The 17 Most Underrated Horror Films of the 1980s

These 1980s horror films that will make you quake, shake, and beg for more.
Odin Odin (180)
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The 1980s offered the world a different type of horror than had been seen before, or since. A perfect slurry of technological advancements, to political climates, to shifting cultural landscapes offered the horror genre fertile ground in which to sow its malevolent seed… and sow it did, with abandon, churning out some of the greatest classic franchises of all time and offering up a world of nightmares for audiences around the globe.

Just as the original birth of horror films arose out of the real-world horror birthed in the trenches of World War I, 1980s horror matured within a stark landscape. There was the paranoid politics of the neoliberal capitalist craze, the culmination of many decades of Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation, the rise of rampant consumerism and new technologies, and the rise of the AIDS epidemic that would go on to claim over half a million lives and impact countless more. These all fueled a weariness and subconscious darkness that still lurks in the Western world today.

That sort of psychological pressure needs a release valve, a way for people to externalize and understand what is occurring, and the horror genre provides a ready-made set of symbols from which to build this reflective map of our collective psyche. Everything from They Live (1988), to _Windows (1980) offer a view into the crisis of the time.

Some horror, Windows in particular, strike at a different chord: a surge of repressiveness aimed at the LGBTQ+ community (though not always with that intention). Indeed, a reaction against earlier counterculture movements can be seen sharply in many of these films, with conservative values oddly standing in the blood-runneled background. But there were surges against this as well, moments of breakthrough that took jabs at the status quo and the deliverers of a new brutal economic and social order.

Within all of this, a great sense of style also emerged, building on the latest technology to form reality from the unimaginable; to take formless fear and give it form, provide it shape within the prosthetics, lighting, and molded plastics of the age. This great aesthetic, cultivated in the horror of the 1980s, remains with us today, and adds to the nostalgia of the era with its over-bright film stock and its synth-rock overtones.

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Silver Bullet (1985)
Silver Bullet (1985)
Director Actors
Dan Attias Corey Haim, Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Megan Follows, Terry O'Quinn, Lawrence Tierney, Bill Smitrovich, Kent Broadhurst, David Hart, and James Gammon

When a small town is terrorized by a mysterious killer, it’s up to one wheelchair-bound boy to save them from a terror they can’t imagine.

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Silver Bullet (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985) is based on a (1983) Stephen King novella (Cycle of the Werewolf), this little gem often gets forgotten in the mix of all the other film adaptations of his work. Since the screenplay is actually written by King, though, you know you’re in for something good.

Far From Home (1989)
Far From Home (1989)
Director Actors
Meiert Avis Drew Barrymore, Matt Frewer, Richard Masur, and Jennifer Tilly

A teenage girl finds herself the center of attention, but of the two boys in her life, one just might be a killer.

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Far From Home (1989)

Far From Home (1989) was a massive hit not only because 13-year-old Barrymore is incredible in the spotlight, but because the whole film is snappy, dark, and clever.

Pumpkinhead (1988)
Pumpkinhead (1988)
Director Actors
Stan Winston Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John D'Aquino, Joel Hoffman, Brian Bremer

When a teenage prank leads to the death of a young boy, the boy’s father sets out on a path of vengeance, summoning a dark creature from the very pits of Hell.

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Pumpkinhead (1988)

Pumpkinhead (1988) is one film that probably a few more mainstream viewers have encountered, but it’s still one that too-frequently flies beneath the radar, considering just how darn cheesy and scary it is.

Bad Taste (1987)
Bad Taste (1987)
Director Actors
Peter Jackson Terry Potter, Pete O'Herne, Peter Jackson, Mike Minett, Craig Smith

Something is wrong in a small New Zealand town… something alien. But four men with big guns are there to set things right.

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Bad Taste (1987)

Bad Taste (1987) begins one of the strangest and wildest directorial careers in history. From this low budget cult-comedy gore-flick, to one of the largest and most expensive film franchises ever made, Peter Jackson’s career is unexplainable and wonderful.

Razorback (1984)
Razorback (1984)
Director Actors
Russell Mulcahy Gregory Harrison, Arkie Whiteley

A dark creature stalks the Australian outback, terrorizing and devouring all who encounter it.

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Razorback (1984)

Razorback (1984) was based on a 1981 novel by Peter Brennan and carries a massive host of monstrous moments, not all to do with the supernatural creature at the story’s heart. After all, human monsters are the worst of all.

