Horror movies never get old, especially slasher flicks. A gore-by-the-bucketload horror genre all of its own, as a slasher flick progresses and the body count increases, only the audience knows what’s up – until the “final girl” finally starts to suspect that something’s awry.
No slasher movie is complete without a formidable villain, and filmmakers often do their best to come up with creative spins on Halloween’s masked bogeyman. We’re all familiar with icons like Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees and A Nightmare on Elm Street’s dream-invading Mr. Krueger – but films outside the big franchises also contain massively unsettling killing machines: the insane miner in My Bloody Valentine, the shear-wielding camp caretaker in The Burning, and the perverted Santa Claus in Silent Night, Deadly Night. So, without further ado, here are the 20 slashers you need to see…
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Director: Robert Hiltzik
Best Death: The hot curling tongs in Judy’s vagina, putting all of Jason Voorhees’ and Michael Myers’ simplistic knife and machete homicides to shame.
Sleepaway Camp is the epitome of “so bad it’s good.” Unbelievable dialogue matched to the most ’80s aesthetic you’ll ever see, on top of a great story and more than a hint of “whodunit.” The deaths are awesome, too – some nice and nasty, some ludicrous – all belonging perfectly. Director Hiltzik has a knack for being overly dramatic, but in the scenes where the victims are clawing at the heavens with dramatic hand gestures, it totally works. Judy’s killing couldn’t get more abject, either.
Director: Bernard Rose
Best Death: The smug psychotherapist getting gutted up the back.
The music is creepy, the bogeyman is monstrous. You won’t sleep well after watching this movie, will never want to see a bee again, nor look in the mirror, nor make friends with anyone who has hooks for hands. A movie that begins with a mysterious voice saying, “they will say that I have shed innocent blood. What’s blood for, if not for shedding?” puts the fear of god into us. But, at its heart, Candyman really terrifies because it sinks into horrific foundations that are very much in the real world of poverty and racial alienation.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Best Death: The iconic shower scene – that most radical, horrific assault on us that the movies had ever dared.
As Norman says himself, “we all go a little mad sometimes.” And Psycho is certainly one flick which has a permanently disruptive effect on many viewers’ psyches. It’s a weird, unconventional slasher that mixes reassuring touchstones of American life with the grotesque in a new and unexpected way. It seems like something that could happen to you if you check into the wrong motel. And, for some of us, since we first watched Psycho, we have proceeded on the assumption that all motels are the wrong motel.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Director: Wes Craven
Best Death: Tina getting violently dragged across a ceiling while invisible blades savage her body.
The storyline is rich, the characters are deep, and the scares intense. And this movie broke many “rules” of horror, demonstrating to everyone that no place is safe, not even dreamland. Due to his dreamworld existence, Krueger is able to kill his sleeping victims in totally inhuman (but imaginative) ways. And over the course of nine films, the undead burn victim/child molester has consistently one-upped himself by using all kinds of inanimate objects to his deadly advantage.
Director: James Wan
Best Death: Lawrence’s, because sometimes simple is more effective. Cut off your foot with a saw, or your family might die. No machines. No automated timers. Just you, a chain, and a hacksaw.
There’s something impressively loathsome and extravagantly twisted about this horror-thriller from Wan. It’s a serial killer movie with ‘tude, whose visuals look like the world’s sickest video game. From the first frames, we’re plunged into a starkly lit nightmare. Two guys wake to find themselves shackled up in what looks like some industrial basement; they’re the playthings of “Jigsaw”, the notorious nut job who forces his prisoners to commit acts of gruesome violence. It is all, of course, total nonsense. But for horror fans, it’s good nonsense all the same.
Black Christmas (1974)
Director: Bob Clark
Best Death: Lauren’s. She’s stabbed repeatedly with a unicorn figurine in bed, before her eyeless corpse is found by her pals.
Black Christmas has all the elements of a prototypical slasher, but with a chill and a humor lacking in most of its followers. Like a drunken aunt who scoffs all the mince pies at the holiday party, the movie explores the dark underbelly of the season’s forced cheer with a bleakly comic sensibility and a menacing dread. Most unnerving is the killer’s voice, both as he mutters to himself in the sorority house’s attic and as he terrorizes the students with his deranged phone calls… Those phone calls are truly terrifying.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Director: Jim Gillespie
Best Death: Jack Black’s dirty, dreadlocked pothead having his chest punctured by pruning shears.
