What constitutes an “under the radar” horror film? Does something like a deep sequel to A Nightmare On Elm Street? Some films in that series are pretty underrated for what they are. But for the sake of this list, we’ll be skipping over franchises like Nightmare, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. Those films get plenty of attention enough as it is.

The second question is: why just the 80’s? Why not the 70’s? or the 90’s? Those decades also have plenty of famous horror movies and to limit the history of horror down to one top 10 list wouldn’t do it all justice. So films like Thirteen Ghosts from the 2000’s could be on a list just about that decade, but not this exact list.

Just a reminder for the horror fanatics out there, some of these might be more under the radar than others. Without further ado, let’s get to the list of the best under the radar 80’s horror films!

10. The Slayer (1982)

Sarah Kendall in The Slayer

Tell me if you’ve heard this story before. Something evil starts killing people via their nightmares and you can’t escape. Sounds a bit like A Nightmare On Elm Street, right? Well it’s not exactly the same, but it’s the same ballpark. J.S. Cardone directs this classic that stars Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, and Alan McRae. Kay is plagued by nightmares since her childhood that depict disturbing images. Her and her partner are trapped on a deserted island from a hurricane. People start going missing and a horrific monster fortells Kay’s future.

Is this the best film of the 80’s? No. Is it a sign of things to come? Hell yes. In that way, it’s in that sort of weird proto-slasher era of the early 80’s before that genre really got started. It’s incredibly atmospheric and eerie. It gained notoriety in the 80’s because it was classified as a “video nasty”.

It’s a film that has more flair and substance than you’d think.

9. The Wind (1986)

Meg Foster in The Wind

Okay, this list isn’t about films that remind you of other films, but sometimes the best stories need second or third attempts. So tell me if you’ve heard this one: a novelist travels to a far-off place by themselves to help finish their book. The Wind follows that plot to a “t”. Nico Mastorakis directs Meg Foster, Wings Hauser, and Robert Morley in this classic horror film. It also has a score done by Hans Zimmer.

Released in 1986, it brings Meg Foster’s Sian Anderson to the Greek island of Monemvasia. She’s trying to finish her latest mystery book, but is advised to stay indoors at night when the winds pick up. The deadly winds give a backdrop of nature’s fury against the fury of an unhinged murderer on the loose on the island.

it’s not your average mid-80’s slasher, it’s got quite a bit of thriller elements to it, but you won’t be disappointed by this one.

8. Shocker (1989)

Mitch Pileggi in Shocker

It seems like our list has a lot to do with A Nightmare On Elm Street so far. This one was designed to be the “Freddy Krueger killer”. It’s one of Wes Craven‘s lesser known films, but it still shows off the horror master at his best. Admittedly, this one is a tale of two halves though.

It stars Mitch Pileggi, Michael Murphy, Peter Berg, and Cami Cooper. Mitch Peliggi plays Horace Pinker, a serial killer who’s taken the the electric chair. The first half of the film follows Berg’s, Jonathan, as Pinker hunts him down. This first half is traditional horror/slasher fair that is pretty damn great. The second half, after Pinker is executed, he gets the powers of electricity.

This second half is completely bananas with it’s jokes, set pieces, and horror. It’s less horror and more comedy, but it gives off the best of the late 80’s horror vibes. It had to be severely cut down to escape an X-rating from the MPAA. There’s never been an uncut version of this released, so let’s get that made!

7. House (1986)

William Katt in House

Now for some balls to the wall horror-comedy. House is the brainchild of Fred Dekker, director Steve Miner, and Producer Sean S. Cunningham. It stars William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, and Kay Lenz. Katt plays author (another horror trope) Roger Cobb. His family has disintegrated with his wife divorcing him, his son disappearing, and his aunt tragically committing suicide. This doesn’t sound like the setup for one of the funniest horror movies out there, but just give it time.

Oh and on top of that, Roger has to write a book for his publisher. What ensues is Roger in a battle against his Aunt’s old house and the ghosts and ghouls that occupy it. Eventually the ghosts of Roger’s past come to a head. This one has a brighter color palate and look than other films on this list, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t classify as a horror classic.

Give this a shot, and then watch the other three sequels, they’re also fairly underrated films.

6. The McPherson Tape (1989)

Talk about your pioneers in filmmaking. Love or hate the “found footage” genre, this is the first of it’s kind. The McPherson Tape from director/writer Dean Alioto tells the story of a night of strange occurrences with the Van Heese family. This film started an entire genre. And yet, not many have seen this classic. On a fall night in 1983, the Van Heese family gathers to celebrate their 5-year old’s birthday.

The lights go out after blowing out the birthday candles and they never come back on. What follows is a horrifying tale of alien abduction and all-too-real horror. This one gets extra points for being the first of it’s kind and being truly terrifying on a shoestring budget of $6,500.

