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20 Bizarre ‘80s Horror Favorites, Ranked


20 Bizarre ‘80s Horror Favorites, Ranked


Summary

  • The ’80s was a decade filled with bizarre, unique, and slightly disturbing horror films.
  • Some films featured ghosts, lepers, killer robots, and demon-filled revenge plots.
  • From classics like
    The Fog
    to lesser-known gems like
    Shocker
    , these films offer a wild ride for horror fans.

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The 1980s were loaded with terrific horror films. From the revered scare-fests like The Shining, Poltergeist, and A Nightmare on Elm Street to cult favorites such as Dolls and Hellraiser, there was something for any and every horror fan. And, considering Hellraiser is about a puzzle box that opens a doorway to hell and A Nightmare on Elm Street is about a murdered custodian reincarnated as a dream demon, it would be fair to assume those were as weird as ’80s horror got.

But that assumption would be very, very wrong. What follows are some of the most utterly bizarre and scary flicks to come out of the decade of decadence. This includes stuff like stock footage-laden sequels that end with a cartoonish (yet extremely violent) neighborhood rampage and Stephen King adaptations alike. Strap in, and let these extra loopy roller coasters take you for a ride.

20 The Fog (1980)

the fog

The Fog

Release Date
February 8, 1980

While John Carpenter’s follow-up to Halloween isn’t quite the masterpiece that film was (and it wastes Jamie Lee Curtis, whose character’s most memorable contribution is her presence on the terrific poster), it certainly makes up for that in the oddity department. A ghost story at its heart, The Fog goes so far as to basically have the ghosts operate as walking, sentient beings with a true presence. That said, the residents of Antonio Bay, who actually do get to meet the undead, betrayed lepers, don’t get to feel their presence for very long.

Sublime Early Carpenter

Outside Night of the Creeps and Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the great Tom Atkins was never used better than he was here. But that’s just one of several glowing (not unlike the fog itself) upsides to the film. There are pacing issues, as if the film could use an extra 20 minutes, but when it comes to the build-up, The Fog is pristine. It just rushes to the conclusion, though even then the audience members are probably too creeped out by Carpenter’s pulsing score to really notice. Buy or Rent The Fog on Prime Video.

19 Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

Humanoids from the Deep

Humanoids from the Deep

Release Date
May 1, 1980

Director
Barbara Peters , Jimmy T. Murakami

Cast
Doug McClure , Ann Turkel , Vic Morrow , Cindy Weintraub , Anthony Pena , Denise Galik

Suffice to say, Humanoids from the Deep has its problematic elements. And that doesn’t mean in terms of the silly prosthetics used for the antagonists. The narrative takes place in a small fishing town, where Gill-man-type creatures have started rising from the depths to kill fishermen and assault the local women. Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow, and Lynn Schiller make up the main cast here.

Upper Echelon Corman

A few ’80s horrors crossed the appropriate line when it came to the narrative’s treatment of women (Inseminoid comes to mind), and Humanoids is one of them. But, director Barbara Peeters never forgets to bring the creepy factor to the forefront as much as the creep factor. Like all other movies featuring the involvement of Roger Corman (though he goes uncredited as executive producer here), the effects also show the limitations of the budget. Thankfully, Humanoids manages to make the antagonists frightening when they need to be. What’s also worth noting is that James Horner provided the score here, later going on to score both Titanic and Avatar. Stream Humanoids from the Deep on Tubi.

18 Motel Hell (1980)

Motel Hell

Motel Hell

Release Date
October 24, 1980

Director
Kevin Connor

Cast
Rory Calhoun , Paul Linke , Nancy Parsons , Nina Axelrod , Wolfman Jack

Before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 slyly poked fun at its own originator, Motel Hell did much the same. The film follows Vincent and Ida Smith, a brother-sister team with various skills under their belts. One skill, for instance, is farming. Another skill is running a motel. Unfortunately for the temporary residents of the aforementioned motel, they’re also skilled in the art of murder. Rory Calhoun and Nancy Parsons co-star as Vincent and Ida Smith, respectively.

Making the Bates Motel Look Better Since 1980

Rory Calhoun has the time of his life in Motel Hell, a movie that manages to be comedic even though it has folks buried up to their neck until they’re ready to be plucked and turned into sausage. But there’s also Porky’s Nancy Parsons, who alone makes the duo terrifying. And, ironically, at this point in time, Motel Hell makes for more comfortable viewing than Bob Clark’s profoundly dated sex comedy. Even with a low budget, this satirical horror comedy shines. Stream Motel Hell on Tubi.

