Slasher movies are often seen as the lowest tier of the movie pyramid, but you should reconsider this unfairly maligned sub-genre. In an effort to change your mind, I submit these ten influential, worthwhile, and interesting slasher flicks.
Halloween is the first slasher movie. Yeah, I know about Black Christmas, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Peeping Tom, Texas Chainsaw, and so on, and those flicks are awesome and arguably represent the birth of the slash, but you gotta draw the line somewhere, and this is where I draw mine.
John Carpenter’s masterpiece is the alpha and omega of slasher. It has it all: A faceless man, that weird, queasy sex=death thing, uncomfortable “killer’s point-of-view” shots, an “is he really dead?” trick ending, and everything in between. Every shot and sequence in this movie has been stolen, parodied, and reinterpreted so often they’ve become shorthand for “slasher” movies altogether. And amazingly, despite being turned into cliches by every horror-hack in the world, Halloween’s scares are still scary. It still works, even after all these years.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Halloween may have created the slasher formula, but it’s not a formula unless someone follows it, and man, does Friday the 13th follow the formula. This movie lifts everything from Halloween — the masked killer, the helpless teenagers being butchered, the reliance on a specific date — everything, that is, except the artistry. But horror fans generally don’t need art, and Friday the 13th succeeds because it so unapologetically and completely strips the genre down to its essential components. Plus, the twist ending is killer and no one will ever forget that “tsh-tsh-ha-ha” soundtrack.
Just Before Dawn (1981)
This lesser-known entry from the “Golden Age” of the slasher movie rises above the many also-ran fright-flicks through cinematic technique and attention to detail. It’s just better than it has any right to be. The cinematography is excellent, the cast of unknown actors is talented and believable, and the pacing is rock solid. Just Before Dawn steals from the right sources too, combining the best of Deliverance and Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Halloween, and ending up with something uniquely unsettling and memorable. If you haven’t seen it, search this one out.
The New York Ripper (1982)
If you like your slasher flicks irredeemably unsavoury and totally unapologetic, Italian horror master Lucio Fulci made the movie for you. The New York Ripper is arguably the sleaziest, dirtiest movie ever made. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to take a shower. It’s also fully unsettling, from its grimy, New York-in-the-1980s setting, to its duck-voiced madman murderer, to its lingering shots of over-the-top-gore — most notably a stomach turning moment lifted from Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou.
The Leopard Man (1943)
I know I said Halloween was the first slasher movie, and I’d ignore everything that came before it, but I lied. Call the internet-movie-list-police if you want, but I figured if you’re interested enough in horror to have clicked this far into a list of slasher movies, you need to see The Leopard Man.
Producer Val Lewton’s and director Jacques Tourneur’s 1943 b-horror flick may not be a “true” slasher movie, but it features one of the best “woman being stalked by a killer” sequences ever shot, and its ant-racist, pro-feminist message was decades ahead of its time.
Child’s Play (1988)
By 1988, it seemed that the dirty bar-rag of slasher movies had been wrung-completely dry. Then Child’s Play came along to breathe ferocious new life into the genre. Of course the doll-comes-life hook is the most memorable thing about Child’s Play, but the movie only works because it’s so perfectly crafted.
Unlike the regrettable reboot and all the sequels, the original Child’s Play knows that a wisecracking-doll isn’t enough to sustain a feature; a horror movie still has to be suspenseful and carefully build the cinematic dread that fans crave. The reveal of Chucky’s true nature is one of the best horror sequences ever shot. I’ll put it against Psycho’s shower scene. I’m crazy like that.
Arguably the first mainstream, meta-horror flick, Wes Craven’s Scream pulls off an almost impossible cinematic feat: It manages to be equally funny and scary, parodying the slasher genre with knowing wink while also providing the suspense and bloodshed fans of the genre demand. It’s a delicate balancing act that Scream pulls off seemingly without effort. And who could forget that killer mask and that looooong, creepy phone call?
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
I chose The Hills Have Eyes to represent the ubiquitous horror-movie “reboots” of the 2000s and beyond. At the risk of surrendering all horror-movie cred, I like the remake better than the 1977 original. The pacing is masterful: The slow, predictable start — a dysfunctional family takes the wrong “shortcut” through the desert — leads to a violent conflagration as batshit as anything ever filmed. And to think, the whole unpleasant affair could have been avoided if they’d listened to Google Maps.
You’re Next (2011)
You’re Next is bloody, violent, and claustrophobic, but layers in just enough pitch-black humour to be palatable. It’s more of a home-invasion movie than a slasher flick, but I’m including it because I like the way it subverts the horror trope of “The Final Girl,” that virtuous woman who only survives to the end through being victimized. Instead, You’re Next sets up a character you think will be the final girl, only to reveal her as a badass instrument of revenge against the cadre of masked killers in the huge old house. The old switcheroo.
The Final Girls (2015)
Speaking of final girls, this movie is all about them. In this comic love letter to the slasher genre, a group of teenage horror movie freaks from the present are transported into their favourite summer-camp slasher flick, “Camp Bloodbath.” The Groundhog Day-meets-Friday the 13th high concept could have easily fallen flat, but The Final Girls works because of the obvious affection it has for the movies it’s parodying and a surprisingly strong emotional core. Not many slasher movies will put a lump in your throat, but this one will. And a machete. It will also put a machete in your throat.
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