1. Frogs (1972)
Director: George McCowan
The wealthy Crockett family has a beautiful plantation on a lake in Florida. Patriarch Jason (Ray Milland) hates the natural wildlife and orders an exterminator to spray pesticides around the house. That’s when the fauna start fighting back — not just frogs, but also snakes, lizards, birds, spiders, leeches, and turtles. It’s absurd horror with a message: Namely, don’t fuck with Mother Nature.
2. Deathdream (1972)
Director: Bob Clark
U.S. soldier Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) is shot and killed in Vietnam. Before he dies, he hears his mother’s voice, reminding him that he promised to come back. And he does eventually return, but Andy is changed — and soon the people around him start dying. This Canadian slasher film is both scary and melancholy, revisiting the classic tale of a wish gone wrong.
3. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
Director: Nicolas Gessner
Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) is only 13, but she lives by herself — and no one knows why. Her nosy landlady Cora Hallett (Alexis Smith) and the landlady’s creepy son Frank (Martin Sheen) try to discover the truth, with dire consequences. While arguably more thriller than horror, this unsettling film goes to very dark places, including an especially disturbing ending.
4. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
Director: Alfred Sole
At her First Communion, Karen (Brooke Shields) is strangled to death, and her sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) is accused of the crime. The creepy grinning mask is Alice’s, but it’s unclear who is responsible as more people are attacked by the relentless killer. The mask itself makes Alice, Sweet Alice memorable — by which I mean, terrifying.
5. Orca (1977)
Director: Michael Anderson
Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) is on the lookout for a great white shark, but his plans are thwarted by a killer whale. When he ends up harpooning a pregnant female, her mate seeks revenge against Nolan and his ship. Sorry, Jaws: Killer whales are scarier than sharks. In addition to Harris, the film also boasts Charlotte Rampling and Bo Derek.
6. Tourist Trap (1979)
Director: David Schmoeller
A group of friends on a road trip end up stranded at a wax museum. The tourist trap turns out to be a death trap, as they’re killed off one by one. And while some are turned into mannequins, other mannequins come to life. Tourist Trap is one of those odd ’70s horror films that needs to be seen to be believed. Be warned, the masks are genuinely scary.
7. Schizoid (1980)
Director: David Paulsen
Advice columnist Julie (Marianna Hill) is receiving threatening notes, all while members of her group therapy session are being stabbed to death. She struggles to find the connection, and to determine the culprit, who could be anyone from her lecherous therapist Pieter (Klaus Kinski) to creepy maintenance man Gilbert (Christopher Lloyd). The actors portraying the potential killers elevate this slasher.
8. Silent Scream (1980)
Director: Denny Harris
Four college students move in to a creepy mansion owned by Mrs. Engels (Yvonne De Carlo), where she lives with her son Mason (Brad Rearden) and daughter Victoria (Barbara Steele), who’s mute and homicidal following a botched lobotomy. Naturally, people soon start dying. Another early slasher, this film is notable for being one of Steele’s last films before her long acting hiatus.
9. Hell Night (1981)
Director: Tom DeSimone
A group of frat and sorority pledges are tasked with spending the night in haunted Garth House, where a horrible murder occurred 12 years prior. Their soon-to-be brothers and sisters have set up pranks around the house, but there is a real killer lurking in the halls. Hell Night has a cult following, and not because it’s good. The Exorcist’s Linda Blair earned a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actress.
10. Bloody Birthday (1981)
Director: Ed Hunt
On June 9, 1970, three babies were born during an eclipse where the sun and moon are blocking Saturn. They develop without emotions and 10 years later, the children start killing the adults around them. Because they look like innocent kids, no one suspects them of anything. While the film has uncomfortable connotations — the kids turn guns on the adults — it’s still an interesting slasher.
11. The Entity (1981)
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Carla (Barbara Hershey) is raped and tormented by an invisible assailant whom she believes to be a poltergeist. But Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver) uncovers Carla’s history of sexual and psychological abuse, and believes her paranormal visitor is actually a delusion. Long before she faced spirits in the Insidious series, Hershey delivered a more complex, haunting performance.
12. Roadgames (1981)
Director: Richard Franklin
Truck driver Patrick Quid (Stacy Keach) picks up hitchhiker Pamela Rushworth (Jamie Lee Curtis). The two discuss their theories about an escaped serial killer, who may or may not be in a green van pursuing Quid. Unlike the other horror films Curtis starred in around this time, Roadgames is largely forgotten, perhaps because it was a small Australian production.
13. Nightmare (1981)
Director: Romano Scavolini
George Tatum (Baird Stafford) is troubled by recurring nightmares that bring back his memories of a violent childhood incident. The nightmares inspire George to kill again, and he travels back home to his ex-wife and children to do them in. The film, also known as Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, was banned in the U.K. and even led to the imprisonment of its distributor.
14. The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982)
Directors: Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow
Four college students stay on campus over break to clear out a dorm that is scheduled to be demolished. While there, they’re stalked and murdered by a mysterious killer. The Dorm That Dripped Blood, also known as Pranks, is infamous for its more violent sequences, which earned it the designation of “video nasty” in the U.K.
15. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Director: Amy Holden Jones
Trish (Michelle Michaels) has a sleepover with her friends Kim (Debra De Liso), Jackie (Andree Honore), and Diane (Gina Hunter). It’s terrible timing, however, as a power drill-wielding serial killer (Michael Villella) has just escaped from prison. What makes The Slumber Party Massacre unique is that it was written by feminist activist Rita Mae Brown as a satire of the slasher genre.
16. Night of the Comet (1984)
Director: Thom E. Eberhardt
Sisters Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Sam (Kelli Maroney) inadvertently survive an extinction event when Earth passes through the tail of a comet. While evading zombies, they search for other survivors. Oh, and they go shopping at the mall. Night of the Comet is an awesome ’80s time capsule that injects humor into the apocalypse genre.
