The 30 scariest 80s horror movies

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.

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 – yes, really.