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The Best Horror Came from the 80s: Horror movies that stand the Test of Time and their more modern counterparts, Part 1

April 4, 2013

It’s hard to put it any better than to simply say “the best horror movies came from the 80s.”  The 80s spawned so many beautiful franchises and, down the road, remakes and reboots–for better or for worse.  But even when sequels begin to go sour and remakes fail to do justice to the originals, we must acknowledge that it was a legacy of greatness that compelled horror filmmakers to simply not give up and keep trying.

Here are some of the greats in no particular order…

1.  The Thing (1982) took creepy to new levels.  Remember the scene in the dog kennel?  Whoah!  How about the spider-crawling head?  Or the blood sample that leapt from its petri dish?  All effective and terrifying and without the tiniest bit of CGI.  So many movies have sampled the “enemy among us” monster-alien theme.  But none pull it off like the “original remake” of The Thing from Another World (1951; which never impressed me–there, I said it!).

So creepy and weird watching that thing crawl away.

Remember the sound this guy with the mutated hand made?  Rattling!

Most intense movie moment of 1982 right here… the test.

Sadly, they tried to do it again, though.  They had a good cast and the advantage of 30 years more technology.  But The Thing (2011) failed miserably.  I was never scared.  I only so much as twitched in response to loud noises.  And I was very upset with how they marginalized the pre-Macready character.

MacCready clone: “Hey, Laars.  Remember when your hand got mutated in 1982?”

They took one of the most unnerving moody sci-fi horror movies in the market and remade it as a sci-fi action movie featuring a monster which took the form of a Starship Troopers monster and a torn up T-1000.

Maybe they’re related.

While the new installment had entertainment value, it pains me that it had the same name, many of the same characters (with different names, of course) and such a similar story.  Don’t throw Mary Elizabeth Winstead in there and then say “see, there’s a cute chick scientist, it’s totally different now.”

“Why am I in this movie? They clearly remade the movie and lied about it.  But it was a real boys’ club back in 1982.”

2.  A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is a film that gave us one of the most interesting horror bad guys EVER and lives up to its name!.  If you think I’m exaggerating, then ask yourself if you’d let your 9-year old son or nephew or little brother watch it with his friends (and no adults) during a sleepover.  Yup.  You wouldn’t.  Why?  Nightmares.

Careful filming and obscuring lighting made Freddy become real for young horror fans every time they walked down the hallway in the dark.


He knew what would jar you.


This film may not have the emotional power of Poltergeist (1982; discussed at length in our podcast #16) or the blunt-force trauma holy shit factor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), but is instead its own entirely different animal.  Freddy gives us hints of a twisted sense of humor as he cuts off his fingers and slices open his own maggot and pus-filled chest or licks Nancy and laughs through a possessed phone, but (unlike many of the sequels) there is nothing slapstick or comedic about it really.  He is a twisted and pure evil.  It’s intended to be sick and disturbing, not funny (to anyone but Freddy, that is)—although fans laugh at it today.


Freddy Krueger’s popularity spawned five sequels, a meta-sequel (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare), a crossover movie with Jason (Freddy vs Jason) and a recent remake in 2010.  Freddy changed quite a bit over time, from terrifying to scary but humorous to just plain hilarious, then back to serious in New Nightmare and the remake.

Chilling out, catching some rays, and killing a dreaming teenager in Part 4.

His vengeful, zombie-like counterpart Jason Voorhees was fun, but never really cut it for me.  Especially since I think the 2009 remake is more enjoyable over and over again than the original.  Even though, admittedly the original was better the first time, I don’t want to see it more than once every 5-10 years. Thus it failed to stand the test of time.

I think Jason Voorhees is related to Sloth from The Goonies.

3. Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Return of the Living Dead 2 (1988) brought about the happy marriage of horror and comedy.  While less blatant or slapstick than the much better and more recent zombedies (e.g., Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies), this franchise revealed that no horror comedy could match the zombedy.  Although there have been some very successful satires utilizing slashers (American Psycho) and vampires.

