Relive the Horror: 8 Scary Movies from 1984

1984 was a banner year for scary movies—they were creepy, funny and lacking in over-the-top CGI special effects. But while these movies thrilled and chilled us 30 years ago, do they stand the test of time? We screened them all again to see which ones still held up.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven’s masterpiece is the gold standard for ’80s horror movies, spawning the most interesting, memorable and frightening horror movie villain of all time (not to mention a wildly successful movie franchise). Freddy Krueger is the boogeyman with a burned face and knife-fingered gloves terrorizing teens while they sleep—but he’s more than just a bad dream. Nancy and friends (including a young Johnny Depp) do their best to unravel the mystery and stay awake… in order to stay alive.
Why to watch: All the dream sequences are panic-inducing, but the stairs that turn to goo as Nancy tries to run away get us every time. We didn’t sleep for months after seeing this in 1984. And, umm, in 2014.

2. Gremlins
This movie was a smash hit and is still one of the highest-grossing horror movies of all time, and for good reason. Its weird mix of genres keeps you off-kilter: Is this a family holiday movie? Comedy? Horror? Our hero, Billy (Zach Galligan), gets a tiny adorable furball for Christmas from his dad. Cute, right? But the tone changes drastically after midnight when hordes of hideous, destructive gremlins begin running amok in the small town. The ultimate gross-out scene, where the mom defeats three gremlins via blender, stabbing and microwave, spurred the MPAA to implement the PG-13 rating.
Why to Watch: The bizarre speech by straight-faced Phoebe Cates about why her character hates Christmas: Because when she was nine, her dad, pretending to be Santa Claus, got caught in the chimney and died. We can’t decide if it’s funny, sad or terrifying. Perhaps it’s all three.

3. Night of the Comet
This doomsday movie borrows from the mid-’80s Halley’s Comet hype. An unnamed comet visible once every 65 million years wipes out the human race overnight, turning almost everyone into red dust or worse. Among the few unaffected survivors are two Valley-girl sisters—one a shopaholic cheerleader, one a video game whiz—who are handy with firearms (“Daddy would’ve gotten us Uzis,” quips the cheerleader). With an empty city at their disposal, they do what any teens would—take over the radio station and hit the mall. Things turn darker after the shopping montage, and then the movie really gets going.
Why to Watch: Although the pacing is a off at times, the storyline is solid and the characters are clever and likable. This movie also stands out for being totally suspenseful and scary with relatively little gore.

4. C.H.U.D.
The acronym stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers”—or does it? In New York City’s subway tunnels, toxic waste has turned homeless folks into monsters, but city officials are desperate to keep it under wraps. This is a B-movie for sure, but has surprisingly nuanced characters, good acting and a creepy “don’t trust the government” theme. Two of our heroes are played by John Heard and Daniel Stern, who team up years later in Home Alone.
Why to watch: This movie is an oft-referenced cult classic.

5. Firestarter
Based on a novel by Stephen King and starring Drew Barrymore as Charlie, a 9-year-old with deadly psychic powers, this movie got an R rating for extreme violence. The scary part isn’t Charlie’s murderous talent for spontaneous combustion, it’s the secret government agency that conducted questionable experiments on her parents and is now relentlessly hunting her down. Oscar winner George C. Scott is particularly creepy as the orderly who befriends Charlie once she’s captured.
Why to watch: Drew Barrymore in her first starring role, a brainwashed Martin Sheen, and a great soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. The fire sequences are impressive, especially when you consider that this was all before sophisticated CGI effects.

6. Children of the Corn
The premise is promising: a young couple lost in rural Nebraska comes across a town where the kids done got religion and killed all the adults. Unfortunately, this movie isn’t nearly as chilling as the Stephen King story it’s based on, but it still sits solidly among the also-rans.
Why to Watch: The atmosphere of abandoned streets and wide-open cornfields is effectively sinister, and ritual murders done by a kid in a minister outfit are always good nightmare fodder.

7. The Initiation
It was a dark and stormy night. A sorority pledge named Kelly (played by a pre-Melrose Daphne Zuniga) wakens from a recurring nightmare to the creepy scene of her sorority sisters gathered around her bed. From that moment on, you’ll have to suspend a lot of disbelief to get into this movie. Not that it’s lacking in suspense—there are some interesting plot turns and genuinely scary, gruesome scenes. But the B-movie dialogue, cliched bloody stabbings and entirely gratuitous nudity give it a ho-hum ’70s-style slasher movie feel.
Why to Watch: Did we mention entirely gratuitous nudity?

8. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
The fourth movie in the Friday the 13th franchise, this is one of 1984′s horror movies that doesn’t go for laughs… but gets them anyway. Blood-and-gore fans dig it for its dark, inventive murder scenes, but there isn’t much more to it than that. As Gene Siskel put it, “This film is literally about stabbing.”
Why to watch: A very young Corey Feldman in a bald cap for some reason, and Crispin Glover’s hilariously wacky dance number midway through.

Find out when Firestarter is airing on SundanceTV.

Not enough gore for you? Keep reading for the best slasher flicks spawned in the ’80s.