The Best Horror Movies of the 1980s, Ranked
If nothing else, the 1980s were an age of discovery for the horror genre, as well as a time of weird normalization. Horror movies finally shook off the yolk of the thriller and adventure stories where they originated in the 1970s and had created a line of movies that were uniquely interested in evincing terror of all sorts for the audience. One could argue something like Jaws is still, at its heart, an action-adventure story, but what on earth would you call The Texas Chainsaw Massacre if not horror? An experimental, Dadaist noir featuring some demented clown with a chainsaw?
That was the time of the genre being created and finding confidence, whereas the 1980s is where genre found itself and the 1990s was when it established itself in the pantheon of other big-studio genres. We first met Ms. Voorhees and her son, Jason, in the 80s and suddenly, you couldn’t go into the movie theater without seeing advertisements for another Friday the 13th movie or buying a ticket for one. These movies were cheap to make and people showed up in droves to see them, if only for the gratuitous nudity and buckets of fake blood. People liked seeing the monsters do their stuff from a distance, and though the money was never in the same abundance as it would be with the comic-book craze, there was still a lucrative fad going on.
It’s easy to see the decade as the era of Jason, Freddy, Chucky, and Leatherface’s continued reign, but the 1980s also laid down the foundation for some of the most crucial stylistic decisions of the genre as it exists now. The best movies from the era transcended the cheapness, the frivolity, and the easy pleasures of the franchises to seek out the true thrill and disturbing nature of murderers and monsters. The Thing tells the story of a group of men being consumed by an alien force that replicates them, but beyond the story, John Carpenter directed the movie as if it was a lost Antonioni script. For whatever else it might be, The Shining is a brutal self-excoriation and a frighteningly convincing portrait of a mind becoming untethered from daily life, family, and identity.
That’s where horror has become important, a new genre lined with violent, expressive images that open up all new realms of political, sociological, and cultural discussion. The best horror films of the 1980s might not have all went so far into the ether as Kubrick or Carpenter, but each one clearly came from both a unique point of view and an ambitious, capable artist, surrounded by technical geniuses and other artists who help them out as best they can. And the fact that genuine, mature artists have found not only refuge but glory in this genre suggests that its full power hasn’t even been surmised yet.
Here are the 50 best that were released in the 1980s.
This uproarious wonder is something of a local masterwork in New York City. Shot on location amidst the stinking, garbage-strewn streets of the city that never sleeps, C.H.U.D. details the fight between the denizens of NYC and an army of cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. The humans are represented by a youthful John Heard and a seriously lanky Daniel Stern, and the talk is more important for the splashes of outdated lingo, the East Coast accents and the unpredictable groans, sighs, or belches. There’s nothing much in the way of violence but the creatures themselves are gloriously cheap works of desperate invention. I can’t say that you’ll be scared by this movie, or that you won’t spend most of the runtime laughing at the…let’s call it problematic continuity and production design. Still, when I think about the horror geeks who come to New York to make good genre movies for a decent wage, my brain wanders back to this strangely charming oddity more than The Panic in Needle Park, Dog Day Afternoon, Midnight Cowboy, or Andy Warhol’s Empire. – Chris Cabin
49. Basket Case
From the cracked mind of Frank Henenlotter and boasting a budget that would make even the most capable indie producer cry, Basket Case was likely never meant to spawn the rabid cult following (or sheer number of loving derivatives that it did), but if any horror comedy of the ‘80s deserved such a hallowed future, it certainly is this one. Following a wide-eyed, naive young man named Duane Bradley and his not-so-friendly sidekick on the murderous hunt for the doctor who separated Duane and his now hideously deformed (telepathic!) Siamese twin, Basket Case employs a bit of Cronenbergian grotesque, a dash of Lynchian horror and scads of over-the-top gore for a fearlessly unique blend of gonzo scares. The plot itself is bonkers enough to qualify this film as a notable nasty, but the film’s storyline is largely an excuse for the pop psychology, perversion and piles of gore that lie just beyond a padlocked wicker box. Horror gems don’t come much crazier than this. – Aubrey Page
48. Night of the Comet
What would kids in the 1980s do if the apocalypse blew through the world without them noticing? Hang out at the mall, but of course. That’s the set-up for this very funny, quite dated horror-comedy, which begins when a quartet of adolescents lock themselves inside a projection booth at the mall’s multiplex. This somehow allows them to live through an extinction level event of some sort, which has also left roaming bands of murderous mutants.
Catherine Mary Stewart of the equally inexplicable Weekend at Bernie’s leads the film, but it’s a movie of mood more than substance ultimately. Does the wealth-fueled naiveté of the average white teenager survive in a vacuum? Does it go away when they are being hunted for sustenance? It’s an interesting to watch on these terms and when the zombies show up, director Thom Eberhardt adds menace and a tight feel for suspense to the action sequences. And if we’re being honest, it belongs on this list for its soundtrack alone. The rest of this is just whip cream and cherries. – Chris Cabin
47. Killer Klowns from Outer Space
One of my all-time favorite B-horror movies that became a part of the Midnite Movies collection, this coulrophobic nightmare is the absolute definition of cult classic. As of this writing, it remains the only writing/directing work for the Chiodo Brothers; there’s been talk of a 3D sequel for a while now but we haven’t heard much on that lately. If you haven’t seen it, there’s no better time than the present. (Oh and the protagonist’s name is Mike Tobacco, if that helps sway your opinion.)
I’m willing to bet that there’s no other film out there in which a circus tent-shaped spaceship crash lands in a field and unleashes clown-like alien monstrosities upon the countryside. (If there is another one, please let me know.) While this could easily have fallen flat as a one-joke premise, it’s a surprisingly fun and fast-paced watch full of clown gags that are just as creepy as they are clever. As for my favorite part of the Killer Klowns mythology, I’m torn between the cotton candy cocoons and the method of defeating the clown: shooting them in their noses. If that makes you smile, then Killer Klowns from Outer Space is right up your alley. – Dave Trumbore
46. Child's Play
Chucky, the original nightmare doll, was the creation of Don Mancini, who’s made quite the career from the creepy character. To date, there are eight films in the Child’s Play franchise, including a 2019 reboot starring Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry. But to really get a sense of where the Chucky craze started, you have to go back to the original 1988 film Child’s Play.
