When horror audiences are terrified of jumping fears and gruesome on-screen murders, storytelling is usually the last thing they think of. For the most part, the plot of a horror film serves to set up the central conflict before it escalates into total terror. But in some horror classics, the plot is one of their biggest assets.
There are a bunch of horror films from the 1980s – one of the most acclaimed decades for the genre – with sharp storytelling. Stanley Kubrick adapted The brilliant like a gradual descent into murderous rage. that of Sam Raimi Diabolical death created the cabin in the woods trope. The day of the Dead explored new corners of the zombie infested post-apocalyptic world of George A. Romero.
ten Child’s Play (1988)
Directed by Tom Holland (but not only Tom Holland), Child’s play has a glorious slasher premise involving the mind of a serial killer owning a baby boy doll and indulging his bloodlust through the doll’s actions.
Chucky has since become one of the most iconic horror villains of all time. It’s relatively easy to scare a bloodthirsty alien or a horde of carnivorous zombies; terrifying the audience with a toy is a unique cinematic challenge.
9 Videodrome (1983)
There have been horror films about possessed dolls, demonic cars, and murderous service monkeys, and in 1983 David Cronenberg made a horror film on a sadistic TV station.
James Woods stars in Videodrome at the head of a trashy television network that stumbles upon a depraved snuff festival hidden on the air. The film is primarily notable for Cronenberg’s stunning visual effects, but the plot is a sharp satirical withdrawal from the media.
8 Day of the Dead (1985)
The third zombie infested horror classic in George A. Romero Dead series, The day of the Dead, is not as masterfully designed as the first two. But it’s still a solid horror movie with a unique premise revolving around scientists trying to undo the zombie apocalypse.
They are all holed up in an ultra-secure missile silo as the hordes of undead that gather outside grow larger and larger. Tensions are high and cabin fever sets in among the survivors. Throughout the film, their research puts Romero’s zombies under a magnifying glass.
seven Society (1989)
Brian Yuzna’s Society is a quintessential cult horror classic. It revolves around a Beverly Hills teenager who realizes his family is part of a horrific 1% orgy cult.
The debauchery antics of this cult offer a hysterical satire of the social elite. Yuzna reveals this cult in a truly shocking way as the teenager lazily walks home and stumbles upon one of their sinister parties.
6 An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Decades before Edgar Wright did Shaun of the Dead, the go-to example of a horror comedy that works wonderfully as both a terrifying horror film and a laughing laughter comedy was John Landis An American werewolf in London. The film’s haunting opening scene sees two American tourists being maimed by a werewolf in the English countryside.
The one who survives slowly transforms into a werewolf himself while hallucinating from his deceased friend begging him to spare others the same pain he had to face. Landis’ take on the werewolf lore is fun, quirky, and totally unique.
5 The Evil Dead (1981)
A cabin in the woods is one of the most frequently used settings for a scary horror movie. It dates back to Sam Raimi’s devilishly inventive directorial debut. Diabolical death. A secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere offered a deliciously inexpensive filming location for the young aspiring filmmaker.
The simplistic narration in Diabolical death sets the stage for Raimi to show off his surprisingly timeless special effects on a low budget. When a group of friends make their way to the cabin, they unwittingly release a demonic spirit and, one by one, succumb to its possession.
4 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Six years later Halloween revolutionized the horror genre, slasher tropes had become worn and overdone, but Wes Craven managed to give a new twist to the familiar setting with Freddy. Craven added a supernatural element to the slasher as the kids are stalked by a serial killer in their dreams.
Freddy Krueger is the ultimate bogeyman. After the first act sets up the threat it poses, the rest of the film sees the protagonists desperately trying to stay awake.
3 The Fly (1986)
Another “body horror” gem directed by Cronenberg, Fly stars Jeff Goldblum as a scientist experimenting with teleportation. When a fly enters the teleportation machine, the scientist slowly begins to transform into a human fly.
The most breathtaking thing in Fly is the Oscar-winning special effects of Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis, but the fast-paced storyline follows the story of the transformation through the lens of romantic tragedy.
2 The Brilliant (1980)
Stanley Kubrick borrowed the basic premise of Stephen King The brilliant in his film adaptation – a struggling writer takes a job as a winter warden in a haunted hotel – but his approach to the plot is very different.
In King’s novel, Jack Torrance is a good man who is driven into a murderous rage by the ghosts of the Overlook. In Kubrick’s film, he’s an angry and hateful man who is driven into murderous rage by mere isolation. Tracing Jack’s slow descent into madness, Kubrick’s film is a timeless masterpiece of cinematic horror.
1 The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror masterpiece The thing is as stimulating as it is terrifying. Kurt Russell leads a group of scientists in a remote arctic outpost grappling with a malevolent shape-shifting alien who could pose as one of them.
While the shapeshifter ET offered many possibilities for stunning special effects, the story of The thing is motivated by mistrust and betrayal between the characters.
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