The definition of a slasher film varies depending on who you ask, but in general, it contains several specific traits that feed into the genre’s formula. Author Vera Dika rather strictly defines the sub-genre in her book Games of Terror by only including films made between 1978 and 1984. In other words, she saw it as a movement. When someone describes Brick, they don’t define it as a noir, but instead neo-noir . In other words, it’s a modern motion picture that prominently utilizes elements of film noir, but with updated themes, content, style, visual elements or media that were absent in those from the 1940s and 1950s. So does one consider Scream a slasher film or a neo-slasher, or simply put, a modern slasher?
Some consider Thirteen Women to be the earliest slasher – released all the way back in 1932. Personally I think that is rubbish. Thirteen Women is more like Desperate Housewives on sedatives. For my money, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) is the mother of all slasher films. The film’s plot centres around a man who kills women while using a portable movie camera to record their dying expressions. It also happens to be a major influence on the found footage genre and one of the best films ever made. The film was immensely controversial; critics called it misogynistic, and thus the film was never theatrically released. When Alfred Hitchcock was informed that Powell’s film was banned, he decided to cancel all press screenings for Psycho, in fear that it too would be blackballed from having a theatrical release. It was a wise decision, and three months later Psycho hit the big screen, and the rest is what they call history. So is Psycho a slasher? Is Peeping Tom a slasher? In theory yes. In Psycho, for example, there is a body count (even if only two), the film features a mystery killer, a knife wielding maniac, a ‘stalking’ camera technique, and even a twist ending – but no one defined Psycho as a slasher film when it first was released, nor Peeping Tom.
Horror films in the 1970′s were largely influenced by the emergence in the previous decade of the psychological horror films, but if we were to include Psycho and Peeping Tom, than why not consider the dozens of other films that featured psychosexual killers from before there time, most notably Fritz Lang’s expressionist German masterpiece M (1931), a film featuring Peter Lorre has a creepy child murderer. If anything it simplifies my life to consider these as proto-slashers and so maybe one day I will write up a list of the films that were the biggest influence on slasher films made after the 1970.
Consider this: When Black Christmas and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were released, the term slasher wasn’t attributed to those films either. It was only around 1981 that “slasher” became initiated as a true sub-genre. So technically Vera Dika has a point. As with Film Noir, giallo and any other sub genre of film, it took a few filmmakers and a wave of similar movies to develop a terminology to distinguish them apart from other films. So while Psycho and Peeping Tom incorporated what later became the traditional slasher formula and were the biggest influence for future filmmakers, I am not including them on the list. Instead I’ve decided to limit this list according to Dika’s terms – only stretching the time frame from 1970 – 1990. Anything prior to 1970 would be considered proto-slasher and everything after neo-slasher or simply modern slashers.
Before I get to the list, there is still one thing I have left to mention. Giallo films will also not be included. Like slasher films, giallo was also a movement, and while they bear many similarities, Giallos actually have more in common with American noirs from the 40′s and 50′s – albeit with a pile of gore and gallons of blood. In fact, for Italian audiences, the term ‘giallo’ is used to refer to any kind of thriller, regardless of where it was made. Thus American or British thrillers such as Hitchcock Psycho and Vertigo or Basil Dearden’s The Blue Lamp and Sapphire are, for Italian-speaking audiences, examples of giallo. (refer to my list of best Giallo films).
Finally, many lists online include such films has The Hills Have Eyes, The Hitcher and I Spit On Your Grave. I don’t consider these slasher films, but instead “backwoods horror” (Hills), action-thriller (Hitcher) and rape-revenge (Spit).
For now I present to you the best slasher films made between 1970-1990. Enjoy!
40: The Silent Scream (1980)
Directed by Denny Harris,
The Silent Scream was actually made in 1977 but only came out in 1980, after the filmmakers revised the script and did several re-shoots, The film takes place in an old creepy mansion, the sort that hides secrets in the basement. Barbara Steele makes a welcome return to the genre after a long absence. Rounding out the cast is fellow genre lead Cameron Mitchell. The Silent Scream isn’t a great film but it is capably made, and a solid effort, worth mentioning.
