There is no denying the 1980s was the decade where the genre of horror movies ruled. Gone were the figures of Dracula, Frankenstein and at times even the Devil himself was not enough to terrify us. It gave rise to new inventions to haunt our dreams, new playgrounds of fear, although CGI had not come fully into play. Monsters were actually created, built from scratch and some were simply acted out.
However, there was a downside to the 80’s genre as humor became injected, purposely or not, into the movies and of course a mountain of sequels (only one included below). At times these sequels killed off the impact of the original; Friday The 13th, Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street. There are a number of those 80s horror movies being rebooted, beginning with Pet Sematary this month. We can also expect Child’s Play, Firestarter, Pumpkinhead and An American Werewolf In London.
Taking a list of movies year by year, a perfect overview builds, along with a broad range of both original and unique ideas, showing how stylishly executed the genre once was. It proves unequivocally once and for all how the decade was a milestone for the Horror genre.
#1. The Shining (1980)
Based on the novel by Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick took the reins on this claustrophobic and creepy affair. Playing a reformed alcoholic writer and newly appointed caretaker alone with his wife and child in a historic secluded hotel, Jack Nicholson gives a delightfully menacing performance. When the spirits of the hotel begin to whisper in his ear, his descent into madness makes The Shining a movie which will stay with you long after the final frozen scene.
#2. Scanners (1981)
Written and directed by David Cronenberg, Scanners manages to push audiences over the edge with head exploding effects. Cronenberg would establish himself firmly with this film as a master at the height of his powers. The unique and original plot surrounds a collection of people “scanners”, who possess unusual telepathic and telekinetic powers, capable enough to commit assassinations. It’s an intelligent horror movie that mixes gore with a solid idea – something that’s lacking in so many others.
#3. Poltergeist (1982)
Steven Spielberg had already terrorized audiences with his mid-70’s creation Jaws. In the 80’s he went one step further, writing the imaginative Poltergeist for Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) to direct. When an unsuspecting family move into the suburban house of their dreams things take a turn for the worst as the ancient spirits of Indians take hold of their daughter and drag her into the spirit world. The creep factor reaches epic proportions with the inclusion of a life-size clown-doll who becomes extremely mischievous. The special-effects were ahead of their time and the vessel to the other world of a simple television set is genius. Almost 40 years on, this is a movie which will still encourage the flicking on of light switches.
#4. Videodrome (1983)
Again David Cronenberg is at the helm, this time with James Woods in the lead. The actor plays Max Renn, owner of a small television network who stumbles upon a broadcast signal featuring extreme violence and torture. From here he spirals into a world of deception and mind-control, as he becomes unhinged from reality while searching for the signal’s source. The extreme and bizarre hallucinations Renn experiences is the stuff of adult nightmares, often described as body horror, but again done stylishly. You will find this movie has not been remade for a reason.
#5. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
“One…two…Freddy’s coming for you. Three…four…better lock your door. Five…six…grab your crucifix..”
Originals are always the best and A Nightmare On Elm Street proves that point perfectly. Wes Craven’s horror about a serial killing poltergeist introduced the world to Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). The premise of the movie was genius, a monster who haunted dreams to the point of murder, while on his own personal mission of revenge.
Sequels may have dampened this original. After all, the less seen of Krueger, the more terrifying he becomes. That said the first is still an absolute cinematic classic which, also introduced audiences to Johnny Depp. Although he does get swallowed by a bed.
#6. Re-Animator (1985)
This may not be as well known to many. Yet, it remains a classic, and believe it or not holds a high 95 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes. A mixture of humor and horror is evenly balanced in this adaptation of a 1922 novelette by H.P Lovecraft called Herbert West–Reanimator. The story surrounds the aforementioned Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), a medical student who has invented a reagent which can re-animate deceased bodies or even just dismembered parts of bodies. This movie at times outshines many of it’s 80’s contemporaries through its quick fire pace and deadpan, light-hearted gore. A cult classic and imperative for fans of the genre, though there are sequels they don’t come close to the original.
#7. The Fly (1986)
A movie based on the 50’s short story, The Fly completed David Cronenberg’s hat trick of horror before moving into more surrealistic fare. Here though the writer-director reached a successful peak combining both horror and strong character performances. The Fly sees scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) build a teleportation device which he tests himself not realizing he has company in the form of a housefly. Both Brundle and the fly’s DNA combine slowly making Brundle transform into a giant fly as his human form disintegrates.
Whereas Videodrome probed ideas regarding censorship, decaying modern standards and the rise of technology, The Fly taps into fears surrounding the 80s AIDS epidemic as Brundle’s girlfriend (Geena Davis) watches her lover rapidly decay. The Fly is Cronenberg’s best received work and won an Academy Award for its make-up.
#8. Prince Of Darkness (1987)
John Carpenter had introduced us to Halloween and Michael Myers. In Prince Of Darkness however he introduced us to true terror. This movie is a change in direction for Carpenter, not a slasher or creature feature horror flick. Prince Of Darkness is a supernatural-apocalyptic nightmare which stems from a vial found in the cellar of an old church by a priest played by Donald Pleasence. It turns out the vial contains a liquid which broadcasts messages and is believed to be the manifestation of Satan himself. Prince of Darkness is very imaginative, surprising audiences with its disturbing, bleak finale.
#9. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
“We have eternity to know your flesh!” – Pinhead
Clive Barker brought a new character and a new idea of horror into our lives. Following on from the original released a year before, Hellbound takes the audience further into a horrific and torture-ridden dimension. The story surrounds the idea of a box which opens a gateway between our world and hell, unleashing demons or Cenobites, of which the iconic Pinhead is the one who leads the charge. This outranks the first movie on the basis of more detail and more gore while remaining strong as a stand-alone movie.
#10. Pet Sematary (1989)
We’re closing out the 80s as it started, on a movie based on a Stephen King novel. This was rebooted this year three decades after its original outing. However, in the 1989 original, King himself wrote the screenplay, delivering an inventive and imaginative horror film about the human soul. An old Indian burial ground is the site where dead pets can be buried and miraculously come back to life. However, it’s not until a human is buried there that the audience learns how things do not completely return from the dead. Stylish, inventive and downright creepy, Pet Sematary still holds strong shock factor with its final twist sending a final jolt of terror straight into the nervous system.
Also Worthy Of A Mention;
The Fog (1980)
An American Werewolf In London (1981)
The Thing (1982)
Children Of The Corn (1984)
Fright Night (1985)
From Beyond (1986)
Evil Dead 2 (1987)
They Live (1988)