In a stroke of twisted genius, the story follows a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray who is fatally shot by a homicide detective in Chicago. While that would be an okay start for a slasher film, the fact that his soul is transferred into a child’s doll really sets the foundation for the entire franchise. What follows is a tense, at times terrifying thriller in which the newly purchased doll comes to life and starts committing murder and mayhem while ordering around his new owner, Andy. Look, dolls are creepy enough to begin with, so when one of them has the autonomy to run around, cuss a blue streak, and kill anyone who looks at him funny, you know you’ve got a horror classic on your hands. Add to that the fact that this doll is nigh immortal and now you’ve got a franchise. Do yourself a favor and go back to where it all started before Chucky’s secret made its way into the world. – Dave Trumbore
45. Prince of Darkness
Prince of Darkness is one of John Carpenter’s odder outings, but it’s still laced with his untamable weirdness and chilling talent at conveying fear and menace with equal potency. Here, he tangos once again with Donald Pleasance (Halloween’s doomed Dr. Loomis), who plays a priest who convinces a local Los Angeles professor (Big Trouble in Little China‘s Victor Wong) to bring his class to an abandoned church where he believes he’s tracked down the essence of Satan. Carpenter is no fan of organized religion and here he seems to really let his secular fury flow. The hiding from and battles against the legions of the possessed allows Carpenter plenty of time to let his natural talent for B-movie action out to play, and though not quite as politically radical as one might hope, the suspicious, atheistic perspective is a breath of fresh air regardless. – Chris Cabin
44. The Blob
There has been a drought of creature feature horror movies in recent years and that’s a crying shame. Luckily, past decades have us well and truly covered with just about every type of critter imaginable. Case in point: 1988’s The Blob. This remake of the 1958 film of the same name brings an amorphous, acidic, amoeba-like creature to life and lets it crawl across the California countryside consuming everything in its path.
This is just good old-fashioned creature feature fun. The practical effects are a blast as multiple victims are partially or completely digested and dissolved by the blob’s acidic chemistry. And though the creature may have crash-landed onto Earth from outer space, its actual origins provide the necessary narrative twist in this movie that would otherwise be a one-note slog. The gore factor is near the top of the charts in this one so if that bothers you, you might want to skip it entirely. But for those of you who maybe watched this movie at too young an age and then reenacted it with a glob of Silly Putty and toy soldiers, I think you’ll enjoy this little chunk of nostalgia. – Dave Trumbore
43. The Stuff
The Stuff is essentially a Bugsy Malone remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with advertising and greed being the substitute for Snatchers’ Communist pod people and “The Stuff” a substitute for the lethal ice cream that was in the kids’ gangster guns in Malone. What’s “The Stuff”? Some delicious white goop that bubbles up from the ground one day and is discovered to be extremely nutritious and calorie free, despite tasting so good. Because it tastes swell and makes folks feel good, before anyone will ask why is it pumping out of the ground, it’s packaged, marketed and sold. Years later, it’s essentially all that anyone lives off of, but it also starts moving on its own and bodily husks start being found where “The Stuff” now runs amok. You should’ve asked questions!
Larry Cohen’s film is goofier than it is scary. It recreates many iconic horror scenes (such as the bloody bed in Nightmare on Elm Street) with a marshmallow-y texture. What’s really at play in The Stuff is that we shouldn’t just be scared of sharp things that can pierce us, but also seemingly harmless everyday things that we constantly replenish and restock without thought. Don’t become a slave to your “stuff”. ~ Brian Formo
This entry previously appeared in the Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now article.
Clive Barker‘s name has become synonymous with the horror genre, just as his first feature-length film Hellraiser has become a symbol for leather-wearing, sadomasochistic, pain-worshippers. Both descriptors are fitting, though there’s so much more to Barker’s original 1987 film than mere fetishism. There’s a deep mythology here, a rather original one that started with Barker’s novella “The Hellbound Heart” and was carried on in numerous sequel films, comic books, novels, video games, and more.
And it all started with Hellraiser, a film that explores the linked sensations of pain and pleasure on a number of levels. The main players are Larry Cotton and his second wife Julia, who cheated on him with his brother Frank shortly after they were married. This sets up one of the most bizarre yet rich mythologies in cinema history: Julia’s obsession with Frank continues well after his death and is rejuvenated when Frank himself is resurrected. However, Frank needs fresh blood to return to his full health, blood that Julia is happy to supply by luring men back to Frank’s abandoned childhood home and sacrificing them.
And yet, as horrible as this is, it’s mundane compared to the arrival of the Cenobites, beings from another dimension obsessed with carnal experiences elucidating the extremes of pain and pleasure. Their design and presence is fantastic in the truest sense of the word and the practical effects on display here are just as terrifying today as they were in 1987. If you haven’t seen the original or any of the sequels, Hellraiser is the perfect place to start. If you’re not careful, this movie will tear your soul apart. – Dave Trumbore
41. The Funhouse
In a way, no one but Tobe Hooper could have directed this no-frills chiller. Part of what fascinates Hooper is the everyday horrors of the world, how things that we take for granted as familiar images and utilities are also, in origin or myth, horrific. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the craziness begins with a hitchhiker not seeing the inherent horror in making headcheese. In the case of The Funhouse, it’s as much the cheap designs of the traveling carnival where the central quartet of teens finds themselves rambling around as the damage that’s been done to the equipment and the overall age of it all. There’s also something about the veneer of fear in the simple story, in which a murderous mutant being hunts the aforementioned teens. The man who runs the haunted house and funhouse doesn’t care about the effectiveness of his designs or rides, but his personal life is full of unimaginable burdens and endless terror. Similarly, the inanimate mask that the killer wears hides a, er, unappealing visage, but this killer, under Hooper’s direction, reanimates the horrors of the carnival funhouse after years of these images being dismissed as lame or old-fashioned. – Chris Cabin
40. The Fog
John Carpenter‘s The Fog is a good old-fashioned ghost story and it makes no bones about it. The film opens on John Houseman‘s grizzled Mr. Machen spinning a campfire yarn about the local legend of a wrecked ship, the Elizabeth Dane, which washed up on the rocky shores of Antonio Bay 100 years ago, dragging the ship’s crew to the bottom of the sea. On the town Centennial, the sinister truth about the Elizabeth Dane emerges along with the souls of its crewmen, as a neon blue fog rolls into town with some very pissed off pirate ghosts in tow. Carpenter’s Halloween follow-up feels similar in a lot of ways: a slow-moving, unstoppable force coming to wreak havoc on a quiet town, set to a pulsing synth score, and hey, Jamie Lee Curtis is there too (though in an inconsequential supporting role). It’s a sleepy, atmospheric film that embodies the spirit of a campfire ghost story. — Haleigh Foutch
A young girl (Jennifer Connelly) communicates with insects and they assist her in warding off attacks in an idyllic Swiss landscape where young girls are getting speared and decapitated. This being a Dario Argento film, that means we get to see some action that it’s split into eight eyes and that the human decapitations are especially gruesome, but handsomely shot.