39: Tower of Evil / Beyond the Fog / Horror on Snape Island (1972)
Directed byJim O’Connolly
You will notice most American movies on this list were released in 1981/1982. However in the UK they were a decade ahead. The first of a few UK slasher films to appear on my list (all released in 1971/1972) is Tower Of Evil also known as Beyond The Fog or Snape Island. Tower is an equal opportunity exploitation flick, one of which I remember mostly because it features many scenes of both women and men completely nude, albeit for no reason. This film is odd, vulgar, cluttered with devilish plot twists that never amount to a lick of sense and even features a ton of gore. There is even a supernatural element at play, only again, we are never sure why. Good it is not, but fun it is.
38:- Mil gritos tiene la noche / Pieces (1982)
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon
Pieces comes from Spanish exploitation director Juan Piquer Simon, who also goes by the alias J.P. Simon and also Juan Piquer. Simon is known for his cheaply made ripoffs of American successes: Pieces is a prime example of this. Even the VHS cover claims the film is from the producer of Friday the 13th – which is a total fabrication. Pieces is his most notorious film, a film so bad that some consider it good enough to recommend for laughs.
This whodunnit set at a Boston college campus in where everyone is a suspect, was actually shot in and around Spain and later dubbed in English dialogue which of course is laughable, though less so than the story and acting. There is a ton of red herrings, giallo-inspired cinematography, and an effective opening in which a young boy hacks his mom to death with an axe after she punishes him for piecing together a jigsaw puzzle featuring an image of a naked woman. The boy then decapitates her and hides in the closet until the police arrive. One might assume that this opening scene explains the title of the film. Perhaps the movie will follow around a maniac who collects women’s body parts and pieces them together like a jigsaw puzzle. Nope. That would have been to clever. Instead, Pieces is a routine hack and slash gore-fest, overloaded with gratuitous and graphic violence, dodgy effects and awkwardly staged slasher set pieces. Once the killer is revealed, he pulls out a chainsaw in which we assume he was hiding in his coat, and attacks his victim in an elevator. There is a hilariously strange scene where Linda Day is attacked by her kung fu professor, who quickly passes out only to awaken and explain, “I am out jogging. Next thing I know, I am on floor. Bad chop suey.” I’m not making this up. Just watch the video below. Pieces is best described as a provocative and sleazy parody of contemporary campus life. If Tommy Wiseau ever directed a slasher film, it would look something like this. You can’t help but laugh at it. Pieces also features the most ridiculous rapid fire twists in all of slasher films – an utterly brain-dead plot turn. It is, however, incredibly entertaining if you are sitting around with a group of friends during a horror movie marathon drinking some beers.
37: Fright / Night Legs (1972)
Directed by Peter Collinson
Fright is considered the first film to come up with the popular horror convention of a lone babysitter terrorized by a psychotic murderer – it’s pretty much a blueprint for When A Stranger Calls, Halloween and many other slasher films. This is a well paced British suspenser that benefits from fine, strong performances, some bizarre dance/sex sequences and great sound design. There are of course, a fair number of plot elements that would become cliches of the slasher genre a decade later – but I’m pretty sure back then it was still something relatively new. You have to wonder if Bob Clark or John Carpenter were inspired by these early 70′s British slashers?
36:- Curtains (1983)
Directed by Richard Ciupka
Shooting of the film started in 1980, but the production was plagued with problems. It was shelved for over a year during which re-writes, re-shoots, and at least one re-casting was done. The film was finally completed and released in 1983, but almost nobody saw it. When the movie begins, it seems to borrow a bit from the plot of Samuel Fuller’s masterpiece Shock Corridor but than drastically takes a left turn and offers up an Agatha Christie type slasher film – and a Canadian one to boot. Among the cast are two actresses featured in two very popular Canadian horror films: Samantha Eggar (The Brood) and Lynne Griffin (Black Christmas). There’s something special about Curtains that would seem to set it apart from the dozens of slashers being produced during the heyday of the sub genre. Curtains is smart, well acted, and features one of the creepiest masks ever worn by a villain in a slasher flick.
