What are the best slasher movies of all time? With its roots in psychological thrillers Psycho and Peeping Tom, the slasher subgenre saw its template coalesce over the 1970s before its ‘Golden Era’ took flight in the 1980s. Horror would hit a low ebb in the 1990s before Wes Craven’s Scream would revitalize the genre. Today inventive filmmakers have found a plethora of ways to re-invent the subgenre, while other movies have been content to just entertain us with what are now familiar tropes. Over the next few posts, I’ll list my picks for the 50 best examples of the subgenre. In making my selections, I focused on several criteria including the entertainment factor as well as the impact of the movie on slashers as a whole. So without further ado, here are my picks for numbers 50 to 41 of slasher movies.
50 – Pieces (1982)
Kicking off our list at Number 50, Spanish slasher Pieces plants both feet firmly in the ‘so bad, it’s good’ camp. Pure exploitation and barely competent, Pieces mixes Giallo elements with the American slasher and looks like a 70s porno flick. Like most Giallo movies, it’s dialogue and story are absurd. Moreover, the 1982 thriller is transparently misogynist. But Pieces is also an entertaining slasher boasting some brutal, gory death scenes that haven’t lost any of their impact. And if it’s a silly movie for most of its runtime, the final illogical scene pushes it into some surreal territory that manages to leave you feeling a little unnerved. As a bonus, Pieces includes a completely random scene of a Bruce Le (not Lee) knockoff attacking a character and chalking it up to ‘bad sushi’.
49 – Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
It’s not hard to see why Happy Birthday to Me has earned cult credibility among slasher fans. With the ‘Golden Era of the Slasher’ still in its early phases, the sub-genre and its ‘rules’ weren’t set in stone. And the Canadian slasher’s ‘and then there were none‘ narrative alongside its creative death scenes certainly influenced subsequent movies, albeit not to the extent of Friday the 13th. Notwithstanding its spot on this list, Happy Birthday to Me is still a strange hybrid of a horror movie. Clearly, director J Lee Thompson had pretenses of making a serious psychological thriller. All of its psycho-melodrama just drag the movie’s runtime to an unnecessary length. But Happy Birthday to Me follows through on its promise to feature “six of the most bizarre murders you will ever have” including the infamous shish kebab scene.
48 – Terror Train (1980)
Canadian slasher Terror Train marked Jamie Lee Curtis’ third horror movie of 1980s, thereby solidifying her status as a ‘Scream Queen’. On one hand Terror Train is a middling slasher with a competent production and better-than-expected talent in front of and behind the camera. This isn’t a trendsetting horror movie. As an early entry in the 80s slasher cycle, however, Terror Train solidified the formula and box office sustainability of the subgenre. It also happens to include one of the most ridiculous, if not memorable, prank gone wrong in slasher history. Besides its central premise of a masked killer stalking victims at a costume party on a train helps it stand out. Throw in a good cat-and-mouse finale and Terror Train is one of the better early slashers.
47 – Torso
While horror fans often point to Psycho and Peeping Tom as proto-slashers, the subgenre clearly took notes from Italian gialli. Not surpassingly, Dario Argento and Mario Bava get plenty of namechecks. But watch Serigo Martino’s 1973 giallo Torso and you’ll see more than a passing resemblance to later American slashers. The story is simple – a masked killer is strangling college coeds with a red and black scarf. Much of the template is here – sexually promiscuous teens, a past terrible wrong, a Final Girl, a psychosexual killer, and POV shots. Decades following its release, Torso still lives up to its reputation. There’s plenty of gratuitous nudity and violence, including a disturbing dismemberment scene.
46 – The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Like most of the movies on this portion of the list, the original Slumber Party Massacre is not a technical achievement of film-making. It’s a grimy looking B-movie with amateurish performances that shares more in common with 70’s exploitation movies than 80s slashers. Though writer Rita Mae Brown intended it as a parody, someone misunderstood the assignment. But The Slumber Party Massacre is a surprisingly effective, brutal, and occasionally funny thriller. Director Amy Holden Jones wastes little time getting things started and rarely lets things slow down. Though its ‘Driller Killer’ is a bit silly, the movie’s conclusion is quietly disturbing.
45 – Terrifier (2017)
A more recent entry on the list, Terrifier doesn’t really add anything new to the subgenre. Rather its placement on the list owes to two things. First, writer and director Damien Leone gives horror fans an absolutely terrifying new slasher villain in Art the Clown. Second, Terrifier delivers some of the most brutal death scenes in recent horror history. Yes, the movie lacks scares and it drags a little in the third act. Yet even hardcore horror fans may have to occasionally look away. Specifically, the hacksaw scene may be one of the more gruesome things committed to the screen.
44 – Prom Night (1980)
Prom Night shares a few things in common with Terror Train. Both movies hail from Canada and they both feature ‘Scream Queen’ Jamie Lee Curtis. And both movies helped crystallize the slasher rules while further convincing studios that there was money to be made from ‘dead teen’ movies. Year after a child’s game ends in tragedy, a masked killer seeks revenge against the now grown teens at their prom. Though it lacks the gore and creativity of other slashers – and it features an inexplicably drawn out disco scene – Prom Night’s influence is undeniable. In addition to one of the better ‘past terrible incidents’, Prom Night boasts a great cat-and-mouse scene alongside a decent final reveal. And it’s light years ahead of the dreadful 2000s remake.
43 – Hatchet (2006)
While neo-slashers that followed Scream largely felt like safe gateway horror movies for teens and other horror directors were ‘re-inventing the rules’, Adam Green took the slasher back to basics with Hatchet. Taking notes more from the post-Jason Lives era of slasher than the early 80s, Hatchet is a love-letter to insane blood-spraying practical horror effects. And Green shows a genuine affection for the subgenre casting Kane Hodder as one of the better slasher villains of the 2000s, Victor Crowley. Mixing horror and comedy is challenging, but Hatchet is a nearly perfect blend of over-the-top gore and laugh-out loud humor.
ane 42 – Cherry Falls (2000)
By the late 80s, the slasher movie had run out of steam – it was a parody of itself. Then along came Wes Craven’s Scream, re-inventing the subgenre. Since Scream numerous horror filmmakers have played around with the rules and tropes. One of the earlier attempts at subverting the subgenre, Cherry Falls, sets up an interesting premise. Its killer isn’t punishing promiscuous teens – they’re targeting virgins. This neo-slasher featured a good cast that included Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn, and Jay Mohr. And its story is far more engaging the typical slasher movie. In addition, the death scenes are appropriate brutal and there’s a bit of dark humor to keep the movie from being a completely dour experience.
41 – The Funhouse (1981)
Today, horror movies have fully tapped into the scare attraction phenomenon (see Hell Fest, Haunt, Hell House LLC). Years before the genre latched on to the idea, Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse sets its stalk-and-slash story inside a carnival attraction. Much of The Funhouse hasn’t aged well. In particular, the makeup effects for its killer aren’t likely to convince contemporary horror fans. Nonetheless, Hooper adds something missing from a lot of slashers -atmosphere and dread. In addition, Hooper takes some time to ensure you care about characters. Similar to other slasher from the era, The Funhouse’s ending is appropriately bleak.
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