Corpse Mania (1981)
Corpse Mania (1981)
Director Actors
Chih-Hung Kuei Ni Tien, Jung Wang, Tsui-Ling Yu

A necrophiliac killer is murdering the prostitutes at Madame Lan's brothel.

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Corpse Mania (1981)

Corpse Mania (1981) is an example of some seriously bleak and wickedly gory horror that arose out of the Hong Kong film industry. There’s a certain extremely darkly comic note at play here, but overall, it’s just-plain-messed-up. The atmosphere that this one creates is unforgettable, however.

Society (1989)
Society (1989)
Director Actors
Brian Yuzna Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, and Ben Meyerson

Beverly Hills is built on the back of the poor, but the class divide might be even sharper than anyone knows. For young Billy, one thing is certain: these people aren’t who he thought they were… either that, or he’s losing his mind.

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Society (1989)

Society (1989) is prime horror-satire, which is my preferred form of horror by far. Horror tackles real-world subjects incredibly well, and this little gem came at a time of great fracture in the world, when Regan and Thatcher policies were destroying the remaining social safety nets and things were looking bleak under threat of the Cold War. A little like now, actually. Anyway, horror took the angst of that era and distilled it, and in Society the distillation is superb.

Evil Dead Trap (1988)
Evil Dead Trap (1988)
Director Actors
Toshiharu Ikeda Miyuki Ono

A TV show host asks her viewers to send in home videos, but one of them sends her a snuff film, apparently shot in a nearby abandoned factory. Her film crew in tow, she sets out to investigate, but the scoop she finds may be more than she bargained for.

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Evil Dead Trap (1988)

Evil Dead Trap (1988) (Shiryō no wana in Japan), takes the Giallo genre, slaps it together with bloody slasher surrealism, and packages it all up to go amid an eerie landscape of half-hidden shots and a leering, hidden danger.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Director Actors
Jack Clayton Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Diane Ladd, and Pam Grier

A mysterious train comes to town on the back of an autumnal wind; a mirror-maze whispers to all who enter it of their deepest desires, and two young boys find themselves up against forces beyond their comprehension.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) is based on Ray Bradbury’s novel of the same name and, honestly, … go read the novel first. It’s one of his best, and you’ll get so much more of the original intensity and vibe from that than from this film. That said, if you’ve already read the book, you’ll likely find this early Disney foray into the dark and strange something fascinating.

The Caller (1987)
The Caller (1987)
Director Actors
Arthur Allan Seidelman Malcolm McDowell, Madolyn Smith Osborne

A young woman and a mysterious man meet at a cabin in the woods. Neither is what they seem, both know the other is lying, but what they want from one another is the greatest unknown.

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The Caller (1987)

The Caller (1987) is delightfully twisted and clever, doing more with two primary actors and a couple of simple locations than most do with blockbuster budgets. Of course, Malcolm McDowell brings his unique shade of unsettling to this piece, but Osborne’s no slouch either, and they play off one another beautifully.

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)​
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)​
Director Actors
Amy Holden Jones Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, and Michael Villella

A high school senior and her friends are having a slumber party, but someone’s planning on party crashing and giving the girls the last time of their life.

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The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)​

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)​ could have been one of the great early satirical horror films, if not for the lousy infestation of the studio producers who got in the way. They forced the satirical script to be shot like a standard slasher, cutting out the heart of what made the writing so great. Written by Rita Mae Brown, and directed by Amy Jones, this female-led production was a break in the patriarchal norm of that era’s horror films, and even though the producers messed things up, the wittiness of the original script shines through.

The Outing (1987)
The Outing (1987)
Director Actors
Tom Daley Deborah Winters, James Huston, Andra St. Ivanyi, Scott Bankston, and Red Mitchell

An ancient evil is released from a magical lamp, and the malevolent creature stalks a group of teenagers through the dark halls of a museum of natural history.

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The Outing (1987)

The Outing (1987) was originally released as The Lamp in the United Kingdom, but received a new name and two minutes of weird cuts for the U.S. version. The film is basically 100% cheese, with enough titillation and ridiculous horror to satisfy anyone who needs a laugh and a few chills. It’s not the greatest film of all time, but it’s a perfect Grade-C horror film.