35: Massacre at Central High / Blackboard Massacre (1976)
Directed by Rene Daalder
This cheaply made exploitation film gathers interest because of it’s offbeat quality and the murderous solutions by the main characters – two qualities which classify it as a precursor to Heathers. What makes Massacre at Central High rise above most slasher films is its unusual level of political metaphor: an intriguing allegorical premise amongst a dreamlike and nightmarish, presentation, inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. There are two other elements that set it apart from most entries in the genre: First the killer actually starts out as the hero and then slowly becomes a threat to any student standing in his way, and secondly, the film is void of any adults. There are no teachers present, and the police are never called in to investigate the deaths.
34: The House on Sorority Row (1983)
Directed by Mark Rosman
This was Mark Rosman’s first feature after he had been an assistant to Brian De Palma. The House on Sorority Row is stylish and well crafted, if formulaic, but remains a cut above the typical slasher. It also features one hell of a jump scare in the final scene. Trivia: The film was selected by Quentin Tarantino for the First Quentin Tarantino Film Fest in Austin, Texas, 1996.
33: Deadly Blessing (1981)
Directed by Wes Craven
While I am not including The Last House On The Left and Hills Have Eyes on this list (since I consider them “backwoods horror”), Craven does have one more film apart from A Nightmare On Elm Street to get a mention here. Not too many people are familiar with Deadly Blessing, Craven’s fifth film, a supernatural-themed slasher that isn’t so bad. Unlike Summer Of Fear, his made for TV disaster, Blessing is a curious discovery, set in the Amish community. The film still boasts a few of Craven’s best jump scares and a terrific score courtesy of James Horner. The film is beautifully photographed and features a terrifying sequence with Sharon Stone trapped in a barn by seemingly supernatural forces. The downside: Deadly Blessing also has a convoluted story that suffers from shoddy editing.
32: Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Directed by Amy Holden Jones
Scripted by lesbian erotica novelist Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, Slumber Party Massacre was praised in some circles for its reputed feminist angle. Men are spineless and the women are sexually liberated, smart and usually in control of the chaos that ensues. The final confrontation culminates with symbolic imagery of castration and rape. Massacre also features one of the most underrated villains in any slasher film – the driller killer really did creep me out as a kid, especially in those final moments when he first speaks. The sequels featured copy cat killers, none of which could match the intensity of the original.
31: April Fool’s Day (1986)
Directed by Fred Walton
Long before Scream was the world’s most creative ‘self-reflexive’ horror movie, there was April Fool’s Day, chock full of twists, turns, and red herrings, this meta-whodunit is a clear influence for Kevin Williamson, who penned such hits as Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. One of two films by director Fred Walton (When a Stranger Calls) to appear on this list, April Fool’s Day is populated with cliches, stock stereotypes, and all the other slasher conventions, but as cheesy as it can be, it’s also incredibly entertaining, and has aged well.
30: Halloween 2 (1981)
Directed by Rick Rosenthal
While John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic Halloween irrevocably changed the style of horror cinema, Halloween 2 only had Jamie Lee Curtis screaming and running in terror in a simplistic stalk-and-slash scenario. Regardless, I’ve always been a huge fan of the entire franchise. As with its predecessor, this film was written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, but the directorial duties were handed over to Rick Rosenthal. Lee announced that she was quitting the horror genre, not wanting to be typecast as a slasher heroine – although she did return seventeen years later for Halloween H20. Rosenthal’s direction is rather stylish, and he does an excellent job in staging the climax. John Carpenter also delivers the score and Donald Pleasence is compelling as usual, this time stealing the show. The second Halloween, while not as good as the first, is still quite an entertaining entry and sets up ideas that pop up in future sequels.
29: Happy Birthday To Me (1981)
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Directed by J. Lee Thompson (1962′s Cape Fear) and produced by John Dunning and André Link (My Bloody Valentine), this Canadian production is one of the slickest-looking slasher films from the early-’80s heyday. Birthday boasts effective splatter effects by special effects master Tom Burman.
The film was advertised with the marketing campaign “six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see”. The series of deaths include, death by shish kebab, death by weight lifting and death via a scarf and motorcycle chain. The film is worth recommending on the overwrought climactic birthday sequence along along with the many twists and turns.
