Top 10 Essential 80s Horror Films

The 80s were full of many things, leg warmers, giant hair, neon colors paired with some of the most unique music any decade had ever seen. What this decade also brought us was countless films that share the term “classic” with things from the infamous Brat Pack to Stephen Spielberg – the films that came out of this decade were unquestionably unique and littered with style. Of course not every film that came out in the decade is considered a classic, that would just be silly, but you’ll be hard pressed to find another decade that features as many childhood favorites and cult classics as this one. It also brought us the mighty VHS boom and made our beloved horror genre thrive throughout.

This list was painstakingly compiled to represent the essential horror films from the 80s that aren’t necessarily the best; but that represent the decade best as a whole. So even if the following films are not what one might consider the best of the decade; they are some of the ones that certainly represent it for one or many reasons. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane and return to the time where the words “totally awesome” meant you were quite possibly the raddest dude or chick in school!

The Video Dead (1987)
This film really couldn’t have been made in any other decade – it encompasses everything 80s and came out at the height of the VHS boom with eye catching cover art making this one an irresistible rent. The concept alone makes it a worthy contender as essential 80s viewing; zombies emerging from a TV set that kill only those who show fear. And who are our heroes that will stop the undead onslaught you ask? Why a scrawny teenager who wears only one shirt throughout the whole film, an old time cowboy, a bubbly blonde and a frizzy haired girl majoring in aerobics. Oh yes, there will be cheese.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
In the 80s, Jason had no problem slashing up the box office with a sprawling eight films released in the decade – it’s not much of a question who is on the top of the food chain. This entry just so happens to be the most revolted against, but for me however, remains a guilty pleasure. Instead of opting for another slasher down at good ol’ Crystal Lake, Jason takes to the high seas on a field trip for some snotty rich kids on their way to Manhattan. Before the ship even leaves the dock, teenagers start dropping dead and Jason does his thing with every passing moment. When the survivors dock in Manhattan – that’s when the fun really begins! Gory kills, a wannabe rocker, the audio/video club dork, the three b’s – blonde bimbo bitch, our all too sweet heroin and the strapping leading man give this one that super 80s feel that makes this one a drop dead contender.

Trick or Treat (1986)
Sammi Curr is a rock n’ roll nightmare, his fans won’t let him die – and he won’t let them live! Marc Price stars in this pure slice of 80s nostalgia complete with heavy metal, a big haired undead rock star, those wonderfully cheesy optical electrical effects, backwards record playing, walkmans, Gene Simmons as a rock DJ and oh so much more. This one’s so chock full of 80s stigmas it’s almost distracting. Turn it up to “11” and rock out with Sammi for a hellishly good time.


The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Punk rockers vs. zombies – how in the hell could this ever go wrong? As you can guess, it doesn’t, as Dan O’Bannon’s zombie opus stands up as one of the biggest cult classics to ever come out of the 80s. With an incredible cast, wild characters, a thrashing punk rock soundtrack, eye popping special effects and the wildest zombies to ever grace the silver screen make this one not only a contender for essential 80s horror – but essential horror all together.

Dead Heat (1988)
Buddy cop movies were a big thing in the 80s, LETHAL WEAPON , BEVERLY HILLS COP, RUNNING SCARED, TANGO & CASH, etc. so it only made sense that the horror genre would tackle the subject matter – this is the 80s after all. The film stars Joe Piscopo – whose presence is enough to justify this on the list – and Treat Williams who has a new crime to solve; his own murder. When Treat is killed by a gang of thugs, he comes back as a zombie with a score to settle and it’s no question his faithful partner won’t be by his side. With a meat locker full of produce comes to life and attacks our heroes, gangbuster zombies, and Piscopo’s mullet – this is a must.

Night of the Demons (1988)
What would an essential 80s list be without a film about partying teens who go somewhere they’re not supposed to go and get killed off in rapid succession? A bad list, that’s what it would be, a bad one. This one just happens to take place on Halloween, features grisly special effects, an erotic dance scene, big hair, 80s tunes, and quite possibly the best reason to include this on any must watch list; Linnea Quigley. ‘Nuff said.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1986)
You ever just have one of those really bad dates that seems to haunt you even years after its ended? Well that’s the problem for one of the characters in this film, the only difference is – his old flame is literally haunting him and reminding him of their night of romance with a high body count. Poor Mary Lou was burned alive at her senior prom, and now she’s back for revenge using the “nice girl” as a vessel to invoke her vengeance. Neon lights, witty dialogue, wonderfully cheesy effects put this one way up there for this horror fan.

Poltergeist (1982)
What is it with the 80s and shit coming out of televisions? Were they trying to tell us something with all these “evil TV” movies? Okay, yes I know it’s technically not the TV’s fault in this film – the ghosts simply use the TV to communicate with young Carol Anne – but I digress. There’s no need to explain the story line to this one, and if there is – be ashamed. The overall style of the effects of this big budget shocker, the look and feel are undoubtedly a common staple of early 80s filmmaking. Despite the somewhat questionable state of the effects in the film today, there’s no doubting the film’s remarkable way of still being able to scare the pants off viewers as well as putting them through an emotional roller coaster ride. A true 80s classic.

Video Violence (1987)
Sporting the tagline “When renting isn’t enough”, if a movie about a newly opened video store that has residents who only rent gory horror films and replace them with their own snuff films doesn’t scream 80s to you – we got nothing else to say to each other. This film also represents the only SOV film on my list which I know was a big movement in the 80s, it’s possibly one of the better ones made out there which is why I’m including it. It’s fun, gory, violent, and full of mullets – what’s not to love?

Night of the Comet (1984)
Oh lord, where do I start? Valley girls, shopping malls, a cheerleader sporting an Uzi, bright neon colors, teased hair, a Mexican cowboy, zombies, a cheesy rendition of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and a showdown between crazed scientists with our heroes make this one such an obvious choice it’s sickening. This film is almost TOO 80s for its own good but it’s undoubtedly a cult favorite that has spawned a faithful following since its late night showings and massive video rentals; which was what the 80s was really all about wasn’t it?

About Chris MacGibbon

Chris MacGibbon is the owner of the horror cinema streaming radio Creep Show Radio and CMAC Custom Designs. His design work can be found in many places including on the cover of Craig W. Chenery’s wildly popular book, Blood Splatter: A Guide to Cinematic Zombie Violence, Gore and Special Effects. Having single-handedly started the grassroots movement to release the film THE VIDEO DEAD, you can hear Chris share his love for the film and horror on the Scream Factory Blu-ray Disc release’s commentary, as well as each week on his radio program. When not discussing horror or doing graphic design, he can be found enjoying ‘80’s cinema and the musical styling of a-ha (yes, you read that right).
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  • fuqewe

    Come on now no Toxic Avenger? I’m calling foul