Underrated Horror Movies: 1981

Recently, I did a post of my list of underrated horror movies from 1980. I knew that 1981 was a good year for horror, but I knew that 1981 was even a better year. How could you knock a year when Friday the 13th Part 2, Halloween II and Evil Dead came out? Outside of the obvious names that came out in 1981, here are some underrated films that you should also check out.
Bloody Birthday

Bloody Birthday

Director: Ed Hunt
Writers: Ed Hunt (screenplay), Barry Pearson (screenplay)
Stars: Lori Lethin, Melinda Cordell and Julie Brown

Definitely not a film that could be made today because of the 10-year old killers going on a killing spree. This one is ultra-rare, but well worth seeking out. It does not hold up all that well, but is still one that you need to see.


Dark Night of the Scarecrow

Dark Night of the Scarecrow

Director: Frank De Felitta
Writers: J.D. Feigelson (teleplay), J.D. Feigelson (story)
Stars: Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons and Claude Earl Jones

What can you really say about this film. I like this one so much that I put it in my top 50 horror films list on the FearShop.com Horror Podcast. This was a television movie, so do not expect much in the way of gore, nudity, language, etc. I grew up watching this one every year and once my family purchased a VCR, I made sure that this was the first film that I recorded on it. I wore that tape out back in the day. If you see any movie on this list, make sure that it is Dark Night of the Scarecrow.


The Burning

The Burning

Director: Tony Maylam
Writers: Harvey Weinstein (original story), Tony Maylam (original story)
Stars: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres and Brian Backer

Okay, I hear you. This is really not underrated to a genre fan, but this classic, directed by Tony Maylam, is one of the first true 80s slasher films. Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Oscar winner Holly Hunter all made their motion picture debuts in this film. It features nice kills and a ton of suspense. Based on a camp caretaker named Cropsy, you will not regret checking this one out. The film was one of the first from Miramax Films: Harvey Weinstein produced the film and Bob Weinstein was a co-writer.


Dead & Buried

Dead & Buried

Director: Gary Sherman
Writers: Jeff Millar (story), Alex Stern (story)
Stars: James Farentino, Melody Anderson and Jack Albertson

Tons of spooky moments fill up Dead & Buried. The small town looks so good with its foggy, dimly-lit streets and the film keeps you enthralled throughout. You will probably end up finding some new horror characters to love after seeing this one. This was originally put on the Video Nasties list, but soon taken off.


The Funhouse

The Funhouse

Director: Tobe Hooper
Writer: Lawrence Block
Stars: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson and Jeanne Austin

Tobe Hooper, who you may have heard of, directed a little film called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in the 70s followed by Eaten Alive and Salem’s Lot. His first 80s film was The Funhouse. Of course, he directed Poltergeist later on, but in 1981, The Funhouse was about as fun as movies were back then. There is not much in the way of gore, but it has plenty else to enjoy.


Graduation Day

Graduation Day

Director: Herb Freed
Writers: Anne Marisse, Herb Freed
Stars: Christopher George, Patch Mackenzie and E. Danny Murphy

I have no idea why I like this film so much, but I always find myself wanting to watch it every year. It is probably most known for actors like Linnea Quigley and Vanna White, but this was one of the films that struck it bug back in the day. The film’s budget was $250K and it grossed almost $24M just in the U.S. Before The Blair Witch Project broke all sorts of records, this was a pretty big deal for horror.


Happy Birthday to Me

Happy Birthday to Me

Director: J. Lee Thompson
Writers: John C.W. Saxton (screenplay), Peter Jobin (screenplay)
Stars: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford and Lawrence Dane

This is one of those 80s movies with the surprise twist at the end that had every saying WTF? Not like Sleepaway Camp WTF, but you get the idea. It was kind of a weird twist, but we were not really seeing twists like this in horror films back then. Regardless of the end, it is still worth checking out.


Hell Night

Hell Night

Director: Tom DeSimone
Writer: Randy Feldman
Stars: Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten and Peter Barton

Linda Blair. Enough said. Okay, so I am a sucker for Linda Blair. Hell, I even have a tattoo of The Exorcist on my arm. For this film, Linda Blair was nominated for a 1981 Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress, yet still I defend her. Future film director Chuck Russell, who would helm A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors served here as an executive producer.


My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine

Director: George Mihalka
Writers: Stephen A. Miller (story), John Beaird
Stars: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier and Neil Affleck

Up until the remake (My Bloody Valentine 3D), this was an underground gem. This Canadian horror film simply took advantage of the slasher craze that was started with Halloween and Friday the 13th. The movie is infamous for having had 9 minutes cut by the MPAA due to the amount of violence and gore. This footage was finally released by Lions’ Gate on the DVD release right before the remake came out. Overall, this was always a solid slasher to me.


The Prowler

The Prowler (AKA Rosemary’s Killer)

Director: Joseph Zito
Writers: Glenn Leopold , Neal Barbera
Stars: Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman and Lawrence Tierney

Tom Savini referred to The Prowler as some of his best work as a special effects artist, which says a lot about how good this films looked. Joseph Zito and Tom Savini would work together again in the similarly toned 1984 slasher film, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. The Prowler is chock full of good gore and is a nice film to site back with your significant other when you want to enjoy some romantic time.


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  • http://www.fearshop.com Mike

    Thanks for reading. 1981 was an amazing year for horror. I started to do posts for some of the following years and they will be posted soon, but the lists pale in comparison to 80 and 81. Of course, the bigger films like the Friday the 13th franchise, ANOES, Halloween, Evil Dead, etc. were just getting into their groove though. Still one of my favorite decades for horror.

  • Bret Arnold

    The Boogens great times!

  • Bret Arnold

    What a GREAT list and what a fun time for independent horror films back then. These were the films I grew up on. Every Friday I would open the newspaper to a whole slew of new horror films. Heres a few more from the 80’s. The Beast Within, Evil Speak, The Boogeyman, Without Warning (i love this film) I could keep naming them all night. Thanks for the great list. Final Exam, Don’t go in the woods, Xtro, Fear No Evil :)