28: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
A bit of IMDB trivia first. Director Tobe Hooper and co-writer Kim Henkel (of the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) originally had an idea for a sequel that would feature an entire town of cannibals, and also be a satire of the film Motel Hell, which itself was a satire of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The title of that sequel was to be Beyond The Valley Of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but the studio forced considerable changes to be made to the screenplay, even hiring a new screenwriter, and the result of those changes are what became Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. Out of all the sequels and remakes, this is the only film which follows the same time-line as the original film.
Now backed by a major company and with a considerably larger budget, Hooper was able to cast Dennis Hopper, and hire makeup effects guru Tom Savini. Anyone expecting Hooper to repeat the claustrophobic terror and the visceral, grating feel of the original will be disappointed. Instead the director opted for something different. Hooper was far more interested in playing it for gloriously over-the-top laughs – but don’t get me wrong, this movie is far bloodier and gorier than its predecessor and was originally given an X rating, with Hooper ultimately opting to release the film unrated.
27: Terror Train (1980)
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
A run of the mill slasher film that has the advantage of mounting its premise aboard a moving train.
Led by the confident direction by Roger Spottiswoode and pristine cinematography from John Alcott, Terror Train has plenty of atmosphere, a number of good set pieces and the killer’s reveal is quite memorable. Spottiswoode had previously worked as film editor on several Sam Peckinpah classics, including 1971′s Straw Dogs (arguably the template for another horror sub-genre: the home invasion movie), and Alcott lensed Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. The movie was shot in Montreal (home to Sound On Sight’s headquarters), on an actual reconverted train in just over a three week period. Terror Train also stars Jamie Lee Curtis, who rose to become the quintessential early 80s horror scream queen.
26: Maniac (1980)
Directed by William Lustwig
Did you know that Michael Sembello’s 1983 hit song “Maniac” from Flashdance was originally written as the title track to William Lustig’s low budget New York grunge slasher flick, Maniac? A precursor to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Lustig’s grimy snapshot of early ‘80s Manhattan is an unapologetically twisted study of a pathological murdering maniac. Maniac comes across as a slasher version of Taxi Driver (1976), a film that star Joe Spinell also appeared in. Spinell is committed to his role and does a fabulous job in delivering a series of long and rambling monologues to himself about his childhood abuse. This harrowing, stomach-churning journey into his psyche pissed off many critics upon release, but one cannot deny the emotional impact this film has. Perhaps the most memorable scene features leading horror make-up expert Tom Savini, playing a guy whose head is completely blown off.
25: The Stepfather (1987)
Directed by Joseph Ruben
There was a flood of slasher films released in the 80′s and the further into the decade, the worse they became. Just when it looked like slasher movies were wholly irredeemable, director Joseph Ruben came along to breathe fresh air into the over-saturated genre. The Stepfather centres on a family man who moves from town to town, marries a single mother and than kills both her and her child. What elevates the film beyond the usual slasher is Terry O’Quinn’s brilliant performance. Released during the Bush Administration, the film is a satire of the whole retro notion of the 1980s as the new 1950s. Perverse, smart and bearing many homages to David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock, The Stepfather also doesn’t feel the need to cheat the audience with absurd plot twists and surprise endings.
24: Alone In The Dark (1982)
Directed by Jack Sholder
Some would argue that Alone In The Dark is not necessarily a slasher film. I think the best description I read, defined it as an amalgam of Carpenter’s Halloween and Assault On Precinct 13. But I’d argue there is enough Halloween in the mix to justify its presence on this list. Director Jack Sholder, who previously edited The Burning, would later direct A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge and The Hidden thanks to his effort here. Alone features a fantastic cast which includes Jack Palance, Martin Landau and Donald Pleasance, makeup by Tom Savini and one heck of an ending. What could’ve been a misfire actually rises above with its off-beat charm and dark comedy.
23: I, Madman / Hardcover (1989)
Directed by Tibor Takács
A second-hand bookstore clerk becomes absorbed by the book ‘I, Madman’ by Malcolm Brand. In the book, the deranged, deformed Dr Kessler is obsessed with beautiful actress Anna Templar and kills people while sewing part of each victim’s face onto his own. But as Virginia continues to read, someone starts to emulate the killings in the book, targeting the people around her.
