The decade that dripped blood
The '80s was a glorious time for horror fans of all stripes. Whether you prefer the subtle chills of a ghost story or the blood-drenched splatter of movies like Hellraiser it was a decade packed with classics and, arguably, the last great age of practical effects, before CG came along and made things cheaper, easier and far less fun for directors.
With so many to choose from, it was tricky picking our top 30. To do so we focussed on the films that scared us the most. We plumped for the movies that made us leap out of our seats with shock; that haunted our dreams (bit of a clue to one of the entries there) and that left us with slack-jawed disgust on our faces. The horror is about to begin...
30. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
The scary movie: You better not laugh, you better not cry This slasher flick features a murderous Santa on the rampage. In fairness, it's not the real Father Christmas it's Billy, a disturbed young man who witnessed his parents murdered, and was then abused by a nun. Now 18, mad and decked out in the red suit and stick on beard, he's on a bloody rampage.
Hide behind a cushion when: Billy stalks a woman through a toy store, whispering it was the night before Christmas.... She tricks him, steals his axe and makes her escape - but he's a dab hand with a bow and arrow and he shoots her in the stomach. She bleeds out in front of a Santa statue, the incidental music slowing and warping as she dies.
29. Day Of The Dead (1985)
The scary movie: Third film in George A. Romero's Dead series. With zombies having overrun the globe, a small team of surviving humans hide in an underground bunker in Florida. They consist of an uneasy alliance of scientists and the military bods. But are the zombies the real monsters in this war?
Hide behind a cushion when: Miguel lets the zombies into the complex. Oh dear...
28. In A Glass Cage (1987)
The scary movie: A Spanish chiller that doesn't pull any punches when it comes to scares both physical and psychological. Günter Meisner plays Klaus, an ex-Nazi who conducted sick experiments on children during WW2. After becoming paralysed, though, Klaus is tended to by a nurse who turns out to be one of his former victims.
Hide behind a cushion when: The opening scenes of torture are harrowing to say the least. And it only gets worse from there on in.
27. The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988)
The scary movie: Often seen as a bit of an anomaly in Wes Craven's output, this voodoo tale has found a cult following over the intervening years. Not as explicit as The Hills Have Eyes and less playful than A Nightmare On Elm Street, it's a loose adaptation of Wade Davis's supposedly true account of being transformed into a real zombie.
Hide behind a cushion when: Bill Pullman goes through a lot in this movie. He's threatened, tortured and, eventually, buried alive with a tarantula "to keep you company". Yeesh!
26. The Changeling (1980)
The scary movie: One of the spookiest ghost stories ever committed to celluloid. After the deaths of his wife and daughter, composer John Russell (George C. Scott) moves into a new home in Seattle, only to discover it's haunted by an angry ghost. (Oh and make sure you ignore unofficial sequel The Changeling 2 . No good can come of acknowledging it.)
Hide behind a cushion when: The creepy séance scene takes place...
25. From Beyond (1986)
The scary movie: Based on HP Lovecraft's short story, this body horror classic follows scientist Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel), who invents a machine that allows him to see beyond the limited human range of vision. But then he's transformed into one of the dark creatures he's glimpsed and sets about stalking his colleagues...
Hide behind a cushion when: A monsterified Pretorius feels up Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), groping her with his deformed fingers... It's enough to put anybody off dating forever.
24. The Entity (1981)
The scary movie: Possession horror and one of the films that Martin Scorsese selected as the scariest of all time, so you know you're in for something special. The plot follows single mother Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey), who becomes the target of an invisible entity that seems intent on killing her.
Hide behind a cushion when: At the film's start, Carla is raped by an unseen entity. Seriously disturbing.
23. The Fog (1980)
The scary movie: Horror master John Carpenter followed up 1978's Halloween with this old fashioned ghost story transposed to the (then) modern day. It's a tale of vengeance-seeking spectres that's riddled with plot holes and gaps in its internal logic, but it doesn't matter a damn. The film has a wonderfully weird atmosphere with many of the creepiest moments taking place in broad daylight...
