Countdown to Hell: The Ten Best Horror Movies from the 80s!

At heart this blog is your standard 80s horror movie villain. Like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, no matter how many times I think Retrobacktive is dead it always seems to come back to life. It’s been three months since my last post. I was going to end the site on what I felt was the apex of what I wanted this blog to be, informative, researched and to some degree disruptive. But I should have known as soon as autumn rolled around and another Halloween fell upon us, throwing my two cents into the cultural macabre would be inevitable. This time we’re going to try a little something different.

As noted throughout the history of the blog a lot of inspiration is taken from James Rolfe’s Cinemassacre website. Every October James hosts “Monster Madness,” a retrospective of horror movies, both young and old. For myself, and legions of fans, it’s the highlight of the Halloween season. So drawing inspiration from James, I’ve decided to compile my own Top Ten Best 1980s Halloween Movies.

Obviously I won’t be showing clips or going into the depth James does on his site, but let this rundown serve as a quick guide to some of the best thriller films to enjoy for the remainder of October, or all year round.

First some quick preliminaries: I’m not saying these are the best, or necessarily scariest movies, of the decade. While all great films, my criteria was based on how well they embrace the spirit of Halloween; I envision these movies excelling in a group setting where everyone is up for a good spook.

Also, unlike my typical analysis, this is going to be much more informal. I’ve done absolutely no research into these films. Retrobacktive has a history of heavy deconstruction, and it requires a ton of research – and is one of the reasons I can’t maintain the site. Therefore everything in this list is what’s already in my head.

So here we go: the Top Ten Best 1980s Halloween Movies.

10.) The Blob (1988) – This is a remake of the Steve McQueen b-movie classic. It stars Shawnee Smith and Kevin Dillon and for the most part doesn’t stray too far from the original’s premise, save the monster’s origin whose reworking is a nice touch. Like all 80s remakes the gore level is cranked up and even child characters are fair game for the gelatinous title creature.

9.) The Monster Squad (1987) – As a child I was infatuated with this movie mainly because it featured a whole cast of classic Universal monsters. There’s Dracula, the Wolf-Man, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Gill-Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon. The heroes are a bunch of kids and it is admittedly a kids movie, but not a bad option if you’re looking for lighthearted Halloween fare that’s good for all ages.

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8.) Gremlins (1984) – Of all the movies on this list I’d expect this one to be the most controversial; is it horror? Is it comedy? Is it technically a Christmas movie? It doesn’t fit a perfect mold, but it does deliver a great blend of mayhem, hilarity and the supernatural. Joe Dante is one of those director’s with a great sense of dark humor. There are lots of tales of how morose the film would have actually been had the studio not interfered (e.g. Billy’s mom gets her head chopped off and thrown down a flight of stairs). But as it stands it’s a great film if you don’t mind your monsters small, plentiful and totally insane.

7.) Friday the 13th, Part III (1982) – With little effort this whole list could have been filled with slasher flicks, but for me Jason Voorhees is the standout. The character has become an institution where culturally he’s more significant than any one film in the series. Can’t say the same for Freddy or Michael. While many will argue the best film in the series is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, the third film stands out as it features Jason donning the hockey mask for the first time. It’s the first in the series to showcase the iconic Jason as we all know him, and there’s no lack of scares or gore.

6.) Day of the Dead (1985) – With zombie fiction all the rage right now it’s easy to forget George A. Romero started it all in 1968 with a budget that in today’s big Hollywood market would equal peanuts. Romero has continued to make zombie films right up through present day (though he considers the monsters in his films to be “ghouls”), but most recognize his first three as the seminal trilogy. Day of the Dead is considered the weakest of the first three, but in many ways it fits in better with the current landscape of zombie culture with much of the threat centered not on the “ghouls” but the survivors’ inability to cooperate in self-preservation. A must for zombie fanatics.

5.) My Bloody Valentine (1981) – This one keeps it simple: a small town, a vicious killer with a pick-axe on the loose, lots of gruesome murders. There is nothing cerebral about this film. Hollywood did a remake; I’m sure it sucks. For pure Halloween fun, get the original, sit back and enjoy.

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4.) Return of the Living Dead (1985) – It’s one of cinema’s more interesting but lesser known feuds; after the success of Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero and his production partner Dan O’Bannon got into an argument over the direction of the franchise. Ultimately they decided to go their separate ways and settled on Romero moving forward with his Dead series, and O’Bannon getting the rights to the name Living Dead for his. This was the latter’s follow up to Night of the Living Dead with a vastly different tone and directorial style. Return of the Living Dead is laced with off-beat humor, camp, and general exploitation. Not nearly as highbrow as the Dead series, but definitely more fun.

3.) The Fly (1986) – This is another remake of a campy 50s sci-fi film only with a much bigger budget, better actors, and under the helm of “body horror” master David Cronenberg. There’s nothing campy or “fun” about this one; it’s a direct assault on the senses. Jeff Goldblum plays a scientist who develops a means for teleportation but ends up splicing his genes together with a housefly that gets into the teleportation machine with him. The result requires a pretty strong stomach to sit through, but Goldblum’s performance is a tour de force not to be missed. the_thing_1982_theatrical_poster

2.) John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) – Next time you feel like complaining about all the reboots Hollywood keeps churning out these days, remember it’s nothing really new. The only difference is in the 80s they were good. Like Cronenberg’s The Fly, John Carpenter’s The Thing is an improvement over the original – saying a lot considering the original is fantastic. While Carpenter elevates the gore level to new heights, it’s the psychological breakdown among the human characters that creates the movie’s unnerving suspense. It also features the greatest setting of any horror film ever: the middle of Antarctica.

1.) An America Werewolf in London (1981) – Here’s how you make a spectacular Halloween movie: start with a classic monster, like the Wolf-Man, put him in a modern setting, add plenty of blood and gore, some horrific dream sequences, sprinkle in a little light humor and a love story for grounding, and presto! A horror film classic. This John Landis gem gets the number one spot because of its versatility; it works on its own, in a group setting, or as the perfect background flick to your Halloween party.

There you have it; ten great Halloween movies, and it just so happens there’s ten days left before Halloween. Stay tuned for another list I’ll be putting together over the next couple days featuring my favorite Halloween movies outside of the 1980s. That’s right, folks; this Halloween we’re breaking all the rules!