In revealing who/what’s killing the town’s youth and also who can save them, Phenomena has the most bonkers third act of any horror film that I’ve ever seen. It’s the sort of thing that must be seen to be believed. But as absurd as it is, it fits in with Argento’s side narrative about loving all living things and how that energy can assist you in life. Just think of that love of life when he gleefully films the crimson that drains from it during the last pleads for life.
Did I not mention that Donald Pleasence co-stars as a scientist with a pet chimpanzee? See this movie. – Brian Formo
38. Children of the Corn
Stephen King’s Children of the Corn brings the 1977 short story from Stephen King to life. First published in Penthouse and then included in the “Night Shift” collection, Children of the Corn is centered on a bickering couple on a road trip to California for a vacation. Their journey takes an unfortunate side track into the Nebraska town of Gatlin where a gruesome and bizarre cult of extremely devout children do not take kindly to outsiders, especially adults.
While this movie starts out as a faithful adaptation of King’s work, it quickly turns into a more traditional heroic story than the short story intended; purists of King’s writing will likely find the movie infuriating. However, it remains as a great example of the “creepy children” that King’s work has become known for, and of the cultural touchstones of Malachi, Isaac, and He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Yeah, you’re probably going to laugh when you see a bunch of corn stuffed into a car’s engine block “disabling” it or when the hero plays a game of “How Many 5th Graders Can You Take in a Fight?” but it’s a classic nonetheless. – Dave Trumbore
One of three Stuart Gordon movies that adorn this list, Dolls is perhaps the most uniquely frightening of the bunch and also the least audacious in terms of concept and style. The story, which centers on an old couple who house a number of strangers on a stormy night in a home filled with creepy dolls, seems to be a throwback to The Twilight Zone or, more accurately, the beloved B-movie classic Devil Doll. And yet, under Gordon, the entire tale seems revitalized, given a new rampant fury and energy that somehow never outpaces with pulse of suspense and terror. For a director who must use actors much like playing with living, thinking dolls, the movie must have a vicious, self-excoriating purpose for Gordon. For the audience, it’s an oddly funny, quite bloody entertainment sans frills. – Chris Cabin
36. The Entity
Where other ghost tales may focus on homes stirred into tumult by specters or human possession, The Entity supposes something a lot more discomfiting: the act of being repeatedly raped by a ghost. That’s what Barbara Hershey’s mother of four must survive on a somewhat regular basis in her home, a status that she calls in Ron Silver’s doctor to give her some insight into. The attacks themselves are brutal even as they feature nothing more than Hershey struggling against an invisible being. That’s the talent of Sidney J. Furie coming out, and it’s the grinding mechanical noise accompaniment as much as the images of Hershey unable to control her own body. The movie takes a turn toward scientific reasoning – amongst the ghost rape – which unfortunately suggests a lack of confidence in the sheer madness and emotional effectiveness of the premise and its execution. Up until the attempts to bring in physics, chemistry, and whatnot into this unnerving nonsense, however, The Entity is uniquely memorable, and not for particularly joyful reasons. – Chris Cabin
35. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Director Tobe Hooper dubbed this unlikely 1986 sequel a “red comedy” in an attempt to explain horror that transcends even the tastes of intellectual cynics. The viscerally bitter point of view of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, its utter disregard for empathizing with the dead, certainly sticks with you but that’s not what’s worth discussing with this film. Instead, it’s worth recalling the demented world-building power that Hooper let flourish in the DADA-esque editing and the spare yet chilling production design of the original, as he continues to explore nonsensical yet deeply effective stylistic excesses. He builds tremendous suspense during the second movement of the film in the radio station, which features some sensational long takes and tight, paranoia-inducing framing in the final moments leading up to the climax. For all these cerebral reasons to let this noble sequel off the hook, it’s still the unshakeable feeling that Hooper’s Massacre films stricken you with that keeps you coming back, as if you had just met personally with the janitorial staff of the sixth circle of hell. – Chris Cabin
34. Motel Hell
Of the innumerable Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-offs, Motel Hell might be the most enjoyable and distinct of the lot. In the middle of nowhere, farmer Vincent Smith makes his living off of a meager stretch of land, his barbeque, and the few rooms at his Motel Hello. Often enough, it’s the perverts and local lost tourists that stop at the Motel Hello that turn into that state-famous barbeque that brings discerning carnivores back. And then old Vincent tries to make a love slave out of one of his victims and that’s where the problems begin. There’s no great artistry here but there’s plenty of bewitching bizarreness, from the not-so-polished performances on down to the no-budget production design. It’s the proper setting for one of the true disciples of a movie that’s as remarkable for what it shows as for how it shows it. – Chris Cabin
33. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Much maligned because it departed from the track the horror franchise had established with the first two films (and because it was completely insane), Halloween III: Season of the Witch has developed somewhat of a cult following since its 1982 debut. It’s the sole film in the franchise that doesn’t feature the iconic, unkillable serial killer Michael Myers or any of the previously established mythology. The reason behind this was that Halloween creators and producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill envisioned the franchise as going in an anthology direction with the third installment verging into sci-fi/fantasy territory. Things did not go as planned.
For the uninitiated, Season of the Witch follows an investigation into the Silver Shamrock Novelties company and its owner, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), which brings prosperity to a small town but also has a significant creepy factor thanks to his besuited businessmen roaming around. While I won’t give away the investigations findings (they’re bonkers) or the reason behind them (even more bonkers), I will say that you’ll never see anything else quite like it. Completionists need to check this one off their list and it’s a must-watch for horror aficionados as well, but for folks with an open mind who can appreciate the movie’s anti-consumerism message and taboo treatment of violence against children, it’s an eye-opening experience. – Dave Trumbore
32. Of Unknown Origin
Director George P. Cosmatos would come to prominence in 1985 with Rambo: First Blood Part II, and would hit the big time again with the notorious Sylvester Stallone actioner Cobra, but Of Unknown Origin remains his sole triumph. Mild-mannered Peter Weller has a huge project at work looming over him when his wife and kids decide to take a vacation, but that’s exactly when our hero starts hearing and seeing rats. Huge ones, as a matter of fact. It’s a true oddity and Cosmatos somehow strikes the perfect tone for this disturbing psychological thriller, but it’s also clearly a cheesy, if inventive cultural comment. The obsession of an unknown infiltrator, whether it be a thief in the night or AIDS, over the stasis of your life on the whole reflects a nattering anxiety over some false sort of purity. It makes all the more sense to symbolize sin and debauchery with a rat, the unofficial symbol of the New York City subway system, a location that’s already long been marked with more than its fair share of scarlet letters. – Chris Cabin
The effect of William Lustig’s Maniac, in which we follow a demented killer (Joe Spinell) of women who occupies a small room full of mannequins and collects the heads of women he sees on the streets at night. Or does he?
