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Thursday, January 6, 2011

26 of the Best, Most Overlooked & Most Significant Slasher Movies






The slasher film bears the distinction of being both the most popular and the most controversial style of horror picture. While the slasher conventions have pretty much ran their course over the last few decades, they've left behind some violently indelible cinematic interpretations since the sub-genre was jump-started with HALLOWEEN (1978) and exploded with the release of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). However, its bloody fingerprints can be traced as far back as PSYCHO and PEEPING TOM (both 1960). The Italian Giallo movies have also had an undeniably massive impact on the sub-genre as many slashers are virtually North American variations on those European violent thrillers.

 
The basic template is the same from one film to the next. You take a group of young people, put them in an isolated location (this varies), mysteriously kill them off in increasingly grotesque fashion by a (mostly) unseen killer stalking them for a past transgression. There's usually an old crazy coot, male or female who warns the horny partiers prior to the slaughter. Of course warnings are never heeded in slasher movies. Sex is often equated with death in these films, but this doesn't always hold true. The SCREAM series (none of which will be found here) likes to triumphantly proclaim they altered audience perception of the traditional slasher, but the "differences" in those Wes Craven flicks had been used before in 'Stalk & Kill' movies past. The last survivor, as an oft practiced "rule", must discover the remains of their friends (whether they run up on them, or the bodies happen to drop down at just the right moment) while being chased by the killer. Sometimes the killers identity is a big surprise and other times, it's exactly who you thought it was five minutes into the movie. There's also an occasion or two where the filmmakers make no effort to disguise who the killer is, or what they look like.

  
For many, the definition of a slasher picture varies. Some people consider TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE a slasher movie, but I've never seen it that way. There are definitely backwoods horror movies that follow the parameters set down by their body count progenitors, but TCM is more a raw and rowdy exploitation movie which itself seems to have taken inspiration not just from Wisconsin ghoul, Ed Gein, but from a similar movie from William Girdler, THREE ON A MEATHOOK from 1972. Their is one backwoods horror flick on this list, though, and that one follows the 'Stalk & Kill' motif in much the same fashion as its more formulaic brethren.

  
Prior to the big slasher boom, there were a number of films that contained elements unmistakably similar to what would soon follow in the late 70s and 80s. Outside of the Italian Giallo's (murder mystery thrillers bolstered by masked, black gloved killers and spectacularly gory murder sequences), a few films bring to mind the silent, calculating presence of Michael Myers and the disfigured, brute force of Jason Voorhees. The following is a small list of movies that I feel contributed either heavily, or in some indirectly small fashion to one of the most loved and hated styles of movies in horror cinema.

 1. BAY OF BLOOD (1971)

 
An Italian laid the template for the most notorious slasher motif of them all--the creative kill. Such scenes of graphic bloodletting were seen most famously in the FRIDAY THE 13TH films. That Italian movie would be BAY OF BLOOD (1971), a grim and gruesome murder mystery that contains many of the popular slasher film staples. Mario Bava's lauded and lambasted horror flick deals with a fight over an inheritance and 13 varied and brutal deaths. Some of them, such as the two lovers being impaled on a spear was lifted for FRIDAY THE 13TH 2 (1981).

2. FRIGHT (1971)


1971 also saw the release of a nifty suspense thriller with very slight slasher machinations that would later turn up in the most respected of all 'Stalk & Kill' movies, HALLOWEEN (1978). That movie is Peter Collinson's FRIGHT. This very tense little picture is about a babysitter (Susan George) stalked by a madman escaped from an asylum. The owners of the house being away for the evening, the psycho returns to settle things with his ex wife (Honor Blackman of AVENGERS fame). Creeping around outside till he eventually gets inside, the police are alerted and surround the home in an attempt to get the babysitter out alive.

3. TOWER OF EVIL (1972)

 
Another European film was released the following year which would also be a striking forebearer to the body count movies of the coming decade. TOWER OF EVIL from William Connelly had young adults on an isolated island partaking in sex, drugs and finding gory death while searching for ancient Phoenician artifacts. A dark family secret and a lot of elements that formulated 'Stalk and Kill' movies throughout the 1980s are also present in this underrated and bloody little number that's had several other titles like BEYOND THE FOG and in a heavily cut version as HORROR ON SNAPE ISLAND.

4. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

  
Then there's one of the grandest proto slasher movies of them all, Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974). Inarguably one of the best horror movies ever made, it laid the groundwork for HALLOWEEN (1978) in a number of ways. Still a very strong viewing experience, this terror tale of a group of sorority sisters stalked by an unknown psychopath is one of horror cinemas greatest achievements. The maniac first threatens them with increasingly bizarre and terrifying phone calls before killing them one by one over the Christmas holidays. This one is so good, it's on this list twice! It goes by other titles like SILENT NIGHT, EVIL NIGHT and cable and TV airings as STRANGER IN THE HOUSE.