Kevin Williamson doesn’t even hide the fact that this is a long episode of Dawson’s Creek with a slasher modus operandi. Even the roles are accurate. Headstrong Jennifer Love Hewitt is Joey, annoying Freddie Prinze Jr. is the terminally obnoxious Dawson, blonde beauty Sarah Michelle Gellar is Jen, and Ryan Philippe is wise crackin’ Pacey. But just when you think you could puke and die, the thrills offer a share of wholly pleasing jolts – bloody kills, swift chases, and misdirection that fills the story until the final showdown.
Director: Joe Giannone
Best Death: One of the film’s most creative and memorable sequences, Stacy’s decapitation at the hood of a truck is both bloody and brilliant.
Madman Marz stalks and butchers camp counselors in this amazingly atmospheric, early ’80s underrated slasher delight. The woods are ominous and the cinematography employs colored filters, offering warm reds and cool blues for us to feast our eyes on. The night scenes are gorgeous. The gore and killings are creative, and – of course – messy. Madman Marz is a massively intimidating villain; huge, strong, and only growls when he opens his mouth. But…can someone let us know what on earth that hot tub scene was about?
American Psycho (2000)
Director: Mary Harron
Best Death: The chainsaw, dropped several stories down a stairwell, which lands perfectly on (and kills) a fleeing, screaming whore.
Christian Bale does an excellent job bringing Bateman to life. His utterly twisted personality and uneasy amount of calm is haltered only by the self-realization of his psychotic actions – so well done, it astonishes that any actor can portray someone that insane. Aside from the chainsaws, coat hangers, and axes, the scariest idea that this film presents is the fear of falling into obscurity. The protagonist will do anything to stand out, and whether it be through his social standing or psychotic actions, he simply wants to be considered important.
The Burning (1981)
Director: Tony Maylam
Best Death: It’s Cropsy’s own death that wins. He’s given the garden shear treatment, before being hacked in the face with an axe and set on fire.
The Burning has everything you’re looking for in a slasher. Every kill is a top-notch money-shot – those who love it, love it for the Tom Savini effects, the creepy score, and the surprising number of stars who would go on to big things (Holly Hunter, Jason “Dunston Checks In” Alexander, and Fisher Stevens). The killer himself is a gruesome and interesting one, he might not wear a mask but he’s scary as hell, with a hedge trimmer as his choice of weapon. Look out for the ending scene in the mine shaft!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Best Death: Franklin’s. He’s slashed repeatedly by Leatherface with a chainsaw and presumably eaten afterwards, his skeleton to be discovered later.
Growing up in a broken home is traumatic enough, but when that home belongs to the Sawyer’s, you have no hope. Enter: Leatherface, everyone’s favorite chainsaw wielding maniac. He’s the muscle behind the Sawyer family who kills anyone who dares encroach on his family’s territory. His preferred weapon may be his chainsaw and whenever we hear that revving, we know his victims have no chance – unless you’re fast enough to make Usain Bolt look like a tranquilized sloth.
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Director: George Mihalka
Best Death: Poor old Mabel, who’s cornered in the laundromat with a murderer brandishing a mining pick and found the next morning, having been stuffed inside a dryer with her heart removed and her skin scorched.
A psychotic miner starts killing the citizens of a small Canadian town on Valentine’s Day. His mining gear is undeniably scary and his gas mask only adds to the fear. There’s a great urban legend aspect of the story. And, for once in a slasher movie, the kills aren’t punishment for sexual transgressions or substance abuse; this time we get an equal-opportunities killer who doesn’t respect gender or age (sorry Mabel).
Friday the 13th (1980)
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Best Death: Bill being staked to the door through the eye and the groin.
If you really think about it, Jason Voorhees was incredibly creative. An artist of death. If you examine his impressive body (or rather “bodies”) of work, he truly had some evil genius in him; anyone with anger issues can stab a person with a knife, but only someone who is truly twisted can punch off a head or impale someone through the eye. And Jason came up with new and gross ways to kill time and time again.