The possibility that this is all some kind of sweat-soaked nightmare doesn’t dull the impact of the murders themselves, which are directed to emphasize the physical exertion of the activity, the exhaustion and messiness of an act that’s often presented as quick and easy with a gun. And the grisly acts that are visited upon these corpses certainly don’t become easier to ignore when the main man is questioning his state of mind. Lustig shot on a humble budget in New York City and much like C.H.U.D. and Basket Case, the movie is remembered partially as a last-ditch document of pre-Giuliani New York. The movie is, after all, Giuliani’s walking, bloody nightmare of the town he’s pimped out for credibility for years.
Maniac is exacting in its depiction of the ugliness of serial killing, but it’s also one of those movies that stands as a giddy affront to good taste and a testament to why you should never, ever, ever try to clean up the five boroughs. – Chris Cabin
30. The Serpent and the Rainbow
Wes Craven heads to Haiti for this haunting tale of voodoo possession, with Bill Pullman out front as the superstitious American studying a case of possession. Away from the suburbs of A Nightmare on Elm Street or (wince) Deadly Friend, Craven evinces a new visual and auditory flavor of terror, such as in the deeply unsettling burial scenes. Craven is more spare and direct with his fantastical touches in The Serpent and the Rainbow. Rather than use foreign lands as solely a place of dangerous mystical forces, he engenders a fascination with the setting, the people, and the history in a genre not always known for caring for much more than a big body count. It’s ultimately a classic tale of a cynic being faced with the horrors and glories of faith, though, let’s be honest, Craven seems far more interested in the horrors. – Chris Cabin
29. Friday the 13th: The Next Chapter
The Final Chapter is the quintessential Friday the 13th film, tinged with comical moments similar to those that elevate Jason Lives! into such a delirious experience and yet more of a slasher in its basic narrative DNA. This is where we first meet Tommy Jarvis, Jason’s primary nemesis, if there is one, and the final face-off between Corey Feldman‘s Jarvis and Jason is actually pretty unsettling, tapping into some disturbing, if not entirely convincing psychology. This wasn’t the kind of performance Feldman was good at, but the film deserves points for swinging for the fences in this manner. For the rest of the film, the former kid-star is more than serviceable, and this film is as acutely attentive to the story’s inherent psychosexual undercurrents than any other film on the list. The murders range from simple eviscerations to extravagant butchery, and the fact that the cast includes long-working character actors Crispin Glover and Erich Anderson gives the film a certain flair, something like B-grade star-power. It’s the most balanced of the Friday the 13th series, landing somewhere between Animal House and Joseph Zito‘s slasher classic The Prowler, which shares a director with The Final Chapter but never quite reaches for this film’s level of bona fide strangeness. – Chris Cabin
Wolfen is perhaps the most forgotten film on this list. It’s the only narrative film from Michael Wadleigh the director of Woodstock. The cast is intriguing and a bit oddball, starring Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos. And although it’s a horror film that first introduced the in-camera thermography to show the predator’s point of view, staying low to the ground and pouncing on victims whose bodies are gradients of heat (later used more famously by Predator), there’s a pretty heady story about Native American land rights and an anti-gentrification stance in this film.
What are the Wolfen? An advanced species of wolves that can exchange souls with specific tribes of humans. They’ve taken residence in an abandoned Bronx housing project that wealthy individuals are about to bulldoze over to put another corporate monstrosity. Wolfen is a horror film with an extra layer that shows that every race and every species has a right to protect their land. ~ Brian Formo
27. The Changeling
Though the haunted house genre had arguably fallen out of favor by the time The Changeling hit theaters, Peter Medak, whose early ‘70s black comedy The Ruling Class set a buttoned-up reputation for the would-be auteur, managed to make a film that would ultimately become a mannered classic of the genre, trendiness be damned. Evoking all the sweeping, creeping dread of The Haunting injected with a core of deep-seated loss, The Changeling isn’t so much a horror film as it is an unsettling mystery, brilliantly shot and calibrated to tick every known box of the genre while managing to build a mythos deep enough to step out very much as its own. A clear influencer of future child horrors like The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage, Medak’s meticulous direction coupled with George C. Scott’s impassively masterful performance as a father in the throes of immense loss makes the film an unmissable standout, even as The Changeling rumbles towards its inevitable, gothic conclusion. – Aubrey Page
It’s hard to know where to start with Lifeforce, a film that was often whispered about under the name “The Space Dracula Movie” in high school. And, well, to be fair, that is what you tend to remember most clearly from this bombastic and bloody science-fiction epic. The fight to save the planet from a race of evil space vampires is led by Steve Railsback’s Colonel Carlsen, who must also deal with his attractions with the leader of the vampires (Mathilda May).
Tobe Hooper directs the hell out of this wild intergalactic tale, and his bold style gives the entire story the immediately enticing look of illustrations in pulpy dime-store novels. The physical effects are also lovingly crafted and designed with clear thought and care, and the lighting is engagingly colored and shadowy alternatively. In other words, Hooper creates the perfect atmosphere for such a bizarre quasi-masterpiece to fully bloom, and though it was a box office bomb, it remains more urgently entertaining that 80% of modern big-studio blockbusters.
Eyeballs. To me, there’s nothing more disgusting than things happening to eyeballs in a horror film. These violent images are being observed through your own eyeballs after all. The very thing that is being harmed in the film in front of you is entering your own iris and traveling up to your brain. Anyway, Dario Argento fully understands the eyeball horror and he exploits it gleefully in Opera.
Opera is an elaborate stalker film. Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is an operetta singer who’s about to perform Phantom of the Opera in Rome but she’s forced to watch everyone who gets close to her die in a horrible fashion, while the killer has her trapped behind glass with needles placed under her eyelids, so closely, if she closes them her eyes will be shredded. So, for her, the show must go on.