17 Christine (1983)

With convincing practical effects and a standout performance from Keith Gordon, Christine is not only one of John Carpenter’s best from the ’80s, but one of the better Stephen King adaptations of its respective decade. Gordon’s take on beleaguered nerd Arnie Cunningham is one of the best from a ’80s horror film, and he’s ably backed up by Top Gun‘s John Stockwell and Baywatch‘s Alexandra Paul. Not to mention, Hollywood legends Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky have sizable roles and excel in them. As for the film itself, it sees Arnie acquiring a beautiful Plymouth Fury on a chance encounter, though its presence in Arnie’s life leads to some disastrous consequences.

Who’s the True Antagonist? The Car, or the One Behind the Wheel?

King’s novel (released the same year) is arguably improved upon by Carpenter’s film. The supernatural elements are toned down in the third act, forcing the viewer to guess whether it’s Arnie behind the wheel, exacting his revenge, or the spirit of the previous owner operating the death machine. That is, right until it answers the question directly, resulting in an ending that’s both more satisfying than the book’s and a little more realistic. Yet, it’s never all on Arnie, as there’s certainly something off about this Plymouth Fury. Buy or Rent Christine on Prime Video.

16 Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome

Videodrome

Release Date
February 4, 1983

Cast
James Woods , Sonja Smits , Deborah Harry , Peter Dvorsky , Leslie Carlson , Jack Creley

Most, if not all, of David Cronenberg’s films have content or elements of production design that will put off some viewers. This applies whether it’s the icky prosthetics used in The Fly or the violence in, well, A History of Violence. In the case of Videodrome, both factors are applicable, as is the fact it’s an extremely cerebral work. When the president of a small television station discovers a signal dedicated to broadcasting gruesome footage, a mind-melting conspiracy quickly unfolds. An analysis of humanity’s ever-growing obsession with sex, violence, and television, it’s a thematic whirlwind as well as a visual tour de force.

Some Classics Aren’t for Everyone

Speaking of tour de force, Videodrome marked one of the very first leading roles for James Woods, and he doesn’t disappoint. An actor of incredible versatility, especially throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Woods makes the audience believe the obsession his Max Renn is consumed by. This includes not only consistently raking in cash, even via unscrupulous means, but with sultry radio host Nicki Brand (Blondie’s Deborah Harry) as well. But, of course, once his hand is turned into a grotesque, fleshy gun, it’s as up to Cronenberg to sell the experience as Woods, and the result is one of the director’s most thought-provoking and revered works. Buy or Rent Videodrome on Apple TV.

15 C.H.U.D. (1984)

C.H.U.D.

C.H.U.D.

Release Date
August 31, 1984

Director
Douglas Cheek

Even the title of C.H.U.D. is incredibly strange. And that doesn’t change when the acronym is expanded. This movie follows a trio of characters (a police captain, a photographer, and the head of the local homeless shelter) as they learn of and attempt to stop a group of cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers from eating all of NYC. It’s essentially Jaws, if Jaws was utterly absurd.

What a Cast

Yet, the strangest thing about C.H.U.D. is just how stacked the cast is. For instance, two of the three leads are Home Alone‘s John Heard and Daniel Stern. Then there’s The Wire‘s Frankie Faison, Barton Fink‘s Jon Polito, Manhunter‘s Kim Greist, even a cameo from John Goodman as an ill-fated cop enjoying a meal in a diner. In other words, there are a lot of really talented people starring in an utter anomaly of a film, especially when it comes to each of their filmographies (save for Stern, who also appeared in the Alien rip-off Leviathan). It’s the kind of 1980s horror film that really needs a comeback. Stream C.H.U.D. on Tubi.

14 Night of the Comet (1984)

Night of the Comet

Night of the Comet

Release Date
November 16, 1984

Director
Thom Eberhardt

Cast
Robert Beltran , Catherine Mary Stewart , Kelli Maroney , Sharon Farrell , Mary Woronov , Geoffrey Lewis

Like the later Night of the Creeps, Night of the Comet is one of the more inventive science fiction zombie horror action comedies of the 1980s. The story follows a few survivors of a particularly strange comet strike — one that turns people into red dust, or zombified carnivores. Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Beltran, and Kelli Maroney star in this film, with writer and director Thom Eberheart later going on to work on films like The Night Before and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.

A Successful Genre-Blender

Having a narrative basically start with the protagonists losing everyone they love is tricky. But, Night of the Comet pulls it off via a well-balanced assortment of practical effects and jokes. Not to mention, Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney make for more than proficient leads. Something also worth mentioning is the score, which was provided by Oscar-winner David Richard Campbell of Brokeback Mountain fame. Stream Night of the Comet on Tubi.

