic is the pinnacle of 1980s horror.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.comMinor edits have been made by the editors.

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Nick Schager
Nick Schager is a NYC-area film critic and culture writer with twenty years of professional experience writing about all the movies you love, and countless others that you don't.
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