The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 1980s - Page 4 of 5

evil-dead10. “The Evil Dead” (1981)
Armed with a 16mm camera and a measly 380K budget, director Sam Raimi oozed into the crawlspace of the horror film canon and reserved his spot for life with this film. The story of five youths who unwittingly awaken a demonic spirit became the prototype model for all cabin fever films to come, and somehow made the age-old horror convention of teenagers vacationing in ungodly places where evil —obviously!— lurks feel freshly in the flesh. The movie spawned a franchise with two equal-if-not-better sequels and catapulted the chintastic Bruce Campbell to the hall of badass kicking-demon-ass fame, but above all else it’s still frightening as fuck. With incredible economy of pace and aesthetics that make the whole experience much more primeval, this classic horror show is impossible to forget, as much as every fiber of your body (the ones around your ankles especially) might want to.

Videodrome9. “Videodrome” (1983)
If you’re new to the singular and brilliant work of David Cronenberg, there’s no better place to start than “Videodrome,” a near-perfect early encapsulation of the themes and dualities that define his work: the body vs. the mind, illusion vs. reality, and the seductive, erotic power of technology. Striking a convincing balance between the body horror genre with which he was already associated and the glacially chilly tone for which he’d become even better known, here our protagonist (a brilliantly morally ambiguous James Woods) grapples with his disintegrating reality in which televisions and videotapes become fetish objects while his very bones graft into weapons and his skin ruptures and reforms in the very manifestation of techno-paranoia. A true glimpse of transgressive and disturbing cinema that is both wildly intelligent and gorily exploitative (viz Debbie Harry writhing in pleasure at a self-inflicted cigarette burn), “Videodrome” is electronic and analog, dated and futuristic, inexplicable and coldly logical. Long live the new flesh.

Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer8. “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (1986)
It’s the role that launched Michael Rooker’s career, in a vehemently disturbing film that triggered shockwaves across the nation in the late ’80s. John McNaughton’s ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,’ rated X by the MPAA, packs so much unsettling trauma within its tight running-time that it’d turn Hannibal Lecter into a hardcore vegan. Loosely based on real-life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, the story follows ex-cons Henry (Rooker) and Otis (Tom Towles) as they roam around Chicago, effortlessly killing anyone unlucky enough to cross their malignant, frightfully random path. Otis’ sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) is the soul of the film, her story of abuse anchoring us deep enough for the harrowing finale to pulverize, but it’s the intercut montages which lay out the unspeakable terror throughout, buoyed by Robert McNaughton’s chilling score, which steals into the film’s contours and breathes down our necks as distant cries trace the final moments of Henry’s victims…

Poltergeist7. “Poltergeist” (1982)
For years, debate has raged as to who was actually the director of “Poltergeist.” Was it credited helmer Tobe Hooper? Or was it producer and co-writer Steven Spielberg, who many reported was consistently on set making key decisions? Whoever it was (and the answer is likely to be ‘some kind of combination of the two’), they turned out a belter, a movie with both the white-knuckle terror that Hooper is known for and a decidedly Spielbergian emotional backbone. The film sees the existence of an ordinary suburban California family turned upside down when youngest daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) begins having terrifying visions around the house. Plenty have tried to meld the Amblin spirit with decidedly spookier elements, but this is the only time it really and truly worked, with Hooper/Spielberg (Hooperberg?) deploying some truly nightmarish imagery in the midst of a placid suburban milieu. Stick with the original, rather than the competent but dull recent remake.

evil-dead-ii6. “Evil Dead II” (1987)
Raimi managed to outclass his own original with this unhinged genre tour de force. ‘Evil Dead II’ picks up at the exact same spot where we left Ash (Campbell, brilliantly turning his character into an icon, one eyebrow-raise at a time), before it introduces us to a new crew of unsuspecting soon-to-be-demon-chow young uns, led by the daughter (Sarah Barry) of the man whose tape recorder re-animated the dead in the first place. At times bone-chilling (Ash getting chased around the house through all those narrow passages and doors? Jesus!), at times side-splitting (the hand fight and subsequent ‘Farewell to Arms’ moment is pure genius), “Evil Dead II” does one better on the original at every slash, swipe and turn. It may owe more to “The Three Stooges” serials than “The Exorcist” for its overall tone (thanks mostly to co-writer Scott Spiegel), but the balance between violent and violently funny is even keeled enough to still induce many a sleepless night.