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25 Of The Most Underrated Horror Films From The 1980s

29 June 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Liam Hathaway

Inferno

The 1980s was a pinnacle decade for horror; imaginations went wild, practical special effects were seeing a huge improvement, and on a whole – the envelope was constantly being pushed further and further. The momentum of the genres explosion gave birth to classics that are still held in high regard; films such as ‘Hellraiser’, ‘The Evil Dead, ‘Re-Animator’ and ‘The Shining’.

This list, however, is holding a light to 25 films that have not quite had the lasting acclaim of other 80s horror films; they may be considered unsuccessful sequels, forgotten or overlooked, or were simply panned upon release. Regardless – they can all be considered to be underrated in one way or another. All of the films score lower than 60% on Rotten Tomatoes (signifying ‘rotten’ or not rated) and lower than 7.0 on IMDb.

It goes without saying that these films are not often ranked as masterpieces and some people may think that the respective comments here are outrageously kind – but, avoiding these films based on those scores may cause you to miss out on an excellent horror film. Go into any of these films in a slightly forgiving mood and you may be pleasantly surprised.

 

25. April Fool’s Day (1986)

April Fool’s Day (1986)

Rotten Romatoes – 36%

IMDb – 6.2

It’s April 1st; a rich college student invites her friends to her remote island house for a weekend of partying on her birthday whilst her parents are away. After a series of elaborate pranks for April fool’s, bodies start to pile up for real with the remaining people stranded on the island without help.

Some will find the ending to be totally preposterous, whereas others will find it refreshing among the slew of ‘Friday The 13TH’/‘Halloween’ imitations that were set on any and every holiday or celebrated day of the year. The aforementioned ending coupled with parodic humour, a comic tone and a genuine sense of mystery is what lifts this entertaining whodunit above the level of a substandard slasher.

 

24. Silver Bullet (1985)

Silver Bullet

Rotten Tomatoes – 50%

IMDb – 6.3

Not the scariest lycanthrope movie there ever was and certainly not on par with the similarly themed 80s efforts such as ‘An American Werewolf In London’ or ‘The Howling’. Nonetheless, ‘Silver Bullet’ is still worthy of a checkout for some well-executed sequences and its amusingly entertaining performances.

Corey Haim stars as a disabled boy named Marty who realizes that the series of gruesome murders in his small town were committed by a Werewolf. Marty must now convince his elder sister and his often inebriated but loving uncle before the Werewolf comes after him. Despite a considerable lack of solid scares and a slightly disjointed narrative, audiences should still be inclined to give this Stephen King adaptation the benefit of the doubt thanks to some sufficiently macabre moments, a lively performance from Gary Busey (as the uncle) and the much missed Everett McGill as the sinister Reverend Lowe.

 

23. The House Of Clocks (1989)

The House Of Clocks (1989)

Rotten Tomatoes – “No Score Yet…”

IMDb – 5.8

When you think of Lucio Fulci’s work in horror, his ‘Gates Of Hell’ trilogy, ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ or any other of his films from the early 80s will often come to mind first. He also directed films such as ‘Don’t Torture A Duckling’ and ‘Cat In The Brain’ which giallo cognoscenti may also know his name from. In 1989 however, Fulci directed this nonsensically fun, yet strange film for Italian TV which is often overlooked.

The premise of the film is bizarre to say the least – a group of travelling degenerates target a house to rob situated in an isolated area of Europe. It is, however, owned by a murderous elderly couple who possess the power to reverse time via their vast collection of mysterious clocks. Overall, ‘The House Of Clocks’ is good enough and trashy enough to appeal to giallo and Fulci fans; it may be tonally incoherent, plagued with bad dialogue and lacking of any character worth caring about but the interesting premise, funky score and hilarious/shocking ending surprisingly keep the film afloat.

 

22. Evil Dead Trap (1988)

Evil Dead Trap

Rotten Tomatoes – “No Score Yet…”

IMDb – 6.3

This small Asian horror film has nothing to do with Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy but it certainly is just a gory and outrageously over the top. An extreme TV show host anonymously receives a tape of what appears to be a snuff film and traces it to a nearby abandoned factory. Along with a camera crew, she sets out to investigate the factory and the team are picked off one by one by a hooded psychopath.

Coincidentally, ‘Evil Dead Trap’ feels very much inspired by the films of Lucio Fulci in his heyday – it contains some truly horrific death sequences that are made all the more repellent by astonishing special effects work. It also features some suitably menacing cinematography which goes a long way to emphasize the sense of dread.
The film perhaps suffers for being a tad overlong and for containing some gratuitous sex and rape scenes – but the absolutely bonkers ending should make amends for those minor complaints against an otherwise satisfactory gore-fest.

 

21. Clownhouse (1988)

Clownhouse (1988)

Rotten Tomatoes – 40%

IMDb – 5.8

If viewers can somehow think past the behind-the-scenes controversy that occurred during the making of ‘Clownhouse’ then it may just prove to be quite a competent example of the exhausted home-invasion premise – especially if they are a severe sufferer of Coulrophobia. Three close-knit brothers (one terrified by clowns) spend Halloween night home alone. Meanwhile, three patients have escaped from a nearby insane asylum, donned clown costumes they have stolen from the circus and targeted the boys’ house to terrorize.

