Why the 1980s Still Define Horror Movies Today (And Might Forever)

Since their inception, horror films have evolved so much. Scary movies date back to 1896 with The House of the Devil, which featured the first on-screen vampire. A little over half a century later, we saw the first toilet flush (and risqué shower scene!) recorded on film in 1960 with Psycho, the intro of the George A. Romero zombie in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, and a surge of classics like Jaws, Halloween, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the ’70s.

With all of those amazing milestone releases, however, there is still only one decade that truly redefined the horror genre: the 1980s. Here are five reasons why the ’80s redefined the horror movie genre in ways that continue to reverberate today.

1. Modern Movies Are Still Trying To Live Up To ’80s Villains

Let’s be honest, there is nothing better than an awesome, menacing Big Bad. Every decade has contributed a few memorable villains to the genre, but the baddies from the ’80s are untouchable. To name just a few, we have Chucky, Jason, Freddy, Predator, Pumpkinhead, the Xenomorph Queen, Pinhead, Cujo, Beetlejuice, the Fly and Reverend Kane.

2. The Decade Used Practical Effects To The Max

“I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it.”

In an era before CGI was the norm, creativity was harnessed by way of practical effects in the most awesome way possible. Remember Johnny Depp’s death scene in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street? To achieve the blood geyser effect, they used a rotating room and pumped the the blood out of the bed downward with high pressure.

Another example? Fast forward a few years to 1986’s Aliens. It took 14–16 people to operate the Queen, including hydraulics and puppeteers. And somehow they pulled it off! The hard work that the artists put into these movies did not go unnoticed at the 1987 Academy Awards — and we all know how often the horror genre gets snubbed at the big awards ceremonies.

But here’s a list of the horror movies that won Oscars in the ’80s:

  • American Werewolf in London: Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup
  • Aliens: Best visual effects and best sound editing
  • The Fly: Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup
  • Beetlejuice: Best Achievement in Makeup. Click here to check out some of these scenes.

3. The ’80s Made Gore Mainstream

The stuff Amber Heard
The stuff Amber Heard’s dreams are made of.

Prior to the 1980s, most horror movies exhibited minimal, if any, blood and guts. A few examples include 1978’s Halloween, which didn’t feature a drop of blood, and 1960’s Psycho, which had only one scene with a splash of blood.

Eighties horror inched its way into pop culture by featuring teenagers being slaughtered by the dozen, and it brought the carnage along with it. In 1980’s The Shining, Stanley Kubrick used more than 3,000 gallons of fake blood in that elevator hallway scene alone! Check that scene out here.

4. The Rise Of The Scream Queen

"Get away from her, you bitch!"
“Get away from her, you bitch!”

We were already introduced to leading ladies of horror with Alien and Rosemary’s Baby. However, it wasn’t until the ’80s that women heroines really began to steal the show. We enjoyed a much more action-oriented Ellen in Aliens, badass Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street, champion Alice in Friday the 13th, the survivor Donna in Cujo, the fearless Veronica in The Fly — I could go on!

Moviegoers were so used to seeing the damsel in distress routine, but seeing the damsel save the day offered something refreshing. And isn’t it just so much more fun to see a girl kick ass? Or is that just me?

5. The ’80s Were Horror’s Baby Boom

Between 1980 and 1989 there were a whopping 539 horror movies made. You read that right, 539! That’s insane. Many of them you have probably never heard of, but if you’re interested in checking out the genre’s most iconic from the decade, here’s a list of 30 films to get you started:

1. The Shining — 1980

2. The Thing — 1982

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street — 1984

4. Friday the 13th — 1980

5. The Entity — 1982

6. Cujo — 1983

7. Aliens — 1986

8. Pet Sematary — 1989

9. Predator — 1987

10. The Fly — 1986

11. Day of the Dead — 1985

12. An American Werewolf in London — 1981

13. The Hitcher — 1986

14. The Dead Zone — 1983

15. Creepshow — 1982

16. Evil Dead 2 — 1987

17. Beetlejuice — 1988

18. Poltergeist — 1982

19. Hellraiser — 1987

20. Halloween 2 — 1981

21. The Fog — 1980

22. The Howling — 1981

23. Firestarter — 1984

24. Fright Night — 1985

25. The Lost Boys — 1987

26. Pumpkinhead — 1988

27. Child’s Play – 1988

28. The Evil Dead — 1981

29. My Bloody Valentine — 1981

30. Children of the Corn — 1984

For more of a modern take on Movie Pilot’s favorite horror picks, check out 17 Horror Movies Coming For You In 2017.