Mr. Wrong (1984)
Mr. Wrong (1984)
Director Actors
Gaylene Preston Heather Bolton, David Letch

When a woman moves from her rural home to the big city, she purchases a new car, but quickly finds that her new ride harbors a dark secret.

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Mr. Wrong (1984)

Mr. Wrong (1984) is whimsical, atmospheric, and honestly superb. It’s one of those little gems that doesn’t require a big budget to do something superb.

Windows (1980)
Windows (1980)
Director Actors
Gordon Willis Talia Shire, Joseph Cortese, and Elizabeth Ashley

A woman is attacked by a man and fears for her life, but an even more alarming discovery awaits right around the corner.

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Windows (1980)

Windows (1980) is an admittedly bad film, so “underrated” hardly fits in the broadest sense. The fact that this film is basically a collection of outmoded and icky lesbian stereotypes, thrown together by a lackluster plot, means that its critics are spot-on. However, Gordon Willis was the director, and his eye is everywhere in the cinematography of this film. Added to that are some solid performances by the lead actors. This one might be underrated more in the sense of if you’re a film student, it’s worth watching, but that still bears repeating.

The Keep (1983)
The Keep (1983)
Director Actors
Michael Mann Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne, Jürgen Prochnow, Alberta Watson and Ian McKellen

During World War II, in German-occupied Romania, Nazi soldiers have been sent to garrison a mysterious fortress. But something incomprehensible lurks at the heart of the Keep, and soon the soldiers realize that it was not built to keep something in, but to stop something from getting out.

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The Keep (1983)

The Keep (1983) is based on the 1981 F. Paul Wilson novel of the same name and is easily one of the most underrated horror films of all time. Partly, that’s due to the massive productions problems that arose during filming, and the horrible decision by the studio executives to make unnecessary and damaging cuts to the final release. Despite the film originally being 3.5 hours long, the Paramount version was cut to 96 minutes. Sadly, we’ll probably never get a fully remastered version of the original material, but what we do have remains one of the most atmospheric and twisted dark WWII fairy tales to ever exist.

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)
The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)
Director Actors
Kevin Connor Edward Albert, Susan George, and Doug McClure

An American family move to a house in Japan, a house haunted by an affair and dark deeds done beneath the sway of lust and vengeance. Now, those demons are coming back to haunt the living.

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The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982) offers a wild mix of blood, terror, and eroticism — all hallmarks of the horror genre — and weaves them into a clever ghost fable that never got the love it deserved.

My Bloody Valentine (1981)
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Director Actors
George Mihalka Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, and Neil Affleck

Twenty years ago, mine supervisors abandoned their posts and let five miners die. Since then, no Valentine’s Day party has been held… until now. A group of teens sets out to enjoy the spark of a Valentine’s Day dance, only to find a wrathful figure stalking their every move.

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My Bloody Valentine (1981)

My Bloody Valentine (1981) is Quentin Tarantino’s favorite slasher film, which I’m not sure is a recommendation for or against. There is definitely something a little different about it, though; it’s more restrained in some ways, more violent in others, and it offers exactly what you paid for whilst still managing to offer you the bleakest slasher experience around.

The age of Netflix
The age of Netflix

Once upon a time, Netflix’s DVD library hosted well over 100,000 titles and sent out roughly 12 million DVDs per week. Now, with the advent of easy-to-use streaming services, the amount of content viewers have available has shrunk to the low thousands. Look up any list of “films to watch” and you’ll find a tiny selection of movies, usually curated by people all reading the same lists and commenting on the exact same hot new show or film.

But, is that all there is? With over a hundred years of incredible filmmaking on the planet, isn’t there something missed when we only pay attention to the latest and greatest? This series is dedicated to answering that question and to exploring a small handful of the unsung films from decades past. I’ll examine each decade in turn, all the way back to the earliest days of film, and I’ll be exploring every genre of film there is! From science fiction, to drama, to romance, to comedy—I’m going to cover the entirety of film history for you, bringing out the golden nuggets for you to enjoy.

As always, with these articles, I love hearing your feedback in the comments section, or on Twitter @indubitablyodin. Let me know what your favorite films of the decade were, which ones you think I should have included, and which you hope I’ll mention in one of my next decades!

How many did you believe?
Britt Britt (156)
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Over the centuries, many words, phrases, and proverbs have become famous and used widely all over the world.