Even if you hate films like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project, this one is worth a watch for the history lesson.

5. Society (1989)


So these next two might be cheating a bit. This was filmed in 1989, but not released until 1992, so I’m going to count it during the 80’s. They’re pretty well known among hardcore horror fans, but for the unenlightened out there, Society is fantastic. Director Brian Yuzna cut his teeth on other horror films and finally got his chance to lead the show with this one. It stars Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, and Ben Meyerson.

Bill Whitney, played by Warlock, has a high-society family that he distrusts. His feelings are justified when he gets a tape of his family supposedly committing a murderous orgy. From there, it spirals out of control all the way up to the ending. I don’t want to give anything away from the film for first time viewers, but just believe me when I say, there’s someone with an ass for a face. It’s a surreal horror masterpiece that commentates on the huge excess of the 80’s.

This is a depraved and disgusting film that you’re sure to love.

4. Hellraiser II: Hellbound (1988)

The Cenobites from Hellraiser II: Hellbound

Like I said, these next two are kind of cheating. Hellraiser is a hugely successful horror franchise, but this second film takes the greatness of the second film and turns it up. All the mythology of the series owes it to this second part. It stars Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham, Imogen Boorman, and Doug Bradley. Hellbound picks up right where the first left off with Kirsty being placed in a mental hospital due to the events of the first film. Doctor Channard, played by Kenneth Cranham, obsessed with the occult, finds a mattress with the essence and blood of Julia, the true monster of the first film, in it.

From there, we literally enter Hell, when Channard brings Julia back to life. This one swaps Clive Barker as director for Tony Randel. This movie has a much darker tone and aesthetic than the first film. Even through budgetary issues, this one shines as a classic that is overshadowed by it’s much more popular first installment. Laurence particularly makes this movie her own, and is the shining star through the whole film.

Through a deeper explanation of the mythology of Hellraiser, Hellbound is a great installment in this long-running horror franchise.

3. Night Of The Creeps (1986)

Tom Atkins in Night of the Creeps

Aliens. Zombies. College parties. Flamethrowers. Finally, you get Tom Atkins chewing up every scene and spitting it out. You can’t get much better than Night of the Creeps. It’s another Fred Dekker classic here, with him in the director’s chair. It stars Tom Atkins, Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, and Jill Whitlow. Chris and his friend J.C. accidentally thaw out a corpse that contains an alien species that takes over human bodies.

Atkins plays Detective Ray Cameron, who might have the greatest catchphrase in horror history with “thrill me”. The film has plenty of nods and allusions to other horror directors and franchises, so it’s tons of fun in that regard. It has action, horror, comedy, and it really feels like the 80’s. All the way through to the climax, it’s an entertaining ride that you need to see as a horror fan.

2. From Beyond (1986)

Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton in From Beyond

Many of you might know Re-Animator. It came a year earlier from many of the same people involved with From Beyond. While that film might be more comedy and horror, this film is definitely not a comedic one. Stuart Gordon is back in the director’s chair with Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Ted Sorel, and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon starring in this one. It takes the roles that Crampton and Combs played in their previous film and reverses them. Combs is the male-in-distress and Crampton is the scientist that has to save everything.

Like Society, it’s got plenty of body horror elements to it. The Resonator is a machine that links us with different dimensions. Those dimensions do not bring friendly monsters and beings into ours. An evil Doctor, Pretorius (Sorel) made the machine and uses it to become a higher being. His assistant, Crawford (Combs) runs away and is placed in a mental hospital. Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Crampton) takes Crawford into her care and wants to examine the machine.

The body horror is turned up to a 10 in this one, with some crazy action and monster effects. If you’re a fan of practical effects, you’ll love this film.

1. Fright Night Part 2 (1988)

Traci Lind, William Ragsdale, and Roddy McDowall in Fright Night Part 2

Let’s just start off with, this movie has no business being as good as it is. And what’s that? it doesn’t have an official release on Blu-Ray? Just a weird sort of knockoff looking version? Well I had to watch this one on YouTube. Like Hellbound, it strikes a different tone than the first film.

This one tells the story of Charlie (William Ragsdale) in college. He has a new girlfriend this time around in Alex (Lind). Instead of one vampire he and Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) have to deal with, it’s a group of them headlined by Regine Dandridge (Julie Carmen). It also stars Brian Thompson and Jon Gries (Pre-Napoleon Dynamite Uncle Rico).

Tommy Lee Wallace takes up the director’s mantle here, and he does an admirable job. This one was so great, I had to do a longer write-up for it, right here. Regine Dandridge is one of the best movie vampires ever. This film might not outshine the perfection of the first film, but it doesn’t come up too short.

So that’s it! I’m sure you disagree with the list, what’re your top under the radar 80;s horror movies?

Let us know in the comments below.

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