Argento goes even further with eye terrors, using peepholes and the point of view of a crow’s eye in the rafters of the opera (from a crow cam!) and it’s delicious and grotesque fun (not for the squeamish, Argento also heightens the sound of the kills and plays metal music on the score; he’s gutting your every sense!). He also puts a camera in a trashcan to frame the dumping of evidence as though it’s dropping through an iris. It’s also pretty deep, right? She’s being forced to watch unspeakable horrors but her eyes also deceive her ability to see the killer fully. – Brian Formo
24. The Hitcher
The Hitcher didn’t come to town until the decade’s zest for the stalk and slash subgenre was waning, but there’s little even now in Robert Harmon’s debut that feels rote or predictable, beyond, of course, the film’s growing body count. Willing to involve itself with flashes of perverse violence and gleefully nihilistic on-screen kills, The Hitcher’s pitch-black approach to its cinematic niche is almost wholly carried by the film’s uncannily perfect casting, with baby-faced C. Thomas Howell and a young Jennifer Jason Leigh as The Hitcher’s objects of murderous desire. But it’s the hitcher himself, a pure form of unstoppable inhuman evil, played with ravenous scenery chewing by Rutger Hauer: glowering, inscrutable and most of all, totally deadly, that makes the film so goddamn terrifying.
Hauer (whose name in the film is, ironically, Ryder) is a black-eyed, agent of darkness with a very deadly truck and a vendetta against anyone who gets in his way. Little about the hitcher seems human; he’s wholly unpredictable and unwilling to bend to any rules of the universe. As a result, the film is happily cruel to the people who inhabit the film – a dog laps up its owners’ blood, fingers are mistaken for french fries, and Leigh is torn unceremoniously in two by the revving of a truck. It’s no wonder that Roger Ebert gave the film zero stars (noting it is “reprehensible”), but it’s the film’s very brutality, and its unstoppable villain, that makes The Hitcher a force to be reckoned with, even after three decades. – Aubrey Page
23. The Howling
Joe Dante doesn’t do things the easy way, and that’s not always for the best. More times than not, however, this instinct to not do what people suspect suggests a fascination with more heady thematic idea embedded in the story’s fibers. In the case of The Howling, his werewolf movie par excellence, there’s a sense of the increased, almost theatrical sublimation of our bestial selves, especially in the realms of sex and violence, in each frame of Dante’s ingenious, hilarious genre workout.
Of course, the film is made from the perspective of a born misanthrope, a seasoned stirrer of the shit, and it’s in these flashes that we hear the master Dante, cynical of all and a self-labeled bemused outsider. Which isn’t to say that he goes the intellectual route too often. When the dense, wooded retreat known as the Colony turns into something like a werewolf blood orgy, Dante doesn’t skimp on the red and there’s plenty of viscerally unsettling images of gores or the stripping of flesh from a face. It’s Dante’s ability to put those high-end thrills and shocks on the board and then deliver similar stretches of quick, eloquent backstory and comedic asides while maintaining a coherent tone that remains so startling after all these years. – Chris Cabin
22. The Stepfather
What makes The Stepfather so frightening is not Terry O’Quinn’s lead performance alone, though he wasn’t in need of help really. It’s the process of the screenplay, the thoroughness of how O’Quinn’s menacing psychopath continues to move on between towns and families, murdering his wives and their children at the very first hint of trouble.
The movie has a handful of haunting images, the most memorable of which is O’Quinn shaving up and leaving a home filled with corpses before he attaches himself to the mother and daughter he’s with for the glut of the movie. O’Quinn’s bottle-up-and-explode performance is a marvel of sorts, and it enlivens the more formulaic stretches of the story. When he’s talking about the importance of family, however, you can feel the ripened cynicism bubbling up from underneath the veneer of the dialogue. This is the frustration and regret of married life repressed to the point of bloody rupture and The Stepfather makes its outlandish outcome at once eerie and uproarious. – Chris Cabin
Creepshow is an anthology-style love letter to the E.C. horror comics of yesteryear from two of the horror genre’s greatest minds, and what’s not to like about that? Directed by George Romero from a screenplay by Stephen King – who also lends his previously untold acting talents to one the film’s standout segments – Creepshow strings together five horror vignettes with a gleeful mischievousness and the occasional hint of social commentary.
Like all anthologies, the quality of the individual segments can be a bit uneven, but Creepshow hits more home runs than most thanks to the talents of King and Romero, who harken back to the poetic justice and primal, hair-raising horrors of the dime store comics that inspired them. The duo treats that source material with great affection and great reverence, infusing the film with a comic book aesthetic and keeping their tongues firmly in cheek throughout. The magic of Creepshow is the way it moves between those tones, offering up as many laughs as thrills, and occasionally a stomach-churning sense of dread (“Something to Tide You Over” was rather traumatic in my youth). It’s a creepy comic come to life, bursting with color and playful enthusiasm, and in the hands of its more-than-capable creators, it becomes more than just homage, standing tall in its own right. — Haleigh Foutch
20. The Evil Dead
At this point, Evil Dead 2 is the movie I go to for the visceral horror thrills. The Evil Dead is electric for entirely different reasons. Though still deeply scary in stretches, it’s more the work of ecstatic, uncontrollable filmmaking bravado, a thing of all-consuming energy and demented spirit. The menacing story about how Ash (Bruce Campbell) first came into contact with the Deadites is a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am affair and it’s Sam Raimi’s similarly rough, thrilling style, a feeling that does somehow feel like riding a bat out of hell. The movie would not work even a little bit if not for Raimi and his small crew, and the vision of a wild trip to the heart of cackling evil that drove them to create one of the most consistently satisfying franchises in the history of the cinema. And you can feel all Raimi’s ambitions, all his whooping cinematic energy and imagination, in The Evil Dead’s scant, fleet-footed runtime. – Chris Cabin
Location, location, location. If only Poltergeist‘s Freeling family had taken the first law of real estate to heart, they would have saved themselves a lot of headaches. Not that it was their fault that their house, and all the others in the community, happened to be built on a pre-existing cemetery. With a story like that, it’s no surprise that Tobe Hooper was at the helm of this horror classic, but what may be surprising to some is the fact that Steven Spielberg, who wrote the screenplay, would have also directed it were it not for a contractual conflict with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. (The story goes that Spielberg’s “take-charge” personality had more influence than might appear on paper.)
Instead of Spielberg’s signature style, what we get is a nightmarish carousel of every type of haunt that could conceivably scare audiences. Spooky kids talking to ghosts in the machine, grasping trees that come to life, creepy clowns, lurking closet danger, and spirits from beyond, not to mention corpses rising from their graves and nearly drowning or being buried alive in mud. Dark Spielberg is my favorite Spielberg and this is easily his most “horror” film he’s ever written. Memorable for its characters, its quotable dialogue, and its smart plotting that keeps audiences guessing, Poltergeist is an 80s horror classic that still makes me want to wheel the TV outside, just in case. – Dave Trumbore
This entry previously appeared in the Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now article.