Despite being noted as Sam Rockwell’s film debut, the film is unsurprisingly seldom spoken about. Aside from some uncomfortable moments (worsened by the knowledge of the aforementioned controversy), ‘Clownhouse’ works like an extra-intense episode of ‘Are You Afraid Of The Dark?’. It may not satisfy veteran horror enthusiasts, but the twisted circus-inspired score and the protracted climax help this little 80s horror movie to be extremely creepy.

 

20. The Keep (1983)

the_keep_byrne

Rotten Tomatoes – 31%

IMDb – 5.8

A garrison of Nazi soldiers are ordered to take control of an isolated keep in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains. Their leader (Jürgen Prochnow) soon learns that their presence has triggered an ancient evil that the keep has kept dormant for centuries.

Though the narrative is slightly incomprehensible, (due perhaps to the alleged excessive editing from the studio) this film remains a visual treat complete with some dodgy special effects and some brutal deaths. The as ever brilliant Tangerine Dream score accentuates the surreal and almost timeless atmosphere of the film – it is also worth the watch to see a younger Gabriel Byrne and Ian McKellen.

‘The Keep’ was an early film from Michael Mann and a notable flop on release – but it soon became something of a cult hit through its video and rental release. Despite this, it is still yet to be released on DVD or Blu Ray.

 

19. Pumpkinhead (1988)

pumpkinhead

Rotten Tomatoes – 56%

IMDb – 6.2

This excellent revenge fantasy from the late great special effects wizard, Stan Winston evokes the feeling of a very grim fairy tale; its eerie backwoods setting, combined with a touching story with a great ending have made this one of the best unsung cult films from the 80s. After a farmer loses his young son, his sudden bereavement leads him to call upon the local legend of Pumpkinhead to hunt down the gang of obnoxious bikers who were responsible and wreak havoc. But has his retaliation come at a price?

Lance Henriksen is perfectly cast as the grief-stricken father and his performance makes the proceedings all the more harrowing. ‘Pumpkinhead’ is a great film that has always seemed to sit in the grey area between the definitive 80s horror classics and the all-but-forgotten gems.

 

18. Inferno (1980)

Inferno

Rotten Tomatoes – 58%

IMDb – 6.7

Not exactly a sequel to ‘Suspiria’ in the most traditional fashion, but ‘Inferno’ certainly seems to take place in the same elaborate universe – full of lush palettes, uncontrollable circumstances and terrifying witches.

When a student returns home to New York from Rome, his sister has discovered that their apartment building is also occupied by “The Three Mothers” who seem to be the culprits of a series of particularly hideous murders in the same complex.

The plot appears to be deliberately incoherent, seemingly in order to prevent the viewer from ever feeling at ease which it do so efficiently. ‘Inferno’ is Vintage Argento – full of stylish, almost operatic sequences that prove to be just as tense as they are beautiful to look at.

 

 

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  • Allister Cooper

    From Beyond wasn’t very bad :).

  • Ted Wolf

    Psycho II actually had some real suspenseful moments.

  • Randy Clark

    For over thirty years, I have been making my friends watch Just Before Dawn and now that I am a college professor, I sometimes show it in my horror film class.

  • Bryant Low

    Thanks for the great list and for including such under-appreciated films like Society and The Entity (easily one of the nastiest horror films around in my book). Though I’m not sure some entries like Pet Sematary or Psycho 2 belong in it since they are quite highly regarded amongst diehard horror fans.

    Nevertheless I’ve recently rediscovered a forgotten curiosity also directed by the great Richard Franklin called Link in which Elisabeth Shue is terrorised by an Orangutan. Odd but engaging and well made. Also starring Terence Stamp.

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  • Ted Wolf

    BTW, I saw the Keep when it was in the theaters, and I think the IMDB of 5.8 is really generous.

  • Rex Gambill

    Why do you say “the much missed Everett McGill” in the description for “Silver Bullet”? He’s not dead. I would like to see him in more things, though.

  • Ivan Galić

    I wouldn’t say Pet Semetary, Fly 2, Nightmare in Elm Street and Silver bullet are underrated… i mean for me there are classics of 80’s horror cinema…

    • Hunter Daniels

      Agreed. Pet Sematary is classic horror. Everyone knows this movie! And seriously the author thought Elm a Street pt 2 was good?! He must have run out of titles. It was Sooo bad.

  • Jen Iris

    I was REALLY hoping Witchboard would have been on this list. That flick FREAKED me out when I was a kiddo, and when I watch it today…there are STILL 3 parts in the flick that I get the chills. Malfeitor STILL scares the crap outta me!!!!!

  • Jeremy Stewart

    Terrorvision is the most underrated 1980’s horror film. The ending is absolutely amazing.

  • Oscar R.

    Where’s Howling III?
    …Not sure if underrated thought

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  • Klaus Dannick

    Glad to see Inferno, The Keep, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 here, and a few other excellent choices on this list. I can’t say that I agree with the inclusion of Friday the 13th Part 4 (or any installment from that franchise, for that matter), Pet Sematary, or a couple of the others mentioned on such a list, though.

  • Alan Simmons

    Hooray for Pumpkinhead and Inferno. Going to Google what the Clownhouse controversy is…

  • Scott Plumer

    F. Paul Wilson, author of the book “The Keep” was based on said “The Keep is what you get when you snort a book up your nose.”

  • Darryl Dawson

    Nobody gives Dead & Buried its due for its original take on the “zombie” trope. I’ve loved that movie for 35 years.