This film comes from Hungarian-born, Canadian-based genre director Tibor Takacs, more well-known for The Gate (1987). Even Roger Ebert gave this film a positive review, and he isn’t known for liking slashers or thrillers that hew to the slasher formula. The most intriguing aspect of I, Madman is its dual structure, crosscutting between the plot of the book and the heroine/reader’s life, with both roles played by Jenny Wright.
22: Eyes of a Stranger (1981)
Directed by Ken Wiederhorn
The film shamelessly takes its inspiration from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, with dabs of Wait Until Dark, but Eyes Of A Stranger is a cut above the average slasher. This 1981 flick is best known as the first feature film to star a young Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing a girl so traumatized by her past that she loses her sight and hearing. The best scene in the film takes place when the killer confronts her character, and torments her by moving around the furniture in her apartment. Eyes is surprisingly gruesome, and director Ken Wiederhorn effectively holds the viewer’s interest by punctuating the proceedings with a number of terrifying set-pieces.
21: Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)
Directed by Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Silent Night, Deadly Night attracted considerable controversy when it came out. The release of this film was picketed by angry parents who were not happy to see Santa Claus depicted as an axe murderer. To protest the film, critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel read the credits out loud on their television show saying, “shame, shame, shame” after each name. The film received its release on December 23rd, 1984 and the controversy only acted as free publicity. It wasn’t the only film to exploit the holiday. Others included To All a Good Night, You Better Watch Out, Christmas Evil, Black Christmas and finally, an episode of the Amicus horror anthology Tales from the Crypt. There were four sequels to Silent Night, Deadly Night, each terrible, but as slasher films go, the first Silent Night, Deadly Night is above average, with its darkly satirical, fiercely unsentimental take on Christmas. The film certainly has its fair share of gory scenes, with a handful of spectacular money shots. Finally, the scenes displaying the systematic abuse that goes on at a Catholic orphanage do a great job in establishing the psychological motivation of the killer.
20: Intruder (Night Crew)
Directed by Scott Spiegel
Here is what you have to know: This gory slasher was directed by Evil Dead co-writer Scott Spiegel. The film features cameos by Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi and Sam Raimi who also just happen to sing. The main musical theme of movie was previously used in Transformations. Are you interested? I thought so. This claustrophobic thriller is set entirely in a small supermarket, whose owner is preparing to go out of business. Intruder is extremely simple, but is nevertheless one of the best slasher films of the 80s, and uses the one location extremely well. Spiegel’s direction is solid and the small ensemble are incredibly entertaining. It also features one hell of a psycho and some showstopping, gruemsome set pieces. The film is a legendarily nasty piece of genre filmmaking. A must see!
19: Maniac Cop
Directed by William Lustig
A dream team pairing for fans of B-movies; director William Lustig (Maniac) and writer/director Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, Q: The Winged Serpent, God Told Me To Kill) joined forces in 1988 for Maniac Cop. The film sides less with Cohen’s fantasy worlds and comedy and more with Lustig’s gritty visceral realities and anti-establishment undertones – but the combination of Cohen and Lustig is perfect.
Coming across as an unofficial sequel to Maniac, Maniac Cop is a sturdy slasher flick that stars genre faves Bruce Campbell and Tom Atkins. Two sequels were made, which in some ways actually improve on the original. William Lustig and Larry Cohen also went onto make Uncle Sam together in 1997.
18: The Funhouse / Carnival Of Terror (1981)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Yet another film released in 1981, Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse excels for the very same reason My Bloody Valentine and Terror Train do – because of its setting: in this case, a carnival funhouse. There is a pervasive air of seediness enhanced by the locale that proves perfect for a horror film. Not as scary as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) nor as bizarre as Eaten Alive (1976), The Funhouse is heightened by its black humour and exceptionally well staged kill sequences. Hooper plays with the conventions of the genre and leaves no stone unturned. Refreshingly restrained in its violence, Hooper does an amazing job of creating suspense with sound and editing, and is more interested in unsettling the viewer than in grossing them out. Credit should also be given to Andrew Laszlo for the cinematography, Morton Rubinowitz for his production designs and John Beal for his score. The scene in which Wayne Doba tears off his Frankenstein monster mask only to reveal an even more hideous face underneath is unforgettable.
