8 horror films from the 80s for (almost) every mood

Halloween is just around the corner, which means it’s time for an annual binge of horror films. But sometimes picking the right movie isn’t as simple as plopping down on the couch and firing up the first classic scream flick you see.

We’re humans, and humans have moods. So, to help you decipher which '80s horror film you should watch (the '80s being the most important decade for horror films), we’re breaking it down here based on the current status of your headspace.

If you’re feeling a little stressed out

“The Shining”, 1980

Just imagine the cathartic experience of coming home after a stressful day at work and watching the slow build as the pent-up Jack Torrence finally breaks and goes ballistic inside a cavernous, yet claustrophobic mountain hotel. Now that’s the kind of vicarious stress relief the doctor ordered for an unfulfilling work-a-day life. Nothing like a little paranormal activity to help you work through your issues.

True story: Jack Nicholson was once a firefighter with the California National Guard, so when it came time for his character to take an axe to his wife’s door, he insisted the crew install a real door to cut through, instead of the fake door previously installed. ACTING.

If you need a good laugh

“Evil Dead II”, 1987

This cult classic does a perfect job of combining horror and slapstick humor with a tongue-in-cheek air of knowing exactly what it’s doing.

Technically a parody sequel based on “Evil Dead,” this version is what launched actor Bruce Campbell into the consciousness of true horror nerds. In “Evil Dead II,” Campbell’s character engages in a lot of ridiculous acts, including fighting (and losing to) his possessed hand, battling his girlfriend’s severed head (and later the rest of her body), attaching a modified chainsaw to the stump where his possessed hand used to be, and then accidentally transporting back to 1300 AD.

It’s a wild ride and worth every second.

Bonus: This movie seamlessly transitions to its equally-funny sequel “Army of Darkness,” which makes for a great double-feature night.

If you don’t feel like sleeping

“A Nightmare on Elm Street”, 1984

There are monsters who never rest, monsters who possess every house you move into, and monsters who control your perception of reality. That’s kid’s stuff to Freddy Krueger, who literally haunts your dreams.

That’s not only frightening, it’s also highly inconvenient. I NEED MY SLEEP, DUDE. The grotesque, bladed Krueger isn’t just a monster, he’s a straight-up jerk. In this horror film — one of the most famous in the slasher genre — a misunderstood teen is under threat of dying in her dreams.

As if teens in the '80s didn’t have enough to worry about.

If you’re feeling like an Anglophile

“An American Werewolf in London”, 1981

Of all the things you should worry about when traveling through England, biting puns, quiet disapproval and soccer hooligans top the list. Werewolves? Not so much.

But that’s not the case for backpacker David Kessler in “An American Werewolf in London,” which finds him and friend Jack in an unfortunate situation when the former is mauled and the latter is killed by a werewolf in the countryside.

David is transported to London, where in the hospital, the ghost of his late friend visits numerous times, encouraging him to kill himself due to the werewolf blood now coursing through his veins. Add in a star-crossed love interest, more death and a showdown with police, and this turns out to be the WORST vacation ever. But it’s funny, so at least it has that going for it.

If you’re feeling nostalgic for '80s emo

“The Lost Boys”, 1987

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Has there ever been a Hollywood mom sweeter than Diane Weist’s Lucy Emerson? Between being a newly-relocated single mother with one brooding teenage son (who turns into a vampire, no less), one trouble-making younger son, and a budding love interest with an undisclosed vampire overlord, she maintains a smile and light-hearted attitude throughout. She is the mother America deserves.

“The Lost Boys” has it all: Both Coreys, comic books, rice that turns into maggots, the greatest sax performance of all time, a badass dog, Bill S. Preston, Esq., and Jack friggin’ Bauer.

It’s also the perfect companion piece to the other Pacific Northwest '80s hit, “The Goonies.” If you’re in a wear-my-shades-inside kind of emo mood, this is the Halloween movie for you.

If you’re dreading the upcoming Christmas shopping season

“Child’s Play”, 1988

Shopping for the holidays — especially for kids — can be a pain in the arse. The lines, the sellouts, the knife-wielding dolls. I mean, COME ON.

The premise of 1988’s “Child’s Play” is enough to exercise your hatred for holiday consumerism: A mom buys a popular doll — named Chucky — from a homeless man (cheapskate move, Mom) for her child’s birthday, and things don’t exactly go well.

Turns out, the doll is possessed, and goes on to murder multiple people, which the police blame on the kid (thanks, MOM). But the catharsis comes in the end, when karma rains down upon that terrible, terrible doll — which happens to looks exactly like Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden.

If you’re in the mood for hockey, but it’s not on

“Friday the 13th”, 1980

The unholy trifecta of slasher films is “Halloween” (1979), “Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), and, of course, “Friday the 13th.”

Perhaps no horror movie spawned a lazier Halloween costume than the latter’s Jason Voorhees’ iconic hockey mask. Strap that thing on and people instantly know who you are, which is a drowned summer camp kid reanimated to terrorize everyone in his path.

This movie’s franchise is essentially based on the horror movie trope “don’t go in there!,” but “in there” is Crystal Lake, which campers return to time-and-again despite the obvious fact that it’s haunted by a hockey enthusiast with a thirst for blood. Will they never learn?

If you’re truly lost

“Cannibal Holocaust”, 1980

Don’t. Just don’t. Or do, I don’t care. But keep in mind these few facts: This “found footage”-style Italian movie got the director arrested for obscenity charges, and later, multiple counts of homicide (no one was murdered).

But there are depictions of animal cruelty, sexual assault, and enough soul-sucking stuff that it was banned in multiple countries, including the United States. If you happen to find a copy of this and watch it, prepare for a trickle of irrevocable evil to seep into your soul.

This is the kind of movie you just can’t take back. You've been warned.


About the author: Chris Staten is a freelance writer focusing on pop culture and the craft beer industry, and loves basking in that awkward moment of silence between movie previews. See his work at www.cmstaten.com.

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Classic Nerd Staff

Classic Nerd Staff