I’m currently writing an article about my childhood in the 80s, the massive part that video played during that period with regard to my obsession with cult/horror films and so I’ve decided to compile lists of my favourite horror movies from each year from that awesome decade. These will all lead up to a list at the end of this in which I will compile my favourite horror movies of that decade.
The release of the horror classic Halloween in 1978 seemed to open the floodgates to many horror movies being made in what, with hindsight, can be seen as another golden era for the genre and this wasn’t just for slasher movies. There seemed to be a new horror movie being released every week and add to that the various double-bills being shown in cinemas here in the UK and the emergence of home video that seemed to pander primarily to those with a sweet tooth for horror and the ’80s were a great time for gorehounds. I look back at this period and smile. As I say to younger people- I might be an old cunt but at least I got to grow up in the 80s.
And so without further ado here are my Top 10 movies from 1980. There is a corresponding video here. And whilst you’re there you should subscribe to my YouTube channel. Your life will be enriched because of it.
10. Antropophagus The Beast
This Italian shocker goes the extra mile. In fact, it goes the extra five miles! It was directed by Joe D’Amato so you know you’re gonna get the goods.
If you ever find yourself in a group of tourists who want to detour to a desolate island whilst on a cruise, listen to the tarot-reading member of the group who predicts something terrible is going to happen AND THAT YOU SHOULDN’T GO!
Guess what? They go! And they then hear stories of a man called Klaus who found himself and his family shipwrecked and so to survive ate his family. He (obviously) went insane in the process and became a human flesh-craving madman.
The scene involving the pregnant character has to be seen to be believed (a skinned dead baby rabbit was used) as has the climactic scene. There is a reason why early 80’s horror movies were called Video Nasties in the UK. This film has a lot to do with it. Unmissable.
9. The Boogey Man
Another Italian shocker, the poster for this poster has a cameo in Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Blow Out as it appears on the wall of the schlock film company that John Travolta’s character works for.
Ulli Lommel directs this sleaze fest, a name as revered by horror fans as D’Amato’s. I find horror movies that deal with children killing adults to be one of the ultimate taboos for the genre and this movie features it very early on. It feels so raw and up close and personal that it almost feels like you’re watching something that you shouldn’t be privy to.
Years after killing his mother’s abusive boyfriend, Willy (!) goes back to the house where the abuse happened as he and his sister try to face their childhood fears that have plagued them ever since.
The potential silliness of the plot (a possessed mirror resplendent with glowing shards once it is broken) is more than levelled with a gritty tone and gore galore. Witness the scene with the scissors, for one example.
You’ll need a shower after seeing this. In fact, you will after seeing many of the films on this list.
8. Without Warning
Malevolent aliens have never been so adorable as in this film. I love it when big star names (Jack Palance stars here) throw caution to the wind and star in something that at the height of their career would have been beneath them. I especially love it when they sink their teeth into these roles and bring real-life and verve to their characters. It’s almost like they’re having fun! (See Joan Crawford in the brilliant Trog for another example of this). Palance is batshit crazy as is co-star Martin Landau and they both bring so much demented fun to proceedings.
There’s something very aesthetically pleasing about the alien in this movie and the skin-burrowing jellyfish he throws at his victims. They’re like deadly limpets if you will.
Whatever drugs were being taken during the writing and filming of this surreal and unhinged epic worked really well! Pair with that the beautiful cinematography (courtesy of the ever-amazing Dead Cundey who shot Halloween), a gorgeous colour palette and you have a visual treat with a one-of-a-kind atmosphere.
When you get to see the lead alien, it’s well worth the wait! (Kevin Peter Hall of Predator fame did the honours).
7. Humanoids From The Deep
A movie that was on my list entitled ‘Films I Must Get Round To Watching’ but hadn’t managed until quite recently. It was on Netflix and so I decided to satisfy my curiosity. And I’m glad I did!
I love a monster movie from a pre-CGI time that involved a man in a suit and loads of ingenuity (see also Slithis).
A coastal town is the target of a creature from the sea that kills people. Then the townsfolk discover that there is more than one of these creatures. And worse still, they don’t just kill but rape too.