Flash forward to 1978, there's John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, one of the most successful horror pictures of all time and still one of the scariest movies ever made. A babysitter is stalked by an escaped madman in a fright mask on the title holiday. This simple set up is backed by exceptional directorial flourishes and a genuine sense of dread. Despite having very little blood onscreen, HALLOWEEN was the ultimate purveyor of the subgenre. It's box office success showed that a tiny budget could equate to big profit. However, the spectacularly gory demises seen in countless body count films didn't proliferate until another low budget picture, FRIDAY THE 13TH, was unleashed on the public.

  
It was here, at the dawn of the 1980s that slasher movies drew a lot of attention to themselves. Not only did they draw attention from horror fans ready for blood and gore, but it also attracted the ire of critics who were outraged at the level of violence onscreen. One of the biggest gripes critics had with these movies was the extreme misogyny and cruel treatment to sexually liberated and independent women. Having had this programmed into peoples minds for decades, seeing the films again years later one finds this isn't always the case. Men die right along with the women and often times in equally graphic fashion. Needless to say, there were examples that supported the argument of overt misogyny, one example being THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982), a film that was even directed by a woman!

  
Critics also made accusations that these movies showed women as being helpless and that those that were promiscuous and did drugs always died violently. While that's true, people who we don't see participating in those activities also get killed in gruesome fashion. Also, the last survivor is almost always a woman and she is almost always far from being defenseless. Furthermore, some final girls had sex and did drugs (THE FUNHOUSE) and still survived the ending credit crawl. Back when SCREAM (1996) was collecting a lot of box office receipts and hailed for its "fresh approach", the makers reiterated what critics had been saying for years regarding women in these movies. But when one goes back and re-watches some of these older pictures, there were female characters who were resourceful in defending themselves outside of the last survivor. They may have gotten killed by the maniac, but they didn't always just cower, cry and beg for their lives.

The following list is strictly my opinion of the best, most overlooked, or most significant slasher movies in this much maligned and alternately celebrated sub-genre. Some entries are specified for their place in history and others are featured because I think they have something to offer. I purposely excluded the SCREAM movies because I don't like them. I personally don't think they brought anything new to the table. I think Craven and his crew merely made a movie that glorified elements of the slasher films that weren't as prevalent in the older pictures while reaffirming a self awareness of the more controversial bits and pieces that frequently got a lot of attention from both critics and outraged parents. During their heyday, there were dozens upon dozens of those movies being made. There was only room for so many to garner notoriety. In the age of SCREAM, there were relatively no such productions out in the public eye, so Craven's movie easily stood out while also taking liberties from the ever reliant Italian Giallo thrillers. Now, let's go to the movies.

1. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

  
While it came a full six years before the sub-genre exploded, without BLACK CHRISTMAS, there would probably have never been a HALLOWEEN, at least not as we know it today. Like Carpenter's movie, Clark's terrifying horror picture is still scary over 35 years later. A great cast, an unsettling musical score and nerve wracking, increasingly frightening phone calls from the killer accentuate the proceedings. Clark would also toy with his penchant for light comedy foreshadowing his PORKY'S films. Re-released in America under different titles, BLACK CHRISTMAS is scary as hell by any other name.

Stand out sequence: The totally shocking finale

Weapons of Death: Plastic bag, Crystal unicorn ornament, hook

Splat Stats: 2 "Dirty Billy"'s out of 10

2. HALLOWEEN (1978)


A psycho escapes from a mental hospital and returns to his old hometown where he killed his sister years before. John Carpenter's seminal work is a rarity of the sub-genre in that it has attained critical acceptance for its stylish approach to the material and its reliance on suspense and shock without the use of graphic gore to sell the scares. From here, the sequels increasingly went downhill veering off into ridiculous territory. Interestingly, the original reels of HALLOWEEN were recently uncovered which featured alternate takes and lost footage. It's release would be most welcome to fans of the series.

Stand out Sequence: The whole movie

Weapons of Death: Butcher knife

Splat Stats: 2 doomed babysitters out of 10

3. WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)

 
A babysitter is terrorized by threatening phone calls from a homicidal maniac. He's captured and seven years later, the man is released. He then goes after the same babysitter to finish what he started. Intense horror movie from television director, Fred Walton. The first 20 minutes are quite possibly among the most frightening and scary opening sequences to any movie, period. It also borrows heavily from a major shock moment from BLACK CHRISTMAS. The end is also harrowing, but nowhere near the terror present at the beginning. Not the typical slasher movie, the film stars Carol Kane (PANDEMONIUM, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) as the terrorized babysitter who grows up to be a terrorized mother and Charles Durning (THE MUPPET MOVIE, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW) as the detective on the case. Similarities to HALLOWEEN can be made. The director struck again with a TV movie sequel in 1993, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK which reunited Kane with Durning.

Stand Out Sequence: The opening 20 minutes with the babysitter receiving increasingly threatening phone calls, "Have you checked the children?"