Director: John Carpenter
Best Death: As she’s strangled with a telephone cord, the creepiest element of Lynda’s death is the fact that Laurie doesn’t realize that her friend is being murdered at the other end of the receiver.
Why does his mask look like James T. Kirk met a can of spray paint? We sure as hell don’t know, but John Carpenter’s brutal flick is pure horror nonetheless. For a slasher, Halloween is actually pretty slow and takes its time building tension rather than just piling bodies. It proves you don’t need tons of blood, kills, or a big budget to scare the pants off an audience. Yep, this holiday of Halloween is more than just a night of candy and harmless pranks.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Director: Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Best Death: The lovely topless Denise getting hung up by decorative antlers.
Billy, after donning a Santa Claus suit, soon loses his tenuous grip on reality and embarks on a killing spree that might be attributed by some to his troubled past. As sadistic Saint Nick, he prefers mutilating people over climbing down chimneys and handing out nicely wrapped presents. He’s also a reprehensible pervert, as seen when he manhandles a topless coed and hangs her from a deer’s head. How’s that for Christmas spirit?
Director: Wes Craven
Best Death: Principal Himbry’s. He’s stabbed him in the chest, gutted, and hung up on the football field. The Fonz deserved better than that…
Back in the mid-’90s, before Neve Campbell’s Wild Things days, a small, sleepy town got woken-the-hell-up by a masked killer – and everyone was a suspect. We were simultaneously scared silly and astounded by its clever take on the slasher genre. In particular, the final mansion sequence works because of its blend of actual horror cliches and uniquely crafted riffs, sliding into their own hilarious tangents as each character is interweaving within the large house.
The Prowler (1981)
Director: Joseph Zito
Best Death: When the prowler himself kicks the bucket with a high caliber head explosion. Yowwww! Tylenol sure as hell isn’t gonna help that headache.
A masked killer in World War II Army get-up stalks a small New Jersey town, bent on re-living an old double murder by focusing on a group of college kids holding an annual dance. Simply put, The Prowler is underrated. Zito proved that he didn’t need a seedy location to convey a sense of uneasy grime, especially when he had Vietnam war photographer-turned-special FX guru Tom Savini on hand. The final reveal of the killer is one of the best of the classic slashers.
Director: Adam Green
Best Death: When Marcus’ arms are torn off and his head is smashed into a tombstone.
When a group of tourists on a New Orleans haunted swamp tour find themselves stranded in the wilderness, their evening of fun and spooks turns into a horrific nightmare. Freddy, Jason, and Mike Myers pale in comparison to Victor Crowley. The hatchet-wielding psycho makes blood run cold while his campiness up the wazoo provides a knowing humor. Horror movies that are aware of how trashy they are aren’t always necessarily as fun to watch as they probably were to make, but Hatchet walks the line perfectly.
Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
Director: Alfred Sole
Best Death: The strikingly lewd, cat-hoarding pedophile Mr. Alphonso getting his comeuppance.
Alice is a withdrawn child who lives with her mother and her younger sister, Karen, who gets most of the attention. When Karen is found brutally murdered in a church, suspicions start to turn towards Alice. The writer clearly had something to say about the Catholic church – it’s so prominent that it is basically another character in the film and facilitates the subject matters of denial, of human being’s natural tendency to protect familial relationships, and the concept of nature vs. nurture.
Child’s Play (1988)
Director: Tom Holland
Best Death: Poor Maggie – hit her in her eye with a hammer, stumbles backwards and falls out of the window, plummeting to her death when she lands on a car.
Twenty-seven years later and this movie still holds up strong thanks to it’s original concept, great pacing, outstanding effects and good acting – especially compared to other films of the genre at the time. Children are naturally creepy on their own, but when you catch them whispering to their toys it just makes it unbearable – and Child’s Play brings that fear full circle in the worst possible way. This movie also gets bumped up a notch solely for the “Ugly doll”…”F**k you” exchange.
- Author: Sarah Gibson for Highsnobiety.com