With Halloween just around the corner, I’ve decided to compile a list of my all time favorite films from my all time favorite sub genre of horror: the slasher film. From the inspirations drawn from the Italian Giallo genre, the slasher film exploded in the late 70s and early 80s. The year 1981 gave birth to hundreds of cheaply made slashers and each one of them made money. The simple formula of a crazed killer stalking and killing a group of unsuspecting teenagers one by one has been probably the most successful form of American horror next to the zombie film. It was a direct product of a cynical era still trying to come to terms with sexual freedom and the women’s movement. Some call the films puritanical rage against feminism and the casual sex and drug use of the late 60s and early 70s. Whatever it was that caused this pop culture phenomenon, I regard the slasher genre as one of the most honest and pure forms of horror ever created. To this day Hollywood continues to churn out slasher films for new generations of teenagers to enjoy. They are a rite of passage for young lovers and a good excuse to cling on to somebody in the dark. This is a list of my all time favorites…
1. HALLOWEEN (1978)
This is the undisputed classic that was such a huge success, it created a flood of copycats trying to cash in on its low budget money making magic, and it is the main reason the slasher genre was born. It is also the template for all slasher films to follow: Deranged, masked killer escapes on the anniversary of committing a horrible crime and kills every horny, pot smoking teenager he comes across. The “survivor” girl is a prudish, all American type who must confront the maniac one on one. This is also the first slasher to create an unstoppable killer who simply will not die, so he can return again in sequel after sequel. It is also the first of many “holiday” theme slasher films, taking the best of them for its own and creating the most iconic killer ever created, Michael Myers. Everything about this one is perfect. John Carpenter’s brilliant direction combined with Dean Cundey’s incredible steadicam photography, the erie opening theme music and Jamie Lee Curtis’ beautiful portrayal of Laurie Strode add up to greatness. This film also has the amazing Donald Pleasance as the greatest adversarial psychiatrist ever born. As Sam Loomis, he is the Captain Ahab to the boogeyman’s Moby Dick. This film is a genre definer.
Best sequel: HALLOWEEN II (1981)
2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
HALLOWEEN may have been the slasher film to start the wave of imitations, but John Carpenter himself was obviously inspired by this, the first holiday themed slasher film ever made. Although its inspirations are more Giallo than anything else, this is the movie that started it all. A crazed maniac has broken into a sorority house that’s emptying out for the Christmas holiday. He delivers frightening obscene phone calls to the few girls remaining and then starts killing them off one by one. The creepiest thing about this movie is the fact that you are never aware of who and why the killer is doing what he’s doing. Several red herrings are tossed around, but in the end the lunatic is still loose and never revealed. This is probably one of the most chilling and creepiest slashers ever made. If Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN is the Father of the genre, BLACK CHRISTMAS is the Grandfather.
3. MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)
Another great entry in the holiday slasher formula. This one concerns an escaped madman named Harry Warden, who has returned to the town of Valentine’s Bluff on you guessed it, Valentine’s Day, to extract some vengeance on the towns people who left him in an collapsed mine shaft for way too long. Or is it really Harry Warden? There’s a romantic love triangle at work in this grimy, working class slasher that really changes the game in a very interesting way. The final reveal and ending scene are one of the most chilling I’ve ever witnessed.
4. THE BURNING
The “summer camp” slasher is another wonderful byproduct of the genre and a direct result of the success of the original FRIDAY THE 13th. THE BURNING stands out for many reasons. First, it was written and produced by the Weinstein brothers and industry mogul Brad Grey. Second, it features first time performances by Jason Alexander (with hair), Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. Third, it breaks from the standard slasher formula in several unique ways: There is a mass group murder in which the horribly burned killer Cropsey chops up a raft full of kids with a pair of gardening sheers. Also, the “survival” girl prototype is abandoned for a “survival” boy. The gore effects by maestro Tom Savini are top notch and there is a pervasive theme of sleaze, voyeurism and aggressive male sexuality that makes this one a little grimier than the others.
5. THE PROWLER (1981)
THE PROWLER is another one of those slashers that fucks around with the spurned lover concept. This one opens with a WWII G.I. jilted in a Dear John letter who returns home with a vengeance. After killing his disloyal love and her new beau with a pitchfork, the movie jumps decades ahead to a dance thrown at the same sight as the previous murders. This movie is a total balls out slasher with some of the goriest and most creative kills ever produced by SFX master, Tom Savini. It also has a scary ass ending that’ll make you jump out of your seat with fright.
6. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Wes Craven really changed the game with this awesomely entertaining and atmospheric slasher that totally twists the genre in a unique way by inventing a killer who’s already dead and can only kill you in your dreams. Sooner or later we all have to sleep and that’s when the iconic Freddy Krueger gets you with his glove made of knives. The first one is still the most serious and the most scary.
Best sequel: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS
7. FRIDAY THE 13th (1980)
This one owes just as much to Mario Bava’s Giallo classic TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (A.K.A BAY OF BLOOD) as it does to HALLOWEEN. The first of the “summer camp” slashers, it is also the first to really amp up the inventive and violent kill scenes. Tom Savini creates one brutal murder after another, as a mysterious killer starts offing a group of counsellors trying to open a closed camp. This is the first of one of the longest running slasher series ever made and the introduction to the iconic Jason Vorhees.
Best sequel: FRIDAY THE 13th PART 4: THE FINAL CHAPTER
8. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
There is a perverse joy I get from this film about a crazy orphan who dresses up like Santa Claus and butchers folks with an ax at Christmas time. A child is severely traumatized by watching a criminal dressed like Ole Saint Nick kill his father and mother (after raping her). He grows up to be a psycho who loses his shit at the holidays and starts offing the locals. The movie is cheaply made in Utah and features some of the cheesiest acting since TROLL 2, but there is something so delightfully WRONG about the movie, I just can’t help but love it to death. B-movie hottie Linnea Quigley impaled on a pair of deer antlers while topless and wearing a pair of Daisy Duke’s has to be seen to be believed. This movie was picketed by angry parents upon its initial release for degrading the holiday. Just another reason to love it.
Best sequel: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 2
9. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1984)
If you’ve never seen SLEEPAWAY CAMP before, you haven’t lived a full and complete life. It is one of the craziest, weirdest, most off center summer camp slashers ever conceived. People are killed with boiling pots of water, beehives and a hot curling iron. The acting is unnerving at times. The overall ambience of the film is like David Lynch on model glue. And the ending! My god, the fucking insanity that is the ending must be seen with your own eyes, which you will need to wash out with powerful industrial chemicals afterwards. Only the 1980′s could produce a film this warped and fun to watch.
Best sequel: THE RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP
10. SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1984)
What happens when a feminist writes a slasher movie and it’s directed by another female? SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE is what happens, bitches! This film works as a parody of the genre, while at times it also appears to be playing it somewhat straight. The result is a hilarious send up of all the slasher standards that have come before it. A group of high school girls throw a slumber party and an uninvited guest shows up and starts killing them. The maniac is a very average looking guy clad from head to toe in denim and sporting a large drill that is used more than once as an obvious phallic symbol. The movie is what Eli Roth’s THANKSGIVING trailer was. A very funny take on a worn formula.
Best sequel: SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE 3
Hope you enjoyed my Slasher Top 10. If I get a chance, I’ll do a list of the rarest and most seldom seen slashers of all time soon. Nerd out!
Tags: a nightmare on elm street, black christmas, friday the 13th, halloween, my bloody valentine, silent night deadly night, slasher films, Sleepaway Camp, slumber party massacre, the burning, the prowler