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Top 10 Horror Movies of 1981


1980 got horror’s most “fun” decade going with some high quality films, but surprisingly enough it was surpassed by the year of 1981, a year that gave us some of the genre’s absolute GREATEST films of all time.  I now give you the top 10 horror movies of 1981, as well as 5 honorable mentions.  Note: While many tout The Entity as a 1981 film, setbacks forced the film to suffer a 1982 release date, therefore The Entity was not up for consideration for this year, but will be up for consideration in my Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982 list.

10. The Funhouse

- Often overlooked due to his films sandwiching it(Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist), Tobe Hooper’s epic tale of a group of teens who decide to stay the night at a creepy carnival funhouse is a tale of good horror and genuine scares.  We rarely get films in the horror realm focusing on the naturally creepy atmosphere of a carnival after-hours(or a carnival in general), so this film provides a fresh breath for those looking for a film with a unique atmosphere.  Hooper takes advantage of this atmosphere, and delivers some awesome horror as a result.  Read my full review for this film here: The Funhouse

9. The Burning

- Debuting one week after the success of Friday the 13th Part 2, this campy slasher was overlooked due to its plot-line being very similar to that of Friday the 13th Part 2 and Friday the 13th, and that has only helped this film’s achievement of cult status.  Written by Bob Weinstein(HUGE producer, former co-owner of Miramax) and marking the film debuts of Jason Alexander(George Castanza of “Seinfeld”) and Holly Hunter, this watch comes with much fun aside from the horror alone.  With special effects from horror icon Tom Savini, we get a sweet killer who settles at nothing to bring on the gore, which includes one of the slasher sub-genre’s greatest kill sequences…the “lake raft” kill.  Read my full review for this film here: The Burning

8. Halloween II

- The obvious sequel to the greatest slasher film of all time, Halloween 2 continues immediately after the first entry and despite lacking John Carpenter’s spooky punch we get a positive sequel and one of the better horror films of 1981.  We get great Michael Myers action thanks to a superb performance from Dick Warlock, and we get a slasher that takes full advantage of the creepy atmosphere of a hospital in the middle of the night.  Read my full review for this film here: Halloween II

7. Dead and Buried

- Dead and Buried is a film that really surprised me thanks to its truly unique take on the “undead” sub-genre.  This is not your usual “undead” film, but so much more than that.  We get some great spooky atmosphere and genuine scares that had me jumping in my seat, a feat that few films accomplish against me.  Great execution and an awesome story make this a very worthwhile watch, and with a climax as horrifying as this one’s…it is only icing on the cake.  Read my full review for this film here: Dead and Buried

6. Scanners

- After his positive yet lesser-known films Rabid and The Brood, horror legend David Cronenberg gave us his first big success…Scanners.  Cronenberg’s horror has always stood on its own due to his unique topics and social elements thrown in, and Scanners once again brings on creativity with some sweet horror as well.  Many will remember this film due to the infamous “exploding head” scene, but this film comes with so much more, and that is why it makes this list.  Read my full review for this film here: Scanners

5. The Prowler

- The Prowler is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated horror films on this list, and is one of the better horror films to focus on the dramas and torments on love.  Along with the element of love comes the element of revenge, and then on comes the horror.  Most of us have had to deal with a hurt soul before, but not many of us had our love of our life leave us while serving our country overseas, and this awesome element only makes the antagonist’s vengeance sweeter to watch.  While My Bloody Valentine tackled Valentine’s Day, The Prowler upped the ante by increasing the element of love, and it makes for an awesome slasher film.  Read my full review for this film here: The Prowler

4. An American Werewolf in London

- Whenever werewolf films are mentioned, An American Werewolf in London is the most immediate film to be brought up, and rightfully so.  John Landis’ horror masterpiece gives us the greatest werewolf experience of all time, and it comes with groundbreaking(and Academy Award winning) special effects as well.  Not a single werewolf transformation in history has come close to the one David Kessler goes through, and along with some amazing gore and werewolf scenes we get a fine little comedic element thrown in as well from the man behind Animal HouseRead my full review for this film here: An American Werewolf in London

