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Best Foreign 80s Horror Movies

Updated on March 28, 2014

David Cronenberg

Cronenberg's insane mixture of sci-fi horror, psychological and biological horror was a refreshing and new addition to the annals of the horror genre. Although his work began before the 1980s, it wasn't until the 1981 movie Scanners, that he became popular with horror and film enthusiasts. He is the most interesting director to ever come out of Canada. The films he gave us wove intricate stories about society and what it is to be human in a technological world. The world of Cronenberg's films remains the world we live in today, and perhaps even more so.

Scanners was a film set in a present day world with an underground group of individuals who have almost uncontrollable telekinetic and mind reading powers. They have lived and suffered alone with these mutations for their whole lives. Now, they are coming together as groups. One lone scanner is found by Dr. Paul Ruth, and asked to infiltrate the groups. He believes that the scanners intend to cause harm to the rest of society, and perhaps plan to take over the world.

We know that there probably aren't really people who have mutated enough to cause heads to explode with telekinesis, but what was the cause of the telekinesis in the first place? The inherent commentary on the state of medicine rings even truer today. When we are inundated by commercials and news of medicines gone wrong, who can say that Scanners is outdated? It's the same thing for his next film, Videodrome. This film is a masterpiece of cinema, which you will understand and love, or misunderstand and hate forever. (I am firmly in the first camp, as this is my favorite film, but I will be as objective as I can.)

Videodrome has a lot to say about technology and humans, but through the eyes of a voyeur. Most of us are voyeurs in some way or another. Today we are more connected to technology than ever. So, when the main character finds his body literally melding with technological terrors, how can we not feel for him? The film gives us the opportunity to question the relationship we have with our 'devices' today.

I highly recommend both of these films. I realize that I spent a lot of time discussing the inner workings of these films, but they are also wonderful in terms of blood and gore. Cronenberg went to painstaking lengths with his crews to create incredible practical special effects. They are a marvel to witness onscreen. You just have to see them to believe them. Surprisingly, he often had to cut down on all the gore that he put into his scripts because they were so extreme.

Whether you're looking for a Canadian or foreign horror film, or just want to see something you've never seen before, please take a look at the world of David Cronenberg.


-The Brood (1979)

-Scanners (1981)

-Videodrome (1983)

-The Fly (1986 remake)

Scanners Trailer

Dario Argento

Argento's work has been around since the 60s and he began directing films in the 70s. So why am I mentioning him in an article about the 80s? Four words: Inferno, Tenebre, Phenomena, and Opera. These are the best four pieces of giallo horror cinema you will find from the 1980s. And it's no wonder when you have a legendary director like him.

Some of you may not be familiar with this genre. It is technically a mystery/thriller genre, but directors like Argento added in blood and gore, which makes it part of the horror genres. It is basically the Italian grandfather to the young American slasher films. Typically there are characters who are trying to solve the mystery of something strange happening or a murder, and they become the next targets. The biggest twist that the giallo films takes, is in the identity of the killer. It can be anyone at all, or even an animal. It is never revealed until the end. They are very surprising films.

The surprises don't stop there either. Argento and his colleagues do blood and gore justice in their films. The weapons, locations, and situations of the deaths are different, and usually more beautiful, than what we are used to seeing in American films. In Italian horror films, we learn to expect the unexpected, because life itself is always going to be moving and changing. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?

Argento writes and directs each of these 80s horror films. There are other Italian directors (Lucio Fulci, Mario & Lamberto Bava) who can boast good 80s horror movies, but Argento is the king. His stories are suspenseful and shocking. One of the characteristics of his style is the use of the 'fish out of water' scenario. The main character travels to the setting from elsewhere. For example, in Tenebre, a writer visits Rome only to find out that there is a copycat killer, and he is the police's prime suspect.