17: Hands of the Ripper (1971)
Directed by Peter Sasdy
I’m not the biggest fan of Hammer films, but with Hands Of The Ripper, the studio took risks to deviate from the norm. The result is an excellent slasher film, and one of their best, from what I’ve seen. Hands is superbly plotted and highlighted with a number of surprisingly gory death sequences (possibly the nastiest Hammer ever made). Hands of the Ripper is based on the assumption that Jack the Ripper had a daughter, Anna and after Jack murders her mother, Anna is placed in an orphanage. When she grows up, her father somehow possesses her body and uses her to commit murders, none of which she has any recollection of. Like many of the films featured on this list, Hands ends with an incredible climax (which I won’t spoil for you). The camera work is impressive, the acting is above average and the direction is solid. A truly suspenseful and tragic film and one of the best obscure Hammer films.
16: Tourist Trap (1979)
Directed by David Schmoeller
If you ‘re like me and you find wax dummies and mannequins creepy, than this is a movie for you. Despite its cookie cutter plot of kids getting stranded and chased around in the woods, Tourist Trap is a roller-coaster ride and a truly one of a kind slasher film. The film ably blends elements from the classics such as House of Wax, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie and even Psycho. Yet regardless of its obvious influences, Tourist Trap always feels unique in its own strange way.
15: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Directed by Chuck Russell
In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, the series takes a unique twist to become a more stable and rewarding franchise. New Line Cinema wisely brought back original Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven to co-write and executive produce this installment. Chuck Russell (The Blob) directs and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Walking Dead) was asked to come in and do some script rewrites. They also brought back Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) as well as her dad (John Saxon). The homecoming helped to shape one of the three best entries in the series. Englund delivers another terrific performance as Freddy, and Patricia Arquette makes her first big screen appearance as the rather likable heroine. The bigger budget allowed for more imaginative kill sequences and composer Angelo Badalmenti (famous for his work with David Lynch) does a great job in creating an appropriately moody score.
14: Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Directed by Robert Hiltzik
Sleepaway Camp has significantly less gore than most of the movies featured on this list, and it is not the most entertaining slasher film, but boy is it ever a memorable one due to its unexpected twist ending, which burns in your memory long after the credits role. For those of you who have seen the movie and know the ending, I recommend reading up on “The Ricky Theory“. Trivia: The original artwork for the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit box set was recalled after complaints were made by the Red Cross – so if you own one, it is worth a lot of money.
13: Child’s Play (1988)
Directed by Tom Holland
The soul of a serial killer inhabits a boy’s talking doll.
In retrospect, Child’s Play is nowhere near as good as its post-Scream sequels, Bride of Chucky and, later, Seed of Chucky – two films which had good, old-fashioned suspense take a backseat for comedy. But Child’s Play was perhaps the last truly good slasher released in the period covered here, and pretty terrifying for the time.
It had a simple premise, an iconic villain, a convincing performance from Alex Vincent (the kid) and Brad Dourif doing a typically excellent job as the voice of the killer doll.
12: When A Stranger Calls (1979)
Directed by Fred Walton
This film really doesn’t get enough respect. One of the first slasher films to follow on from the massive success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, When a Stranger Calls originally started out as The Sitter, a short film made by director Fred Walton, expanded out to form the basis of a feature. The slow-burn approach is book-ended by some truly excellent classic horror movie moments – the opening alone serves as the entire basis for Wes Craven’s Scream. Walton does an incredible job of mounting the tension almost entirely using sound – the constant phone ringing, the killer’s creepy voice and the powerhouse score. The biggest challenge by Walton was surprisingly portraying a sympathetic portrait of the psycho. Charles Durning gives a more than capable performance – and he gets the most memorable scene, in which he breaks down, completely nude, in front of his reflection in the washroom mirror. Highly recommended.
