Barely Frightening: 25 Worst Scary Movies of the 1980s

Saturday the 14th

Ask most horror fans about the genre’s best decade, and the overwhelming majority will likely agree that it’s the 1980s.

With the VHS boom raising the demand for low-budget scary fare and the slasher craze following the surprise success of Halloween, horror went mainstream in the 1980s. So it’s no wonder some of the best scary movies of all time came out during the decade, including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Aliens, and Poltergeist.

But not every movie from the 80s is classic. Even at the high point of horror, movie studios cranked out films that scared no one. Here are 25 of the worst the era has to offer: movies so bad, it’s scary.

1. Troll (1986)

Troll
Image Credit: Empire International Pictures.

Bad movie fans know and love 1990s Troll 2 as one of the best of the worst films of all time. But they sometimes forget that its predecessor, Troll, is no great shakes either. Special effects legend John Carl Buechler does his best behind the camera, leaning into the fantasy aspects of the movie and getting the most out of a cast that includes Sonny Bono and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. But at the end of the day, the titular troll just isn’t that scary, making for a movie that’s not fun to watch seriously or ironically.

2. Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)

Transylvania 6-5000
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

The 1980s gave us some of the best examples of horror comedy, including Evil Dead 2 and An American Werewolf in London. It also gave us some of the worst, especially Transylvania 6-5000. Despite a cast of greats such as Jeff Goldblum, Ed Begley Jr., Carol Kane, and Geena Davis, this spoof about tabloid reporters on a dangerous quest fails as both a comedy and a horror movie.

3. C.H.U.D. (1984)

C.H.U.D.
Image Credit: New World Pictures.

The best part about C.H.U.D. is its title, which stands for Cannibal Humanoid Underground Dwellers. The worst part is the film’s heavy-handed social commentary, which tries to make a point about the mistreatment of the unhoused. C.H.U.D. does feature some neat creature effects, and it’s always fun to watch future Home Alone stars Daniel Stern and John Heard team with 80s great Kim Greist. But ultimately, C.H.U.D. is more interested in commentary than scares, making for a dull watch.

4. Munchies (1987)

Munchies
Image Credit: New Concorde.

Few movies combine comedy and horror in a kid-friendly package like Gremlins. The success of Gremlins spawned a whole host of imitators, most of them very bad, including 1987's Munchies. A blatant rip-off of Gremlins from shlock-master Roger Corman, Munchies offers very little to the genre, even as it tries to court a teen/adult audience. The puppets look terrible, the jokes don’t land, and nothing comes even close to being scary. Save your money and rewatch Gremlins instead.

5. Amityville II: The Possession (1981)

Amityville II The Possession
Image Credit: Orion Pictures.

1979’s The Amityville Horror may have been a hit that launched a franchise that continues to this day, but it isn’t that great. That’s even more true of its first sequel, Amityville II: The Possession. As you might expect, The Possession retells the story of the doomed Montelli family, the event that gives the house its dark past. But the film emphasizes scuzzy discomfort over actual scares, making for a dull and unpleasant watch.

6. The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II (1985)

The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II
Image Credit: Howco.

The best horror movies play upon our deep-seated fears, those irrational worries that keep us afraid of the dark. The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek and its 1985 sequel should work in that regard, as they feature one of the great American monsters, Big Foot. But instead of ramping up the realism, the movie’s narration and fake-documentary approach make the whole thing feel like a lecture. That’s particularly true of the sequel, which adds nothing new to the boring first movie, simply repeating its predecessor's scare-free style.

7. Ghoulies (1985)

Ghoulies
Image Credit: Empire International Pictures.

If the cover of Ghoulies didn’t terrify you, you weren’t a kid in the 1980s. But everyone from that era remembers the terror of going to the bathroom after seeing Ghoulies sitting in video rental stores. The image of a green beastie poking its head out of the toilet, combined with the tagline, “They’ll get you in the end,” sent many a kid running from the potty. Unfortunately, no such scene actually occurs in Ghoulies, and even if it did, the movie’s monstrous puppets were too silly to scare even the most nervous first-grader.

8. Hard Rock Zombies (1985)

Hard Rock Zombies
Image Credit: Cannon Film Distributors.

To parents of the 1980s, few things were scarier than hard rock music, as news reports and preachers alike ramped up fear of noisy bands of longhairs. So it’s no surprise that horror movie makers would jump on the trend for their pictures, hoping that relevance would cover its lack of quality. Sadly, that was not the case for Hard Rock Zombies, as the movie’s story of undead rockers and their mind-controlling music earns a few unintentional laughs but never any screams.