13 Ghoulies (1985)

ghoulies

Ghoulies

Release Date
January 18, 1985

Cast
Peter Liapis , Lisa Pelikan , Michael Des Barres , Jack Nance , Peter Risch , Tamara De Treaux

The best thing about Ghoulies is the poster, with a green little ghoul climbing his way out of a toilet with the tagline ‘They’ll get you in the end!’ just below. Unfortunately, that scene doesn’t actually occur in the first film. But, it is a nice indicator of just how odd things are going to get for the renter.

Gremlins Didn’t Have Mariska Hargitay

It’s brilliant marketing, but the film itself is a little too obsessed with possession to really work as a creepy little monster movie. That said, Ghoulies II fits that bill, and even ends with a massive Ghoulie, not unlike the finale of Critters 2: The Main Course. So, in the end, the original was the strangest (arguably even convoluted) the IP ever got. But at least it features the film debut of Law & Order: SVU‘s Mariska Hargitay. Scott Thomson (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Police Academy) and Victoria Catlin (Twin Peaks) also have minor roles here. Stream Ghoulies on Tubi.

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12 April Fool’s Day (1986)

April Fool's Day

April Fool’s Day (1986)

Release Date
March 28, 1986

Director
Fred Walton

Cast
Deborah Foreman , Griffin O’Neal , Clayton Rohner , Jay Baker , Pat Barlow

Main Genre
Horror

One of the ultimate misdirects of horror cinema, Fred Walton’s April Fool’s Day flips the script on one’s average slasher in just about every regard. Well, in the third act, at least. Up until then, April Fool’s Day is rather straightforward. Some teens visit their rich friend on an island, and her twin sister starts knocking them off one by one.

Lots of Fun

Or does she? That’s the question the film begs the viewer to ask. And they will, frequently. But, those in the audience back in 1985 would be hard-pressed to guess in advance that it’s all one big lie. Or, prank, rather. Jay Baker, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, and Ken Olandt are just a handful of names attached to this strange film’s cast, with Fred Walton having previously risen to success with his 1979 film When a Stranger Calls. Buy or Rent April Fool’s Day on Prime Video.

11 Chopping Mall (1986)

Chopping Mall

Chopping Mall

Release Date
March 21, 1986

Director
Jim Wynorski

Cast
Kelli Maroney , Tony O’Dell , Russell Todd , Karrie Emerson , Barbara Crampton , Nick Segal

The poster for Chopping Mall may be fairly misleading, with a severed head in a shopping bag held by a ghostly white hand, but there are still aspects with merit within. For one, the cast is outstanding. Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton, Night of the Comet‘s Kelli Maroney, Friday the 13th Part 2‘s Russell Todd, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and 4‘s Rodney Eastman, Piranha‘s Paul Bartel, Phantasm‘s Angus Scrimm, Child’s Play 2‘s Gerrit Graham, and Gremlins‘ Dick Miller are all here, and most are ill-fated. Like the title suggests, Chopping Mall sees all of these famous names being hunted down in the confines of an abandoned shopping mall. The ones doing the hunting, however, are a group of out-of-control killer robots.

Well, That’s One Way for A.I. to Take Us Down

But, for the most part, this killer robot movie is about satire as much as it’s about scares. Which is good because, admittedly, the scare factor doesn’t really pan out. But, it’s a movie that’s nearly smarter than it has any right to be, if only it had gone a little harder on consumerism, e.g. Dawn of the Dead. Still, its numerous practical effects and animatronics are still impressive to this day. Stream Chopping Mall on Shudder.

10 Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Horror master Stephen King has directed exactly one movie, and even he’d admit that’s for the best. He also would, and has, admitted that the production of that one film, Maximum Overdrive, was powered by cocaine more than it was a singular vision of a story that just had to be told. In short, it shows, but that’s as much a positive (if one watches it after, say, a few drinks) as it is a negative. In this film, a mysterious comet passing by Earth grants just about every machine on the planet sentience. With that sentience, they decide to fight back against humanity.

In a Way, It’s the First Big-Screen Appearance of Green Goblin

As a horror film, Maximum Overdrive is in no way effective. But, for those looking to hear an amazing soundtrack from AC/DC, one can’t do much better. The same goes for those looking to see a soda machine spew out cans at a fatal velocity. Aside from featuring some iconic moments, including a bizarre semi-truck styled after the Green Goblin, it also features Stephen King’s most hilariously unhinged cameo to date. Stream Maximum Overdrive on Prime Video.

