10 Best Campy Cheesy Scary Movies From the 80s
I have to be honest. The entire decade of the 80s is a large wheel of cheese, and the horror genre is no exception. Writing this article was difficult simply because of the breadth and width of the available films with the aroma of cheddar in the 1980s. In 1987 alone, seven films' titles started with the word blood.
What Constitutes as Cheesy?
Also, the definition of cheese has changed. It's not looked on as being bad anymore. Some films aspire to a particular Camembert flavor willingly. Some movies go so big successfully that they have the feta aura all around them, but they are still great films. Cheesy is fun, and audiences and filmmakers recognize that now.
1. Motel Hell (1980)
In this film, the cheese is intentional. Rory Calhoun, as Farmer Vincent Smith, "farms" human beings after trapping them, burying them up to their necks, cutting their vocal cords so they can't scream, and then feeding them. It doesn't seem cost-effective, but I'm not a farmer.
2. New Years Evil (1980)
New Year's Evil is one of those films where they look at the calendar and wonder what holidays were left to use as plots for a slasher film. You know that eventually, they got to Arbor Day. It was a parody film at that point. But despite the origins and the apparent attempts to appeal to specific audiences, it's a punk rock show. This slasher still manages to be tense and entertaining.
3. The Hand
If I were to tell you that Oliver Stone started out by making horror films and that his second feature was about a killer hand that starred Micheal Caine would you believe me? Well, it's the truth. Also, it features a scene where the monster hand tries to strangle Caine's character John Lansdale which predates the scene in Evil Dead II by about six years.
4. The Howling (1981)
This werewolf film, directed by Joe Dante, is howlingly funny and with a good-natured cheesiness that is also intentional. The last shot in the movie is hands down one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a theater and is played absolutely deadpan in a frying pan. No joke. Okay, well, maybe there's a joke there.
5. Creepshow (1982)
Creepshow is an anthology film directed by George Romero, where the maestro's full comedic potential is realized. Because it is a film version of a comic book styled like a comic book come to life, it embraces the cheesiness of EC Comics wholeheartedly and still manages to be an incredibly creepy film. You can do both at the same time.
6. Cat People (1982)
Paul Schrader, the screenwriter of Taxi Driver and other somber films, is still currently making films of a serious and contemplative nature like First Reformed did make a horror film, and it was a doozy.
It was a remake of the Val Lewton classic Cat People and went for all of the tawdriness of an 80s update of the story, incest included, with an entirely straight face, which makes it great. It's a plate of cinematic ravioli made by an exquisitely talented chef.
I've mentioned it before, but the scene where the cat corpse of Malcolm McDowell, in full Malcolm McDowell thespian overdrive, is in the morgue with its tongue “blepping” never fails to reduce me to tears.
7. Killer Clowns From Outer Space (1988)
This cult classic is wildly entertaining and also profoundly cheesy. It's pretty simple to explain, really. It's a movie about Killer Klowns from outer space. It makes the idea of kids' entertainment monstrous.
All the joyous capering of clowns turned into horrifying acts of murder, and the clowns are space vampires. The Chiodo Brothers only made this one film, but their vision of cheesy terror can always be remembered. The clown monsters are neon nightmares.
8. Lair Of The White Worm (1988)
If you are unfamiliar with the cinematic oeuvre of Ken Russell, here's your chance for one of the best entry points into his canon of films. Russell is a director who always goes big. He was also an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker. Lair Of The White Worm is an adaptation of a lesser-known Bram Stoker novel.
This film is beautifully realized cheese with the aristocratic snake vampire played by Amanda Donohoe, snake dancing with English folklore. There are dream sequences with Roman soldiers, Donohoe seducing everyone in her eye line in beautiful fetish gear, and a real giant white snake. Yes, that’s probably a metaphor. The final moment's kicker is truly funny and tragic at the same time. That's excellent cheese.
9. Xtro (1983)
Xtro is one of those films that must be seen to be believed. Alien eggs, a man who is born full-sized from a woman's womb, panthers come out of nowhere in the English countryside, and children's toys become full-sized and come to life.
Poor Analise. In a cinematic world filled with cheesy concepts, Xtro, directed by Harry Bromley-Davenport and featuring an early appearance by Bond girl Maryam D'Abo, might actually take the cake.
10. Firestarter (1984)
Mark L. Lester, who also directed Roller Boogie, Class of 1984, and Commando, led the first attempt at adapting Stephen King's Firestarter. While it might have seemed like a great idea on paper, it suffers from the common problem with many Stephen King adaptations from the past. They needed to understand or give the material the type of seriousness required.
In this version, they cast the adorable Drew Barrymore as Charlie, the pyrokinetic daughter of people who were part of a secret government experiment. Because this was the 80s, they made the mistake of casting George C. Scott as a Native American, and he chewed every bit of furniture on the set.
The cheese abounds, especially when Barrymore's psychic talent is cinematically realized as her hair blows in the wind for some reason. Heather Locklear's part is reduced to falling out of a closet. It's so bizarre that I think they were trying to be serious, but nothing on the screen read as being serious.