Generally speaking, the '80s isn't the decade that represents Hollywood cinematography at its finest—remember Can't Buy Me Love?—but if you're a fan of synth-heavy scores, prosthetic makeup, and cheap thrills, the horror films of the era should be at the top of your watchlist. Besides, who doesn't feel a bit nostalgic for the bygone era of films starring masked killers and wild teens?
If you're looking for a reason to stay in tonight, these special effects–heavy '80s horror movies offer the perfect excuse to pop some movie theater-grade popcorn and settle in on the couch for the evening. Spanning a nightmare-inducing slasher film to an Oscar-winning romantic tragedy starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, they're too good to wait for Halloween. Ahead, discover nine '80s horror movies that are kitschy in the best possible way.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Without a doubt, Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street is an '80s slasher movie that will haunt your dreams (after all, Freddy Krueger does exactly that to his teenage victims in the film). Despite the gore—and there's plenty of it—this movie is actually clever, writes Paul Attanasio in The Washington Post. "The plot itself cleverly mirrors the experience of the genre (what are horror movies, after all, but organized nightmares?)."
A flick that delivers both shivers and smiles, Joe Dante's Gremlins is a delightfully kitschy film about cute yet dangerous creatures that wreak havoc on a Norman Rockwell–esque town at Christmastime. "It delivers both gore and guffaws, and, more impressively, blends the two moods to create [a funky] fable," recommends movie critic Richard Corliss in Time.
Starring Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, the last surviving crew member of a spaceship that was attacked by alien life forms, James Cameron's Aliens boasts feminist subtext that's rarely broached in the horror genre. "Action thrillers assail but rarely test us; this is the tautest, most provoking, and altogether most draining example ever made," writes Anthony Lane in The New Yorker.
In The Thing, a group of research scientists dwelling in the Antarctic tundra discover that an alien might be living among them—and might even be one of them. "The special effects can't hope to be as creepy to our seen-it-all eyes as they were to the film's first viewers, but we can still enjoy the monster's unique weirdness, and the story is a rock-solid yarn," endorses Edward Porter in The Times.
Don't let critics' negative reviews dissuade you—Jamie Lee Curtis shines as a scream queen in Nelson McCormick's Prom Night. For diehard fans of the horror genre, this film will likely be a let-down, but for fans of kitschy '80s fashion, music, and special effects, you won't regret a single one of the 91 minutes spent watching this movie.
Jack Nicholson delivers an unforgettable performance as a frustrated writer descending into madness in The Shining. Ben Walters of Time Out simply describes Stanley Kubrick's iconic '80s horror film as "a masterpiece."
An American Werewolf in London
In the vein of Gremlins, An American Werewolf in London is equal parts funny and frightening. "A clever mixture of comedy and horror which succeeds in being both funny and scary, An American Werewolf in London possesses an overriding eagerness to please that prevents it from becoming off-putting," according to Variety.
Deemed a modern horror classic by film critics, the original 1982 Poltergeist still has the capacity to frighten 2018 viewers. ''Poltergeist is like a thoroughly enjoyable nightmare, one that you know that you can always wake up from," writes Vincent Canby in The New York Times. "It's also witty in a fashion that Alfred Hitchcock might have appreciated."
Not for the squeamish, the Oscar-winning makeup special effects in The Fly (starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis) will haunt you long after the credits roll. "The Fly is as much a romantic tragedy as a black-humored horror film, but it unfolds with such eerie grandeur that it will leave you stoked with a creepy high for hours after you've left the theater," writes Patrick Goldstein in The Los Angeles Times.