This couldn’t be because of a nearby shady company called Canco who have conducted their own sinister experiments involving a growth hormone they’re fed to salmon, could it?! I jolly well think it could! Thus they find themselves the victims of horny, murderous creatures from the sea.
There’s a great atmosphere to this film with small-town locales and American life of the time being captured really well. The kills are innovative and the film seems to want to push the envelope and give the viewer more thrills for their buck. It more than succeeds.
If there is one reason for this that also acts as a seal of approval and should have you eager to seek this film out it’s this- it’s a Roger Corman film. You don’t need any higher recommendation than that.
6. The Shining
What more can be said about this film that hasn’t been said before?! Jack Torrence is a writer and gets a job acting as caretaker for The Overlook Hotel with his wife and son during the snowy winter season when the hotel is closed to the public. He envisages that this will be perfect for him to get some writing done. But little does he know that there are a few other inhabitants within the hotel who reside there and none of them are human.
Amazing direction by the genius Stanley Kubrick, wonderful performances from the entire cast with Jack Nicholson stealing the show with his character sliding into insanity and becoming utterly terrifying, but also very funny with it.
This film was actually panned by quite a few critics when it first came out and was nominated in several categories at that year’s first Razzies along with another film on my list and the likes of Cruising, Can’t Stop The Music and Dressed To Kill. I’ve looked to The Razzies to see what’s great about film ever since and not in some vile ‘so bad it’s good’ kinda way either.
I remember the first time I saw the notorious poster for Maniac in a magazine when I was a young kid in the early 80s and thinking ‘Whoa! I need to see this!’ This film has the distinction of being banned by the BBFC not once but twice and so it would be quite a few years before I could get to see it after I had first seen the poster.
When I finally got to see it, it didn’t disappoint! An unhinged portrayal of New York life when the Big Apple was rotten to the core, this is up there with Driller Killer. It has lots in common with Taxi Driver whilst being not as brilliant. Not many other films of any kind are as brilliant as Taxi Driver though and so this shouldn’t be taken as criticism.
There is so much to talk about- William Lustig’s assured direction, Joe Spinell’s devastatingly brilliant central performance, Tom Savini’s make-up work as well as the explosive end his character comes to in the film, Caroline Munroe’s character as a fashion photographer whereby we see another side to Frank as they start a relationship.
And then there are the murders. These pull no punches and are truly the stuff of nightmares. The subway scene is worth the price of admission alone. Think of Lustig and Savini choreographing his own extended version of the opening credits to The Equaliser and you’re almost there.
From the eye-popping ad campaign to the film that was just as lurid and the genre-advancing portrayal of madness and instability, this film is a classic. It also earned the highest honour of being picketed by angry feminists and people with nothing better to do with their time.
This has recently been released on Blu-Ray in 4K. Karma.
4. Prom Night
One of the Halloween clones that starred Jamie Lee Curtis and was the best of its class. An irresistible blend of Halloween, Carrie and Saturday Night Fever.
There’s high camp (check out the bitch off between Jamie’s character and the school bitch Wendy- ‘it’s not who you go to the prom with. It’s who takes you home!’) but also high grit. Check out the scenes in which the killer phones the classmates one by one, the opening scene involving a very sinister child’s game that ends with the death of one of the children, the subplot regarding the local paedophile who was blamed for the little girl’s death escaping his mental hospital and being hounded by police.
We also get to see JLC’s dance moves. She’s as good a dancer as she is an actress, something that we’d see further in Perfect a few years later.
Add to the mix a great ad campaign and a poster that is so disturbing that it hangs on my living room wall and you have one of the best horror films of 1980.
3. The Watcher in the Woods
The rarest of things- a Disney horror film. This is one of the videos I rented the most during the 80s.
A naive meddling with the supernatural causes one of the children involved to go missing under very mysterious circumstances. Several decades pass and a teenage girl and her family go to share the house owned by the missing girl’s elderly mother. She says that the teenager Jan resembles her missing daughter and so the unsolved is due to come full circle.
There are some great moments in this film that feel very childlike but very unsettling because of it. Check out the scene in which Jan’s little sister (Lyndsey from Halloween!) goes into a trance and starts writing backwards onto a dirty window, the hall of mirrors scene at the local funfair, the flashbacks to the deadly ritual the children held in the local church. Watcher in the Woods would have made a great spin-off children’s TV series akin to Chocky.