Hide behind a cushion when: What were we just saying? The ghostly lepers that haunt Antonio Bay are pretty scary, but the creepiest moment takes place in an isolated lighthouse one sunny afternoon. A mysterious fragment of wood has been found, the relic of some long-lost ship. Suddenly water starts to seep from it. The tape machine next to it warps and a voice from nowhere utters a vow of revenge before the wood mysteriously bursts into flames. Typical ghost story stuff, perhaps, but in this lovely Californian locale, it's very unnerving.
22. Inferno (1980)
The scary movie: A spiritual sequel to Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977), this equally deranged supernatural horror sees Mark (Leigh McCloskey) investigating the disappearance of his sister, who was living in an old apartment in New York that was also the home of an old witch. Back in 2005, Total Film named Inferno one of the 50 best horror films ever made, and for good reason.
Hide behind a cushion when: Leigh finally descends into the witch's den, where he's confronted with Death herself.
21. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The scary movie: Grisly moc-doc from director Ruggero Deodato that often looks so real you have to remind yourself it isn't. (You hope.) A rescue mission heads into the Amazon when a documentary team go missing, only to discover that the jungle's running wild with, yup, cannibals. Needless to say, this caused massive controversy upon release.
Hide behind a cushion when: Jack is impaled by a spear and ends up sliced into pieces by the cannibals. Forget the cushion, you’ll probably want to leave the room at this point…
20. The Beyond (1981)
The scary movie: Italian horror from notorious Giallo director Lucio Fulci (it's the second entry in his Gates From Hell trilogy). A young woman moves into the home that she's inherited in Louisiana, but it's scene to numerous unfortunate events, including a painter who dies after a fall. Soon, the young woman discovers that the house is actually positioned above an entrance to Hell...
Hide behind a cushion when: Plumber Joe goes down into the cellar to investigate a flood and has his eye gouged out by a demon.
19. The Hitcher (1986)
The scary movie: Rutger Hauer was the king of the '80s b-movie. Many of them were of variable quality, but The Hitcher is a brutal classic. Jim (C Thomas Howell) picks up a hitchhiker, John Ryder (Hauer), but soon realises that he's bitten off more than he can chew when Ryder calmly admits to being a murderer...
Hide behind a cushion when: The Hitcher features one of '80s horror's most memorably horrible kills. Jennifer Jason Lee's Nash is tied between two trucks and Ryder threatens to pull her apart. You're fully expecting her to be saved but no. Her death is a genuinely stomach-churning moment that makes Ryder an even more threatening proposition.
18. Altered States (1980)
The scary movie: The screen debut of William Hurt, who stars as abnormal psychology professor Edward Jessup. He experiments with sensory deprivation in a floatation tank, and soon begins to experience breaks with perceivable reality that include experiencing devolution first-hand – his body actually seems to devolve to previous states...
Hide behind a cushion when: Jessup becomes a shapeless mass of primordial matter.
17. Society (1989)
The scary movie: Icky, sticky social commentary in which high-schooler Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) discovers that his high-society parents are into orgies and murder. Though the film wasn't released in the US until 1992, it remains a product of the '80s – both hilarious and disgusting and not for the faint of heart.
Hide behind a cushion when: The film's final orgy takes place and bodies merge together in gooey, grotesque globules of flesh. Wrong in so many ways.
16. Friday The 13th Part 2 (1980)
The scary movie: Though the saga of Jason Voorhees' obsession with slice-n-dicing nubile teenagers became something of a bad joke after the franchise's first four entries, number two is easily the creepiest as our heroine Ginny (Amy Steel) goes up against Jason himself. Before he put on the hockey mask, he's wearing a deliciously sinister sack over his deformed head...
Hide behind a cushion when: Ginny poses as Jason's mother to stay his machete-wielding hand, which involves wearing Mrs Voorhees' crusty old jumper and doing a bit of am dram as Jason looms over her. Terrifying.