Another necessary inclusion in a horror film is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft‘s iconic works, even if the work in question happens to be one of his most poorly received. It might surprise you to find that Re-Animator was inspired by Lovecraft, but the 1920s short story serial “Herbert West, Reanimator” was one of the first fiction stories to envision zombies as scientifically resurrected entities; it’s also the first mention of Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. Gordon and his writing team only adapted Lovecraft’s first two segments of the story for this film, but the final segments were later adapted in 1990’s Bride of Re-Animator.
Gordon’s contemporary take on Re-Animator kept the title character of Herbert West but brought him from his inauspicious career at the University of Zurich to New England’s Miskatonic University to continue his training as a medical student. The movie quickly dives into its mythology centering on scientific experiments bent on reanimating dead tissue (be they cats or humans) and soon folds in the concept of mind-control and themes of anti-authority, all complemented with fantastically low-budget practical effects. This is a must-watch for horror aficionados. – Dave Trumbore
17. Street Trash
Street Trash is the ultimate, cackling embellishment to throw up in the face of those who believe in living pure and healthy. A certain case of a particularly cheap kind of malt liquor is tainted with some funky, surpassingly toxic stuff, and when (largely poverty-stricken) people drink it, they melt into puddles of goop. In an alternate dimension, this glorious, gore-heavy whatsit would have been the ultimate “Just Say No” PSA of the Reagan era. Director James Muro gives this nonsense – there’s little in the way of real story – the feeling of a rushing nightmare, littered with pools of colored liquid guts and devastated urban landscapes. It’s a genuine oddity and there remains something intoxicating and viscerally awe-inspiring about this strong brew. – Chris Cabin
16. A Nightmare on Elm Street
With Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven introduced one of horror’s all-time greatest villains in Robert Englund‘s Freddy Krueger, a cruel and crass killer of children who somehow manages to charm even as he cuts his way through the innocents of Elm Street. In fact, Kreuger’s legacy has grown so great over the years, spawning seven sequels and a remake along the way, that it can outshine how incredibly innovative and well-executed Craven’s original film was, and how inherently brilliant the film’s basic idea was. Craven took the slasher concept popularized by films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, twisted it through the lens of nightmarish dream logic, and redefined it through subtle genre deconstruction (though nowhere near as outright as his New Nightmare and Scream). Craven found a way to take the tropes of the slasher genre and reshape into the legend of Freddy Krueger. You can’t escape most slasher killers because, well that’s just how the genre works, but it’s innate to Kreuger’s very construct. At the end of the day our dreams are always waiting for us, and if he’s set his sights on you, Freddy Kreuger is there waiting too. — Haleigh Foutch
15. An American Werewolf in London
Considered by many to be one of the best horror films in cinematic history now that its cult status has been firmly cemented, John Landis‘ dark horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London has set itself apart from all other werewolf films that came before it and have come since. Notable for the make-up special effects work of Rick Baker, for which the film won the inaugural Oscar for Outstanding Achievement in Make-Up, the visceral, bone-crunching werewolf transformation will haunt your dreams for years. If that doesn’t get you, then perhaps the slowly decaying forms of the living dead victims of the werewolf will.
Not content to churn out a simple monster movie, Landis chose instead to focus on the grief over losing a friend, the guilt at committing murder, and the maddening need to reconcile with those who are dead. It’s not just David’s curse that plagues him throughout this film, it’s the literal embodiment of those other negative emotions that follow him, pleading with him to end his own life before he adds more victims due to the curse’s effects. As is the case in other Landis’ works, there are laughs to be found, but boy are they dark. And delightfully so. – Dave Trumbore
14. Evil Dead 2
Brace yourself, those who have never tangled with Evil Dead 2 before! If you’ve already seen The Evil Dead…well, some of this might come off as familiar. And yes, it really, really is all but identical in content to the first film. And yet, that’s what makes its crucial differentiations, the decisive ways in which director Sam Raimi makes this its own gory, glorious movie, all the more impressive. Ash’s second trip to the cabin in the woods promises that he’ll be dead by dawn and that his companions will be decimated. Well, the Deadites who made that claim were half right at least. This is where Ash gets his famous chainsaw hand and inaugurates it with the blood of a few white-eyed banshees. It’s funnier, it’s scarier, and to quote Jack Black in Stephen Frears’ adaptation of High Fidelity, the soundtrack kicks fucking ass. – Chris Cabin
James Cameron‘s follow-up to Ridley Scott‘s iconic 1979 horror masterpiece makes a decided move in the direction of a blockbuster action sequel (and it arguably defined the template in the process), but it’s still got the visceral violence, and most importantly, the innate horrors of the xenomorph. And this time, there are a whole bunch of them wreaking havoc on Sigourney Weaver‘s Ellen Ripley and her latest ill-fated crew. Set 57 years after we last saw Ripley facing intergalactic terrors, Aliens puts a new spin on Alien‘s psychosexual themes, exploring concepts of motherhood beyond gestation and adding a dose of heartfelt drama with the introduction of Carrie Henn‘s Newt. Aliens is a perfect example of the greatness that’s possible when two different cinematic visionaries take a swing at the same concept, and Cameron completely avoids falling into the trap of simply re-treading the first film, but takes the concept and runs a marathon with it, creating a deserving sequel that dances through genres gleefully. It’s got more sci-fi, more action, more adventure, more humor, but manages to keep that undercurrent of horror through it all. — Haleigh Foutch
12. Altered States
Perhaps Altered States doesn’t belong under the rubric of horror. I don’t know where Altered States belongs, honestly. It’s oddly one of the late Ken Russell’s more tame offerings, which is to be taken with the biggest grain of salt you can find currently. It’s voyage into the very darkest corners of bestial, primal existence, however, undoubtedly tip over into the realm of psychological terror. If From Beyond considered other dimensions in visceral, physical terms, Altered States brings out the cerebral horror that comes with the collapse of belief in a singular reality. Or something like that, as William Hurt and Bob Balaban’s dope-smoking, leftist experimenters explain at some point when they’re not in a depravation chamber or turning into chimps or what have you. Russell’s script runs off into some pretty ridiculous places but Russell envisions all of it confidently, bringing genuine tension and suspense to the scenes when Hurt goes into the tank or takes a bowl of drugs in some far-off cave. And when the film tips into the next dimension in the last quarter, there’s a potent feeling of otherworldliness in the design, the editing, and the physical performances. This movie could have gone wrong or silly in so many ways but its effects remain substantial decades later. – Chris Cabin
At the center of John Carpenter’s wild, unsettling tale — and the second best film to be adapted from a Stephen King novel — is a young man’s obsession with his first great car. One has to look no further than the success of the Fast & Furious franchise to get a sense of how closely automobiles are intertwined with a certain masculine archetype in America. Where the Vin Diesel-designed line of action films hold up that obsession like a tenant of Biblical belief, Christine rightly envisions this desire to reflect one’s self in cars as a kind of severe sickness.
