The 30 scariest 80s horror movies

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.

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.