The 13 Best Horror Movies of the 1980s

From “The Shining” to “The Fly” and “Evil Dead II,” here are some of the decade’s best frights

Best '80s Horror Movies
The Shining (Warner Bros)/The Fly (20th Century Fox), Evil Dead 2 (Raimi Productions)

The 1980s was a great decade for horror, with classics like “The Shining,” “The Fly,” and two “Evil Dead” movies. Effects were largely practical (not computer-generated) and genre giants Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi and David Cronenberg were making some of their most iconic movies ever.

So come back with us to the Overlook Hotel, the Slaughtered Lamb pub, a cabin in the woods and Elm Street. If you dare.

The Shining (1980)

"The Shining" (1980)
“The Shining” (Warner Brothers)

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) goes mad after being hired as a winter caretaker at a remote mountain resort in Stanley Kubrick’s eerily masterful adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror novel.

The Changeling (1980)

"The Changeling" (1980)
“The Changeling” (Entertainment One)

Peter Medak’s underrated film about a widower (George C. Scott) who discovers the historic house he’s renting is already inhabited by a vengeful spirit is more subtle and psychological than most of the films on this list, but it’s still scary as hell.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Despite being told to stay off the Yorkshire moors, American backpackers David (James Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) lose their way on a moonlit night and are attacked by… well, the superstitious locals won’t say, but Jack is dead and David is not quite himself when he wakes up in a London hospital. John Landis’ blend of humor and horror can be a bit jarring (like having “Blue Moon” abruptly blast over the end credits), but we wouldn’t change a thing. Especially lines like, “A naked American man stole my balloons.”

The Thing (1982)

The Thing (1982)
“The Thing” (Universal Pictures)

John Carpenter’s much-copied movie about a crew of research scientists who realize they’re trapped with a grotesque shape-shifting alien in the Antarctic is a master class in ratcheting up fear and paranoia. By the end, no one trusts anybody else and any one of the dwindling number of survivors could be compromised. Throw in Jed the wolfdog and Kurt Russell wielding a flame thrower and you’ve got the perfect horror movie.

Poltergeist (1982)

Thanks, Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg for making us terrified not only of our TV, but also trees, clowns, and suburban developments (and developers). Skip the recent remake: Nothing can match this ’80s classic.

The Dead Zone (1983)

"The Dead Zone" (1983)
“The Dead Zone” (Paramount Pictures)

David Cronenberg stepped away from his trademark body horror to deliver one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever brought to the screen with “The Dead Zone.” Johnny (Christopher Walken) awakens from a years-long coma with psychic powers that put him right at the scene of a catastrophe, past or present. He can help other people, but not himself, so he retires from public life. Until he realizes he’s the only one who can stop a power-mad presidential candidate.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

"Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)
“Nightmare on Elm Street” (New Line)

Freddy Kreuger (horror icon Robert Englund) stalks and slays teenagers in their dreams in Wes Craven’s genre classic that launched an ever-growing franchise. There have been endless sequels and reboots (and a hilarious “The Simpsons” spoof), but we still love the original best.

Gremlins (1984)

"Gremlins" (1984)
“Gremlins” (Warner Bros.)

Gizmo is the cutest Christmas gift ever, until Billy (Zach Galligan) fails to obey three crucial rules for taking care of his new Mogwai. Whoops! The blender scene in Joe Dante’s PG-rated furry free-for-all (plus all the heart-ripping in “Temple of Doom”) was a bit much for ’80s parents, who demanded a new PG-13 rating.

Fright Night (1985)

"Fright Night" (1985)
“Fright Night” (20th Century Fox)

What if your charming new next-door neighbor was a vampire? And the only one you could turn to for help was Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a faded horror star who fought vampires in the movies? The casting here is perfection, with Chris Sarandon as the most unromantically-named vampire of all time, Jerry Dandridge. We also love the 2011 remake with David Tennant as Vincent (who’s now a cheesy Vegas magician) and Colin Farrell as Jerry.

Aliens (1986)

"Aliens" (1986)
“Aliens” (20th Century Fox)

Yes, James Cameron’s amped-up sequel to Ridley Scott’s terrifying 1979 original is one of the best action movies of the ’80s, but it’ll also have you cowering in a corner yelling, “Game over, man. Game over!”

The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)
The Fly (20th Century Fox)

Body Horror King Cronenberg goes full out in this stellar remake of the 1950s B-movie as we watch mad scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) morph into the creepy, crumbling, acid-spewing “Brundlefly.”

Evil Dead II (1987)

"Evil Dead 2" (1987)
“Evil Dead II” (Raimi Productions)

“Evil Dead II” is essentially a remake of the first “Evil Dead” movie, but who’s complaining? Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell have even more fun the second time around with flying eyeballs, severed hands crawling, and, of course, Ash’s groovy chainsaw.

The Lost Boys (1987)

"The Lost Boys" (1987)
“The Lost Boys” (Warner Bros.)

“Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire,” was the tagline and damn if Kiefer Sutherland and crew didn’t bring it all to beautiful, bloody life in Joel Schumacher’s iconic horror comedy.