Weapons of Death: Knife

Splat stats: 1 fear-filled phone call out of 10 
 

4. FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) 

 
Counselors at Camp Crystal Lake are butchered by an unseen killer out of revenge for the death of a small boy who drowned in the lake years prior. A simple premise for a very simple movie that launched an onslaught of similar productions featuring many scenes of bodily destruction by various sharp implements. The setting was perfect--an isolated location out in the woods. The movie that further cemented Tom Savini's status as the premier special makeup effects grue master features several throat slashings, an arrow through the neck, axe in the head and a climactic slo mo decap being some of the highlights. A long series of sequels followed as well as a recent and inferior remake.

Stand out sequence: The final scene in the lake

Weapons of Death: Bow and Arrow, Machete, Butcher Knife, Axe

Splat stats: 7 summer camp casualties out of 10

 5. JUST BEFORE DAWN (1980)

  
A group of young adults take off on a weekend excursion into a dense wilderness unaware of the hillbilly hell they are about to enter. George Kennedy (COOL HAND LUKE, AIRPORT series) is the park ranger who warns the group of vacationers to turn around and go back. Jeff (SQUIRM) Lieberman created some bonafide suspense and peril throughout. There are several tense moments and the final girl is far more resourceful than usual, becoming somewhat feral during the finale while her boyfriend, engulfed with fear, needs saving. The method used to dispatch the killer at the end is crude, but original. Despite being deliberately paced, the movie benefits from some foreboding and stunning cinematography as well as a supremely eerie soundtrack. Arguably the most obvious influence on WRONG TURN (2003). Unfortunately, the two disc set released by Media Blasters is a worn print and is missing a few seconds of nasty gore that is present in the old Paragon VHS tape. Still, the movie does just fine without it.

 
Stand out sequence: The waterfall scene with the girl "teased" by something under the water.
 Weapons of Death: Serrated edge Machete, Fist
 Splat stats: 2 horror hillbilly hayrides out of 10

 6. TERROR TRAIN (1980)

  
A killer aboard a train carrying college graduates at a masquerade party cuts down those who humiliated him in a prank some years before. The then Queen of Fright, Jamie Lee Curtis, headlines this nifty throat cutter bearing some choice scare moments and an ingenious method by which the killer makes his way around the train. Each person that's killed, the maniac takes their costume and moves on to the next victim. A young David Copperfield is a red herring and also shows off some cool magic tricks. Some may be able to pick out who the killer is, and others may not. A nasty corpse and a severed head in a compartment are the two bloodiest scenes in this one. A remake was announced, but eventually morphed into something resembling the HOSTEL movies and released under the title of TRAIN.
 
Stand out sequence: The opening just before the credits really grabs your attention
 Weapons of Death: Glass from a mirror, knife, poison, axe, swords, shovel

Splat stats: 4 locomotive loonies out of 10

7. THE BURNING (1981) 

 
Tony Maylam's movie about a man burned up in a prank gone wrong, returning to the campsite for revenge is notable for its suspense and characterizations. It's not necessarily a favorite of mine, but it has some striking qualities not normally associated with the subgenre. Tom Savini does the effects work here, too, and delivers one of the most wild death scenes that takes out several of the cast members in one fell swoop. Another of the 'Slasher in the Woods' school. A rarity in that there's no final girl, but two final guys. Shears in the throat, a gutted hooker, a dismembered arm and a bloody axe in the face are the work of maestro Savini.
 
Stand out sequence: The raft scene
 Weapons of Death: Garden Shears, scissors, flame thrower
 Splat stats: 7 extra crispy Cropsy's out of 10 

 8. HELL NIGHT (1981)

  
Linda Blair headlines this scary and intriguing marriage of the then booming slasher flick with haunted house conventions. Truly one of the creepiest locations for such a film, the massive Garth Manor gives many opportunities for things to go bump in the night. The film sees four fraternity pledges having to spend the night in an old mansion with a terrible past. What they don't know is that the remnants of the former occupants still reside somewhere inside. Blair's final girl might be prone to a lot of screaming and jiggling, but she's got mechanic skills when the time comes to throw in the obligatory slasher cliche--the car that won't crank. A severed head in a bed is a highlight. Several impalements, a decapitation and a head turned all the way around are others.

Stand out sequence: Seth leaves his bedmate alone and upon returning, finds her missing and the severed head of another woman under the covers beside him.

Weapons of Death: Makeshift cleaver, Scythe, pitchfork, shotgun, spike fence

Splat stats: 5 mongoloid massacres out of 10

9. HALLOWEEN 2 (1981)


Picking up immediately where the first film ended, Rick Rosenthal's en-gross-ing sequel matches much of what Carpenter created with his genre defining feature. Michael Myers traces Laurie Strode to a dimly lit hospital and kills anyone who gets in his way. More mean spirited than most, this sequel is has a dark and gloomy atmosphere looming over it. The death of a young boy mentioned in the first film and another kid bites down into an apple concealing a razor blade add to the increased bloody violence. Said additional bloody scenes were said to have been shot by Carpenter himself to keep it in line with other slasher movies of the day; proof of the profitability reaped by FRIDAY THE 13TH and its bloody swath cutting through hundreds of theater chains at the time. I actually like Michael Myers sophomore effort a little more than the first film most probably because I saw this one first. The editing of the opening scene has Loomis shoot Myers seven times even though moments later, he runs around screaming, "I shot him six times!!"

