The 80s were a magical time of shopping malls, Rock-N-Roll, family values, and Saturday morning cartoons. They were also filled to the brim with horror films of all shapes and sizes. The fashion wasn't the only thing terrifying to spawn from the 80s. Many filmmakers were hard at work crafting creepy masterpieces to captivate moviegoers. The end result featured a slew of films that looked visually horrifying, built-up by special effects and absolutely gruesome sequences. Monster movies and horror films were entering an era in which the creatures of the dark could be "fully realized" via camera trickery, amazing prosthetic makeup, and even CGI elements.
Yet, for every killer 5-star horror film that hit theaters, there were a few duds and B-rate affairs tagging along close behind. The strange thing is that some of these "cruddy films" were actually incredibly underrated at the time, and quite a few of them would develop a cult following by horror enthusiasts over the years. We scoured the web to pull up some of the must-see underrated classics from the 80s era. Anyone looking to dive into the horror genre should put these iconic films at the top of their list.
10 Chopping Mall
We'll start this list off with a cult classic. Chopping Mall may not have received the critical acclaim that it definitely deserves, but it managed to develop a massive fanbase throughout the years. When it comes to hilarious B-rate horror-comedy, this is a must-see. The premise pokes fun at the traditional trope of "machines gone rogue," made even better by the fact that the ideals and special effects came from the 80s.
A group of teenagers decides to have an impromptu party at a furniture store where they work. Unfortunately for them, three new state-of-the-art security "drones" were just delivered to the mall. These "guard bots" that would normally only apprehend criminals are sent into kill mode thanks to an errant lightning storm. It's cheesy, classic, 80s sci-fi at its finest.
9 Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Let's continue with the sci-fi theme, if you can call it that, concerning this next film. Sci-fi seems to be a technicality here as a race of benevolent alien "clowns" descends upon the citizens of Earth. When it comes to horror-comedy, Killer Klowns from Outer Space takes the genre quite literally. These terrifying clowns maim their victims through a serious of clown-like pranks that have their prey laughing all the way to the grave. It's shocking, gory, 80s-special-effects fun, underlined by the presence of some wacky-looking characters that are sure to exacerbate anyone's clown phobia.
8 The Toxic Avenger
The 80s were filled to the brim with creative horror movies, many of them considered comedies or campy b-rate films. The Toxic Avenger is a unique breed all its own and one of the only horror films of its time to amass such a large following that it spawned a daytime children's cartoon show. The Toxic Avenger is actually a pretty good superhero flick at its core, featuring a scrawny nerd who becomes a hulking beast after falling into a vat of toxic waste. Using his newfound strength he "cleans up" the filth of his fictional New Jersey town in the most gruesome of ways.
7 Puppet Master
A lot of people find themselves disturbed by dolls, but puppets can take that fear and elevate it to the next level. After all, what are puppets but moving dolls? Yes, you generally need a puppeteer to make them move, but the creative minds behind The Puppet Master series envision a nightmarish world in which puppets need no human interaction to move... and kill. The film became such a widely-beloved success that it managed to spawn 10 sequels, which is downright impressive for any film, regardless of genre.
6 Basket Case
Every so often a horror movie comes along and creates a horrific scenario out of something that that movie-goers would never expect. Basket Case features a premise so wild that the entire film automatically becomes something you need to see based purely on the idea behind it.
The plot follows a Duane Bradley, a seemingly normal fellow who checks in to a hotel room in New York City with a wicker basket in tow. Things go from 0-60 pretty quickly when the contents of the basket are revealed and this revenge story gets moving. Spoiling the big reveal for anyone who hasn't seen the film would definitely take away from the experience.
5 They Live
What's one surefire way to make an 80s horror film 10 times better? Cast Rowdy Roddy Piper himself as your lead star. Joking aside, They Live is perhaps one of the most underrated horror films in the history of cinema. The plot follows Piper (who does a fantastic job as lead) as Nada, a drifter who stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses that unveil a dark and horrible truth concerning humanity. The film is a great look at the current structure of the world, concerns subliminal advertising, and still manages to hold up well in its message, even in 2019.
Re-Animator is a horror-comedy that relies more on laughs through its sophistication rather than the normal slapstick nonsense we've come to expect from B-Rate 80s fare. Unlike many of the other films on this list, Re-Animator was actually much-beloved during its original release, earning many accolades from critics and fans alike. It's not a traditional zombie-flick at all, and it draws much influence from a short story by H.P. Lovecraft (Herbert West-Reanimator).
3 Maximum Overdrive
Stephen King has created subject matter for some of the scariest stories ever put to film, but he only ventured into directing himself for one motion picture. Maximum Overdrive would prove to be a letdown for King as a director (the film even earned him a Razzy) but it's become a cult classic for horror fans over the years.
The premise revolves around machines gaining sentience thanks to an errant comet, with vehicles being the main source of terror. These once man-made objects turn on their creators in a classic "uprising" sci-fi trope. It's fun to watch, and it features a rockin' soundtrack by King's favorite band, AC/DC.
2 Evil Dead (The Sam Raimi Trilogy)
It would be an absolute disservice if we featured a list of the best 80s horror films and forgot to mention the Evil Dead trilogy, perhaps the greatest product of horror-comedy to spring from the era. Bruce Campbell does an absolutely fantastic job as Ash, who is sent careening into a world filled with evil spirits, amazing special effects, and some rather creepy visuals at times. Is there anything more iconic than watching the fed-up madman replace his own hand with a working chainsaw? This is truly a must-see classic series.
1 The Gate
Horror films and Family-Friendly rarely ever go together, but there are some critics that feel as if The Gate is the perfect Horror film to show a young audience. Dread Central actually classifies the film as a "kids movie," pointing to its central themes of "family values." And, to be fair, we suppose the "monsters"—although they are done in an awesome old-school stop-motion manner—are not frightening enough to spook most of the moviegoers that had lived and breathed 80s shock horror.
Still, "weakness" aside, The Gate is one of the better story-driven horror films to come from the era and should be added to any list if you plan on binging 80s gold.