17. Razorback (1984)
Director: Russell Mulcahy
In the Australian outback, a huge razorback boar kills Jake Cullen’s (Bill Kerr) grandson. Jake is accused of the crime and later acquitted, but he wants revenge against the razorback that ruined his life. And two years later, the boar continues its rampage. Another odd Australian horror film, Razorback reminds us there’s something scarier in the outback than dingoes.
18. The Stuff (1985)
Director: Larry Cohen
Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) is hired by the ice cream industry to discover the truth behind The Stuff, a new highly addictive food product that is rapidly becoming America’s favorite dessert. It turns out The Stuff is actually a parasitic organism that turns its human hosts into zombies. Larry Cohen is widely regarded as one of the best schlock filmmakers, and The Stuff is one of his finest (strangest) achievements.
19. Nail Gun Massacre (1985)
Directors: Terry Lofton and Bill Leslie
After a woman is gang raped by a group of construction workers, someone dressed in army fatigues and a motorcycle helmet goes after the rapists for revenge. His weapon, in case you hadn’t guessed, is a nail gun, because as the tagline reminds us, “It’s cheaper than a chainsaw!” Nail Gun Massacre isn’t particularly good or original, but it’s entertaining in its awfulness.
20. TerrorVision (1986)
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Stanley Putterman (Gerrit Graham) installs a new (very cheap) satellite dish in his backyard and accidentally beams in a giant alien blob that proceeds to devour everything it can. Stanley’s son Sherman (Chad Allen) sees the real danger the alien poses, but no one will listen. TerrorVision is another fun entry into the “TV is evil” genre, with a surprisingly dark ending for a horror comedy.
21. Deadly Friend (1986)
Director: Wes Craven
Teenager Paul Conway (Matthew Labyorteaux) is good with science, as evidenced by BB, the robot he built. Paul falls for his neighbor Samantha (Kristy Swanson), but when she’s beaten and left brain-dead by her abusive father, Paul has to use his knowledge of robotics to bring her back. It’s an interesting take on the Frankenstein story, with one very memorable kill. (Death by basketball.)
22. Slugs (1988)
Director: Juan Piquer Simón
After a toxic waste dumping, carnivorous black slugs take over a rural town. The film has everything you’d expect: the health worker no one believes (who weirdly has the same name as Brady Bunch patriarch, Mike Brady), the slug expert called in to help, the gruesome deaths. It’s a lot like a SyFy Original Movie but years before those were made. Eat your heart out, Sharknado.
23. Scarecrows (1988)
Director: William Wesley
Five bank robbers steal three million dollars and escape with two hostages. When one of the robbers tries to escape into a rundown house, the others go after him, not realizing the house is protected by demonic scarecrows who kill all trespassers and force them to live on as scarecrows. Given how inherently terrifying scarecrows are, it’s surprising this film isn’t better remembered.
24. Parents (1989)
Director: Bob Balaban
Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky) has some odd suspicions about his parents Nick (Randy Quaid) and Lily (Mary Beth Hurt). While they’re usually very loving, they become angry and defensive when he asks about the meat they serve every night, leading Michael to believe his parents are actually cannibals. This surreal horror comedy satirizes ’50s sitcoms and has been compared to a David Lynch movie.
25. Society (1989)
Director: Brian Yuzna
Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) doesn’t feel like he fits in with his privileged Beverly Hills surroundings, especially after he hears a recording of his family engaged in what sounds like a murderous orgy. The truth of the rich people’s success is revealed in a horrifying conclusion that has made Society a cult classic among body horror fans. Just make sure not to watch it while you’re eating.
26. The Exorcist III (1990)
Director: William Peter Blatty
Lt. William Kinderman (George C. Scott), last seen in The Exorcist, is investigating a series of murders that look like the work of the dead Gemini Killer. In searching for the killer, Kinderman discovers that the demon Pazuzu is using the Gemini Killer’s spirit for revenge. However silly it might sound, The Exorcist III is generally regarded as the best of the sequels. It really is terrifying in its own right.
27. Dolly Dearest (1991)
Director: Maria Lease
Elliot Wade (Sam Bottoms) takes over a Mexican factory making “Dolly Dearest” dolls just as the dolls become possessed by the ancient spirit of a Mayan cult. Elliot’s daughter Jessica (Candace Huston) becomes enamored with one of the dolls, which begins to control her. There were plenty of Child’s Play rip-offs made around this time, but this is one of the weirdest. And it has Rip Torn!
28. Dr. Giggles (1992)
Director: Manny Coto
Years ago, Dr. Rendell and his son Evan, Jr. (Larry Drake) ripped out patients’ hearts to bring back the doctor’s dead wife. Dr. Rendell was killed, but Evan, Jr. — nicknamed “Dr. Giggles” — escaped. He returns as an adult to exact revenge on the town, murdering his victims using medical procedures. This is a weird little slasher, worth watching for the amazing title alone.
29. Brainscan (1994)
Director: John Flynn
Michael Brower (Edward Furlong) loves horror films and video games, so he’s excited to play Brainscan, a game in which you brutally murder people. But as he falls under the sway of the game’s host, The Trickster (T. Ryder Smith), Michael isn’t sure what’s real and what’s not. It’s a fun exploration of video game violence before that was a national discussion.
30. Cemetery Man (1994)
Director: Michele Soavi
Cemetery caretaker Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) lives on the premises with his assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro). Aside from his standard caretaker duties, Dellamorte also has to defend the living from the dead, who rise out of their graves seven days after being buried in his cemetery. Cemetery Man is a fun ’90s horror comedy, with the added bonus of distinct Italian flair.