Stand out sequence: Pamela Shoop, in the nude, being dunked repeatedly in scalding water inside a hot tub.

Weapons of Death: Scalpel, Butcher knife, Claw Hammer, Needle

Splat Stats: 4 dead night nurses out of 10

10. MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)


This cult favorite suffered sever cuts at the hands of censors prior to its release no doubt due to the flood of bad publicity slasher movies were getting from the wave of condemnation from Siskel & Ebert that was smashing the airwaves like a hurricane back then. For years, it was thought the cut gore footage no longer existed, but turned up in time for a special edition to coincide with its remake in 2009. Sadly, there were still some additional gore shots that didn't survive to make it into the "uncut" version. This Canadian terror tale is another revenge story about a survivor of a mining accident wrecking havoc at a valentine's day dance. Human hearts in candy boxes, pick axe violence to the chest and face, a head dunked in boiling water and a shower head impalement are some of the featured splattery moments in what is quite possibly, the goriest slasher of the early 80s.
Stand out sequence: Finding the decomposed remains of a woman in a laundry dryer.
 Weapons of Death: Pick Axe, Nail Gun, Large Drill

Splat stats: 9 masked mining maniacs out of 10 

 11. THE FUNHOUSE (1981)


Tobe Hooper, fresh off his success with what I think is the scariest damn vampire movie ever made (SALEM'S LOT 1979; theatrical version), did this slasher/monster movie combo about a group of friends who spend the night in a creepy carnival. After witnessing a murder by someone wearing a monster mask, the barker and his horrifically deformed son plan to make sure none of them see the light of day. Some supremely spooky set pieces, a great score and a shocking PHANTOM OF THE OPERA style reveal of the monster add up to an unfairly neglected, little talked about creature feature. Also, the final girl gets naked and smokes pot. The movie also ports over the crazy old coot character from FRIDAY THE 13TH. Here, it's a bag lady who tells our two female fornicators, "God is watching you!" The opening simultaneously pays homage to both PSYCHO and HALLOWEEN. Carpenter's classic is also payed homage in that various characters are watching horror movies over the course of a single night.

Stand out sequence: Any scenes with the carnival & that eerie, giggling fat lady

Weapons of death: A Noose, Axe, the Monster's Claws

Splat stats: 4 spook show thrill rides out of 10

12. MADMAN (1981)


Made at the same time as FRIDAY THE 13TH, this virtually identical movie has worse acting and production values (no major studio backing), but makes up for it with some choice gore and the hulking monster of the films title. A fondly remembered drive in flick, the plot is almost verbatim of the seminal slasher series, but differentiates itself in its scary back story of the title madman. Basically, a campfire tale about madman Marz reveals that if you shout his name aloud, he'll come for you. Some ignorant fool decides to tempt fate and brings down the gory wrath of Marz on the horny counselors and campers. Gaylen Ross (Fran from DAWN OF THE DEAD) plays one of the main characters billed under a pseudonym as Alexis Dublin. The film also does something unusual with its "final girl". The entire picture takes place over the course of one night and the cinematography is extremely good. The upcoming re-release from Code Red is an upgrade from the old Anchor Bay DVD. 

Stand out sequence: Right after the campfire horror story, the kid who yelled out for Madman Marz to come and get him sees the silhouette of something ominous standing silently in the tree above watching them.

Weapons of death: Axe, Marz's Claws, Noose, A Truck

Splat Stats: 7 cut up campers out of 10

 13. ALONE IN THE DARK (1982)

 
One of the all time great, unsung horror movies. It rarely gets a mention, but this star studded slasher/siege spectacular stars Jack Palance, Martin Landau and Donald Pleasence. It's about a new doctor at an insane asylum who isn't welcomed with much enthusiasm by the patients who had taken a liking to their previous physician. Believing the new doctor has killed the old one, a group of the crazies escapes when a blackout shuts down the security system. The nut-jobs then lay siege on the new doctors home while those inside try to survive the night. The fact that three great character actors are appearing together in a pseudo slasher production should be reason enough to check it out. The brilliant script, with all its psycho subtext adds an incredible amount to this amazing production.

 
Stand out sequence: The scene where one of the killers is under a bed and stabs repeatedly up through the mattress while a terrified woman, too afraid to move, sits above.