15. Poltergeist (1982)
The scary movie: Proof that just because it's exec produced by family man Steven Spielberg doesn't mean a film can't contain some truly mentally-scarring (and scaring) imagery. This suburban tale from director Tobe Hooper follows the Freeling family, who move into a new home, only to discover it's being haunted by the restless ghosts of an old cemetery.
Hide behind a cushion when: Take your pick. A tree comes to life and tries to eat Robbie (sorry, Groot); one of the paraspychologists’ assistants picks his face off in the bathroom mirror; Diane winds up swimming with the dead...
14. Nekromantik (1987)
The scary movie: Still banned in Finland, Iceland, Malaysia and a handful of other places thanks to its upsetting content, Nekromantik is a German horror flick in which a street cleaner brings a corpse home for him and his wife to play with. The only problem is that his wife likes the corpse more than her hubby... Though it's not really interested in psychological scares, the film's extreme nature is hugely unsettling in itself.
Hide behind a cushion when: The opening credits start. Seriously. You'll need that cushion for the entire film.
13. An American Werewolf In London (1981)
The scary movie: Expertly blending laughs with scares, John Landis' pioneering werewolf flick is a gothic chuckler in which backpackers David and Jack land in England and are swiftly attacked by a hideous beast that claims Jack's life. Though David survived, he might be about to go through some ch-ch-changes...
Hide behind a cushion when: The laughs are easier to remember than the scares (the scene in pub The Slaughtered Lamb is funny because it's SO TRUE), the attack in Piccadilly Circus tube still chills.
12. Hellraiser (1987)
The scary movie: Clive Barker's adaptation of his own novel; this forever branded the name 'Pinhead' into the minds of the movie-going public as that needling demon-angel-thing comes to anybody who solves the Lament Configuration puzzle box and offers to tear their souls apart. Attempting to survive the carnage is perky teenager Kirsty (Ashley Laurence).
Hide behind a cushion when: Larry (Andrew Robinson) is literally torn apart by hooks embedded in his skin. You want blood? We're not sure you wanted quite this much... Oh, you did? Well there you go, then.
11. The Howling (1981)
The scary movie: Released the same year as AAWIL , Joe Dante's similarly tongue-in-cheek pooch flick is arguably even scarier, mostly thanks to its remote location and a fantastically nightmarish turn by lead wolf Robert Picardo (yes, him off Star Trek: Voyager ). Ignoring the plot of Gary Brandner's original novel, the film follows disturbed news reporter Karen (Dee Wallace) to a spiritual retreat where monsters lurk...
Hide behind a cushion when: The film's central transformation scene rocks in and Picardo snaps, cracks and yowls his way through a genuinely terrifying change from man to wolf, all while Belinda Balaski watches in horror.
10. The Fly (1986)
The scary movie: Turns out '80s horror remakes were pretty nifty. Well, in the cases of The Thing and The Fly , anyway. This redo from David Cronenberg stars Jeff Goldblum as a scientist attempting to crack a teleportation code – but things go wrong when his DNA becomes spliced with that of a fly's thanks to a problematic trial. It's not long before the fly DNA starts to take control.
Hide behind a cushion when: It all gets pretty gross from the mid-point on, particularly in moments like the one where Goldblum voms digestive enzymes onto his food to help him devour it. Grim.
9. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)
The scary movie: Inspired by the lives of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, this bloody flick from director John McNaughton stars Michael Rooker as the titular killer. His dedication to murder is tested when he falls for the sister of co-killer Otis (Tom Towles).
Hide behind a cushion when: The film contains a number of grisly murder scenes, all of which will require a cushion or small pillow to hide from. The killing of a whole family is particularly shocking – especially as Henry and Otis film the whole thing to watch back later.
