The Best Horror Movies of the 80s

Any list that says it’s the best of anything is subjective.

I just checked a top 10 list of dogs that like to play, and the Vizsla isn’t listed there. Hello? Rose the Office Dog would argue that its author has lost her mind. Rose is a frisbee maniac. A ball hog. The girl won’t stop playing. Spend a day with her, and you’ll put Rose at the top of a dogs-that-like-to-play list.

As I was saying, best of lists are subjective. I proved that on this website with my Top 5 Buddy Cop Movies and The 10 Best Crime Fiction Movies of the 80s. I thought I would prove that truth again with a list of the top five horror movies of the 1980s (just in time for Halloween).

As with my other lists, I lay down rules before beginning. It helps give some insight into why I picked the movies I did.

The Rules

1.       Even though other lists have picked these movies as part of the horror genre, I have trouble believing movies like Gremlins, The Fly, and The Thing are horror. According to Wikipedia (the keeper of internet truth), horror “is a film genre that seeks to elicit fear or disgust in its audience for entertainment purposes.” The previously mentioned movies didn’t provoke disgust. They might have produced some fear, but so did Predator, and I wouldn’t call that a horror movie.

Rule #1: Big-budget movies with broad audience appeal aren’t horror movies.

2.     Dovetailing into the argument above, I also believe that vampire and werewolf movies are not horror films. They’re science fiction movies. Maybe we can call them fantasy, but The Lost Boys was not horror, and neither was An American Werewolf in London. This knocks out films like Silver Bullet and Near Dark, too.

I loved The Lost Boys, but it’s hard to call it a horror movie. A movie is not scary when it’s so bloody cool.

Rule #2: Vampire and werewolf movies aren’t horror films.

3.     I don’t dig slasher movies like Friday the 13th and Halloween. You know the ones with the maniacal bad guy on a kill craze for no other reason than to stabby-stab someone. But wait, traditional horror fans will cry—how can it be a best-of-list if those movies are banned?

Because this is my list, and I make the rules. Duh.

Rule #3: No traditional slasher films.

4.     What about Stephen King movies like The Shining and Cujo? All right, I’ll give you that The Shining was scary (and it probably had a big budget - rule #1), but comparing films based on books written by the horror master seems unfair. It’s like they have an unfair advantage.

However, Maximum Overdrive made my list below, so you can disregard the bullshit reason I just said.

But I’m still making it a rule.

 Rule #4: No Stephen King movies except Maximum Overdrive.

 Now that the rules are in place let’s get to judging.

The 5 Best Horror Movies of the 80s (according to a crime fiction author)


5. Maximum Overdrive (1986)

This movie earned a caveat to my Stephen King rule.

It was written and directed by Stephen King based on his short story, “Trucks.” The film starred Emilio Estevez and pondered the question, “What would happen if all machines became sentient?” The events occurred after the earth crossed the tail of a comet—no further explanation was needed or offered.

AC/DC provided music for the soundtrack, so saying it was awesome is redundant.

It was a campy film and a delight to watch.

Supposedly, Steven King didn’t like how it turned out and decided to never direct again. Bah. What does he know?


4. Shocker (1989)

Horror master Wes Craven wrote and directed Shocker. Horace Pinker made a deal with the devil to escape execution via the electric chair. Arrested for a series of murders, Pinker wants retribution on the man who brought him down. He comes back as pure electricity and wreaks mayhem.

The soundtrack was fantastic, and Megadeth provided a kick-ass version of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”

I see a theme here—heavy metal makes horror films better. 


3. Trick or Treat (1986)

Sticking with my music and horror theme brings Trick Treat in at number three.

It’s a horror movie about a bullied metalhead who obtains a demo record from a recently deceased rock and roll superstar. Playing the album leads to startling results.

The movie featured Gene Simmons as a radio DJ and Ozzy Osbourne as a reverend. Fastway provided a killer soundtrack (pun intended).

The movie came out in 1986, so the premise of a guy getting bullied for listening to heavy metal was implausible. Metal ruled the airways by then—just look at MTV.

Regardless, it remains a fun movie to watch around Halloween, especially if you’re a GenXer and a metal fan.


2. Child's Play (1988)

Okay, there’s no heavy metal here. This is just a fun horror movie that spawned several sequels.

In the first film, dying murderer Charles Lee Ray used black magic to transport his soul inside a Chucky doll. A mother bought the doll for her son with horrifying results.

Sure, it’s farfetched, but it’s a scary good time.


1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

When this movie came out, it scared the hell out of me.

Freddie Krueger killed teenagers in their dreams to avenge how their parents murdered him. There’s no discussion about how he can get to them in their dreams. It doesn’t matter. We leap into the movie and roll with this flimsy plot device.

Wes Craven wrote and directed this movie, and it was Johnny Depp’s debut. John Saxon also had a significant role in the film.

It spawned multiple sequels, a crossover with Jason (from Friday the 13th), and had a 2010 remake.

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