Weapons of Death: Knives, bare hands, spear gun, small garden rake

Splat stats: 4 strait jackets out of 10

14. VISITING HOURS (1982) 

 
A TV reporter is stalked by an insane man who has an unbridled hatred of women. He manages to break into her home and brutalizes her. Unsuccessful in his attempt to kill the reporter, she is taken to a hospital where the killer, who works as a janitor at the very same hospital, follows and attempts to finish what he started. This rarely discussed slasher-thriller isn't very bloody, nor features many young troublemaking teenagers as fodder for the killer. The characters are well drawn for a change especially Michael Ironside who personifies the definition of evil as Colt Hawker. William Shatner has a guest appearance here and was busy with STAR TREK 2 at the time. Very well made and riveting with an omnipresent air of tawdriness. Cannon's HOSPITAL MASSACRE from the same year traveled similar ground, but with hilarious results.

Stand out sequence: Hawker sneaks into a hospital room thinking he is going to find his quarry, but instead finds an old woman. Not to pass up an opportunity, Hawker kills the old woman in an excruciating sequence where he slowly suffocates the elderly lady to death and watches as she breathes her last breath.

Weapons of Death: Knife

Splat stat: 2 malevolent misogynists out of 10

15. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3D (1982) 

 
With virtually no plot to speak of, another group of horny campers venture forth to death's destination, Camp Crystal Lake. Jason's second gory go round benefits from the magic of 3D. This entry is most notable for Jason obtaining his trademark hockey mask. There's also a biker gang who die at the hands of Crystal Lake's resident undertaker. The ending of the first film is trotted out again, but changes things up a bit. The final girl seen here has already had a terrible run in with Mr. Voorhees in the past. Crazy Ralph might be dead, but a kooky vagrant carrying around a human eyeball makes for a morbid replacement. There's really nothing distinguishable from this film and most others in the series aside from what's noted above. The disco oriented main theme is also unusual. Some cool kills help this along. An issue of Fangoria puts in a cameo appearance. Outside of this films "historical" significance, parts 4 and 6 are generally considered the best of the sequels by many fans of the series.

Stand out sequence: One poor sap gets split in half while walking on his hands.


Weapons of death: Machete, Spear Gun, Pitchfork, Bare Hands


Splat Stats: 8 hockey masked murderers out of 10

16. THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983) 

 
One of the best and most unique of this sub-genre, only some marginal gore effects and a somewhat abrupt ending work against it. Thankfully, the storyline and some of the performances keep it afloat. The grumpy old house mother, Ms. Slater, of Pi Theta sorority is despised by its coeds. One young girl in particular decides to set up a vicious prank to get back at Slater. The prank backfires resulting in the old woman's death. But someone, or something was watching from the attic in the house. A brain dead remake came in 2009. Coming from the tail end of the most successful period for slasher flicks, it was only a matter of time before these independent stalk and slash movies would get wide recognition. That hockey masked mangler would maintain his dominating status, but was about to garner some serious competition from a stalker of another kind.

Stand out sequence: The head in the toilet gag

Weapons of death: A specially made cane with a sharp point.


Splat stats: 5 slashed sorority sisters out of 10

17. CURTAINS (1983)



This troubled production is a Canadian horror thriller whose cast is headlined by Samantha Eggar and John Vernon. Even with all its problems behind the scenes, this film is still one of the best examples of the slasher formula. It's about an aging actress named Samantha who assumes she has the lead role in Jonathan Stryker's new film. He arranges for her to be committed into an insane asylum to study for the role. Stryker plans to leave her their and secretly audition six beautiful girls instead. When Samantha manages to get out of the crazy house, she heads for Stryker's isolated mansion where he's holding the auditions. It's not long before corpses begin piling up. Possessing some hauntingly eerie set pieces, it would appear the Italian Giallo films were a major influence. There's an unsettling use of dolls here and the killer wears one helluva creepy mask. It's also a shame this movie has yet to receive a legitimate DVD release.

Stand out sequence: The 'Skating On the Ice' scene; the doll in the middle of the road during the thunderstorm is also chilling.

Weapons of death: Sickle, butcher knife

Splat stats: 4 sickled starlets out of 10


18. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)


This franchise favorite of many fans grew stale on me real quick after the third movie. The first is arguably the scariest and features the most sinister portrayal of Freddy the K prior to him becoming a stand up comedy killer. The first sequel retains some semblance of evil Kreuger, but nothing quite like the first picture. Incidentally, a few months prior to the release of Craven's movie, there was another film that tread the same subject matter in a bigger way. Joseph (THE STEPFATHER) Rubin's DREAMSCAPE (1984). Craven's movie carries a sadistic edge that's lost on the ensuing sequels and this has become one of the greatest, most financially successful and most fondly remembered horror films of all time. Recently the subject of an awful, cinematically vapid remake.

Stand out sequence: There's lots of them, but the bathtub and bloody bed scenes are pretty memorable.

Weapons of death: Krueger's razor bladed glove.


