1980 was an important year for horror, evolutionarily speaking: it ended a particularly nasty and gritty decade filled with realism and exploitation while conversely welcoming in another decade full of a new generation of slasher films. Distinctive trends emerged as paths began to develop, paving the way for the next decade of horror films, many of which continue to influence the genre today. To celebrate this important year, I've decided to construct a brief list of what I deem to be five of the best (and most important) horror films released in 1980. This is the first in the series of top 10 lists I plan to do for each year (chronologically) of the 80s. Thus, without further ado, here are the top 10.
*note: I made a video several months ago on this same topic. I'll embed the video at the end of this post for those interested. Also, as always, you can watch all of the below films right here on 80shorror.net!
10. Motel Hell
Cannibal Holocaust - perhaps one of the most infamously controversial films of the last 50 years - is nothing short of legendary amongst 80s horror enthusiasts. In the past decade or so, however, the film's reach has been extended, and its gradually made its way on the screens of more mainstream audiences. What often goes unrecognized by those unaware of the contextual details of the genre at the time, however, is that Cannibal Holocaust served as one of the first found footage films, initializing a trend that would eventually take the form of the seemingly ubiquitous films released in contemporary horror. It's certainly probable that if it were not for Cannibal Holocaust, another film would have paved the way for such a phenomenon, but Cannibal Holocaust's influence and presence continues to be felt to this day.
Given its infamy over the years, it would be difficult to find someone who HASN'T heard of Friday the 13th (or even more specifically, who doesn't recognize the iconic hockey mask). Thus, it's difficult to overestimate the influence the series has had on the horror genre. It might be thought, then, that the film ought to be held with more esteem and, consequently, a higher ranking on a list such as this one. However, given the high number of (arguably better) slasher films released within a short period after Friday the 13th (see The Burning, for example), it becomes difficult to identify precisely whether Friday the 13th itself ought to be given credit for the consequent influence, or if it was merely some sort of slasher amalgamation cultivating overarching trends which brought about the appropriate conditions for the ever progressing and evolving slasher.
3. The Fog
What can be said about John Carpenter that hasn't already been said? Truly a master of horror if there ever was one, Carpenter consistently released quality films throughout the 80s. This started, of course, with his 1980 classic "The Fog." While certainly not Carpenter's best (that award, in my view, goes to The Thing (1982)) The Fog managed to synthesize Carpenter's great talent for cultivating suspense along with his ability to create an atmosphere shrouded in mystery and impending doom. The score supplements the images wonderfully and manages to manifest a truly magnificent overall presence. Really, the only bad thing one can say about the movie is that if it weren't made, we wouldn't have had to deal with the obscenely insufferable remake. But, we could say this about any awfully remade movie, of course. Ultimately, though, while the movie is often overshadowed by the admittedly better Halloween and The Thing, it continues to hold up well and demands to be seen.
While none of the aforementioned entries will be much of a surprise to 80s horror fans, my #2 pick Encounters of the Spooky Kind might well surprise some people. The only movie on my list outside of the West, EotSK separates itself from all of my other choices in almost every way. Though not entirely obscure, it still often goes unrecognized by horror aficionados, which is a shame. The movie finds an excellent mixture of humor and offbeat comedic approaches without seeming overt and while also maintaining a certain level of spookiness, if you will. Stylistically, the movie seems innovative for its time and manages to hold up well despite its age. When people ask me for recommendations that they might not have seen before, EotSK is usually near the top of my list. Attempting to explain the movie has proven itself to be exceedingly difficult and I find that the best approach would be to merely experience it. So, do yourself a favor and check it out.
1. The Shining
My #1 pick should be no surprise. Often considered one of the best horror films of the 80s (if not of all time), The Shining has an undeniable legacy and rarely seems to disappoint newcomers. Despite the high expectations that it tends to manifest in first time (and long time viewers), the movie seems to continue to impress decades after its release. Atmospherically speaking, the film manages to reach rarely surpassed levels. The performances are legendary and many of the images iconic. Visually, Kubrick introduces a seemingly pristine world with his characteristic sterile and minimalist aesthetic. This helps to juxtapose the ever progressing tension illustrated wonderfully by Nicholson's masterful performance. The score, the cinematography and essentially every aspect generates an omnipresent eeriness which only seems to increase as the film goes on. I was slightly reluctant to include the movie in my #1 spot since, at this point, the movie has been praised ad infinitum and thus more praise seems redundant; however, it really is that good. While not Kubrick's best (in my view), the movie stands the test of time and continues to influence filmmakers to this day.
Watch the List on Video!
Also, don't forget to check out the rest of the movies from 1980!