When our nerdy hero (Dressed to Kill breakout Keith Gordon) first finds and rebuilds the titular Plymouth Fury, it gives him a boost of confidence and ego, enough that he picks up the girl of his dreams (Alexandra Paul) over his dreamboat, nice-guy best friend (John Stockwell). Soon enough, however, the relationship turns dark and Christine starts picking off those who taunt her owner. Carpenter ingeniously sees the inevitable tip from confidence to obnoxious ego as a matter of male pride, conjured into daily life by a vintage car that kills. The icy score helps, but this is classic Carpenter, evincing a level of sublime dread and terror that is so convincing, it can make you scared of a sentient car. – Chris Cabin
Some parents (like mine) made the mistake of seeing the cute character Gizmo from this 1984 horror-comedy and then thinking that Gremlins was for kids. It was certainly not. And while the scariest thing about this film today is the realization that Howie Mandel voiced Gizmo (let that fact sink into your subconscious), at the time there were real concerns about kids getting ideas from Gremlins and attempting to cook the family pet in a microwave.
Those problems aside, Gremlins has one of the best critter mythologies from the 80s if not all of creature feature cinema. It’s important to know the rules of the mysterious Mogwai: do not expose the mogwai to bright lights or sunlight which will kill it, do not let it get wet, and never feed it after midnight. I still feel quite bad for what happened to Gizmo thanks to Billy’s careless friend, but as far as visual effects and narrative surprises go, the genesis of the title creatures is one of the best you’ll ever see. And rather than simply eradicate all of the monsters by the end of the film, leaving the foolhardy humans to appear as morally superior victors, the source of all the trouble is removed from the protagonist, who clearly isn’t ready for such responsibility. Despite its PG rating and violent silliness at times, Gremlins might just be the most mature and thoughtful film for both Dante and Columbus. – Dave Trumbore
9. From Beyond
In From Beyond, a mad scientist travels to the other side, seemingly for good, while his assistant is sent up the river for his assumed murder. When a psychiatrist thinks that the key to bringing the assistant back from the brink is to return to the house where the transportation (or transformation) happened, and that’s where things get really out of control. Stuart Gordon’s masterwork is easily the most unlikely film to coherently convey the horrors, fear, and ambitions of exploring the very matter of human existence.
The ghastly visions that Gordon conjures when Jeffrey Combs’ assistant returns with his psychiatrist and a bodyguard are some of the most imaginative and wildly provocative that 1980s cinema provided but the point is not merely to shock and scare. The mad scientist knows quite a lot about engineering, science, and philosophy and his goal is to know what only God knows; in other words, he wishes to be God. There’s something uniquely remarkable about a horror movies that uses egregious yet not sadistic violence to the body to give a sense of the true terror that the mind is capable of creating. – Chris Cabin
One of the great truths of the cinema, and any art form really, is that every piece of work is inherently personal. Even if your philosophy tends towards filmmaking is more focused on “just doing a job” or just wanting to “entertain,” the amount of creative decisions that go into movies require a level of personal involvement that always, always shows up on screen. So, when a director says that they’re making a movie for the fans, it’s a surefire sign that he or she doesn’t particularly care about the project.
That, in at least one sense, is the bedrock from which Tenebre is built upon, as the great Dario Argento paints a tale of an American author who arrives on a book tour in Rome to reports of savage slayings based off of his book. The verb “paints” is used accurately here, as Argento marks his film in big, bold colors, and work up a particularly theatrical, embellished tone for the film as friends, fans, and lovers of Neal are cut open by a mysterious killer. Argento familiarly places us in the point of view of the killer when a murder happens, but by the time the film ends, Argento all but states clearly that his dark desires and perversions are just as strong and unwieldy as those stashed away by his audience members.
Does Neal have moral stakes in the murders since he imagined them? Is there a limit to what violence can represent or lend catharsis to? And, oh yeah, who keeps on killing all of these people? The responsibility of an author for their work is at the heart of Tenebre, even if the sex, drugs, blood, and gauche environs are a bit easier to keep your eye on. – Chris Cabin
7. Near Dark
As one must have expected from a vampire film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark is quite fascinated with pack mentality and the idea of the alpha male. It’s a young woman who turns our main protagonist (Adrian Pasdar) into a bloodsucker, and from there, he’s whisked off with her brood, including lead vampire Lance Hendrickson and Bill Paxton as the wild card, to go on a feeding tour in their retrofitted Winnebago. It’s the underlying power struggle, the feeling of vampirism at once liberating one part of our hero while fatally diseasing another part, which fuels the pulpy drama of Bigelow’s bloody supernatural road-noir. Bigelow looks at the surprising fragility that comes with vampirism – at least one vampire gets burnt, cut up, and otherwise pained – but she also builds a frankly sexual, desire-fueled romance between the leads that feels authentically expressed. As always, Bigelow finds a rough-and-tumble style in the most urgent of scenarios and with Near Dark, she seemingly set the rapid pace for the rest of her oeuvre. – Chris Cabin
Amongst the most complex works in the career of David Cronenberg, Videodrome still seems to hold a special place in his fans hearts above even masterworks like Scanners, The Brood, and Dead Ringers. It’s not entirely a mystery as to why Videodrome sticks out even in such an estimable group. Videodrome incorporates technological sabotage and pirating, snuff films, mutation, porn, TV production, rampant cigarette smoking, and Deborah Harry into its unhinged 90-something minutes, and that’s not even counting the fact that James Woods leads the film as a tried and true scumsicle.
