Rad 1980s horror part 3: ghosts and the supernatural

Hellraiser. Image courtesy Shudder
Hellraiser. Image courtesy Shudder /

For part one of our series on 1980s horror, we discussed dark fare, such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Maniac. Part two explored lighter, often campy horror (Sleepaway Camp, The Slumber Party Massacre), and now we are moving on to spookier fare.

While slashers were all the rage, there was no shortage of 1980s horror films featuring ghosts and supernatural beings, and one of the most enduring movies of this type is 1980’s The Shining. Full disclosure: I am not a fan. I am a self-professed book nerd who loved Stephen King’s novel, and was really excited to see the film on opening night. I wasn’t even bummed by having to sit all the way at the end of the front row, due to the fact that it was sold out.

I was incredibly disappointed, almost angry, to discover that Stanley Kubrick had the perfect horror novel to draw from, and instead chose to pull so far away from the book’s intent. Be that as it may, it appears that I am in the minority, and The Shining continues to be held up as an iconic horror film.

Horror fans know all of the stories: Stanley Kubrick, always notoriously difficult to work for, was incredibly hard on actress Shelley Duvall. Jack Nicholson improved the famous “Here’s Johnny” line, and Stephen King did not agree with the casting of Nicholson as Jack Torrance.

There is even an entire documentary about the film, titled Room 237, which presents many different interpretations of The Shining’s intent. One of the craziest theories is that it’s Kubrick’s confession to helping stage the “fake” Apollo 11 moon landing.

1980s horror
Photo: The Changeling (1980) / Chessman Park Productions.. Image Courtesy Shudder /

For my money, the best ghost-themed 1980s horror film is The Changeling, starring George C. Scott. Released in 1980, The Changeling tells the story of a composer grieving the sudden deaths of his wife and young daughter.

John moves into a large historical mansion in Seattle, and soon finds out that it is haunted by the ghost of a little boy. Perhaps the fact that John is mourning the loss of his daughter draws the ghost to him, and the result is a film filled with goose-bump inducing scenes.

The most famous scene involves the reappearance of a red rubber ball that belonged to John’s daughter. After finding it in a box, the grief-stricken father drives to a bridge and throws the ball in the water. But, when he gets home, the ball comes bouncing down the stairs…and it’s wet.

There is also a chilling séance scene, and everything comes to a head with a fiery finale. If The Changeling is a 1980s horror film you haven’t watched, you should remedy that ASAP.

In the summer of 1982, my family visited New Orleans, and attended the sneak preview of a PG-rated horror film we had never heard of. While we were frightened by the movie, we were also enchanted by the very likeable Freeling family, particularly adorable little Carol Anne, who chirped “They’re heeeeeere.”

1980s horror
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD — “Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights” — Pictured: MGM’s supernatural cult horror film POLTERGEIST comes to life for the first time ever in all-new haunted mazes at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights — (Photo by: Universal Studios Hollywood) /

The MPAA originally gave Poltergeist an R rating, but writer-producer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper appealed, and the film was finally released with its PG rating (at the time, the PG-13 rating did not exist). There is no doubt about it, Poltergeist is a 1980s horror movie that has maintained its popularity, thanks to a compelling story, great acting performances and some awesome special effects.

The last film on this list is not a ghost story, but it definitely features supernatural beings. 1987’s Hellraiser was both written and directed by Clive Barker, and has spawned a whopping 9 sequels (though only 7 of them featured Doug Bradley as Pinhead, the leader of the Cenobites).

Between the graphic gore and the air of sadomasochism featured in Hellraiser, the MPAA initially granted it an X-rating, and Barker had to cut several scenes in order to achieve the desired R-rating. It was also originally banned in Ontario, and was only released after further cuts, including thirty-five seconds of a torture scene featuring hooks pulling apart a face and body.

Hellraiser has remained a popular film (and series), and Pinhead costumes and puzzle boxes are a staple every year at Halloween.

As popular as ghost movies were at the time, slasher films really hit their stride in the 80s, and that’s the topic of part four of Rad 1980s horror. See you next time!

Rad 1980s horror part 2: giggles and gore. dark. Next

What are your favorite 1980s films featuring ghosts and supernatural beings? Let us know in the comments section.