3. Friday the 13th Part 2

- One year prior, Friday the 13th set the standard for the “campy” slasher film, and this sequel upped the horror and set the standard for an INCREDIBLE “campy” slasher film.  Friday the 13th Part 2 marks Jason’s first appearance as a killer, and what a way to make an entrance.  Awesome kills, great direction, a sweet musical score, and sweet Jason action make this a true joy for fans of the slasher genre.  Read my full review for this film here: Friday the 13th Part 2

2. The Beyond

- The middle entry in Lucio Fulci’s “Death” trilogy, The Beyond is not only the premier entry in the trilogy, but possibly his finest film ever.  Fulci proved his status as the “Godfather of Gore” with this film, bringing us some of the greatest kills imaginable, and with perfect execution.  Few films these days focus on the seven gateways to Hell, and despite Fulci never being seen much as a writer he gives us a truly haunting plot that sets up his excellent direction and true horror.  Read my full review for this film here: The Beyond

1. The Evil Dead

- Sam Raimi’s epic demon masterpiece marks the greatest horror film of 1981, and also comes as one of the best films of the 80s overall.  This debut effort comes with the utmost of true horror thanks to fantastic live-action effects, simple yet spooky storyline, and amazing direction that leads to some of the best horror imaginable.  Read my full review for this film here: The Evil Dead

Honorable Mentions

(Good But Not Good Enough)

The Howling

- Despite debuting before An American Werewolf in London, Joe Dante’s The Howling was a bit overlooked by horror fans at first, but soon enough this film’s unique story and excellent werewolf FX earned it the recognition it deserved.  We get a unique take on the werewolf sub-genre that does not rely heavily on our protagonist suffering a werewolf bite and then going through the usual emotional turmoil that results from such a bite, but focuses on a protagonist already experiencing some troubling things that are only worsened when she comes across a colony of werewolves.  It does take a while for things to get “going”, but once things get going it is nonstop werewolf action from then on out, and with one of the greatest werewolf transformation scenes of all time, as well as a truly horrific climax.  Read my full review for this film here: The Howling

My Bloody Valentine

- My Bloody Valentine remains to this day one of the moodiest and truly atmospheric slasher films of all time.  Taking place in a sleepy mining town with a dark past, our killer wreaks vengeance upon those who disrespected the events that killed many and sent him to the loony bin, and with awesome results.  Many awesome kills adorn this film, and coupled with a nice horrific take on the usual Valentine’s Day antics this remains one of the better slasher films there is.  Read my full review for this film here: My Bloody Valentine

Burial Ground

- The only devout zombie film on this list, Burial Ground remains one of my favorite zombie films out there, and with good reason.  We get a unique take on the origin of the undead in this film, and the undead action we get is some of the best in the zombie sub-genre.  The look of the zombie is ALMOST as great as Fulci’s zombies(the best ever) and the gore reigns heavy in this under-appreciated zombie effort.  Read my full review for this film here: Burial Ground

Ghost Story

- Ghost Story gives a unique take on the vengeful spirit ghost films due to this one centering on a group of old gentlemen who must now pay for a crime they committed as young adults.  I found this fresh given this is not the usual teen ghost revenge film but one that heads in a more serious direction with a good story as well.  The scares in this film are positive and memorable, and the references to true horror involving the gentlemen’s club made this a fun watch as well.  Read my full review for this film here: Ghost Story

Graduation Day

- Graduation Day is the usual 80s campy slasher, and makes for a fun and cheezy watch if you watch it for what it is.  Starring Christopher George in one of his last roles, we follow a group of teens slowly killed off on graduation day for one of their misdeeds years prior.  While this is not an awesome film like the other films on this list, this is the next film in my lineup to provide a full 5 honorable mentions.  Read my full review for this film here: Graduation Day

Thanks for reading.

My Other Top Ten Horror Movie Lists

- Top 10 Horror Movies of 1980

- Top 10 Horror Movies of 2005

- Top 10 Horror Movies of 2006

- Top 10 Horror Movies of 2007

- Top 10 Horror Movies of 2008

- Top 10 Horror Movies of 2009

- Top 10 Horror Movies of 2010

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