To compose a list of favorite slasher films you must set a few ground rules first. Are you going to include Mario Bava’s Twitch Of The Death Nerve (1971) which created the prototype? Do you list Last House On The Left (1972) due to its penchant for violence? How about some love for Black Christmas (1974) – the godfather of the slasher? What about Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)?
For this list we are exclusively looking at the 80’s boom of masked killers. That means Evil Dead (1981), Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), and Hellraiser (1987) which populate other slasher lists will not be found here. Also, Halloween can not appear as number one, since it was released in 1978. Though we would love to include Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982) and Opera (1987) they are reserved for Giallo lists. What does that leave us with? The copycats, the filmmakers and producers seeking a quick dollar by latching on to a horror zeitgeist. The quality of filmmaking varies, the holiday changes, the mask is different, and its cast of youths are interchangeable. Despite these differences a slasher film is a very distinct sub-genre.
15.)April Fool’s Day (1986)
Fred Walton’s film is often noted as the slasher that destroyed the cycle. In 1986 the boom was nearly over, but in April Fool’s Day the twist ending infuriated audiences. This is a fitting place to start this list – the death rattle of the 80’s slasher. Even though its twist caused an uproar, the level of inventiveness and the element of post-modernism make this one a classic.
14.) Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Written by a feminist and directed by a woman, this commentary alone ranks this otherwise cheesey foray in the slice and dice genre. The film pokes fun at itself and even the dialogue reflects the humor that is at its core. The killer loves to use only phallic power tools and when one of his potential victims breaks the tip of his drill he is rendered powerless. This is a priceless moment.
13.) Night School (1981)
This little seen entry boasts a killer wearing a motorcycle helmet and hellbent on decapitating college girls. Director Ken Hughes is best known for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This was his only horror film and subsequently his last voyage as a director. With its above average camerawork, great acting (except of course the bumbling police), and twist ending this is by the 80’s standards an excellent slasher.
12.) Pieces (1982)
We see a child putting together a naughty puzzle and when his mother disapproves he hacks her up with an ax; this is just the beginning. The tagline reads: you don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre. Instead, go to Italy but pretend you’re in America. The dubbing is atrocious and by extension the acting probably is too. There are chainsaws, brutal killings, a great reveal, and ample nudity: all staples of the genre.
11.) Stage Fright (1987)
Michele Soavi who may be best known for Cemetery Man (1994) provides us with an intriguing mix of giallo and slasher. Soavi has worked with the best Italian horror masters, he was an assistant director on Argento’s Tenebrae, Phenomena, and Opera. He also worked with Mario Bava’s son Lamberto Bava on A Blade In The Dark. Stage Fright has the Argento signature camerawork while telling a decent story of murder in the confines of a theater. The owl mask is very impressive.
10.) Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Possibly one of the best endings in the horror genre. There’s not much else going on for this film. There is a camp setting which we will see elsewhere in this list. Most of the effects seemed to be held back except for one scene and I think most of the budget rested there. It did provide a loose framework for three sequels, which the second is worth viewing even if it is just for the cringe-worthy outhouse death.
9.) Prom Night (1980)
This is usually higher on these lists and while I do indeed love it, the washed out cinematography bothers me. I may be alone here, but every version I’ve seen, the lighting is too bright and there’s no contrast. As far as slasher plotlines go, the whodunnit is great.
8.) The Prowler (1981)
It’s time for the graduation dance in Avalon Bay. The first one in 35yrs. The first one since tragedy befell the small town. The soon to be college grads are excited, but someone else is even more excited. The killer, wearing WWII army gear, dispatches the students one by one. Joseph Zito (Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter) along with the wizardry of Tom Savini created a truly spectacular slasher.
7.) Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
A film that had mothers everywhere up-in-arms for its commercials featuring a deranged Santa Clause, is also a satisfying psychological rendering of childhood trauma crippling adulthood normalcy. After seeing his father shot and his mother raped and killed by a lunatic in a Santa suit Billy is raised in an orphanage. The nuns who run the orphanage force Billy to repress his sexuality and unwittingly cause him to correlate sex with murder. Christmas Evil (1980) was also a yule tide treat dealing with the psychology of a moral crusader. Skip the Silent Night sequels – they lost their way.
6.) My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Oh, the Canadian goodness. My partner in crime and I had the wonderful opportunity to see the 35MM uncut print with the director present and it was fantastic. There is an amount of cheese to the dialogue and some of the logistics are not tended to, but those are only tiny qualms that would never sully the overall effect of My Bloody Valentine. The big thing that sets it apart from other slashers is that the cast of victims are not teens, or students, they are blue caller workers in a small mining town. There is a camaraderie at play and everyone shines because of that. They shot on location and the town itself became a character. The killer’s mining gear, headlamp, and pick ax are terrifying too.
5.) Terror Train (1980)
A med school student prank gone wrong is the catalyst for their misfortune years later. On the eve of their graduation they have rented an entire train to throw a celebratory party. Luckily for our killer it is a masquerade soiree. Terror Train has it all: red herrings, a young David Copperfield, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
4.) Friday The 13th II (1981)
Even though Jason drown at Camp Crystal Lake in 1957, he was reborn the moment his mother died. Supernatural rebirth as a traumatized nine year old, coupled with his deformities, cause Jason the hermit to seek revenge. After killing the one responsible for his mother’s death, Jason returns to his woods and lives as peaceful as can be. He may not have harmed anyone and just settled down with his mother’s severed head, but when a couple of joy-loving teens trespass onto his property he seeks more vengeance. Their misstep leads Jason to cover his face with a burlap sack and destroy everyone. As far as horror sequels go Friday The 13th II is top notch.
3.) The Burning (1981)
It may be a rip-off of Friday The 13th, but it has Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, Jason Alexander, effects by Tom Savini, and was written by Bob and Harvey Weinstein – what else can you ask for. The raft massacre alone propels this to the top of the list.
2.) Halloween II (1981)
This may seem like just a reason to get Halloween in the list, but truthfully part 2 is a masterpiece. The film picks up right where the first left off, you find out Laurie is Micheal’s sister, the kill count is much higher, there is gratuitous nudity, and you see a real showdown between Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers. This is truly one of the greatest horror sequels. Having said that, it is hard to pick a winner between Phantasm II, Evil Dead II, Halloween II, and Friday The 13th II – maybe that’s a whole new list.
1.) Friday The 13th (1980)
What started as an ad in a magazine prior to any plot or idea quickly became the go-to for the slasher film. Take an unlucky day, pick a group of teens ready to become victims, provide a harbinger of “doom,” a history of a curse, a giallo murder mystery, and you have the perfect follow up to Halloween.
Visiting Hours, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, Maniac, Road Games, and The Hitcher are all classics of the 80’s but there is no mystery as to who the killer is or is there a mask worn.
House on Sorority Row, Psycho II, Hell Night, The Dorm That Dripped Blood/Pranks, Curtains, and Fade To Black were all close contenders but did not make the cut.
Did I miss your favorite 1980-1990 slasher film? If so, let me know. I am always looking to discover something new.