11: Frightmare/ Cover Up (1974)
Directed by Peter Walker
Genre director Pete Walker (The Flesh, Blood Show, House Of Whipcord, and The Confessional, among others) gives us one of the my personal favourite British horror films ever made. Apart from border-lining the slasher genre, Frightmare displays an overwhelming distrust of psychiatry and related professions and examines the idea of nature vs. nurture. There’s an artistry to Peter Walker’s work as his fluid, studied camera movements and intentionally abrupt edits project the gore, and provide a a disarming atmosphere. While the entire cast delivers superb performances, this is really Sheila Keith’s show. Her Dorothy is the epitome of the passive-aggressive mother – alternating between smart and feeble-minded, attentive and disoriented and so on. Frightmare is a marvel and a genuinely shocking film that features a fabulous ending.
10: The Prowler / Rosemary’s Killer (1981)
Directed by Joseph Zito
1981 really was the year of the slasher. Among one of the best released was Joseph Zito’s The Prowler, an incredibly overlooked entry into the already saturated genre. Our killer here is a WWII vet whose weapon of choice is a pitchfork. He also just so happens to resemble the miner from My Bloody Valentine, which was released a year later. Zito confidently keeps the pace flowing, carefully building the suspense levels and Tom Savini provides some exceptionally well made special effects. This efficient and surprisingly well-shot slasher features strong cinematography from Raoul Lomas and João Fernandes, and a memorable score by Richard Einhorn.
9: Dressed To Kill (1980)
Directed by Brian De Palma
I’ve always been one of “those guys” who criticizes Brian De Palma for ripping off Alfred Hitchcock a little too often. With that said, I am still a huge fan of his early work. His films, like Tarantino’s, are a cinematic mash-up of influences from the past. Dressed to Kill borrows heavily from the Italian giallo and once again Hitchcock, more accurately it is De Palma’s homage to Psycho. Still, one cannot deny how incredibly stylish Dressed is. The highlight here is an amazing ten-minute sequence with Angie Dickinson, set in an art gallery and conducted entirely without dialogue. There are a number of other well sustained set pieces including a chase in the subway and even yes, a gratuitous shower sequence. Dressed features an excellent cast, a mind-blowing score courtesy of Pino Donaggio, and some of the best camera work of any film featured on this list, via Ralf Bode.
8: Alice Sweet Alice / Communion (1976)
Directed by Alfred Sole
Originally titled Communion, Alice Sweet Alice, despite its considerable cult following, has slipped into relative obscurity. Released in 1976, it was given glowing reviews by critics and won the top prize at the Chicago International Film Festival. The film was made not long after The Exorcist and it capitalized on that film’s themes of Catholicism and evil children. Alice features some of the more disquieting set pieces in any movie appearing on this list, and also features the big-screen debut of Brooke Shields at age 11. The most memorable aspect of Alice comes from the tour-de-force performance given by the killer, one of the absolute best in the pantheon of movie murderers. Director Alfred Sole subsequently made two further genre films: Tanya’s Island (1980), and Pandemonium/Thursday the 12th (1982), a slasher film parody.
7: Friday The 13th (1980)
Directed by Sean Cunningham
One of the longest-running horror film series began with this shocker from director Sean S. Cunningham. While Friday The 13th isn’t a great film, the movie works thanks to its twist ending, though of course it’s derived from Hitchcock’s masterpiece released twenty years earlier. Still, no other film has done as much to popularize the genre and codify its “rules.”
6: My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Directed by George Mihalka
My Bloody Valentine, made at the height of the slasher/holiday trend, is noteworthy as one of the most distinctly Canadian horror films ever made. Produced by Happy Birthday To Me gurus John Dunning and André Link, and directed by George Mihalka, My Bloody Valentine is one of the best in the genre for several reasons: Mihalka’s direction is first-rate – the score by Paul Zaza is effectively creepy – the small town location along with the mining mill makes for a refreshingly unique setting and the film features a decent body count (though not much blood). But above all, the killer has bragging rights on the best costume of all slasher villains: As the unstoppable miner, his identity is hidden by a gas mask and a construction helmet complete with its own headlight. Competently made, well shot, and expertly paced, Valentine features one hell of a “voice of doom,” a great cast and some creative kills.
