The 30 scariest 80s horror movies

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.

Will Salmon
Comics Editor

Will Salmon is the Comics Editor for GamesRadar/Newsarama. He has been writing about comics, film, TV, and music for more than 15 years, which is quite a long time if you stop and think about it. At Future he has previously launched scary movie magazine Horrorville, relaunched Comic Heroes, and has written for every issue of SFX magazine for over a decade. He sometimes feels very old, like Guy Pearce in Prometheus. His music writing has appeared in The Quietus, MOJO, Electronic Sound, Clash, and loads of other places and he runs the micro-label Modern Aviation, which puts out experimental music on cassette tape.