9 Night of the Creeps (1986)

Fred Dekker was one of the ’80s more underappreciated talents. And, as terrific as his sophomore directorial effort, The Monster Squad, is, it’s his debut, Night of the Creeps, that stands as his magnum opus. Genuinely creepy when it wants to be, exceptionally well-cast (particularly when it comes to Tom Atkins as Detective Ray ‘Thrill Me’ Cameron), and often very funny, it’s a blast from start to finish. The film sees an ordinary college student steal a cadaver as part of a fraternity ritual, only to find a terrifying surprise inside.

If John Hughes Directed an Alien Invasion Flick, This Would Be It

Night of the Creeps is likable as can be, whether it’s the tone of the narrative or the performances. And, for those who prefer to see some ooey-gooey stuff, the film doesn’t short them either. That said, the alien slugs of this film don’t hold a bloody candle to the carnage seen in James Gunn’s later and equally comedic Slither. Thankfully, Jason Lively does a fantastic job here as the leading college student, having previously played a grown-up Rusty Griswald in National Lampoon’s European Vacation only a year prior. Buy or Rent Night of the Creeps on Apple TV.

8 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Over a decade after Tobe Hooper directed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, one of the scariest films of all time, he continued the IP with some much different. This time around, an innocent radio host is tormented by the cannibalistic Sawyer family, with a similarly unhinged police lieutenant seeking revenge for the deaths of his two nephews. While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 skews more comedy than horror, it certainly has its frightening moments. For instance, every time Bill Moseley’s raving Chop Top is on-screen.

A Hard Left Turn

Moseley delivers a (horror star-making) performance that genuinely makes one question whether it’s acting. More often than not, he comes across as a truly deranged individual who just so happens to be in front of a camera. In other words, he understood the assignment and a legendary horror character was born, not unlike Dennis Hopper’s “Lefty” and Caroline Williams’ “Stretch.” Dennis Hopper is delightfully mad here as well, swinging chainsaws around like they were sabers in one of the most bizarre horror sequels ever released. Stream The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 on Tubi.

7 Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

It’s amazing the disparity in quality between Jaws and the fourth (and final) film of the franchise, Jaws: The Revenge. It’s also a pretty compelling disparity, with the former being a masterclass on tension-building and the latter serving as a laundry list of elements that should not go into the construction of a film, thriller or otherwise. But, at least there are the first 15 minutes, before the locale is switched from Amity to… the Bahamas. Lorraine Gary returns from the first two films in this terrifying tale, with the monstrous shark seemingly gaining an understanding of what “revenge” is as it hunts her down.

It Raises Many Questions, None of Which Are Worth Answering

So many things are odd in Jaws: The Revenge. Michael Caine’s dry shirt as he’s climbing aboard after a panicked swim? Check. The shark’s ability to swim across the globe overnight? Check. The finale (one of several) where the shark is impaled by a boat’s bow only to suddenly explode for no reason? Big check. In other words, if Jaws: The Revenge wasn’t as boring as can be throughout at least the second act, it’d be one of the best so-bad-it’s-good movies of all time. Its now-infamous tagline, “This time, it’s personal,” says it all. Buy or Rent Jaws: The Revenge on Prime Video.

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6 Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Release Date
October 23, 1987

Cast
Donald Pleasence , Lisa Blount , Jameson Parker , Victor Wong , Dennis Dun , Susan Blanchard , Anne Marie Howard , Ann Yen

Main Genre
Horror

A lesser-known masterpiece from horror master John Carpenter, Prince of Darkness is a wholly ambitious, often-creepy work. The middle installment of Carpenter’s thematic “Apocalypse Trilogy,” Prince of Darkness follows a group of scientists as they endure an unconventional mission. When a priest requests their assistance in evaluating a mysterious cylinder, they discover that its contents are a liquefied version of the devil itself.

Mirror, Mirror

There are a few too many characters to be equally fleshed out, but that’s the only damaging flaw, and it’s not a fatal one. This is especially true when you consider that this is a film legitimately capable of surprising the audience. And that’s not just because it’s about a jar of green goo that’s technically Satan. Though, admittedly, that is a concept that could have flopped. It’s more because no one is safe in this film, and when someone dies (e.g. at the hands of Alice Cooper, in a surprising role), it’s brutal and memorable. Buy or Rent Prince of Darkness on Prime Video.

5 Prison (1987)

Prison

Prison

Release Date
December 8, 1987

Cast
Lane Smith , Viggo Mortensen , Chelsea Field , Lincoln Kilpatrick , Tom Everett

One year before he made it big with A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master, Renny Harlin gifted horror cinema with an equally ambitious work. Though, it’s one with a much smaller budget than that blockbuster sequel. That said, no Freddy Krueger movie ever involved Viggo Mortensen. In Prison, Mortensen plays Burke, a prisoner at Creedmore Prison who makes a startling discovery: it’s currently being haunted by a vengeful spirit, with the new warden’s demise being the only thing that’ll satiate its bloodlust.