8. Possession (1981)
The scary movie: Divorce was never so painful as in this cult hit from director Andrzej uawski. When Mark (Sam Neill) finds out that his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) wants to leave him, her motivations remain mysterious, prompting Mark to investigate. What he discovers, though, errs more on the 'bloody weird' side than merely 'having an affair with your mate'.
Hide behind a cushion when: Erm, a really quite horrible bit where Anna has sex with a squid-like monster-thing.
7. The Vanishing (1988)
The scary movie: George Sluizer's adaptation of the book The Golden Egg by Tim Krabbé. Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets) desperately searches for his missing girlfriend, who vanished at a gas station in France. Just about one of the most suspenseful films you'll ever endure.
Hide behind a cushion when: Rex finally discovers what happened to his girlfriend. We won't spoil it, but it'll give you nightmares. Obviously.
6. The Evil Dead (1981)
The scary movie: Sam Raimi teams up with Bruce Campbell for the defining demon possession flick (until, at least, they reunited in arguably-better-but-less-scary Evil Dead II ). A group of friends head out to a cabin in the woods (including Campbell's Ash), where they accidentally unleash demons when they hit play on a recording of a reading from the Book Of The Dead . D'oh.
Hide behind a cushion when: Possessed trees get a little over-familiar with Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) in the spooky woods. And you thought The Exorcist was bad...
5. Blue Velvet (1986)
The scary movie: The movie that forged David Lynch's reputation as a loveable, be-quiffed disruptor of small town America. Kyle Maclachlan plays Jeffrey Beaumont a nice young man who stumbles upon a severed ear and finds himself drawn into a surreal world of sex, sadism and the threat of Dennis Hopper's murderous Frank Booth.
Hide behind a cushion when: Hopper's performance is a masterclass in over-the-top menace. In one horrifying scene, Jeffrey hides in a closet while Booth takes a deep inhalation of whatever mysterious drug he's on and then abuses Isabella Rossellini's Dorothy Vallens, while screaming, Mummy mummy... Baby wants to fuck! It should be funny, but Lynch's direction, Hopper's performance and Angelo Badalamenti's ominous score combine to make it utterly terrifying.
4. Videodrome (1983)
The scary movie: The master of body horror – that's David Cronenberg to you and us – presents a nightmarish dissection of voyeurism and perception as TV prez Max (James Woods) investigates a new kind of show that could very well be the future. That it incorporates graphic scenes of ultra-violence is just par for the course in this business...
Hide behind a cushion when: Max discovers that he has a cavity in his chest that can be used to store things like VHS tapes and guns. Handy, that.
3. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
The scary movie: Hard to recall a time when Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) actually WAS scary, but a quick rewatch of Wes Craven's dream-stalking scare-flick will remind you, as the nightmare-weaver goes after the teenage residents of Elm Street, including young Nancy (Heather Langenkamp).
Hide behind a cushion when: Freddy claims his first victim in the nightie-clad form of Tina (Amanda Wyss), who's shredded in mid air while her terrified boyfriend watches helplessly on.
2. The Thing (1982)
The scary movie: Back when remakes weren't commonplace (imagine that), John Carpenter's reimagining of Howard Hawks' 1951 scarer expertly gets under the skin as hero MacReady (Kurt Russell) finds himself stranded in the Antarctic and facing off against a shape-shifting alien.
Hide behind a cushion when: If there's one thing we can't stand, it's when animals bite it in horror movies. Which makes the scene in which a helpless husky succumbs to the alien symbiote almost too terrifying to bear.
1. The Shining (1980)
The scary movie: Stephen King may have disowned Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his novel, but we stand by it as one of the most elegant horror films ever made. Jack Nicholson plays the alcoholic writer who sets up camp with his family at the Overlook Hotel during off-season, only to go, well, a bit mad.
Hide behind a cushion when: You'll need that cushion a lot. There's the bit with the twins, the bit with the elevator, the bit with the lady in the bathtub. Hell, even that retina-frying red bathroom sets our nerves tickin'.