Halloween Hit List: Movies From the Eighties and Nineties

Every October, horror movie buffs–and even some who don’t usually care for the genre–really get to indulge in their favorite genre. Many television channels run marathons and streaming sites get an influx of genre movies.

Last week we took a look at ten must-see horror movies from the sixties and seventies; this week we’re going to look at ten more from the eighties and nineties.

1980—The Changeling

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Following the death of his wife and child, John Russell (George C. Scott) decides to move across the country to start anew. Bad news: the big creepy mansion he moves into is haunted. This movie is a slow-burning, tense film to the end. Unlike some films, this movie doesn’t require a certain atmosphere to be scary. It’s also supposedly based on a real supernatural case, so if you want some more chills, you can read up on the real deal.

Until recently, this movie couldn’t be found on DVD. However, a recent rerelease makes it just a smidge easier to find now.

1980—The Shining

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) moves in with his family to an evil, isolated hotel. Torrance starts out as a fairly average family man working on a novel, with an average wife and a psychic kid who has premonitions of things to come. The hotel has other plans for its temporary residents, and the ghosts of past visitors decide to get in on the action.

Stephen King notoriously hates this adaptation of his book, but it’s hard to argue that the original story is more iconic to pop culture than Stanley Kubrick’s take on it.

This one is easy to find on DVD. It’s also currently on the US Netflix. The original book is good as well, but it is hard to get the film out of your head once you’ve seen it.

1982—Poltergeist

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New suburban developments seem like fun until you realize what they’re built over. The twist in this film is a little old hat now (I first watched it when I was about ten and guessed it thanks to a Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episode), but the horror elements themselves are original. Steven Spielberg has said that he based the scares that affect the house and its residents on his childhood fears, which is often cited as the reason why its so visceral and still so effective today. It may seem a little dated to younger viewers, but much of its strength lies in the fact that it feels like it could happen anywhere.

Once in a while this shows up on streaming services, but being a Steven Spielberg movie, it’s not a tough find elsewhere, either. The 2015 remake is a forgettable affair.

1982—The Thing

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One of the things I love about Alien is how it takes its time to build up suspense that primes you for the action. One of the things I love about The Thing is that it does none of that: a group of researchers is in Antarctica, they take in an escaped dog, and things go downhill almost immediately.

This movie is a gross gorefest, but it’s worth at least one look even if you don’t go in for that, simply for the impressive special effects. The sound design is great too; it adds a lot. And by the way, if you speak Norwegian, you might want to cover your ears for the first five minutes or so. The Norwegian researcher’s dialogue spoils the movie!

Once in a while this pops up on TV. There are a few different versions of the movie on DVD; supposedly the Shout Factory Blu-Ray edition is the best one in terms of the quality and special features included. And don’t bother with the 2011 prequel/remake. It’s a mess.

1986—The Fly

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This movie is the king of body horror: up-and-coming scientist (Jeff Goldblum) invents teleporters. He tries them out, not realizing a fly is in them with him. Their DNA mixes and Goldblum begins an ugly descent into the insect world. As he puts it: “I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over.”

The Fly is currently available on Hulu and pops up on Netflix every so often. It occasionally shows up on television, albeit heavily edited.

1987—Evil Dead II

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The Evil Dead series is noted for its special effects and dark humor. This is the “cabin in the woods” movie. It may not have made the subgenre, but it’s practically the blueprint for the subgenre now.

The fans of this series are divided over how it fits with the first movie—if it’s a remake with a bigger budget or picks up directly after the first film—but either way, it’s worth a watch. (The first one is good too, and a bit grittier for effects buffs.) For me, it ranks closely with The Thing (1982) in terms of gruesomeness, but for very different reasons. It’s the less smooth aspects of the effects in this movie that make it gruesome to me.

In the first movie there is a rape scene involving a possessed tree, and although it doesn’t make it quite as far in this movie, it still gets close. There’s also a bit of nudity, so this one isn’t a pick for the family room.

I’ve never actually seen this movie on streaming or as a hard copy other than the one I’ve borrowed from my brother. It has a big enough cult following that that seems very strange.

1991—The Silence of the Lambs

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This movie doesn’t fit quite as well with the other listings, since it straddles the horror and detective/crime genres. Still, Anthony Hopkins’ fifteen minutes in the movie as the ravenous Hannibal Lector is terrifying, because in some ways he is an impressive sophisticate. When he starts eating people it’s a stark reminder of the sort of guy he is. It also forces the viewer to deal with the fact that this character is just as bad if not worse than serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) who main character Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is pursuing with Lector’s help.

This movie is on TV all the time. The original book of the same name by Thomas Harris is worth a look too, though the movie is faithful on all but two minor points.

1992—Candyman

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Grad student Helen (Virginia Madsen) is researching local urban legends when she uncovers the Bloody Mary-esque legend of the Candyman (Tony Todd). He seems a suave man, save for the fact that he kills people, has a bloody hook for a hand, and is full of bees. After she carries out the ritual to summon him, he begins appearing and her life deflates around her: he torments her and begins framing her for abductions, attacks, and murders.

Candyman is as terrifying as he is debonair, and the movie is as tense as it is scary because Helen suffers for all of her and the Candyman’s actions. There aren’t any movie loopholes or logic to protect her from real world or supernatural repercussions. On the plus side, her cruddy husband gets exactly what he deserves.

The sequels are on AMC and Netflix quite often; the first movie is a little less common. Semi-related: Tony Todd is a very pleasant man with a good sense of humor. Most decidedly not full of bees in real life.

1994—Shallow Grave

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Three flatmates put a room up for a rent and get a new guy who dies almost immediately. He dies with a ton of cash in his possession, so they just bury him and play. Well, two of them do. Flatmate number three (Christopher Eccleston) starts descending into madness, giving into a creeping paranoia that turns out to be catching. The director, Danny Boyle, claims that of all the films he has directed, this is his father’s favorite, and always calls his movies “good, but not as good as Shallow Grave.”

This movie is also a bit fun because it’s got Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor right at the beginning of their careers. Oh, it’s just the ninth doctor and Obi-Wan wrapped up in a bloody conspiracy!

This has struck me as a tough to find movie, but I suspect it’s much easier to get a hold of in the UK.

1999—The Blair Witch Project

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This wasn’t the first found footage horror movie ever made, but it really kicked the genre into high gear and was quite a pop culture phenomenon for a while. Three film students get together to do a project on Maryland urban legend figure, the Blair Witch. They interview some locals, some of whom claim to have seen it and even some who claim not to believe but still avoid the area she’s said to dwell in, and then head into the woods.

Thanks to some monkeying around with the actors’ actual supplies and emotions, there are very real emotions and performances caught on tape that culminates in supernatural events made horrible for what they imply. So convincing is the movie that the parents of the actors (who used their real names) are said to still receive letters of condolences from first-time film viewers.

This movie is on Netflix and Hulu pretty much year-round. If you get really committed to the mythos, there were plenty of spin-off books and videogames released at the time that are also common enough on Amazon and the like. Take those film sequels with a grain of salt, though.

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How did our list treat you? Do you think we passed over a great horror classic that belongs on everyone’s October marathon lists? Let us know in the comments below! If you have a recommendation for next week’s list of ten movies from the next two decades, let us know as well! We’d love to check it out.

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