Well here we are. A new year means a new top ten horror list that will remind us all to put Bengay on that upcoming shopping trip inventory of crap. Instead of doing my usual “Dirty 30” (of which I will still do a little later), we’re gonna start 2021 off with a myriad of horror flicks that turn the Fabulous 40 this year!
1981 was a banner year for horror indeed and audiences had a variety to choose from on those Friday night date nights at the local theater. Hot off the slasher craze of the surprise hit of Friday the 13th the year prior, studios were eager to jump on that bandwagon for cheap thrills at a minimum budget that brought in major profits. And thy behold, 1981 gave us fresh faces of horror such as Harry Warden, Gunther, and the introduction of a machete wielding maniac in adult form that would go on to become one of horror’s most iconic villians.
So of course I wanted to start this new year fresh spotlighting some of the very best the year of our slasher lord, 1981 has to offer. While this is at the end of the day, my own opinion piece on the matter, please feel free to comment your favorites- maybe something not mentioned, or hell, give me YOUR list! I would love to hear from you guys! Also, worth noting I’ve included trusty Amazon links to the films mentioned if one would be so inclined to make a purchase- which would also help little me earn a percentage in possibly five years or so (heh). So hey, if you want to add to your horror collection while your fellow nostalgic contributor out with running this website, I will forever thank you and write a sweet Kenny G style love song about you in the very near future.
Alright let’s get dive into this mess. Counting down to what I think is the best movie at number one- THE TOP TEN HORROR MOVIES OF 1981!
10. Dark Night of the Scarecrow
Premiering as a Halloween film of the week on CBS in October of ’81, Dark Night of the Scarecrow apart from stellar performances from the cast, is the first horror film that actually centers around a killer scarecrow!
With a plot surrounding a mentally handicapped man named Bubba, who is falsely accused of attacking a young girl and ends up being murdered while incognito as a scarecrow hiding in a field, and the lynch mob basically getting away with it; it makes for a fine-tuned horror film in the making as well, in revenge fashion the culprits are killed off quite phenomenally one by one. With a scarecrow being sited at each death scene.
Some might feel its cliché ridden, however Dark Night of the Scarecrow is an underrated, hidden gem that is perfect for October viewings! Get it here from Amazon!
9. The Howling
One of two fantastically furry wolf-centered films makes numero nine on the list-The Howling. An almost satirical, and self-aware of being exactly what it is, The Howling stars the beautiful Dee Wallace and is directed by a pre-Gremlins Joe Dante.
Wallace plays a news anchor who after being traumatized after a seemingly to others, hallucination episode on her part, is sent a “resort” ( which is a nice way of saying a nut-house, where she soon finds out what she has experienced is very real- and surrounds her in this very colony she is now stuck in.
The Howling was released in March of ’81, just five months before the “big” werewolf film of the decade. And it’s sort of shame as I feel it became somewhat overshadowed with the hype of AAWIL. Which to be fair, is great of course. However, with two big werewolf film releases in one year, the more flashy one will usually get the glory and juice. Had this been released a year before or after, I feel like more people would hold it higher than they do now. Anyways, get it here on Amazon!
Visually striking and a TRUE GODDAMN BEAUTIFUL horror film, Possession is everything that embodies sexual, feminine empowerments in the genre. Disturbing for some? Sure. But I think it’s done rather tastefully– pun intended. As a matter of fact, if at some point you don’t feel uncomfortable at all during a viewing, I’d say you’re more than probably a sociopath.
A young and beautiful wife (Isabella Adjani) leaves her husband (Sam Neill) abruptly for an unexplained reason. He thinks infidelity is involved. She claims that’s not the case. But goddammit he KNOWS there must be SOMEONE else involved. So he follows her in a very subtle non-stalkery way and holy shit what comes of that story is nothing more than a pure mind fuck. I refuse to say anymore for anyone that is shameful to haven’t had the pleasure, or unpleasure of seeing this.
And if that be the case, please get on this shit immediately. IF you can find it. I managed to find some legit sellers on EBAY (click here), so that might be your best bet.
7. My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine is basically Canada’s answer to the holiday horror film populace of the ’80s that Friday the 13th kicked off for the decade. And goddamn it is a ripe pickin’ out of the now hundreds of holiday horror genre films that we can currently fill a good size swimming pool with.
The story of antagonist Harry Warden of My Bloody Valentine is fairly a clever set-up: Twenty years prior, an accident in the town’s mine led to five workers being trapped underground when their supervisors left their posts early to attend a Valentine’s dance. Four of the trapped workers died and the fifth, Harry Warden, had to resort to cannibalism to survive.
Anyways, after Warden and the now half-eaten corpses were discovered and rescued, he was by then insane and went mental on his former supervisors- by ripping out their hearts and placing them in cute little Valentine boxes as a warning to never celebrate this day veer again, dammnit!
Yeah, well apparently folks felt the statute of limitations was twenty years, and well- now we got a horror movie. Which you can pick up right here!
6. Friday the 13th Part 2
Well with the magnificent Pamela Voorhees kicking off the slasher genre of the ’80s, it would be stupid not to include the sequel that gave us her now iconic special, special boy Jason! I mean, it’s a pretty good sequel too.
Following the events of the first film, we find ourselves back at Camp Crystal Lake with fresh meat for a now magically grown adult Jason, (who cares if it makes sense) to seek revenge on some unsuspecting counselors for his mother’s death.
From a critic’s POV, the Friday franchise has some stinkers. From a fan’s however (like myself), they all maintain a level of charm that makes us return to each one with loving nostalgia.
Grab the first 4 films on one disc here!
