It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means: It’s now socially acceptable to watch horror movies again! You really should be watching them any time of year, but the holiday’s a good excuse to gorge on that most unfairly maligned of genres while putting together a homemade costume on the cheap.
Still, which flavor of horror do you want? If it’s ’80s horror, you get to travel back to an era of more than just questionable fashion and hair stylings. In the 1980s, a genre wrestled with the death of the ’70s, with the rise of Reagan and Bush I, with the AIDS crisis, pollution and the widening class gap. Or you can just ignore all that and cackle as bodies get hacked up real good.
Note: This list sticks to one film per filmmaker, otherwise a large chunk of it would be devoted to John Carpenter.
25. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
In 1983, the beloved magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland folded after a quarter century. The classic creature feature was dead. One year later, the world got Freddy Krueger. The rag had missed out on the decade’s reigning monster. And he was, it should be pointed out, actually a monster. Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers simply wouldn’t stay dead; Freddy had bona fide supernatural powers. And he talked! The third film is the one where Robert Englund’s Freddy evolved from yet another slasher franchise ghoul into a Borscht Belt psycho, complete with post-kill quips that would make Roger Moore’s James Bond wince. For some Elm Street purists, this is where Freddy jumped the shark. We think it hits the sweet spot between scary and camp before the series started fumbling the mix. All that, and an inexplicably wasted Laurence Fishburne too.
24. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Freddy Krueger is our favorite ’80s villain, so why are we placing a Halloween entry above an Elm Street? For one thing, the series’ third is the one that infamously doesn’t boast Michael Myers. In fact, the baddie is an old man. Oscar-nominee Dan O’Herlihy plays the sinister head of a Halloween novelty company out to wipe out kids by selling them killer masks. John Carpenter’s original idea for the franchise that made his name was to have each round feature a different Halloween-themed menace. After the so-so box office of Halloween III (helmed by Tommy Lee Wallace but still sporting a killer Carpenter score), the series ran back into Myers’ kitchen knife-wielding arms. Too bad: Season of the Witch is a truly creepy episode that favors slow-burn chills over quick scares. And it features the franchise’s most disturbing set piece — a scene that traumatized a generation of ’80s monster-loving kids — in which a boy tries out his death-mask, with beyond freaky results.