9. Making Contact (1985)

Making Contact
Image Credit: New World Pictures.

German director Roland Emmerich has had a remarkable Hollywood career thanks to dumb action movies like Independence Day and White House Down. But he got his start with the child-friendly sci-fi horror movie Making Contact, about a kid who gets psychic powers to talk with his late father. One can see hints of the shlock Emmerich will make later, but without a big budget to work with, he’s stuck with a tired Poltergeist rip-off.

10. Spookies (1986)

Spookies
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

For years, B-movie fans talked with reverence about Spookies, an out-of-print and hard-to-find film with an amazing cover that promised a true monster mash. When Spookies finally came to Blu-ray in 2019, fans got to see what they were missing: not much. Spookies does have some cool monsters, but the story makes no sense, mostly because it’s actually two different films crammed together. Turns out, Spookies was best as a movie poster and not as a movie.

11. Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Maximum Overdrive
Image Credit: Lorimar Television.

Without question, Stephen King is the Master of Horror, a man whose books have become some of the genre’s greatest films. But Maximum Overdrive proves that King is not the Master of Direction. For his one and only outing behind the camera, King tells the story of machines coming to life and terrorizing customers in a North Carolina diner. As cool as that premise may be, King can’t make even a big rig with the face of Spider-Man villain Green Goblin look scary, resulting in a movie that makes you wish your TV would come to life and shut itself off.

12. April Fool’s Day (1986)

April Fool’s Day
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The 1980s were the decade of the slasher, lean and mean films about killers who off their victims in unique ways. Most of April Fool’s Day plays by the rules of the genre, with its group of partying teens who end up dying one by one. But in the final moments, April Fool’s Day reveals a twist that not only makes no sense but takes the fun out of the scares that preceded it. As its name tells you, April Fool’s Day is more of a prank than a real horror movie.

13. Rock ’n' Roll Nightmare (1987)

Rock ’n' Roll Nightmare
Image Credit: Shapiro Entertainment.

You would think that the second hard-rocked based movie on this list would fare a little better than Hard Rock Zombies, as it boasts the participation of an actual rock star, Canadian bodybuilder/performer Jon Mikl Thor. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, as Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare takes its cues from Charlie Daniels instead of Black Sabbath, featuring a standoff between a guitarist and the Devil. The music’s not bad if that’s your sort of thing, but Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare won’t keep anyone awake at night.

14. Cellar Dweller (1987)

Cellar Dweller
Image Credit: Empire International Pictures.

In 1988, writer Don Mancini gave the world Chucky, one of the most popular and enduring horror icons of all time. That same year, he also gave the world Cellar Dweller, directed by John Carl Buechler. Despite the talents of everyone involved, including B-movie king Jeffrey Combs, Cellar Dweller is a sorry affair, lacking the effects or pacing necessary to make the most of its premise about demon-possessed comic books.

15. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Jaws The Revenge
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Jaws is a perfect movie, a character-driven thriller about a beach terrorized by a great white shark. While Jaws 2 managed to be a decent sequel by casting aside all plausibility and leaning into its horror premise, the same couldn’t be said of the two films that followed. Jaws: The Revenge makes the more absurd decision to imply that the sharks have a blood feud with Sheriff Brody and his family, leading to a scene in which a shark remembers the climax of the first film. Jaws: The Revenge proves that if you want to follow Steven Spielberg, you’re gonna need a bigger imagination.

16. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
Image Credit: Silent Night Releasing Corporation.

For a while, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 developed a strong following on the internet, as people shared a ridiculous scene in which the killer (Eric Freeman) shouts “Garbage day!” in the middle of his rampage. What those internet commentators didn’t realize was that most of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 reuses footage from the first film, a nasty holiday slasher. The little bit of new stuff is actually pretty good, including the famous line reading. But it’s not enough to justify watching the entire film.

17. Saturday the 14th (1981)

Saturday the 14th
Image Credit: New World Pictures.

In theory, comedy and horror should work hand in hand. Who doesn’t like a good laugh after a surprising scare? But as Saturday the 14th painfully proves, horror comedy is a hard genre to get right. Despite what its title suggests, the movie has nothing to do with a masked campground killer, and instead constructs lame gags around spooks in a haunted house, a pale imitation of the genre Abbott and Costello perfected decades earlier.

18. Blood Beach (1981)

Blood Beach
Image Credit: Compass International Pictures.

