13 Scariest Horror Movie Monsters Of The 1980s, Ranked
Horror in the 1970s was marked by darker movies, as independent filmmakers such as George Romero, Tobe Hooper, and Wes Craven combined scares and gore with social themes, and serious blockbusters such as The Exorcist and The Omen played to huge mainstream audiences. As a result, there wasn't much space for the old-fashioned monster movie, which had long existed more in the crowd-pleasing side of the genre.
Luckily, in the 1980s, fun returned to horror. Of course, there were plenty of darker movies too, and many of the most popular in the first half of the decade were formulaic slasher movies. But this was also the decade of the horror comedy--not to mention neon, MTV, and hair metal--and many of '80s key horror filmmakers embraced a lighter approach to their scary movies. They also brought the movie monster back big time.
Prosthetic and animatronic special effects were at their peak in the '80s, leading to some hugely impressive creature creations. CGI was not yet at a stage where it could be used for monsters, especially on a lower budget, and the superstar make-up effects artists of the day were given the freedom to wildly indulge their imaginations. Amongst fans, the likes of Rick Baker, Stan Winston, Tom Savini, and Rob Bottin are as famous and revered as any directors, and their creature work in the '80s is some of the best ever put on film.
Sadly, this is an era of monster movie that is unlikely to return. Even a show like Stranger Things, which homages '80s horror in so many ways, uses extravagant CG for its creatures. The special effects superstars of today are more likely to be found sitting behind computer screens than getting elbow-deep in fake blood and plastic fangs. So with Halloween approaching, let's look back at the best movie monsters from the 1980s...
13. Belial (Basket Case, 1982)
Director Frank Henenlotter introduced the world to two iconic horror monsters in the 1980s. He kicked off the decade in sleazy, low budget style with his grimy New York gore classic classic Basket Case, and the unforgettable Belial. He is the insane, deformed brother of a young man named Duane--the pair were born as conjoined twins and separated at an early age. Duane now keeps Belial in basket, from which he emerges at night to seek out and kill the doctors responsible for their separation. Henenlotter keeps the full reveal of the monster off-screen for around 40 minutes; when we do see him, he's both hilarious and disturbing, and the stop-motion effects used to create him have a charmingly weird low-budget quality.
12. Fluffy (Creepshow, 1982)
"The Crate" is perhaps the best segment of the Stephen King/George Romero horror anthology, and features a terrific monster. Nicknamed "Fluffy" by creator Tom Savini, this Yeti-like creature remained asleep inside a large crate in a college basement for 148 years. While many monster movies have their creatures running rampant, picking off their victims indiscriminately, Fluffy forms part of a plot by a downtrodden man to kill his abusive wife. Like many of the best monster movies, we are made to wait a while to see the creature--but it's worth it.
11. Quetzalcoatl (Q: The Winged Serpent, 1982)
Larry Cohen never quite gained the reputation of Wes Craven, George Romero, or John Carpenter, but he made some of those most entertaining horror and exploitation movies of the '70s and '80s. One of this best is Q: The Winged Serpent. It's a gloriously entertaining monster movie in which a small-time crook discovers that the winged creature who has been terrorising New York is hiding at the top of the Chrysler Building and sets about trying to blackmail the city for $1 million before he reveals its location. The monster, the reincarnation of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, was created through some delightfully old-school stop-motion, and the idea of the beast swooping down to pick off construction workers and rooftop sun-bathers is played for delightfully gory effect.
10. Aylmer (Brain Damage, 1989)
Elmer is the second great movie monster created by Frank Henenlotter. While Basket Case's Belial is unspeaking, vicious, and driven only by the desire to kill, Brain Damage's Aylmer is charming, sophisticated, and very talkative. He's also an evil leech-like brain-eating parasite, who forces his hosts to bring him victims by getting them hooked on a hallucinogenic drug that he secretes directly into their brains. In one amazing scene, Aylmer torments our hero Brian as he attempts to kick his habit by singing a catchy Sinatra-esque tune called "Aylmer's Tune."