Splat stats: 9 unpleasant dreams out of 10

 19. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
 

One of several Christmas themed killer movies. Of all the films that featured a psycho Santa Claus, this one caused a massive uproar among members of the PTA and angry protesters during the films short theatrical run. Tri Star yanked it from release despite making lots of money. I assume the tone had a lot to do with it as well as the graphic violence. TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) featured an escaped lunatic dressed as Santa and LAST HOUSE's David Hess directed TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT (1980) which dealt with a group of partiers stalked and murdered by a guy dressed as Saint Nick. DEADLY NIGHT is also notable for having one of the most brainless, incredibly stupid sequels in cinema history. Still, this is an underrated, nasty little movie which has some genuinely well done moments.

Stand out sequence: A sledder goes on a slay ride.

Weapons of death: Axe, Christmas lights, knife, gun, bow and arrow.

Splat stats: 7 savage Santa's out of 10

20. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987)


This third go round with the killer of your dreams was a huge leap for the series in terms of special effects sequences. The plot was incredibly ambitious for a slasher movie often resembling a comic book with the characters and their dream superpowers. Krueger's quips and his career as a stand up serial comedian begins here reaching an apex with the next and most profitable entry. It doesn't work as a straight horror movie as the original did, but it surpasses it on several levels. There are some bonafide shocker moments and a gaggle of guest stars that showed this series was being embraced by Hollywood's upper echelon. The connection between horror and heavy metal continued with the participation of Dokken on the films soundtrack. Both John Saxon and Heather Langencamp return.

Stand out sequence: Like the first film, there's a lot of them, but Patricia Arquette being eaten by a giant Freddy snake comes to mind.

Weapons of death: Krueger's razor bladed glove and assorted nightmare trickery

Splat stats: 7 sleep deprived victims out of 10

21. STAGEFRIGHT (1987)

 
This Italian slasher from notable European filmmaker Michele Soavi might be undeniably derivative, but it takes the formula 'Stalk & Kill' devices and makes them appear fresh and new again. The plot concerns a group of actors and actresses trapped inside a theater after hours with an escaped maniac, decked out in an owl mask, locked inside with them. Lots of mayhem, gore and stylistic flourishes ensue. While its numerous aka's make it sound like a Giallo, we're in pure FRIDAY THE 13TH territory here with various nasty implements used to kill victims in increasingly gruesome style. Watch for John Morghen (CANNIBAL FEROX) as one of the stage actors. One of the best Italian horrors as well as one of the best horror films of the 1980s.

Stand out sequence: The bathroom scene; the scene where the final girl attempts to get at a key to unlock the doors to make her escape.

Weapons of death: Butcher knife, chainsaw, axe, drill, syringe.

Splat stats: 9 mass murderers of stage and screen out of 10

22. HALLOWEEN: TWENTY YEARS LATER (1998)


Steve Miner, the director of FRIDAY THE 13TH parts 2 and 3 revived the increasingly terminal HALLOWEEN series with this entry that managed to lure Jamie Lee Curtis back into the fold. Ignoring everything after HALLOWEEN 2 (1981), Laurie Strode, having faked her death and "living" under an assumed name, is now a dean of a private school who secretly wages a private little war in her nightmares that Michael Myers is still out there hunting for her. Laurie's nightmares become reality when Myers does indeed find her and attempts to kill both Laurie and her son and anyone else who gets in the way. After a few dreary, lifeless sequels, Steve Miner got this series back on track. The actor playing Myers seems a bit short for the role, but the film benefits from an intense opening sequence where Myers confronts Nurse Marion (from the first two HALLOWEEN films) in her home. Miner's film also apes Wes Craven's SCREAM (in its poster designs, too) to tap into the popularity that series was enjoying at the time. 

  
Stand out sequence: The opening sequence and ending confrontation between Myers and Strode.

Weapons of death: Butcher knife, ice skates, axe

Splat stats: 6 campus carved cut-ups out of 10

 23. JASON X (2001)

 
Enormously entertaining tenth entry in this long running franchise finally sends Jason to the final frontier. The plot is a bloody comic book and a whole lot of fun. The filmmakers send Jason where no slasher has gone before stalking and killing teens and assorted other soon-to-be dead people in Earth's future aboard a spaceship. Androids, space marines with hi-tech weaponry, an ingenious homage to Crystal Lake and even a juiced up, indestructible Jason Voorhees covered in an impenetrable metal skin(!) all contribute to the fun factor found here. Peppered with a slew of cliffhanger moments, JASON X is overflowing with braindead fun from start to finish. Some of the dialog is a bit ridiculous, but it would appear obvious everyone involved had a blast shooting this (haha). Some love it, some hate, but there's no denying this tenth entry in the most famous serial killer series is ambitiously original.

Stand out sequence: A pretty blonde victim has her head dunked in liquid nitrogen then smashed into tomato paste on a table.

