I have 28 different films from 1981. I’m not sure, but it may be the most horror films for one year that I’ve seen, 1988 may be close. But trimming this list down from 28 to 10 wasn’t a hard task. While there may be a ton from 1981, not too many measure up, in my opinion.
I selected a few that most would likely not select. I am not a huge fan of the 1981 Slasher boom. Movies like The Prowler, My Bloody Valentine and The Burning don’t make the cut. Unfortunately, they just didn’t do much for me. While their in my collection, I just don’t visit these often and when I do, it is a drag. I recently watched the Burning for the first time since 2019 and I just couldn’t wait for it to be over. When you see The Burning vs Friday the 13th part II, it is easy to pick which movie is better, even if Jason was said to be dead in the original Friday the 13th.
With all of that said, if you’ve been following these Top 10 lists you know I love Italian horror, no matter how bad they may be, there is something to love with most of them. There are three on this list. You will see the Italian horror films start to disappear the closer we get to the 1990s.
Oh and a DISCLAIMER, these are my favorites, not what I consider to be the best of the 1981, my Top 10 favorites on 1981 as these lists have shown in the past.
10. Scanners (1981)
Cronenberg never gets old. While Scanners isn’t one of my favorites from him, it is a good film and super intense. The FX are awesome as we come to expect in a Cronenberg film. If you don’t love Michael Ironside’s performance in this film, you’re crazy.
9. The House by the Cemetery (1981)
Yeah, so this movie is not as bad as most people think. Because it doesn’t measure up to movies Fulci did prior, The Beyond, City of the Living Dead or Zombie. But it is a good film overall and it has giallo moments. I know Bob is a problem, but beyond that, The House by the Cemetery delivers what you want from Fulci. My chief complaint is the lack of a Fabio Frizzi score.
8. Maniac (1981)
I am not a huge fan of this one, but I like it. It is an odd movie that, to me plays like it takes place in a complete dream state. Joe Spinell is phenominal in this film as he owns it 100%. This movie has one terrific ending as well. If you’ve never seen Maniac, make it a priority. The Elijah Wood remake is really damn good too, better than it should be.
7. Cannibal Ferox (1981)
Also known as “Let Them Die Slowly” is one of my two favorite Cannibal films, in a sub-genre I really don’t care for. This was made by Umberto Lenzi and is kind of what I expected from an Italian cannibal film over what we got from Ruggero Diadoto in Cannibal Holocaust. While I like this movie for the more…gore reasons, it is just kind of a fun movie with dumb characters. But there are some scenes that are really cringe worth in the horror sense. Not to mention the ending was very good.
6. The Howling (1981)
Yeah so 1981 was not only the year of the slasher, it was the year of the werewolf as well. The Howling, An American Werewolf in London and Wolfen(more shapeshifter) all released in 1981. The Howling is one of my favorites. Werewolf movies are not my favorite sub-genre I do love this movie. Dee Wallace is superb and the transformation scenes are great. But one thing I really enjoy is the investigative side of the movie. The Howling is a great werewolf movie with one of the best transformation scenes ever. The rest of the series is bizarre, especially Howling 3.
5. Friday the 13th part II (1981)
The more I’ve watched this movie, the more I enjoy it. I was a kid of the 1980s who loved watching Jason movies, but for some reason I never like this one. I honestly think it was the lack of hockey mask. As I’ve gotten older, I understand things better and have come to enjoy part II more that some of the other sequels and the original. It is fun an sack head Jason is pretty great. The ending and the homage to Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve make me happy.
4. The Evil Dead (1981)
What hasn’t been said about The Evil Dead that hasn’t already been said. It is a great horror film and a landmark film. Evil Dead has one of the biggest fanbases in horror. The original is my favorite, while most seem to lean towards Evil Dead 2. Cheryl is the standout in this movie for me, I mean, other than being tree raped. I love when she gets possessed and reading the cards and then lifts the pencil and baam right in the ankle. Then the make-up job once she is in the cellar. I love it.
3. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
The best werewolf movie of all-time? Yes, it is. Of course this movie has the best werewolf transformation of all-time, a rotting best friend and an awesome nightmare sequence, dream within a dream. How could you not love this movie? It is fun and terrifying all at the same time. But, you know, Jack is my favorite part of the movie.
2. Halloween II (1981)
This may come as a surprise to some, but it is one of the best sequels to any slasher movie, ever. I hope the 2018 movie hasn’t soured the taste of Halloween II for anyone. I like the sister aspect, giving the Shape a reason is something I never cared for, but this reason worked for me. We also get more Dr. Loomis ad he is my favorite thing about the Halloween series. The end is so damn good, but I want to mention the opening credits. While John Carpenter’s Halloween’s opening credits are legendary, I love the credits here, the closer we get to the Jack-o-Lantern, it splits open and reveals a skull. So cool!
1. The Beyond (1981)
Lucio Fulci’s finest film ever. This one gives us everything and more, especially when it comes to gore effects. The story is just as good, another gateway to hell is under a hotel down in New Orleans. But the part that really hits in the Beyond is the ending. This is one of the bleakest endings I’ve ever seen in a movie. There is a sequel comic from Eibon Press you should check out.
So that is 1981. Which only means, 1982 is next and boy, I am regretting the year by year list already. Thanks for reading.
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