6. Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Where Romero left off with “Night” and “Dawn,” Dan O’Bannon takes off sprinting with “Return of the Living Dead.” In the same philosophical vein, we see our protagonists trapped, in this case inside a medical warehouse, fighting for survival and questioning their very being.
However, “Return” shows us some things we had not yet seen in the zombie world. These undead monsters can run, talk, intelligently communicate, and have an insatiable hunger for brains, whereas their predecessors only feasted on flesh. We get a little bit of everything that’s perfectly ‘80s in this as well with a killer soundtrack, punks fighting for survival, and some awesome practical effects. “Return” is that perfect timepiece that holds up throughout the decades, spawning a few sequels and influencing zombies for generations, making this possibly the most prolific cult hit on the list.
7. Chopping Mall (1986)
Originally titled “Killbots,” the aptly renamed “Chopping Mall” is a quintessential capitalism-gone-wrong nightmare romp through – you guessed it – an American mall in the mid-1980s. We open on a demo for the new mall security robots with folks questioning the practicality and safety of these new roving security guards. The guy ends the demo saying, “What could possibly go wrong?” Famous last words. We then cut to some older teenage workers in the mall planning a get-together in one of the stores after hours, so you know things will get wild later on.
The bots come online later that evening and immediately kill the one scientist working on their computer. They have now gone rogue and go on a rampage killing everything in sight. The kids must unite and fight for their lives. While this may not be the most thought-provoking film, it makes up with awesome stunts, including two huge high falls and a full body burn and some serious practical effects with one of the gnarliest head explosion scenes to come out of ‘80s horror. The theme of man vs. machine is hit upon many times throughout the 80s, but no one does it like “Chopping Mall,” cementing this film in cheesy cult horror history as one of the greats.
8. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)
Where “Slumber Party Massacre” leaves off as your standard ‘80s teenage slasher, the sequel takes off running like a bat out of hell. We open with a wild dream sequence complete with an ‘80s synth soundtrack, black lights, and dead bodies. Courtney is a survivor from the first film and now constantly has nightmares from the incident. She is in an all-girl rock band and her bandmates plan on taking her to their parents’ vacation condo for her birthday celebration.
The killer manifests in her nightmares as some sort of Andrew Dice Clay wannabe, fourth-wall-breaking rocker which could not be more perfect for the tone of the film. Courtney’s nightmares become problematic during the trip as she becomes more and more paranoid, freaking out everyone involved including a hallucination of her friend’s face distorting and exploding from a toxic zit.
In a “Nightmare on Elm Street”-esque turn of events, the killer is real and manifests into reality, terrorizing the teens with his gnarly, killer guitar drill. With some excellent over-the-top torso impaling kills and stunts, including a full burn high fall, this wildly rocking, campy slasher is a cult horror dream in a class of its own.
9. Street Trash (1987)
From a gritty, grimy, dirty junkyard in NYC comes “Street Trash,” a late ‘80s body melting horror about some toxic booze that gets into the wrong hands. We first meet Freddy, a young homeless man at the liquor store talking crap with the owner. He buys a new cheap bottle of Tenafly Viper, some stuff the owner found in the basement. As Freddy is leaving, another bum steals it off of him and runs away. The guy sits down on an old outside toilet and drinks away, immediately regretting his decision as he turns a blueish, purplish hue and begins to bubble up and melt.
Writer Roy Frumkes said this first melt, being the longest and most involved in the film, took almost three weeks to prep and film. We meet the cast of the junkyard, who are all homeless people and the junkyard crew led by the wild Vietnam vet Bronson. The story begins when Bronson kills a random yuppie in his car and Bill, a Vietnam vet turned renegade cop, is on the case. He suspects Bronson, but can’t prove it.
One night Freddy takes a random girl, who was puking on the side of a building, back to the yard with him. They fall asleep in a car and the bums drag her out, rape her, and kill her. It turns out to be mob guy Nicky’s girlfriend and Bill will do anything to get to Bronson first before Nicky does. There are some wild fight scenes and four more body melts and explosions culminating in a final epic battle with an awesome practical decapitation in the junkyard. The VHS cover describes it as “Eraserhead meets Texas Chainsaw meets Night of The Living Dead” and while this may not be entirely true, “Street Trash” is indeed a darkly comedic, wild portrait of slimy and grimy New York in this ultimate cult classic.
10. Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)
1983’s “Sleepaway Camp” is legendary in its own right, producing one of the most wild twist endings in horror history. “Unhappy Campers” takes the legendary status of the original and splashes some super campy, low-budget magic to create this cult horror classic. This sequel features a young Pamela Springsteen (yes, that Springsteen) as Angela, our lovely name-changing, killer camp counselor who has returned from the psych ward. This time she gets to oversee the campers as the unruly troublemakers meet their ultimate demise under the guise of Angela sending the naughty ones home.
There are some truly unique kills including barbecued campers, a Freddy-and-Jason scare gone wrong as they meet a chainsaw from Michael Myers, stuffed in an outhouse, and countless others. The young, naïve Molly is the only one to find reprieve from Angela’s wrath until she gets too close to finding out the truth about her murderous leader. Angela now targets Molly in a fight for survival. Molly finally escapes and finds her way out of the woods – or has she? This sleazy, campy classic is a true revival for cult icon Angela and even fuels a couple more sequels, crowning “Sleepaway Camp II” the late ‘80s cult champion.