Weapons of Death: Traditional machete, space machete, big drill, big metal hook

Splat Stats: 8 gore soaked galaxies out of 10

 24. HIGH TENSION (2003)

 
One of the first horror films from France that literally splattered its way on the international scene demanding horror fans take notice. Alexander Aja's movie showed French horror was a force to be reckoned with. This, one of the most sadistically brutal slasher pictures I've ever seen is about a young woman who must battle against a ferocious brute who has butchered her friends family and has taken off with her friend inside a filthily ominous truck. Towards the end, Aja reveals a psychological shock moment that plays with audience perception having literally placed us in the mind of the real killer the entire time. In my view, it's an auspicious debut for the popular director.

Stand out sequence: The house massacre; the big, controversial reveal near the end.

Weapons of death: Butcher knife, dresser, spike club, a nasty looking saw

Splat stats: 10 down and dirty deaths out of 10

25. SAW (2004)

 
Arguably the single most popular horror franchise of the last decade essentially owes a great debt to the dozens upon dozens of Italian Giallo thrillers that stalked theater screens in the late 60s and throughout the 1970s. Two men wake up in a foul and filthy room held captive by chains. A corpse lies in a pool of blood at the center of the room. Both men recount how they came to be there. Confusing with all the flashbacks and multitude of characters, everything becomes clear in an imaginatively macabre ending. Followed by six sequels, the most recent having been shot in 3D. The use of a creepy doll can be traced back to Argento's DEEP RED (1975) and also CURTAINS (1983). One of the best examples of millennium horror matching an immersive script with creative blood and guts.

Stand out sequence: The jaw trap sequence; the big reveal at the end.

Weapons of death: a string of ingeniously gruesome traps

Splat stats: 8 deadly devices out of 10

26. INSIDE (2007)

 
Yet another French horror production, this being one of the most grim, nightmarish affairs in many years. The picture deals with a pregnant woman stalked and ultimately assaulted by a mysterious and very dangerous woman who wants the unborn child she is carrying. With some strikingly Carpenter-esque photographic touches and some of the most brutal gore of the new millennium, this ferocious French fear flick delivers the gore groceries and a compelling story punctuated by a bizarre, unsettling and surreal denouement. If you are an expecting mother, you should most definitely steer clear of this picture.

Stand out sequence: The out of control finale

Weapons of death: Butcher knife, scissors, homemade flamethrower, spear

Splat stats: 10 scissor wielding psycho's out of 10

 

Since the release of SCREAM in 1996, there has been an upsurge in a new breed of slasher picture; one that features numerous teenybopper television personalities in some of the most bland attempts at horror imaginable. The poster artwork for this new slasher blood is also unbelievably vapid with no creativity whatsoever. Gone are the often wonderfully designed, artist painted renditions of the horror (hopefully) seen in the films. In there place are photoshopped displays of the attractive cast all lined up in a fashion to make sure that all their pretty faces are visible to prospective ticket buyers. These newer films, for the most part, have received no where near the level of critical conflagration of their cinematic descendants. Relatively few, if any of these newer pictures have anything original about them, and those that do, are made in other countries. For the most part, these American neo slashers lift elements from the older movies, or are remakes of 80s productions including two terrible HALLOWEEN movies from the king of trailer park verbage, Mr. Rob Zombie. Others claim to be "True oldschool horror" such as the overrated HATCHET (2006) and additional drivel such as LAID TO REST and the average HILLS RUN RED (both 2009). Good or bad, the slasher film shows no sign of dying any time soon. These varied cinema slayers continue to stalk and kill theater screens and DVD players across the world.



16 comments:

Fred [The Wolf] said...

This is an amazing article. You've really done your homework here. Kudos for such an ambitious project that reminded me of slashers I hadn't seen in years, and giving me info on some I hadn't seen before. Awesome, awesome job!

Lars Jacobsson said...

Excellent choices and a great read! My top 26 FAVORITE slasher list would look something like this:

1. The New York Ripper
2. Alice, Sweet Alice
3. Black Christmas
4. Halloween
5. Just Before Dawn
6. Bay of Blood
7. My Bloody Valentine
8. Tourist Trap
9. The Burning
10. Hell Night
11. April Fools Day
12. Superstition
13. Rituals
14. Friday the 13th
15. The House on Sorority Row
16. The Boogeyman
17. Visiting Hours
18. Silent Night, Deadly Night
19. Incubus
20. The Night of the Demon
21. Happy Birthday to Me
22. Alone in the Dark
23. Pieces
24. A Blade in the Dark
25. Bloody Birthday
26. Don't go in the Woods... Alone!

Will Towles said...

Great writing as always. Are you going to do a list of Worst Slasher Films. I get the feeling that a few of my favorites may end up in that pile. I tend to favor Slasher movies over other Horror genres so I enjoyed this a lot. I feel like most of the superlatives in the genre blur the lines of good and bad film making. Friday The 13th Part V--A New Beginning is my favorite example of a movie so slapped together it merits some real meditation. ( Also it has some great boobs in it!)

There are a few on this article that I have not seen, so that really helps. Thanks.

Hey, what about Pieces?!?

Dr. Sarcofiguy said...

As always, a superlative list of superlatives, my friend!