Here’s something magical about the 1980s. It doesn’t matter how bad the movie might be; the VHS cover is always good. That’s especially the case with Blood Beach, a lousy flick about a monster below the surface of the sand, which just so happens to have a memorable cover. The image features a bathing-suit-clad woman being pulled into the dirt, her hands out raised in terror. The image promises a better movie than Blood Beach can deliver, but that’s part of the era’s charm.

19. Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)

Howling III The Marsupials
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

Werewolves are so great that not even a bad movie can ruin them. So despite losing the great director Joe Dante after its underrated first entry, most entries in the Howling franchise are pretty watchable. Well, all except Howling III: The Marsupials which, as the title makes clear, swaps out werewolves for kangaroos. Okay, technically, they are werewolves who have evolved to carry their young in a pouch, but that kind of makes it worse.

20. Return to Horror High (1987)

Return to Horror High
Image Credit: New World Pictures.

George Clooney may be one of the best movie stars of our era, but he hadn’t quite developed his charming persona in 1987 when he joined the cast of Return to Horror High. To its credit, Return to Horror High does try to play with the genre, adopting a non-linear storytelling style and focusing on a documentary crew shooting a movie about an earlier set of murders. But none of these flourishes result in an entertaining film, only a meandering and dull mess.

21. Hobgoblins (1988)

Hobgoblins
Image Credit: American Cinema Marketing.

Nobody would call Munchies a good movie, but at least it had sense enough to properly copy Gremlins. Hobgoblins tries to ride on the coattails of Gremlins, but it goes in a very different direction, to disastrous effect. Its titular beasties come from space and are far more deadly in the havoc they wreak, not unlike superior Gremlins copycat Critters. But any edge the filmmakers thought they were giving their monsters is undone by poor plotting, ridiculous characters, and an out-of-touch look at teen culture. At least Hobgoblins made for a great Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode.

22. Death Spa (1989)

Death Spa
Image Credit: MPI Media Group.

Death Spa brings together two of the biggest crazes of the 1980s: aerobics and horror movies. And while the result is undoubtedly ridiculous, it is a lot of fun to watch. Death Spa has an amazing VHS cover, complete with a skeletal beauty and a muscle man whose workout has gone horribly wrong. While the actual film doesn’t completely deliver on that cover’s promise, it does have some pretty unusual scare sequences. That said, don’t go to Death Spa expecting anything else, such as a coherent story, good acting, or thoughtful themes.

23. Elves (1989)

Elves
Image Credit: Action International Pictures.

Really Christmas horror movies don’t have to do much to be great. They get power just by combining terrifying scares with holiday cheer. But Elves has the opposite problem, doing way too much for a movie that should be about killer elves. Somehow, Elves features plots about German scientists making an army of elves in World War II, teenage witches, a twist right out of Chinatown, and a washed-up Santa looking for redemption. Star Dan Haggerty’s lackadaisical performance does slow things down a bit, but not enough to make the movie understandable.

24. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Friday the 13th Part VIII Jason Takes Manhattan
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Explicitly designed as a rip-off of John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s masterpiece Halloween, Friday the 13th has never been the classiest franchise. But it always has been fun, at least until its eighth entry, Jason Takes Manhattan. Famously, very little of Friday the 13th Part VIII takes place in Manhattan, as most of the action occurs on a boat traveling from New Jersey to New York for some reason. But the real problem with the movie is that it’s just not scary, as it's filled with lazy chase sequences and unimaginative kills.

25. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Halloween 5
Image Credit: Magnum Pictures.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The '80s horror boom could not have happened without Halloween, which properly introduced the slasher genre. The franchise returned to form after the divisive (but ultimately celebrated) Halloween III, which did away with the main character Michael Myers, with the surprisingly solid Halloween 4: The Curse of Michael Myers. But not only does the fifth entry toss aside its predecessor’s terrifying twist ending, it also seems determined to be as scare-less as possible. By the time comical horns and calliope music accompany two police officers, you’ll be begging for even the laziest Michael Myers attack.

Author: Joe George

Title: Pop Culture Writer

Expertise: Film, Television, Comic Books, Marvel, Star Trek, DC

Bio:

Joe George is a pop culture writer whose work has appeared at Den of Geek, The Progressive Magazine, Think Christian, Sojourners, Men's Health, and elsewhere. His book The Superpowers and the Glory: A Viewer's Guide to the Theology of Superhero Movies was published by Cascade Books in 2023. He is a member of the North Carolina Film Critic's Association.