Ahh, good ol’ Scanners. Cronenberg’s science-fiction horror take on, I guess a fucked up X-Men?! The movie may have hit the 40-year mark, but it’s a tale from the master storyteller that feels very modern and messaging that runs deep that is just as relevant today as it was back then. Hell, a hundred years from now, someone might say the same thing and that’s why this film can possibly NEVER be rebooted in a proper manner. Can’t fix perfect man.
Scanners is a movie with a special ability called “scanning”. Technically, psychic powers such as reading thoughts, control a person’s mind and organs (making your heart speed up, etc…), and yes, blowing someone’s head up. We’ve all seen the infamous scene whether you’ve seen the movie or not. There’s a lot of corporate greed conspiracy going into the plot so I won’t go any further, but seriously if you have been sleeping on Scanners, give it a go- get it here!
4. An American Werewolf in London
When John Landis made the jump from Comedy to Horror, he did so with a BANG- well, maybe rather a vicious snarl but you get the idea. AAWIL, 40 years later, is still looked at very closely by those studying film and especially, students in the special effects industry. The Landis legacy is truly problematic (putting it mildly), and I’m not super comfortable celebrating anything about him. However, I can’t deny how great of a horror film this is, whatever my opinion on the man might be. So personal feelings aside, the art made prior to some seriously tragic events (The Twilight Zone Movie); I’ll stick this guru of lycanthrope effects at number four.
Landis had written the screenplay as a modern homage to Universal’s The Wolfman way back in 1969, almost a decade before the film was made into a reality. Two backpackers from New York take a tour of Europe but only get as far as Yorkshire where they are viciously attacked by a large animal. One is mauled to death, the other barely makes it out alive, however, with a spiffy souvenir- a werewolf bite!
As an early 80s horror film, AAWIL doesn’t exactly fit that stereotype. Beyond fashion and hairstyles, the movie feels just as simplistically modern today as it did forty years ago. Foregoing the horror movie clichés into a somewhat more serious film about tragedy and despair. With of course some light humor here and there. It is Landis after all. Therefore, the movie will most likely stand the test of time for another forty years, and beyond. Get the Blu-ray on sale here!
3. The Funhouse
Now some of you might be asking why I put Tobe Hooper’s ball of weirdness, horror, and fun so high up this list.. And well here’s my answer to that:
Sorry, that had to be done, hah!
My first viewing of Hooper’s The Funhouse was sometime around the age of nine or ten for myself as part of a Saturday afternoon horror movie-thon on basic cable. Saturday morning cartoons were over and then up pops this beauty. The creepy montage of carnival music with the black canvas of credits occupying the merry-go-round of slightly horrifying animatronic figures that occupied the Funhouse at center stage was enough to pique my curiosity to sit and watch this thing and the rest is history. I certainly can’t remember EVERY horror film I saw for the first time. But with The Funhouse, I remember like it was yesterday. On top of it being a pretty great horror installment for the decade, it’s pretty special to me in that aspect.
The story is fairly straightforward with a pair of couples engaging in date night at a traveling carnival with some seedy history behind it. The teens decide it would be a kinky adventure to sneak inside the funhouse and stay the night. Of course, fun is halted when they realize the pop and “son” running it is a pair of murdering maniacs- with Frankenstein face being something way worse than they experienced at any Freak Show.
The first quarter of the movie really sets that shady atmosphere with little random things that occur inside the place leading up to the night in the Funhouse, and I always really appreciated that. The whacky out-of-place old lady in the bathroom, the creepy Magician, and that skeevies-inducing dude showing off his half-naked sister for the adult girls show. The movie just screams everything done right with an 80s horror film without walking into cliche territory and I just love it to death.
2. Halloween II
Oh yes. The film that gives one of horror’s GREATEST lines ever narrated by none other than Sir Donald Pleasance, and not to mention the BEST pumpkin opener (fight me) in the series, comes in at a close second.
Directly continuing the violent Halloween night Michael Myers caused in his rage and chaos, Myers follows Laurie to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital and doesn’t skip a beat along the way, killing anyone that enters his path to get to what is now revealed, to be his sister. Halloween II is darker, more aggressive, and a little more fast-paced as Myers is just PISSED now. Many might disagree with me, but I almost prefer it to the original.
Oh and that greatest line ever? You know I’m right.
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1. Evil Dead
I’d like to think I’m channeling Ash Williams here when I say, “If you think any other movie was gonna beat this out, this town only has room for one magnificent asshole here. And that guy is me.”
Evil Dead. The film Sam Raimi created spawned a cult-phenomenon of Deadites and launched Bruce Campbell into horror legendary status. Following 2 sequels, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, with later a Starz series and even a stage musical, Evil Dead has certainly made its mark in the genre. It’s got everything almost every movie-goer could possibly ask for in a film. Romance, check. Action, check. Scary shit, check. Oh, and more blood than anyone probably needs in any one film. Heck, Evil Dead was so effective, it was outright banned in West Germany, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, and the UK. Religious groups branded it evil and newspapers branded it obscene. MP Graham Bright claimed it was so dangerous it could harm not only you and your children but also your pet dog.
Like that was going to stop anyone from wanting to watch it even more.
You can probably disagree with a lot of my rankings here, but I believe collectively that we can all agree that Evil Dead is truly a beloved, badass treasure among the genre.
Nab your copy that includes the first two films on Blu-ray here for $7!
2 thoughts on “40 Terrific Years of Terror! Top Ten Horror Films of 1981”
Glad to see Possession! Unforgettable movie!
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Solid list, but sad not to see The Burning here!
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