So, are one of those peeps who is a newbie when it comes to slasher movies? Or maybe you just want to read about some of the iconic slasher films? Maybe see which ones you’ve missed?
The slasher is a highly popular and important sub-genre in horror, which many believe began properly in the ’70s, with the classic Black Christmas in 1974 often as one of the first best examples. It demonstrates a number of characteristics which would soon start to define the genre we know today, including a mysterious killer, a group of young adults/teens as the victims, secluded locations and of course, plenty of blood and guts. It can be argued that there are earlier examples of slashers (perhaps Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960 truly invented the genre), and such arguments could be forever debated among hardcore fans of the genre, but keeping these main characteristics in mind, put together here is the beginner’s guide to some of the most essential and important slashers ever made, plus a few notes on some other fun flicks and ones to avoid.
Scream (dir. Wes Craven, 1996)
In the ’90s, the slasher genre seemed to be dying off, with a host of other horror genres taking the lead. But in ‘96, with Scream, Wes Craven created a film that would redefine the genre as we knew it, by taking elements from classic slashers and turning them on their head. The scares are there, yes. There’s a mysterious murderer, there’s a host of sex-crazed, alcohol-fuelled adolescents, but the film is smarter than most slashers that came before it. It knows exactly what it is, and it has a lot of fun with that fact, allowing it to be very meta, using a self-referential style of humour that is so ahead of it’s time, especially for the horror genre. Helped by the wonderful trio of Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox, the film was a roaring success in every sense, and is absolutely the most perfect introduction to the genre for newbies.
Then move onto:
Halloween (dir. John Carpenter, 1978)
Once you’ve had a taste of what the genre has to offer, it’s time to do your homework on the true classics. In 1978, John Carpenter created a genuine horror masterpiece with Halloween; a low-budget slasher that proves how far you can go with a little money and a lot of talent. With this film, Carpenter gave the world probably the first true slasher icon in the form of Michael Myers. A character we know little-to-nothing about, who lurks about on Halloween, wearing a William Shatner mask painted white and killing teens. Knowing so little about the character makes him that much scarier and the jum scares are executed to perfection. Jamie Lee Curtis also made a name for herself as Laurie Strode, giving us the first iconic slasher heroine, or Last Girl. Timeless stuff.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (dir. Wes Craven, 1984)
Wes again here, in the decade where the slasher phenomenon was at the height of it’s popularity, and in ‘84, the world’s most prolific horror character was born. With Freddy Krueger, something truly original was created; a horribly scarred man who can kill you in your sleep. The idea is nothing short of genius, and without Craven, the premise could’ve been totally squandered into something much cheesier. But what we get here in the original is a clever and scary slasher with a supernatural twist. Whereas Freddy eventually became more known for his tongue-in-cheek one-liners and general goofiness later on the series, he demonstrates a much more memorable and powerful trait in this flick; pure fear. If there’s any movie character that can keep you up at night, it’s him. Nightmare is 100% essential.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1974)
Again, proving how much can truly be achieved in horror with such a small budget, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a flick that is destined to be talked about until the end of time. What sets it apart from a lot of the films on this list is the sense of realism it displays. What we have here is a Texas family out on a farm in the middle of nowhere, completely deranged and seemingly without any sense of conscience. The best known villain from the film is of course Leatherface; a massive tank of a creature with a mask made of human skin, who is never caught without his giant chainsaw in hand. He never really speaks, only screams, and only slices and dices. He is a terrifying creation, and it’s even more frightening knowing that his some of his character is based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein. For me, it is the family behind Leatherface, pulling his strings that scares me the most. They give a whole new meaning to the term “dysfunctional family”, and knowing that there are people in the world who are like this hits home pretty hard. The film is suitably gritty and sweaty, and it feels so adult that you hardly even notice the amazing lack of actual gore and profanity. You’ll need to shower for days after this one.
Friday The 13th (dir. Sean S. Cunningham, 1980)
With the success of Halloween in 1978, it was clear that the genre had the potential to be a major cash cow, and so the numerous “copycat” franchises spawned in their dozens. One of the first and most noteworthy slashers of the ’80s was Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday The 13th. A flick that clearly took influences from Carpenter; as we have a mysterious killer, use of POV camerawork, unsuspecting teens and plenty of slashing. The gore is definitely upped compared to the likes of Halloween, and perhaps that’s what eventually went on to define the Friday films; the sheer level of blood and guts; and the ingenuity behind each murder. It is hockey-masked Jason who is the face of the franchise, but it’s really his mother, Mrs. Voorhees who steals the show in the first film.