An Underrated Early Effort from Renny Harlin

While featuring an actor of Mortensen’s caliber in an especially strange slasher movie isn’t in and of itself odd, its usage of him is. The movie is more about Lane Smith’s warden than anyone else, specifically his denial of the resurgence of a prisoner whose execution he himself ordered. Turns out, the man he executed was completely innocent. That aspect is straightforward, but having Mortensen’s Burke as a potentially reincarnated version of that killer is not. Especially considering it amounts to a misdirection, as the true antagonist is, save for the final moments, an off-screen ghost. Prison is currently not available on streaming.

4 Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2

Release Date
April 10, 1987

Director
Lee Harry

Cast
Eric Freeman , James Newman , Elizabeth Kaitan , Jean Miller , Darrel Guilbeau , Brian Michael Henley

The vast majority of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is stock footage of the original film. So, for the most part, the sequel is less odd and quirky than it is disturbing and horrific. It’s also blatantly low-budget, as nearly half of the film consists of said stock footage. But, whenever it actually is functioning as a sequel with new content or not, the second killer Santa movie is one of the most outlandish things ever committed to celluloid.

Garbage Day!

Of course, having an antagonist storm through a neighborhood murdering everyone in sight has the great potential to be too real and repulsive. But Eric Freeman’s performance is so unhinged it just works, especially thanks to meme culture. The now-iconic “Garbage Day” sequence is arguably the film’s most recognized scene, exploding into popularity while leaving the surrounding film in the dust. Stream Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 on Tubi.

3 Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Release Date
May 27, 1988

Cast
Grant Cramer , Suzanne Snyder , John Allen Nelson , John Vernon , Michael Siegel , Peter Licassi

The Chiodo Brothers have graced cinema history with exactly one film, and it’s far better than the title, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, might indicate. For one, the tone is perfectly balanced, especially for first-time filmmakers. Secondly, the characters are well-drawn. But that’s not the most effective element.

How Many Other Movies Have Someone Gobbled Up by a Shadow?

The Choido Brothers, themselves special effects artists, also crafted the practical effects. And they’re outstanding to this day. Utterly grotesque clowns, over-the-top sets and cartoonish props, and a complete commitment to its ludicrous premise makes for a film you can’t ever really forget. Toss in some wildly creative kills, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space becomes a midnight movie that works even in the afternoon. Stream Killer Klowns from Outer Space on Tubi.

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2 Pumpkinhead (1988)

Makeup artist legend Stan Winston made his directorial debut with the horror film Pumpkinhead, and its quality as a film begs the question of why he didn’t continue to direct. More specifically, why his only other directed feature length film was the comedic A Gnome Named Gnorm. That genre disparity is a leap, even if that Anthony Michael Hall-led buddy comedy is every bit as strange as this vengeful demon film.

An Impressive Directorial Debut

Suffice it to say, Pumpkinhead is better. A lot better. It’s also fairly heartfelt, with Lance Henriksen consistently selling his character not as a part of a film, but rather as a truly grieving father. When the throughline of a film works, which Pumpkinhead‘s does, it comes down to creature design, and the construction of the titular antagonist is nothing short of impressive. Stream Pumpkinhead on Tubi.

1 Shocker (1989)

Shocker

Shocker

Release Date
October 27, 1989

After A Nightmare on Elm Street kicked off a franchise, it was destined that horror master Wes Craven would try and duplicate his own success. Shocker wasn’t it, but it has its fans. In this film, Freddy is essentially swapped out for Horace Pinker, an executed serial killer who makes a deal with the devil to come back as electricity. Mitch Pileggi plays the “shocking” villain here, with additional performances by Michael Murphy, Camille Cooper, Sam Scarber, and Ted Raimi.

Lesser Craven But Still Solid Enough

It’s a bit too outlandish a concept to truly be frightening. But, as far as midnight movies go, Shocker has its moments. It’s just too bad it couldn’t be as sublimely-paced as A Nightmare on Elm Street. Heather Langenkamp makes a special appearance here as one of the killer’s victims, with Wes Craven’s real-life children, Jessica and Jonathan Craven, even making minor cameo appearances throughout. With all this combined, along with featuring dedicated songs composed by musical acts like Alice Cooper and Megadeth, Shocker is easily one of the most bizarre horror films to have emerged in the 1980s. Buy or Rent Shocker on Prime Video.

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