The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 1980s - Page 3 of 5

eva-robins-in-tenebre15. “Tenebrae” (1982)
By the 1980s, giallo was mostly out of favor (or it had at least evolved into “Halloween”-type slashers or Brian De Palma’s sexed-up thrillers), but Dario Argento had one last great statement to make with it with ‘Tenebrae” (1987’s “Opera” is pretty good but much less memorable). Stepping away from the supernatural of “Suspiria” and co, the pleasingly convoluted story involves American horror writer Anthony Franciosa promoting his work in Italy, only for a killer to strike who’s seemingly inspired by his work. The look of the film steps back from the expressionism of some of Argento’s earlier films towards a cleaner but still beautiful feel, while the set pieces are among some of the most inventive and Hitchcock-ian he ever made. But it also feels unusually substantial, sustaining a certain meta commentary about the creators of horror work at play, thanks in part to Franciosa giving one of the more enjoyable performances in any Argento movie.

the-changeling14. “The Changeling” (1980)
If many horror aficionados have heard of this rather overlooked turn-of-the-decade haunted-house horror at all, it tends to be for George C. Scott‘s terrific performance, which lends real psychological gravitas to an already moving premise. Peter Medak‘s movie sees Scott play a composer who in the prologue witnesses the deaths of his wife and child in a freak accident. But that event is not directly involved with the haunting that follows, as he moves to a new house to start over and begins to believe there are ghosts there —unless of course it is, and the ghosts are products of a mind shattered in that tragic, helpless moment. But despite its more ethereal tendencies, the film is also a red-blooded gothic horror featuring mysterious noises, cobwebbed attics, creepy toys, seances and even an ancient, kid-sized wheelchair. Medak occasionally overdoes the slo-mo, but mostly this is a deeply satisfying manifesto for the idea that horror and grief can come from the same place.

return-of-the-living-dead-113. “Return of the Living Dead” (1985)
A jovial attitude towards death —in the shape of reanimated cadavers, the tones of punk rock, the candid demeanor of Don Calfa‘s mortician— emblazons ‘The Return of the Living Dead’ with a fiery spirit. It turns horror into fun without depleting its essence; pumping you with a healthy measure of dread and anxiety as it flows through its audaciously comedic overtones. The whole thing is so endearingly tongue-in-cheek that it’s hard to believe the writer-director is the same Dan O’Bannon who created the story of “Alien;” two fools (James Karen and Thom Matthews, both amazing) accidentally release a gas from a corpse-tank, which brings all dead things back to life, and all they want is… brrraaaaiins. It would have been easy for this to be pure spoof, but it works on a number of levels: its memorably razor-sharp script and novel introduction of zombies with a sense of humor (and an acquired taste) propelled the series into a franchise and well-deserved cult-status.

Re-animator12. “Re-Animator” (1985)
Horror master and noted racist H.P. Lovecraft might be one of the genre’s most famous literary figures, but attempts to capture his work onscreen have mostly been terrible (something that hopefully Guillermo Del Toro will one day change with his passion project “At The Mountains Of Madness”). But the exception is “Re-Animator,” Stuart Gordon’s film based on Lovecraft’s novella “Herbert West — Reanimator.” As a premise, it could have been dull, somewhere between Frankenstein and a zombie picture, but there’s an assured genre-bending lunacy to “Re-Animator,” walking carefully between true horror and almost slapstick comedy as Herbert West (a terrific performance by Jeffrey Combs) finds a way to resurrect the dead, only to be tormented by his rival, a brain surgeon (David Gale) that he decapitated. It’s a subversive, splattery joy, with gore that feels truly transgressive in places.

Altered States11. “Altered States” (1980)
We had some internal debate as to whether “Altered States” qualified as a horror film —it’s a movie that crosses into the territory of sci-fi, psychedelia and mind-fuck. But ultimately, there’s enough horror elements for it to qualify, and more importantly, given that it’s exactly as good a movie as you might imagine from the unlikely team-up of Ken Russell and Paddy Chayefsky, it’s more than deserving of a place here. William Hurt stars as a scientist attempting to investigate other states of consciousness who finds a substance that transforms him into other forms, both in higher and lower states of evolution. It’s so bizarre that it’s hard to believe it was made by a major studio, complete with trippy hallucination sequences, a wild meld of tones, bold performances and some inventive visual effects, adding up to a sense that Russell’s left absolutely nothing on the table.