9. The Blob (The Blob, 1988)
David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly showed that old, cheap monsters movies could be reworked successfully for modern audiences, and while The Blob doesn't hit those heights, it's still a great film. Director Chuck Russell and writer Frank Darabont's update of the 1958 creature feature made the most of then cutting-edge visual effects, with the titular alien mass now a terrifying, pulsating, creeping mass, rather than a big blob of wobbling jello. The movie was unfortunately a commercial failure, and Russell subsequently criticised his and Darabont's decision to make it funny as well as scary, but viewed today, it's exactly that balance of laughs, horror, and thrills that makes it such an effective slice of mainstream horror entertainment.
8. Pumpkinhead (Pumpkinhead, 1988)
The late Stan Winston was responsible for the groundbreaking effects in movies such as The Terminator, Predator, and Jurassic Park. He also directed a couple of movies, the first of which was Pumpkinhead. As you'd expect, the movie features a great monster--a terrifying demon who is conjured up by a grieving father to take revenge on the scum who killed his son. Not only does Pumpkinhead looks genuinely weird and scary, his relentless pursuit of his prey and desire to make every death as painful as possible makes him one of the decade's most memorable monsters.
7. The Predator (Predator, 1987)
Predator might have been marketed as an Arnold schwarzenegger vehicle, but the Austrian Oak plays second fiddle to the titular monster. Designed by Stan Winston, this killer alien used advanced technology to hide in the South Amerian jungles as he picks off his human prey. Director John McTiernan keeps the reveal of the Predator's face right for the end of the movie, but it totally delivers. As Arnold says: "You're one ugly motherf****!"
6. Gremlins (Gremlins, 1984)
The anarchic, hilarious, and gory Gremlins was not only a huge box office hit, it ushered in an entire sub-genre of "little monster" movies, including Critters and Ghoulies. But the original is by far the best, and the Gremlins remain some of the most iconic creatures of the decade. These vicious little monsters are scary enough on their own, let alone dozens attacking an entire town. Luckily, they have one big weakness--direct sunlight causes them to messily dissolve.
5. David Kessler (An American Werewolf in London, 1981)
Werewolves weren't exactly new to horror cinema prior to the 1980s, but the decade brought us a handful of modern classics. The Howling and A Company of Wolves are great movies, but it's American Werewolf in London that remains the best. While werewolves of previous eras were usually guys in unconvincing costumes, the wolfman of John Landis's film was a proper, terrifying lycanthropic beast. The groundbreaking transformation and creature effects were by VFX legend Rick Legend, but some of the scariest scenes are from the monster's POV, as he stalks his victims around London.
4. Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984)
More than any other horror monster, Freddy Krueger defined '80s horror. As the Nightmare on Elm Street series continued, Freddy stopped being properly scary and instead turned into a cartoonish wise-cracking villain. But in the first movie, Robert Englund played him as a genuinely terrifying monster, a relentless and deformend blade-fingered child-killer who has returned to claim new victims by stalking them in their dreams.
3. Cenobites (Hellraiser, 1987)
With his second movie Nightbreed, Clive Barker created some of the '90s most memorable movie monsters. But a few years before that, the writer and filmmaker gave us the Cenobites, the pain-obsessed extra dimensional beings who visit our reality when an inter-dimensional door is opened. They are truly original creations, all marked by their mutilated bodies and black leather clothing. Pinhead in particular is one of the decade's great horror icons, but Butterball and Chatterer are equally bizarre and scary.
2. The Thing (The Thing, 1982)
The scariest thing about the alien in John Carpenter's classic The Thing is that it can look like anyone. The film was the second adaptation of John W. Campbell's 1938 novella Who Goes There?, but while 1951's The Thing From Another World made the creature an old-fashioned hulking beast, Carpenter's film reverts back to the original idea of a shapeshifter that can assimilate its prey and move between hosts. Of course, the alien does reveal itself on numerous occasions, delivering some of the most incredible and outlandish make-up effects ever devised, courtesy of the great Rob Bottin.
1. Brundlefly (The Fly, 1986)
Of all the monsters on this list, Brundlefly is the most tragic. The half-man/half-insect creature in David Cronenberg's 1986 classic The Fly started out as brilliant scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum). He was developing top-secret teleportation pods, but when Brundle drunkenly tested the pods he failed to notice a harmless housefly in there with him. His DNA was fused with the fly, and he spends the rest of the movie slowly, painfully, disgustingly turning into a vomiting, philosophizing, hate-filled fly-man. In the unforgettable final scenes, the full insect emerges from the decaying flesh of what used to be Brundle.