-Inferno (1980)

-Tenebre (1982)

-Phenomena (1984)

-Opera (1987)

For those of you who are afraid to watch anything with subtitles, these films are in English, or easy to find dubbed in English. And lastly, a fun fact: Phenomena stars Jennifer Connolly in her first leading role.

Opera Trailer

Jean Rollin

Rollin is a French director who's name you may or may not know. He is known for either his 1970s vampire films or his adult films. I'm not talking about either of those in this article. What I am going to discuss are his horror films in the early 1980s. He is the type of director who was always working. From 73-85 he had films released every year, and sometimes multiple films in the same year. Although he isn't normally considered in the annals of great horror, I really think that he should at least get an honorable mention. For both the vampire films, and the films I will be discussing now.

This director's style is slower, exotic, erotic, and gothic. His films are set in forests, graveyards, castles, and other old buildings. The main characters are predominantly female and, showing his adult film tendencies, are often in a subtle lesbian relationship. The most important thing about his horror films in the 80s, though, was that they were meant to be disturbing and poetic at the same time. That is why he takes his time.

Night of the Hunted aka la nuit des traquƩes was released in 1980, and is the first film on my list today. It is a thrilling horror tale of a young woman with amnesia who is taken to a clinic. There are strange things happening there, and the only thing she knows is that she has to get out. She takes along one of her friends there, and tries to escape, but the problems are bigger than the both of them. This is definitely a thought provoking film, and there are enough shocks for the horror film crowd.

The Living Dead Girl aka la morte vivante was released in 1982. This film hearkened back to his vampire days, but also combined ideas with the Living Dead films. It features an undead young woman who's grave has had chemicals illegally dumped on it. So she is in that sense a zombie. Yet, she wakes up with an insatiable thirst for blood, like a vampire. She calls upon her old girlfriend to come visit and help her find more victims. This is the bloodiest and goriest film in all of Rollin's history up to this point, and I have to tell you it is wonderful for us horror fans!

(Rollin's films are in French with subtitles.)

Night of the Hunted Trailer

Clive Barker

Normally when I think of great 80s foreign horror films to watch, I am disappointed with the offerings from the UK, but this is the exception. Clive Barker is an author turned director, and his first feature film was Hellraiser (1987), based on his book The Hellbound Heart. The film came out at just the right time: when the genre was bouncing back after a lull in the mid 80s. It was a real tour de force film for 80s British horror.

Why do I say that, do you ask? If you have or haven't seen the film, just reading the plot can tell you how unique it was. This was a supernatural film, but it was not your typical ghost story. The main character is a young woman, Kirsty who helps her father move into his brother's house. His brother, Frank, was into a lot of weird stuff, and had just found a mysterious box of wonders before his disappearance. Kirsty's stepmother had been having an affair with Frank, and when she discovers his mostly-dead body in the attic of the old house, things go from bad to worse.

You might be thinking that it now sounds like a zombie movie, but it is not. Frank had discovered a portal to Hell, and was able to escape. Kirsty finds the box after a scary encounter with her uncle, and promises the demons that she will get Frank back for them. If she fails, they take her. There is a heavy sense of danger as we see glimpses of the sado-masochistic world of Hell with chains and hooks dangling all over, ready to grab into your skin. Needless to say, the film is not for the faint of heart, and may even make horror fans queasy.

There have been many sequels to this classic horror film, but always start with the original, and see this movie.

Hellraiser Trailer

More Fun Foreign Scares!

In conclusion to this article, I would like to recommend other 80s horror films from around the world. These movies are totally awesome, so if you want more, check them out right away!

-Seeding of a Ghost (1983)

My favorite Hong Kong horror because of the unbelievable ending.

-Demons (1985)

The best foreign zombie film I've seen.

-My Bloody Valentine (1981)

The uncut version is the goriest slasher film from Canada!

-Vampires in Havana (1987)

A very unique Cuban film, it is an animated vampire comedy.

I always appreciate your recommendations for movies, so leave a comment below. Thanks!

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