Loved HELL NIGHT! Still own it on VHS! The only way to see it for my tastes! Makes me feel like I'm at an old assed movie theater with smelly seats, and rancid popcorn! YESSS!

Visiting Hours was another kewl little didity too! I remember renting that on laser disc from Erols back in the day. Rented that and this movie about a demonically possesed computer called, um--EVILSPEAK! Oh, I'll never forget the wild boar scene in that one!

Speaking of MADMAN, have you ever seen the charmin' film I, MADMAN starring the comely Jenny Wright?! AWESOME FILM that!

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Another monumental effort sir, many congratulatons. I'm not a big fan of slasher films, but there were one or two I liked. I enjoyed both THE BURNING and THE PROWLER, and obviously HALLOWEEN is extremely well made. I was far happier to see the obscure British pictures FRIGHT and TOWER OF EVIL mentioned. Another Brit one of note is ASSAULT a 1971 flick starring Suzy Kendall and directed by Sidney Hayers.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Do my eyes deceive me or as one of your other commenters really listed THE NEW YORK RIPPER as their favourite slasher film? How that vile flick can be a favourite anything is beyond me...I'll stop there before I say something insulting.

venoms5 said...

@ Fred: Thanks for the kind words, Fred, and glad you found it of interest!

@ Lars: Nice eclectic list! At least one of yours are on my 'Worst' slasher list. I can't wait for RITUALS to finally hit DVD!!!

@ Will: I have a lot of affection for FRIDAY 5. I don't think it's as bad as everyone makes it out to be and gets an unjustly bad rap. Agree also about the boobs!

@ Doc: HELL NIGHT is one of my all time faves ever since catching it on HBO in '82 or '83. Scared the HELL out of me that NIGHT. VISITING HOURS doesn't get much mention and is a really good thriller. I love that secretary who strips down to nothing in EVILSPEAK, her shower interrupted by the hell sent pigs.

@ Shaun: Thanks, Shaun! I first started this several months back, but everybody was doing slasher themed items at the time, so I put it aside. Been working on it a little bit ever since in between other things. FRIGHT and TOWER OF EVIL are two under appreciated little gems, especially the former. I've not seen ASSAULT. Is it on DVD?

Yes, that's NEW YORK RIPPER on Lars list. Lars runs MACISTE & FRIENDS, a blog that's a comprehensive catalog of various sword & sandal releases around the world. I assume Fulci saw Lustig's MANIAC and wanted to one up him with his own brutal exercise in misogyny.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Yes ASSAULT is available on a Region 2 DVD in the UK;

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Assault-DVD-Suzy-Kendall/dp/B000M06Q9W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1294438377&sr=1-1

Not only on his list Brian, but tops it! A list of favourites implies enjoyment. I'd be more than happy to listen to anyone attempt to explain to me how THE NEW YORK RIPPER can be enjoyable or entertaining. Hopefully Lars will offer a defence for this film.

venoms5 said...

Do you know if amazonUK ships to the US? It's roughly $12 there. This disc is for sale at amazonUS as well, but it's a bit more at $25.

Carl Manes said...

Dude, where to even start, a comment to this article almost requires a similarly lengthed response! HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW is criminally underrated, and the remake is an offense to all things Horror. I have been wanting to see FRIGHT for years, but damn man, the price never drops online!!TOWER OF EVIL was a huge surprise, one of my favorite blind buys from last year. I still feel HALLOWEEN 2 is mediocre at best. Even worse is THE FUNHOUSE, which underuses the setting and has a laughable monster. Two words: MADMAN. Awesome. MADMAN remake coming this year!! You know I have a secret love affair with ALONE IN THE DARK. I appreciate aspects of CURTAINS, but it has never won me over. You'll have to use your imagination for the rest lol..

Skeme Richards said...

Reading this makes me want to spend my snowy day inside going through some horror films!

venoms5 said...

@ Carl: THE FUNHOUSE--underused location??? Laughable monster???? I see a classic Siskel & Ebert disagreement on the horizon, lol. I tried to keep the posters in the realm of the good ones, removing some bad ones and realized HOSPITAL MASSACRE was still on here. It's definitely a bad one, but in a good way.

@ Skeme: After I posted it, I went and watched a couple back to back including JUST BEFORE DAWN and the HIS NAME IS JASON two disc documentary. That thing was exhaustive.

Kaijinu said...

As the Admin of a slasher dedicated blog, this has to be my favorite post from this blog. It justified the pros of these titles very well and though I don't agree with some of your thoughts ( I think H20 is overrated, Sorority Row is pretty awesome and so does the first Hatchet) I am glad to see most of my faves here.

venoms5 said...

I will likely give HATCHET another look at some point, Kaijinu. I own the first two (the second was horrible, imo) and never bothered with part 3. THE MUTILATOR is playing near me on Halloween night in uncut form. Hopefully I will be able to make that screening.

Unknown said...

The town that dreaded sundown

Unknown said...

The town that dreaded sundown

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