5: Just Before Dawn (1981)
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
From the director of Squirm and Blue Sunshine, Just Before Dawn doesn’t do anything new in terms of backwoods horror slashers, but fuck is it ever good. Beautifully shot and competently acted, it features great locations, a brooding atmosphere, and realistic dialogue. It’s also deeply unsettling, and the twist ending is surprisingly effective. Just Before Dawn also carefully plays with gender roles and queer stereotypes. It featured early performances from actors Chris Lemmon (Jack Lemmon’s son) and Gregg Henry (Slither), as well as early work from music composer Brad Fiedel, who wrote and performed the films eerie score. Lieberman cites the 1972 film Deliverance as the main influence, and calls Just Before Dawn his personal favourite of his works.
4: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
Directed by Wes Craven
In both concept and execution, the first A Nightmare on Elm Street has a great deal more to offer than most slasher films. Wes Craven intended Nightmare to be an exploration of surreal horror as opposed to just another stalk-and-slash genres movie. Elm Street was New Line’s first genuine mainstream cinematic venture (after Alone In The Dark) and made the company a huge pile of money. The film was shot in 30 days at a cost of roughly $1.8 million, but it made back its figure and then some on opening weekend. Robert Englund based the physicality of Freddy on Klaus Kinski’s performance in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979), making Freddy one of the most recognizable modern horror villains. Nightmare was both the feature debut and breakthrough for actor Johnny Depp, but the film acted more as a launch pad for its director, who although turning out two great pictures prior became a household name. Craven masterfully disguises dreams as reality and vice versa, and the idea that injuries sustained in dreams also exist outside helps to further blur the already murky distinction between the two.
3: Halloween (1978)
Directed by John Carpenter
A historical milestone that single-handedly shaped and altered the future of the entire genre. This seminal horror flick actually gets better with age; it’s downright transcendent and holds up with determination as an effective thriller that will always stand head and shoulders above the hundreds of imitators to come. Halloween had one hell of an influence on the entire film industry. You have to admire how Carpenter avoids explicit onscreen violence, and achieves a considerable power almost entirely through visual means, using its widescreen frame, expert hand-held camerawork, and terrifying foreground and background imagery.
2: Black Christmas (1974)
Directed by Bob Clark
We never did find out who Billy was. Maybe it’s for the best, since they never made any sequels to Bob Clark’s seminal slasher film, a film which predates Carpenter’s Halloween by four years. Whereas Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released the same year, blends backwoods horror with the slasher formula, Black Christmas is widely considered the first proper slasher film and is noted as one of the earliest films to present some of the sub-genre’s defining characteristics: a mysterious stalker, a set of adolescent or young-adult victims, a secluded location with little or no adult supervision, point-of-view camera shots representing the “killer’s perspective,” and graphic depictions of violence and murder. Like Carpenter, Clark avoids graphic bloodshed, focusing instead on suggestion and careful mise-en-scene and editing. Clark leads us through a labyrinth of red herrings and skillful handling of such plot devices as obscene phone calls from within the house. More importantly, unlike many of the slashers that followed, Black Christmas cannot be accused of misogyny; the violence against the female protagonists isn’t the picture’s raison d’etre. If there was ever a character from a slasher film to be chosen for a thesis on feminist work, it would have to be the film’s “final girl,” Jessica.
1: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains to this day a motion picture of raw, uncompromising intensity, a punishing assault on the senses via extended scenes of absolute sustained frenzy ever captured on celluloid. Marilyn Burns’ doomed screams will forever be etched in your memory as will the horror icon it produced, the raging chainsaw wielding lunatic Leatherface. Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre undoubtedly ranks as one of the best horror flicks of all time, and also boasts one of the most unforgettable abrupt endings ever.
The following films have appeared on many lists found online but I am simply not a fan:
Hellnight, The Burning, The Majorettes, The Mutiliater, Motel Hell, Scalps, Hospital Massacre, The Initiaion, Graudation Day, Unmasked Part 25, Madman, Don’t Look In The Basement, Prom Night
Sound on Sight is an independently owned and operated publication, started by a couple of film students back in 2008. We are not a general-interest magazine; we focus on film-literate, pop-culture savvy moviegoers with discerning tastes but broad palettes. We specialize in genre films, independent cinema, and documentaries, as well as the best of television and comics. Contrary to popular belief, the name of our publication (originally a radio show), was influenced by our favourite Steven Soderbergh film, and not the venerable British magazine.