There is no way that the effects team dreamed this up with a straight face.

As the series carried on to part 3 and beyond, the comedy was abandoned and the quality ran down hill.  Sad.  But I’m glad they tried.  Despite the utter failures of the Rave to the Grave and Necropolis sequels (both 2005), the Return of series threw gasoline on a zombie corpse fire that has continued to go strong for decades.  Thanks for that.

She looks one part Freddy, one part Cenobite, and–oh, right–she’s also the love interest. Yeah, this movie functions as a “serious” zombie romance.  I’m not joking.

4. While  the “Return of” movies were out carrying on and having a good time, Day of the Dead (1985) was keeping shit real, deconstructing the human psyche while dealing with an ongoing zombie plague.  Sadly, the serious approach to the zombie apocalypse is less often successful than the path of the zombedy.

Okay, so maybe the had a little bit of fun with the zombies.

The 2008 remake with Nick Cannon and Mena Suvari was painful, but there was the much better Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake before that…oh, but there was also Day of the Dead 2 (2005), one of the worst zombie movies ever.

The [REC] series (2007, 2009, 2012) took a serious, actually rather intense approach and succeeded with the Quarantine series (2008, 2011) of Americanized remakes.  However, by REC 3: Genesis it was clear that these filmmakers wanted to have a little more fun and a little less serious, throwing in a few laughs.

It takes a sense of humor to turn this…

…into this!

I love all three and look forward to part 4!  Hell, I look forward to ALL zombie movies.  Watch out for World War Z (2013)!

5. The Fly (1986; starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis) was another remake of a ’50s classic–classic in the sense that I’m glad I saw this seminal film once, not classic in the sense that I ever want to see it again.  This remake runs circles around the original The Fly (1958), which ended on an almost comical note:  “Help me.  Help me.”

Nope.  Not even good when colorized.

But as we watched Brundlefly’s demise in 1986, we knew it was no laughing matter!  Amazingly visualized goretastically sick scenes and story components laced with Brundle’s egomaniacal transformation make this film unforgettable and watchable to this day!




Guy in a monster suit before we had CGI…and it’s AWESOME and credible! Gross and awesome.  Today’s effects team couldn’t have done it any better.

In 1989 they hoped to replicate this idea while skirting the line between horror and sci-fi.  Deliberate and entertaining, the only elements which succeeded in The Fly II were those that were unoriginal–including a long drawn out transformation which, while briefly satisfying, left me longing for the Brundle once more.

Eric Stoltz….pupating, evidently.

The Fly truly was something special and it came with a take home message: never armwrestle strangers with crazy-eyes!


48 Comments leave one →
  1. MIz Anthrope permalink
    April 4, 2013 10:54 am

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I agree with your picks. Especially Return of the Living Dead. I was a zombie fan way before it became cool! This particular series was so much fun!

    For part 2 please consider: Re-Animator, Evil-Dead, Phantasm, American Werewolf in London, Hellraiser, Pet Semetary, Poltergeist, the Fog and Children of the Corn.

    Should you make this a three part series, I would also recommend Videodrome, CHUD,
    Night of the Comet, Fright Night and 976-Evil (hysterical).

    I love horror movies but it was the horror movies of the 80’s that helped my become the happy, maladjusted, sick and twisted adult that I am today.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      August 1, 2016 5:56 pm

      Well, I’ve been working on a part 3. All sorts of ideas abound for the most influential and quality films to include. I’ve been dragging my feet for a while on it. lol

  2. johnleavengood permalink
    April 4, 2013 1:18 pm

    Happy to oblige. Almost all of the movies you mentioned are in my queue, but a couple might not make the cut. However, I had totally forgotten about Children of the Corn. So thanks for the suggestions!

  3. August 1, 2016 5:44 pm

    Fantastic and engaging piece. Excellent choices all around!

    • John Leavengood permalink
      August 1, 2016 5:55 pm

      Yeah, they’re fun to write, but they also take a while. I’ve been tweaking part 3 for a while now.

      What decade do you think was the best for horror?


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