Horror is a rich and multi-faceted genre. From Psychological, Supernatural, Found Footage, Folk, Zombies, Werewolves and dozens more sub-genres, Horror is unquestionably diverse. However, I think if one would poll the average fan they would find a common element that was their gateway to the macabre: the Slasher flick.
A relentless killer stalks and butchers innocent (or often not-so-innocent) teenagers using crude weapons and inventive kills. There’s usually a fair amount of nudity among a handful of other tropes. It’s sorta the perfect thing to watch with your friends when you’re a teenager home on a Saturday night…eating pizza…drinking sodas…and completely sucked into the moment. The movies are bloody, scary and just prurient enough to be titillating. To some, it’s silly disposable entertainment. Others get sucked into the rush that comes from a well-crafted horror movie and go on to explore the genre in a broader sense looking for their next fix.
While ardent fans have undoubtedly seen most of the films on this list countless times, others may just be starting out.
10 Great Slasher Flicks
Halloween (1978): The prototype for every successive film in the genre, Halloween is the gold standard of slasher flicks. Anchored by a career-defining performance by a young Jamie Lee Curtis, the 1978 classic is chock full of gore, scares and punch. It is entirely re-watchable and equally effective with each successive viewing. Halloween is royalty of the category.
Psycho (1960): If Halloween is atop the proverbial heap of slasher films, then Psycho is its lineal grandparent. Based on the 1959 novel by Robert Bloch, Psycho follows Norman Bates; a perverse, angry and broken young man who wants nothing more than to please his mother. Anthony Perkins simply stuns as Bates. And the Janet Leigh shower scene is the stuff of Hollywood legend.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): Much like Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is loosely based on the real-life murders committed by Ed Gein. Gritty, intense and utterly unsettling, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre feels more akin to the lurid porno films of the era rather than any horror movie ever previously produced. Director Tobe Hooper created an undeniable classic.
Child’s Play (1988): There is something about a foul-mouthed murderous doll that has always appealed to me. Released in November of 1988, I was a freshly-minted 14-year-old at the time Child’s Play premiered. The film follows the blood-soaked adventures of a wise-cracking serial killer (“Charles Lee Ray”), who, via a Haitian voodoo spell, transfers his spirit from his dying body into the inanimate shell of a gentle “Good Guy” stuffed doll. Ray as “Chucky,” leaves a swath of dead bodies, bad jokes and numerous sequels of negligible quality in his homicidal wake. The Child’s Play franchise is a not-so-guilty pleasure.
Bride of Killer Nerd (1992): To keep in line with the horror/comedy genre, up next is Bride of Killer Nerd. Shot in nearby (to me) Ravenna, Ohio, the story details the deadly adventures of unpopular couple “Harold Kunkle” and “Thelma Crump.” After being made fun of by the “popular girls,” the star-crossed lovers go on a revenge-filled rampage. Starring Toby Radloff (of MTV and American Splendor fame), Bride of Killer Nerd is a rare example of a sequel being better than the original.
The Stepfather (1987): One of my first jobs out of high school was at a local video store. Though I was only paid minimum wage, the real perk of the job was free access to literally all the movies I could watch. In the era of Netflix, Hulu, Shudder and a litany of other streaming services that modern viewers have access to, this might not sound like much—but in the early-90s, I had the keys to the kingdom. I’d pour through everything I could get my greedy little hands on. Horror was always a favorite for my brother and me. This is how I discovered The Stepfather.
Starring Terry O’Quinn as the affable—yet maniacal—titular character, The Stepfather chronicles the exploits of identity-morphing “Henry Morrison” as he ingratiates himself to a single mother and her teenage daughter. All is well until the thin pretense of his actual background comes into question. It is then that the Stepfather, under a fresh guise, sets up a new life with a different woman, and, oh yeah, must slaughter his old family before moving on. Good stuff.
Black Christmas (1974): A group of sorority girls is stalked and killed one by one during the holiday season at a sleepy college campus. This Canadian-produced classic simmers and taunts through its 98-minute runtime. Much like Halloween, Black Christmas is credited with defining the tropes of the genre.
Chopping Mall (1986): While I’m not sure Chopping Mall is a slasher film, per se, it is so much damn fun that unquestionably belongs on the list. Mixing elements of horror, sci-fi, comedy and adventure, the movie is the story of three security robots that malfunction and begin to kill a group of kids who are in the mall after-hours. At times Chopping Mall can be a bit silly and clunky, but its overall charm outweighs any shortcomings.
Sleepaway Camp (1983): I’ve always been a sucker for a film with a good twist ending— the original Planet of the Apes, anyone? —so it is no surprise that Sleepaway Camp anchors this list. Both cheeky and subversive, it has been a personal favorite of mine since I discovered it years ago. A cult film of the highest order, Sleepaway Camp is the story of a teenage girl who goes to summer camp. Shortly thereafter, a series of grisly murders begin. Shot for $350,000 and raking in a whopping $11 million at the box office, the film still packs a strong punch 36 years after its release. I had the privilege of catching a screening of it years ago at the famed Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio. The audience appeared to be 75% uninitiated to the film because when the ending came, the place went bonkers. It was an electric live experience.
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