It’s a fact that 80s horror movies will always be the best. There, we said it. We can hear the young voices crying out, “What about “Saw”? Hey, what about the “Scream” franchise?” Yes, we know there are plenty of horror movies with dark-haired girls crawling out of televisions that are creepy. We enjoyed those as well, but they wouldn’t exist without the foundation of success studios enjoyed with the horror movies of the 1980s.
There are a few reasons why 1980s horror movies are better than the rest. First, in the ’80s, horror movies were a new genre. Yes, horror movies have existed for a long time, since the days of “Frankenstein” in 1931 and “The Exorcist”—probably the scariest film of all time—in 1973; honestly, it’s existed long before both. However, the genre was reborn in the 1980s, with characters that launched coveted franchises and became household names. The ’80s gave birth to horror names like “Jason,” “Freddy” and “Michael.” Actually, “Halloween” released in 1978 and is one of the top-grossing independent films of all time. Since its sequels were released through the ’80s, however, we’re including it here.
Second, in the 1980s, many things were new, including that little cable box that sat on top of your television. Now, for the first time, millions of viewers could watch an R-rated ’80s horror film at a sleepover with friends; hence, the reason kids on Monday morning in school were making the “Ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma …” sounds, like they were at Camp Crystal Lake as they walked down the hallway. (And yes, that really is how the Foley artist described these sounds.)
Also, audiences weren’t as desensitized in the 1980s. These were the arguably better days, without “news channels” bombarding the brain 24 hours a day with nonstop violence pumped into your living room. Horror movies of the 1980s were also blessed with an audience that wasn’t as survival or firearm savvy, as so many viewers are now, after being at war for decades and after witnessing so much chaos in the American streets. The coveted “suspension of disbelief” needed from an audience was easier to obtain. (We know how our readers annoy their significant others by incessantly commenting on what “doesn’t work like that” during a film!)
The peak of horror movies reached in the ’80s was also because they were fun. It was the writers’ job to find new ways to kill blissfully unaware, hormone-raging teens in each installment. It was almost a game that was played, without being gruesomely over the top, unlike more recent films from the past ten years that have been labeled “torture porn.” That said, the horror movies of the ’80s had their fair share of blood and gore. This period in the genre of horror cinema did earn the nickname “slasher films,” after all.
While Universal created its icons of horror during the era of black-and-white film, the peak of horror movies in the ’80s gave us new icons that to this day live on in popular culture. Jason’s hockey mask peering from the darkness while tracking down his prey in “Friday the 13th”; Freddy’s hat, sweater and glove in a “Nightmare on Elm Street“; Pinhead from “Hellraiser”; and others still live on T-shirts, toys, coffee mugs and more. (Sorry, folks—we love Leatherface as well, but he debuted in 1974.)
While we have mentioned some of the larger iconic figures that even someone who never watches slasher films will recognize, the horror films of the ’80s gave us even more! Let’s also briefly talk about the variety of horror movies in the ’80s.
Look at some of the classics, the horror films of the ’80s were also a peak time for book authors to see their work adapted for the big screen. The was obviously one author who stood out: Stephen King. It was a busy decade for King, as “Christine,” “Children of The Corn,” “Pet Sematary,” and — one of the all-time greats — “The Shining” all made their debuts in the 1980s.
The reasons the ’80s were the peak of the horror-film genre could easily fill a lengthy book. We can’t even begin to cover other truly classic films, such as “Pumpkinhead,” “The Fog,” or “The Evil Dead.”
There are two iconic horror movies that haven’t been mentioned yet. If you’re wondering about “An American Werewolf in London” and “The Thing,” here you go. We waited to mention them because there’s another aspect of 80s horror movies that truly made the genre come alive: Practical effects. While the 1970s saw a massive jump regarding practical effects — 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead” is a crowning achievement of that decade — these two movies paved the way for effects and makeup in the ’80s.
Starting with 1981’s “American Werewolf in London,” director and writer John Landis took a comedic approach with the horror genre. Landis, who also directed comedy classics like “Animal House” and “Trading Places,” delivered an amazingly bloody rendition of a classic werewolf tale. While the story still holds up, it was Rick Baker’s makeup magic that stole the show. The gruesome and brilliant ways Baker brought the horror to life are tough to replicate today. Baker even won an Academy Award for his work.
In 1982, John Carpenter brought “The Thing” to the silver screen. Carpenter is a horror icon. He’s the man behind the “Halloween” franchise and “The Fog,” but “The Thing” is his best work in the director’s seat. As far as practical effects are concerned, look no further than this film. The effects bring to life a type of horror viewers couldn’t imagine on their own. Meanwhile, the psychological aspects of the film tie everything together. With Kurt Russell leading the way, this Arctic-based horror movie holds up as one of the best of all time.
Nevertheless, as with most things from the 1980s, it is a place in time that will never be replicated again. As for the horror movies of the 80s, honestly, we don’t want them replicated or remade. Some things are best as the original, and that’s definitely the case here. Fortunately, thanks to modern-day streaming technology, we can watch these classics as often as we want. So get to it!
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