And Bette Davis stars as the elderly mother! And she predictably steals the show and rightly so.
2. Friday the 13th
It’s interesting to watch Friday the 13th again, especially after the whole franchise has become so huge and has established a formula (but also sees fit to subvert that formula). In 1980, spoiler alert, there was no Jason, no hockey mask. In fact, in this first film, the killer isn’t revealed until the end.
For this very fact, I always think of Friday the 13th as close to being an American Giallo movie (Giallo movies in Italy derived from the gory yellow-paged detective pulp novels with a private investigator pursuing and then revealing a killer’s identity in the last few pages). The sequel would also share more in common with a certain Giallo movie with one death scene being reminiscent of Bava’s A Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve.
Because this is the first film in the series there also isn’t a formula or pattern to proceedings yet and so we get elements in this film that aren’t present in the sequels. There is a goofiness and a brand of humour in this film that isn’t present in quite the same way in the later films (one example being the sheriff). There is also the well-defined characterisation of the teens in this film and the inclusion of some of the secondary characters such as the diner’s waitress and Crazy Ralph which isn’t found to be present to such a degree with subsequent sequels.
Friday the 13th was conceived by Sean S Cunningham and Steve Miner as they saw the great box office Halloween was doing. Is this film as good as its inspiration? No way. But not many films are. But this has solid direction, a killer (sorry) soundtrack, very good performances all-round and some amazing special effects and make-up by Tom Savini. Check out the innovation of some of his setups- the arrow through the neck of a young Kevin Bacon, the axe to the face, the beheading. All great stuff. Less art than Halloween but more blood for your buck. If Halloween is a trip to the opera, Friday the 13th is a trip on a rollercoaster. Both have their place.
1 The Fog
One of my favourite movie-viewing experiences occurred when I was in a shared house at University (studying film incidentally). It was late at night, I was all snug in bed and there was a storm outside, with wind and rain splattering against my window. It was at thing point that The Fog came onto my television. Utter bliss.
And that’s what The Fog is to me. It’s familiar, snug and comforting. It might not be as good as Carpenter’s best (Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13) but it comes pretty darn close. The tale of zombie pirates coming back to right some previously carried out wrongs in an American coastal locale has interesting characters brought to life by brilliant actors resplendent. It also has amazing practical special effects, a brilliant baroque synth score, gorgeous cinematography (take a bow, Dean Cundey- again!) and Carpenter’s genius direction and dialogue (check out the brilliant rapport between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis) and you have a classic film.
It also shows that it’s as nasty as the leading lights in the slasher genre but can accomplish this without gratuitous violence and an over-reliance on gore. Look at the attack on the Seagrass- there aren’t gallons of blood and acres of flesh. Instead, there’s the pirates with hooks, steel skewers and sound effects of bones breaking and spines being severed. In other words, kills coupled with intelligence and verve.
Apparently close to the film’s release date Carpenter watched the film, realised that it didn’t work and so he inserted new scenes with literally days to spare. It worked. The Fog is a melding of new and old (a traditional ghost story made in the slasher era) just like the narrative is (pirates in an early 80’s locale) and the film’s soundtrack (baroque played on analogue synths).
The lighthouse is another huge character within the film with its old, traditional use being brought into the present (another example of the old/new theme present within the film) as it now contains the town’s radio station which proves to be massively beneficial as the fog rolls in as people are without communication with each other but DJ Stevie Wayne’s (Adrienne Barbeau- as brilliant as ever) voice guides, connects and unites the otherwise separated townsfolk. Her presence on the airwaves also helps to save her son (who is about to be attacked by the marauding pirates). The roof of the lighthouse being used as a locale when the pirates descend on Stevie still feels daring and inspired.
All of this is why The Fog is my favourite film of 1980.
7 thoughts on “Top 10 Horror Movies From 1980”
Only seen a few of these gems and I’m sure the rest is glorious benchmarks that aren’t known enough
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You need to see the ones you haven’t seen. 1980 was a great year for horror.
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Great list. The 80’s is time of awesome scares and screams.
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Thank you! I agree. It was a great era for horror.
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