Movie Moonshine: the best 1980s horror films

Horror has fascinated scribe and audience alike ever since human beings began expressing themselves with art. From the barbarities of Dante’s Inferno and the perturbing works of Hieronymus Bosch through the centuries to Alfred Hitchcock films and Stephen King novels, horror keeps us in line for fear of its occurrence while entertaining us to no end. 

Some film critics would argue that the genre didn’t really come of age until the 1980s even if for the most part critics often pan horror films. Beginning with the success of the 1978 independent slasher film Halloween, Hollywood truly began to churn out horror as filming techniques and special effects began to come of age lending to more suspenseful and gory scenes even if in hindsight, considering today’s technology, they may not appear particularly realistic.

A few films in particular had enormous success in the 1980s and continue to scare devoted cult followers today. Before you read on, cook up some popcorn and put a lid on your G&T - you may find yourself trembling too much to keep your cocktail in its glass.

Nightmare on Elm Street - 1984

nightmare of elm street

Horror genius Wes Craven gave the world something to scream about in the iconic dream-stalker Freddy Krueger. A murderer of children in his human days, Freddy was burned to death by those children’s parents and is only revived by the dreams of a teenager. The cherry on the cake of Krueger’s charred skin is his glove with knife blades protruding from the finger tips. If Freddy cuts you in your dream, you’re bound to wake up with some slashes on your body. A memorable film Nightmare is and the first installment’s success spawned seven sequels and a remake. What you may not remember is that Johnny Depp appears Nightmare in his first Hollywood role.

Friday the 13th - 1980

friday 13th

The woods are always scary and the campground around the lake in what is considered the first real slasher film is no different. Friday the 13th defined the terrified teenager genre with its back-from-the-dead murderer, Jason. Having drowned in the lake due to the negligence of his camp counselors, Jason returns from the dead to take vengeance on a group of would-be counselors attempting to reopen the camp at which he met his wet fate. 

Aliens - 1986


With the enormous success of his space suspense flick, 1979’s Alien, Ridley Scott passed the baton to James Cameron for a trip back to the planet where Sigourney Weaver’s spaceship had picked up the original Alien. Cameron had been approached by 20th Century Fox to make the sequel a reality and wrote much of the script during the delay in filming of his 1984 classic, The Terminator, which was delayed due to scheduling conflicts with Arnold Schwarzenegger who was filming Conan the Destroyer at the time. The story and special effects proved attractive to audiences and Aliens became one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time, earning $180 million.

Poltergeist - 1982


Within one week in June of 1982, Stephen Spielberg released two films that would go on to gross over $900 million between them. Poltergeist, on June 4th, was the first of the two to be released. It tells the story of a suburban Californian family whose house becomes a center of paranormal activity with ghosts abducting the family’s younger daughter who, subsequently, can only be communicated with through the tv set. The young girl’s line, “They’re here”, when she discovers the ghosts, is arguably one of the horror genre’s most quotable. 

The other film Spielberg released that June, also based in California, was E.T. 

The Shining - 1980

the shining

“Here’s Johnny!” After the mild reception of his period-piece, Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick needed a hit. And who better to base the hit on than the wildly successful horror author Stephen King. Although it’s his movie son, Danny, that has the Shining, or telepathic abilities, it’s Jack Nicholson’s work that really makes the movie shine. But then again, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”