Brief Guide to Sequels and Remakes
Whereas most horror sequels truly do suck at the highest level, the Scream franchise as a whole is pretty strong. It is in no small debt to Wes Craven helming all three follow ups to the original, as well as writer Kevin Williamson and the trio of stars all returning too. Scream 2 is excellent fun, and pretty much essential viewing but 3 and 4 are for fans of the franchise only.
The first follow up to the original, Halloween II, is worth a watch for sure, but had too much to live up to to ever have a chance at being something special. III is where things get a little mixed up, and they bring in witches instead of Michael Myers, much to the dissatisfaction of the fans. There’s plenty more Myers-filled sequels that follow, but I’ll admit, I haven’t gotten around to seeing most of them.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) is a decent stab at reinterpreting John Carpenter’s masterpiece, and has an added first act which shows us a young, troubled Michael Myers. It’s a good, gorey, flick that, like all Rob Zombie films definitely shows some flair and passion for the genre, but it’s definitely scarier the less we know about Myers, and so the original will always trump it.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Plenty of fun sequels followed up to the original, but none could really match the horror of the first. 2 is widely considered as the weakest, but I have a soft spot for it because it’s the first Nightmare film I saw. 3 aka Dream Warriors is a surprisingly excellent entry to the series in it’s own right. It is completely different from the original, particularly in tone, and that’s why it works so well. Watch with tongue planted firmly in cheek and you’ll have a ball. Freddy became more of a joke from here on out in the series, but at least he’s genuinely funny and creative in this venture.
Numbers 4, 5 and 6 are for hardcore fans only, and even then, will probably disappoint.
Wes Craven returned in 1998 to make New Nightmare, a film quite close to what he created with Scream. It’s a very clever effort where the original cast play themselves and throws something new after too many tired sequels. Definitely worth the watch.
Samuel Bayer made a stab at doing a remake in 2010, with one major chance; Robert, who played Freddy in every single other film (and even the short-lived TV series) was replaced by Watchmen's Jackie Earl Haley. He does his best with the source material that desperately tries to set a dark tone like the original, but fails miserably. Totally uninspired. Do not watch.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is considered to be something of a cult classic in the genre, and it definitely is a bit of fun. The highlight being Bill Moseley’s “Chop Top”, a fan favourite indeed. Tobe Hooper takes the helm again, but sets a completely different tone, and it’s more of a dark comedy than anything. Worth a watch, but don’t expect it to be anything like the original.
Numbers 3 and 4, subtitled Leatherface and The New Generation respectively, are both terrible, but it’s fun to see a young Matthew McConaughey pop up in one of his weirdest roles ever in TNG.
Marcus Nispel’s remake in 2003 was surprisngly good stuff, despite not straying much from the original’s plot. A strong cast makes it definitely watchable. All films that followed this one are complete tripe. Skip ‘em.
Friday the 13th
There’s an absolute heap of 13th sequels, mostly tackled by different directors, and they are very much a mismatch batch of flicks. The good ones are few and far between, most of them being borderline ridiculous, with a special mention to Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, taking the crown. II, III and VI are all quite good, with the latter adding more supernatural elements than ever giving it a new spin. Jason X is of course widely renowned as a bit of a cult classic, putting our masked killer in space and letting him rip. It’s utterly stupid, but it’s still fun.
Nispel tackled another remake of a classic in 2009 - a Friday The 13th reboot - and although it does nothing particularly new, it’s worth a watch for the sheer amounts of blood and a fun opening 30 minutes or so.
Some Other Noteworthy Slashers:
- Freddy Vs. Jason: Title says it all. Watch it.
- Hatchet: An instant cult classic. Feels retro and new and the same time.
- You’re Next: Clever, and Scream-esque.
- Child’s Play: Chucky!
- Sleepaway Camp: The perfect so-bad-it’s-good slasher.
- Final Destination: Original is brilliant fun.
Obviously there’s tonnes of stuff I left out on this. Believe me, I’ve seen my fair share, and there’s plenty still on my watch list, but I reckon this is a pretty good guide to get newbies acquainted with the slashing!
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