EJ Moreno on the most disturbing horror movies of the 1980s…
The 1980s is the prime time for horror films, but oddly, the decade’s movies aren’t as shocking as the 70s or even the torture porn era of the 00s. Hunting for the most shocking and disturbing movies of the decade wasn’t hard, but it did prove to be a challenge to find something that could meet the likes of Last House on the Left or Hostel.
We’ve collected a handful of some of the ’80s most graphic and disgusting movies you can find for this list. In the decade that horror went the most mainstream, join us for a curated list of your favorite wildest and most noteworthy 1980s shockers…
6. Sleepaway Camp
Many know of Sleepaway Camp as a campy 80s slasher, which it is. But there’s a real twisted underbelly to this movie, with almost every central plot or moment tinged with absolute darkness. We’ll get into the iconic twist ending in a moment, but the shocking bits aren’t just in that final reveal. We’re met with paedo chefs, underage relationships, and the gruesome murders from the moment we land in the titular Sleepaway Camp. It’s as if a Friday The 13th movie had some edge and wasn’t just about the gore.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of gore in the first Sleepaway Camp, but you are sucked in by the enticing story and WTF moments more than anything else. That’s especially true when you look at the ending, which might be one of the most shocking of any movie. The final reveal, which lets you know the killer and what is going on with them, holds up to this day and has made a lasting impression on every viewer. It’s shocking and disturbing, making Sleepaway Camp a perfect movie to kick off the list.
5. Cannibal Holocaust
Probably one of the most infamous on the list, Cannibal Holocaust is obvious a deeply disturbing movie. It’s a bit tired to talk about by now, especially since the film itself is not that great, but you can’t miss this one. The earliest entry on our list, Cannibal Holocaust, still brings the sleazy 70s vibe and introduces it to 80s audiences. We’d move away from the exploitation stylings of this for a more mainstream affair, but the decade wouldn’t be complete without the passing of the shocking torch.
Sadly, the film’s disturbing nature comes from some reasonably gross real animal stuff, and that’s not cool. This is a prime example of “shock for shock’s sake,” which isn’t the example of all the other films included here. Cannibal Holocaust is a demo reel of WTF moments rather than anything of substance. Still, the found-footage nature and utterly gross kills make this an easy contender for one of the most shocking movies of the decade.
4. Tetsuo: The Iron Man
Being disturbed by a movie can also mean being utterly confused by it. 1989’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man, a Japanese film, definitely falls into the confusing category, but it doesn’t take away from its must-watch status. Everything about Tetsuo is unique, from its low-budget underground style to a confused and chaotic edit that would make David Lynch cringe. Let’s not forget the morbidly dark sense of humor you also can find in this, which makes the shocking nature even more twisted. A late 80s entry closes the decade with some heavy metal grinding and OMG moments.
Japanese cinema is probably the best place for shocking 80s horror. Entries like the Guinea Pig series easily trump anything else from the decade. Tetsuo is a rare standout, though, as it doesn’t feel like just disgusting, shocking moments after awful, shocking moments. There’s an artful nature to the film that elevates it to another level. You want your disturbing movies to have a heart and soul to them, and even though Tetsuo’s heart is pumping oil, it’s still bringing you the shock and the awe.
Director Brian Yuzna is a master of the disturbing. His catalog includes The Dentist, From Beyond, Reanimator, and many more must-see gross-out films. Society is the most shocking out of them all, which is genuinely a feat no one should take lightly. Another 1989 entry, and somehow, this could be the weirdest year for movies. Between Tetsuo and Society, there are more twisted body parts than in most of the decade. Yuzna’s Society dives into class, privilege, and how wanting to fit in can lead you to a giant orgy of melting flesh.
Yes, the melting flesh I just mentioned comes from the film’s most twisted moments, the shunting. It’s a beautifully deranged final act of the film that could only be brought to life by the world of VFX artist Screaming Mad George. We could make a whole list of just his wild work in horror, but nothing would top the pile of human, flesh, and goo he created for this. This is shocking because it takes genuine issues and twists them into dark new ways. Other 80s horror tried to scare you; Society wanted to gross you out more than anything.
Where do we begin with this outrageous and disgusting film? For being one of the more obscure picks, Nekromantik might be the most entertaining. It’s just as gross as some of the others, yet the tone does try to keep it fresh. For Germany to not be known for their horror films, you can use this to explain why we need more. It’s a low budget, and the acting isn’t perfect, but there’s a charm to the out-of-this-world qualities, much like John Waters’ films.
What also makes Nekromantik so great is that the film is still banned in many places worldwide. Iceland, Malaysia, Singapore, and some parts of Canada still won’t allow this film; hell, the UK only passed the uncut version of the movie in 2014. There are tons of allegories that scholars have written about, while just as many critics bemoan this as nothing but trash. The infamy worldwide and bizarre film choices keep this one at the top of extreme cinema fans’ minds. It’s the type of severe and disturbing movie you crave as a fan, and it’s a blessing it still packs a punch.
1. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
For such a disturbing and filthy film, there is no denying the horror movie perfection that is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. So much has been said about this film, and it still feels like we haven’t hit the surface. Many have tried to make the serial killer film work, but it’s hard to match what director John McNaughton captured here. It sometimes feels like a documentary, which is helped by the low-budget filmmaking and old-school grindhouse aesthetic.
The rest of this entry could be spent talking about Michael Rooker and his fantastic performance as the titular Henry. For a debut performance, there’s so much underneath this role. It’s incredibly layered, and Rooker’s ability to make something so filthy feel real is masterful. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer truly feels like the last of the real exploitation and has a gritty realism the 00s tried to capture repeatedly. From the acting to the legacy, you won’t find a more disturbed and essential film of the 1980s. If you could only watch one movie from this list, put this at the absolute top and reap in its sickness.
What are your most shocking movies of the 1980s? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…