If the 1980s was a decade about anything, it was one of excess: a supercharged economy afforded artistic enterprises to be produced that normally would have been ignored, if not outright abandoned, were it not for the gigantic amount of money flowing at the time. As such, many avenues of creative expression were funded–as long as they promised to turn a profit.
Of all genres, horror films were seemingly sure bets: in a (blood)thirsty market whose youth audience flocked to theaters for the latest slasher flick, a low-budget horror film would all but guarantee a healthy return on any backer’s investment in that decade.
This atmosphere allowed filmmakers the largesse to push their craft further and produce original and extreme horror films in a commercial market that was seemingly thirsty for more thrills, s, and kills than ever before.
With the hundreds, and maybe thousands, of horror films produced in this over-abundant decade, listed below are ten totally awesome horror flicks that you may have missed. Aficionados of the genre and decade’s output especially will enjoy the varied gruesome content listed below.
1. Dead & Buried (1981)
Welcome to Potter’s Bluff: a picturesque small town with the slogan “A New Way Of Life”–and they mean it, since its residents will murder you. Sheriff Gillis is perplexed by the amount of murders occurring in his small town and who could be committing them and asks the coroner to help him solve this mystery.
Around the time the town reaches a murder a day, Gillis hits a man with his car, and despite losing his arm in the accident, the victim doesn’t seem phased and instead picks up his arm and disappears into the woods. Bringing a sample of the man’s tissue to the coroner, Gillis is informed that it’s from a person who had been deceased for four months. Unable to make any sense of this, the sheriff begins to investigate the coroner’s background and makes a horrifying discovery about the town–and himself.
A blend of creeping suspense and visceral horror, Dead & Buried was a horror film put out during the slasher boom of the early 1980s and–not being a slasher film–wasn’t a success upon release. However, it eventually gained a cult following and is today praised for its original premise, foreboding atmosphere, and twist ending. As a spooky retro horror flick, Dead & Buried is an underseen classic.
2. Bloody Birthday (1981)
What’s creepier than evil children? It’s a premise that’s unnerving on an instinctual level since by and large children are innocent creatures; it’s the bad experiences one has in life that can eventually turn them rotten. But in Bloody Birthday, because three children were born during an eclipse, this makes them preternaturally evil…for some reason. It doesn’t matter.
Anyway, ten years later, these three children–two boys and a girl–have become close friends that assist each other on a murder spree in their town, taking out adults, family members, and children through vicious premeditated attacks.
It’s a completely insane premise for a horror film, much less one in the slasher genre. Produced in 1981 but not given a theatrical release until 1986, after which it entered the video market, Bloody Birthday is the kind of horror film that makes horror fans wonder whether a film can go too far in its premise.
In this case, the murderous children are all-around amoral, with one running a healthy side business charging neighborhood kids for the opportunity to peep on her sister undressing. It’s a slasher flick starring murderous children in all its low-budget glory. Both campy and disturbing, 80s horror fans should seek out this film as an example of just how much leeway was afforded to filmmakers at the time.
3. The Deadly Spawn (1983)
An alien crashes onto earth and hides in a family’s basement. From this location, it feeds on the family one by one until the adults have been consumed as it grows with each meal. It spawns more monsters as it grows larger that look like razor-toothed leeches. Only a scientific older brother, his horror movie-obsessed younger one, and some classmates that came over to study are left to fight them off as these monsters make their way up from the basement and into the house.
Featuring gallons of blood, disgusting practical effects, and enough bad acting for ten low-budget horror films, this is a horror movie that will satisfy fans of 80s schlock and horror fans that appreciate truly gross special effects.
The story (which plods along at an alarmingly slow rate at times) isn’t really the point in this movie but to serve as a vehicle to get to the graphic gore and sharp-toothed monsters that tear the characters on screen apart. A fun horror movie featuring a genuinely nightmarish creature, The Deadly Spawn is a must-see for 80s horror fans.
4. The Hunger (1983)
Vampires that live in New York City should live (or rather, be undead) in style, and that’s what they do in 1983’s The Hunger. Posing as a wealthy couple, Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) and John (David Bowie) lure their victims into their posh townhouse, where they feast upon them and dispose of teir bodies in an incinerator.
Having been turned by Miriam 200 years earlier, John begins to rapidly age one day and seeks out gerontologist Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) to find a possible cure for this unexpected transformation. After John feeds on Miriam’s next intended consort, she boxes him up in the attic with all of her other former lovers who have also aged rapidly but remain undead. Then Miriam sets her sights on Dr. Roberts to join her for the next few hundred years…
Released in 1983 to mixed reviews, The Hunger has since developed a cult following, becoming particularly well-regarded among acolytes of the goth subculture.
Featuring the always-interesting acting of David Bowie, this film also displays a stylish decadence in its aesthetic with erotic content that makes the subtext of the vampire mythos explicit. It’s a unique take on the vampire story and one that hasn’t been told before or since. For the inner goth in you or fans of the vampire genre, The Hunger is a contemporary take on centuries-old folklore.
5. Neon Maniacs (1986)
A group of atomic mutants live under the Golden Gate Bridge and murder by night. But wait, there’s more! After they slaughter an entire group of friends as they party in the park, beheading and hanging the whole lot, the mutants continue going after Natalie, the sole survivor.
Finding that the police don’t believe her story–or simply refuse to want to believe it despite all the evidence–Natalie and her would-be paramour Steven, along with nosey younger classmate Paula (who as a horror fanatic really does the heavy lifting in figuring out how to fight the monsters in this movie) defend themselves against the neon maniacs.
With a sincerely 80s synth soundtrack, grotesque monsters, and working on the type of horror “logic” that doesn’t waste time explaining trivial topics like where these mutants come from or why they’re killing people, Neon Maniacs is pure grindhouse.
A surprisingly professional production for a low-budget horror flick, Neon Maniacs delivers everything that 80s horror film fans are looking for–from totally radical fashion and music, plucky leads, unexplainable mutants, solid practical effects, and a fair amount of humor–it’s just a retro good time.