There’s plenty of blood and gore, as well as ample psychological damage conveyed throughout, but Videodrome doesn’t come off as a movie made simply to be warned against or stared at in emotionally shattered awe. Cronenberg is talking about the move from the movie theater to the living room to get our culture, and his feelings on it are not what you might call optimistic. Indeed, a breathing VHS tape serves a demonic purpose here, and the director depicts Canada’s local TV affiliates and networks as perverse, heartless charlatans and murderers. Cronenberg sees the movement away from public places to see art as a move away from art’s place in the public mindset, which comes with making what one thinks of art more private by extension. The alienating dystopia that we witness in Videodrome is, for Cronenberg, mostly the product of a world where people no longer have outspoken opinions and yet still have hidden desires that they must find some way of letting out, even in the most ghastly and horrific ways imaginable. – Chris Cabin
5. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Most horror films with a serial killer take the whodunit route and this places the violent perpetrator behind masks, shadows, gloves, etc. Because they’re not given a shade of humanity, their monstrousness creates their own iconic cult that’s mostly tied to their killing methods or secret appearance. John McNaughton’s squirmy, hard-to-watch serial killer observation in the wild, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, not only makes you confront the psychology of a serial killer, it should make you rethink why you’re okay with certain people dying in horror films but hope that others survive.
Michael Rooker plays Henry and it’s a brilliant performance. His Henry isn’t an approachable guy who goes dark on you when triggered. His Henry doesn’t have any wildly disturbed tics, either. Something is off, but that thing that Henry is missing is empathy and a conscience (he never knows when he’s going past a personal barrier) and it’s the type of personality dysfunction that usually can’t be picked up on until you’re already a little too close. You don’t watch Portrait of a Serial Killer for excitement and shrieks; you watch it to pass a basic humanity test. If you’re deeply troubled by the film and can’t shake it, you have a conscience. In some miraculous way, Henry will improve your viewing of horror films and shift your attention more to the victims and away from a fixation on the killer. – Brian Formo
Possession is a film of escalating tones that build without a break between the tones, until it’s ultimately a cacophony of high-pitched screams. Unlike an argument that gets bigger and bigger to the point where someone leaves, smokes a cigarette or takes a walk, and then comes back and apologizes for letting things boil over, Possession has an argument that boils over, spills blood onto the floor, goes out the door to have sex with a Lovecraftian monster, has a cruel and goopy bodily breakdown in a subway and a heightened showdown at the Berlin Wall.
Andrzej Zulawski’s film takes the type of domestic drama that Ingmar Bergman and John Cassavettes turned into probing masterpieces of relationships in hysteria and he pushes it into a toxic nightmare. Every screaming match between the married couple (a wide-eyed Isabelle Adjani and a vein-popping Sam Neill) feels like it could end in murder. And the wife’s sexual obsession that forms with both a stranger and a strange thing, shows a death wish attraction and complete lack of self worth. Every scene in this film feels like it could end with death or fucking—or by fucking someone to death.
Possession is one of the tensest films you’ll ever see, but there are icky rewards here, too. Never has anyone been asked to go the lengths that Adjani does here for a horror film. She wrecks her body and during production, it even undid her mind, as Adjani said it took years of therapy to erase the intensity of emotional breakdowns she was asked to do. There’s a perversity in knowing that she want mad during production, but it’s one of the greatest performances of the decade. The proof is in the groceries. – Brian Formo
3. The Fly
Jeff Goldblum is immediately engaging and charming in a lonely, obsessive way as Seth Brundle, a genius scientist who allows a cute, flirtatious reporter, Veronica (Geena Davis) to follow his creation of a teleporter. That’s what makes what happens to him in The Fly so devastating. The way most people get about The Notebook, I get about The Fly. When an accident leads to Seth’s DNA getting spliced with the DNA of a fly, Brundle sees a boost in his abilities but soon begins to mutate and deteriorate into a monster.
Any other director and any other actor, and this film would play like a laughing stock. In this case, however, watching the sweet-natured, brilliant young man turn into an insect monster bent on destroying the woman Brundle loved reminds me of great melodrama, even opera. It’s borderline traumatic, and one can easily suss out the allusions to AIDS and the demons of professional ambition in the narrative. The Fly represents the human potential of modern horror, the upper echelons of how the tenants of the genre could imbue with high art to create something both extraordinarily beautiful and deeply upsetting. – Chris Cabin
2. The Thing
If you’re making a case for remakes that vastly improved upon the original work, look no further than The Thing. Adapted from John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?”, which was previously adapted by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby as The Thing from Another World in 1951, the 80s version remains the preferred and iconic version of the story today.
And how could it not? It featured Carpenter in his prime, riding high with Russell from their experience on Escape from New York the year before; the amazing practical creature effects were churned out by Oscar-winner Rob Bottin with an assist from the legendary Stan Winston; Tobe Hooper worked on a draft of the script; and the one-and-only Ennio Morricone composed the score, one of the few times that Carpenter hasn’t done the music himself. And that’s just the cast and crew of the film! The story follows a tough crew of researchers at an Antarctic station who come into contact with a dangerous alien shape-shifter. From the completely insane opening sequence, to the unabashed reveal of an extraterrestrial spaceship, to the cat-and-mouse game played between the entity and each of the surviving humans, The Thing could arguably be called the best sci-fi horror film of the 80s. – Dave Trumbore
1. The Shining
In hindsight, the only way to really make a great movie out of a Stephen King novel is to offer a counterpoint to his masterly, if not exactly sophisticated brand of storytelling. The Social Network needed both Aaron Sorkin’s cynical, prodding screenplay and David Fincher’s empathetic direction to ascend to such a distinct place in modern American cinema. Similarly, The Shining needed King’s macabre, imaginative source material as well as Stanley Kubrick’s cerebral form of visual storytelling and severe lack of romance to become what it is.
Then again, of course, The Shining could be seen as a myriad of things in its alluring, enigmatic expressiveness. At first, it’s just the greatest ghost story to ever be put to film, and yes, I’m counting The Innocents, the original The Haunting, and The Changeling when I say that. And then, with each viewing, something startling and new comes to the fore. At one point, the movie seemed to be the perfect vision of repressed, enraged masculinity, the beast inside the family man allowed full reign after years of remaining dormant. Another time, the film seemed to ingeniously encapsulate the wild, incalculable dreams of a young adolescent living with passively warring parents, with the hotel working as a playhouse for his most demented fantasies and nightmares.
None of these readings, however, fully give an amateur any sense of what Kubrick’s film really attains by the end of its brilliantly paced runtime. Like so many of the master’s best works, The Shining is at once exactly what it purports to be and a transcendental abyss far beyond that veneer, an exploration of the maddened, inventive self in what might seem like a ludicrous realm. And yet, by the time we see Jack in that photograph, one can feel that the filmmaker has been ruminating on something very personal, intimate, and disturbing within himself. The film’s popularity would only suggest that Kubrick’s inner turmoil was not unique to him alone. – Chris Cabin