Top 10 Horror Films of the 80s & 90s

By Kelly Haugh

In a followup to Craig McNair’s Top 10 Horror Films of All Time, here are the top 10 (or 11) essential horror films from that magical era of the 80s and 90s.  These classics are highly recommended for anyone looking for a good scare or an enjoyable horror flick.

10. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997)/ “Urban Legend” (1998) – It’s a very 90’s tie!

“I Know What You Did Last Summer” – A throwback to 80’s slasher flicks set in Dawson’s Creek with four hot stars famous for their slew of 90’s teen movies.  Not exactly horrifying but it was fun to watch and introduced a lot of non-horror fans to the awesome world of slasher films, though the book by Lois Duncan was definitely better.

“Urban Legend”  –The use of urban legends we all have heard and probably passed around the campfire added an extra bit of terror to an otherwise typical horror film, and for once I totally didn’t see the killer coming.  Though I could have done without the most frightening thing in the movie: Joshua Jackson’s horrible bleached blond hair.

9. “Child’s Play” (1988) – It was an original idea that gave a new twist to the standard horror villain, providing a refreshing change from all the masked, knife-wielding psychopaths.  And what’s creepier than a demented doll?

8. “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) – It has been parodied and ridiculed, but it launched a new wave of indie horror and had a brilliant viral marketing campaign that made it one of the biggest independent film successes of the 90’s.  Its use of first person viewpoint and frightening off-screen noises built the psychological terror to the creepy, WTF ending every self-respecting horror movie needs to have.

7. “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996) – This Quentin Tarantino film doesn’t seem like a horror film at first, which is part of what makes it so great.  It starts off as an action-packed and amusing bad guys on the run flick with brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Tarantino) heading to Mexico, where they inadvertently land themselves – and their hostages – in the middle of an epic battle against the ugliest blood-sucking creatures I’ve ever seen…but at least they don’t sparkle.

6. “The Lost Boys” (1987) – How could this quintessential 80’s classic not make any top 80’s list?  It’s a good mix of horror and teen comedy with all the campy goodness of the 80’s, including the two Coreys.
5. “The Shining” (1980) – Does anyone do crazy better than Jack Nicholson?  Team him up with Stephen King and an axe and you’re pretty much guaranteed a good psychological horror film, not to mention one of the most iconic movie moments ever.

4. “Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) – Besides launching a famous film franchise, this film gave us a new twist on the usual horror villain. Is there anything scarier than a perverted child molester who can kill you in your dreams?  Not to mention, this film so brilliantly blurred the line between dreams and reality that 27 years later, people are still trying to figure out exactly how it ended.

3. “Poltergeist” (1982) – They used real corpses as props for the truly terrifying pool scene and had a clown doll guaranteed to traumatize any kid who saw it.  The fact that it’s a regular suburban family who starts having chairs stack themselves adds to the psychological terror and drives home the point that none of us really know what dangers may be lurking just beneath the surface, even in our own homes.  “Poltergeist” also gave us legendary Pittsburgh native Zelda Rubinstein, whose creepy voice seems made for horror movies, as the eccentric medium Tangina Barrons.

2. “Halloween II” (1981) / “Halloween H20” (1998) – It’s a tie.  Neither were as good as the first a”Halloween,” which has to be the greatest horror film of all time, but both carried on the first film’s tradition well enough.  “Halloween II” successfully picked up the action and style of the first, while H20 showed us a slightly neurotic and very believable former victim/hero who could still kick Mike Meyers’ ass despite her dependence on alcohol and medication.

1. “Scream” (1996) – Best. Trilogy. Ever. (no, the recent reincarnation doesn’t count) It’s the best known horror film from the 90’s and was responsible for the resurgence in popularity of slasher films.  It’s got a kickass female lead, an interesting plot and a killer, or should I say killers, who actually die.  Plus, there’s something inherently fun about horror movies where the characters recognize and poke fun at the fact that they’re in a horror movie.

So, what’s your favorite scary movie?


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