Top 10 Slasher Films

Neal Damiano celebrates one of horror’s most loved sub-genres – the slasher film – as he looks at the worlds of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees & Norman Bates…

Top 10 Films loves a good scare. Heck, watching hundreds of horror movies from across the years has enabled us to create definitive top 10s for the greatest horror films 1967 to 1979 and the best horror films of the 1980s as well discovering the scariest of the them all.

Now we tackle a sub-genre of horror – the slasher film. The granddaddy of the genre is traditionally thought of as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, with Janet Leigh meeting her maker thanks to Anthony Perkins’ hotelier (or “motelier” if you prefer) Norman Bates. However, the genre had to wait a few years before its conventions would be fully established thanks to a director named John Carpenter and a serial killer going by the title Michael Myers. The year was 1978. What followed in the 1980s was a string of low-budget horror films that would forever live long in the memory because of their knife-happy killers, scream-queen teenagers and jump-out-of-your-seat moments.

10. Terror Train (Spottiswoode, 1980)


A college fraternity decides to hold a New Year’s Eve party on a train. But an uninvited guest, a tormented ex-fraternity member, decides to take revenge on the students by killing them off one by one. On board the terror train is then scream-queen Jamie Lee Curtis. What was so special about this slasher is the amazing cinematography. It is top notch for a horror film, creating a eerie, moody feeling.
Discover more: See our analysis of the slasher genre

9. The Burning (Maylam, 1981)

One of the first films from Miramax, this horror classic came out in 1981 and really set the slasher trend in America. When campers decide to play a cruel joke on Chopsey, a lonely grounds keeper at a summer camp, he gets burned and disfigured severly. Several years later he returns to the camp site to get his revenge armed with a huge pair of shears he slices the campers up one by one with lots of blood and gore.
Discover more: See our top 10 horror films of the 1980s

8. Maniac (Lustig, 1980)


Written and acted by Joe Spinell this classic is one of the first slasher films with themes of psychological abuse. The story centers around Frank Zito, a loner in New York City who takes his frustrations of having been abused as a child by his mother out on women walking alone at night. Very graphic in its nature, he scalps the young pretty women and takes their hair and clothes home to dress mannequins up like his mother and then sleeps with them for several nights. Often criticised for copying Psycho for its similiar plot, Maniac is more graphic and gory with a lot more killing.
Discover more: See our top 10 scariest films ever made

7. Black Christmas (Clark, 1974)

Many consider this the first slasher film due to its brutal style and nature of the killings. Black Christmas is more scary than gory to me. Set in a sorority house nearing Christmas Eve, the sisters decide to stay on campus with an unwanted visitor living in the attic. What was so fascinating about this slasher was the excessive torment the killer put these girls through, taunting them with sadistic phone calls. The suspense built up in the movie is quite frightening and the killings are very violent. One of the scariest films of its time.
Discover more: See our top 10 horror films 1967 to 1979 | Read our full review of Black Christmas

6. House on Sorority Row (Rosman, 1983)


House on Sorority Row deserves to be on this list for its cinematography alone. Six sorority sisters at a college planning a big party before school semester closes decide to play a joke on their nasty den mother by putting a fake gun to her head while throwing her cane into a swimming pool. But the gun fires by accident and kills her. They panic, hide her body in the pool and throw the party anyway. A mysterious figure comes to the party killing each sister off with the den mother’s cane. A classic “whodunnit” with plenty of blood and gore. Suspense right up to the very end.
Discover more: See our top 10 monsters I don’t want to find in my closet

5. Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)

Mrs Voorhees, Friday the 13th, Top 10 Scary Mothers - Top 10 FilmsA lot of people believe Friday the 13th to be the film that brought slasher style cinema to the forefront of America. Others consider this a rip off of Maria Bava’s “Bay of Blood”. While some do not consider this the start of the Jason franchise because it was the mother who was doing the killing. But I say without this there would be no Jason series. Sean Cunningham created a slasher masterpiece – the production quality is far better than its predecessors, combining creative camera shots with really creepy music. The first to have multiple killings symbolising horny care free teenagers as morally wrong. The series became larger than life, making Jason and Camp Crystal Lake pop culture icons.
Discover more: See our top 10 Friday The 13th films

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Craven, 1984)


A Nightmare on Elm Street truly is a unique film. I refer to it as the intelligent slasher because it broke away from the traditional storyline of teenagers having sex and getting slashed up in the woods. It added a sci fi element where the killer stalks his victims in their dreams. Wes Craven’s concept was groundbreaking for a slasher film in its time. Freddy Krueger became one of the scariest figures in modern day horror. The cinematography was top notch and the overall essence of the film to this day frightens me. As a kid I could not sleep for a week after seeing this movie.
Discover more: See our top 10 horror film beginnings

3. Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)


Alfred Hitchcock is the king of suspense. With all the countless imitations nothing comes close to the impact this film had on cinema. Touching on several themes from desperation, moral dilemma, greed, and corruption, Psycho is because it’s character driven, and we really get to know the characters. The cinematography and acting is top notch for a slasher movie. Norman Bates is one of the most frightening monsters in modern day cinema. Who can forget the infamous shower scene.
Discover more: See our top 10 Alfred Hitchcock films

2. Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)


Many consider Halloween to be the greatest slasher film ever made and it’s hard to argue this. John Carpenter created an amazingly scary movie. It was made on a shoe string budget. Michael Myers to me is the most frightening of all the iconic killers because his mask is a pale emotionless face. What makes Halloween so great is the way it’s shot and the music in it is tormenting.
Discover more: See our comparison between Halloween 1978 and Halloween 2007 | See out top 10 John Carpenter films

1. My Bloody Valentine (Mihalka, 1981)


Not the greatest production and the acting is horrible but it had such a charm to it. The killings were unique and it swayed away from being stuck in the woods or in a house, a theme that several of these slasher films beat to death (no pun intended). The Movie Channel showed it every February 14th and I watched it everytime. The bloody heart in the chocolate candy box etched in my brain and the evil miners outfit with the pick axe. Harry Warden is an underrated killer who I feel never got his due. My Bloody Valentine scared the life out of me as a kid and it always stood out to me over all the other cheesy slasher films of its day. The remake was horrible and I always wondered why they never made a part two? Memorable phrase “Sarah will you be my bloody valentine.”
Discover more: Read our full review of My Bloody Valentine

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.

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About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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  1. Stan Reply

    Great list. I really enjoyed the Scream films, especially the first two.

  2. moviedog23 Reply

    My Bloody Valentine is trashy fun but I don’t think there’s a better “slasher” than Halloween. It was where it all began and it still holds up so well today. The remake was horrid!

  3. Stan Reply

    …any fans of Cherry Falls out there. Not many have heard of it.

  4. Dan Reply

    @Stan: Notable for the appearance of the great Michael Biehn (or as I like to think of him – “Corporal Hicks”) and the late Brittany Murphy. I enjoyed that one – one of very few modern slasher films I’ve liked. Heck, most of them a glossy remakes which completely defeats what was so great about these late 70s/80s films.

    @moviedog23: Completely agree with you regarding the remake of Halloween. John Carpenter created a killer who was so frightening thanks to his mysterious appetite for destruction. Rob Zombie made a movie that said – hey, here’s the bad guy, and this is why he’s so crazy.

  5. Evan Crean Reply

    Another great list guys. I love how nothing on it is newer than 1984. I feel like that says something about the state of slasher films today. The one I was most surprised to see was “The Burning” which I feel like not too many people know about. I love Seinfeld, so it’s hilarious to see a young Jason Alexander in that movie.

  6. Dan Reply

    @Evan Crean: I totally agree with you. There was something trashy about those low budget slashers of the 1980s. Now they are far too glossy. In addition, they all try to out-gore each other as if audiences want to see more and more disgusting things.

  7. Creeper Reply

    Of the new slasher films, Scream 4 was a big let down. Time has moved on and the self-referential stuff felt old hat.

    The old ones are great. I;d have Friday The 13th right at the top. The film isn’t as good a horror film as Halloween but it defined the conventions of the stalk and slash genre more so than any other. I would have also included I Spit On Your Grave and Last House on the Left.

  8. moviedog23 Reply

    Cherry Falls! It was hit by production problems. Apparently there is a longer – better – version of it but I haven’t seen it. Not a big fan myself though. Of the new ones, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is the most fun…yes, I did say “I Still Know…” Not least because Jennifer Love Hewitt spends some of the movie in a state of undress.

  9. Castor Reply

    Haven’t seen Bloody Valentine so Halloween would be my #1. It’s sad that nothing in recent memory even comes close to these classics though. It’s like filmmakers don’t know how to generate fear/terror beyond using stupid tricks like sudden loud noises and what not.

  10. Neal Damiano Reply

    Thanks for all the comments guys! This list took some time.

  11. Neal Damiano Reply

    Well there really was nothing worthy of putting on the list in cinema today. So it wasn’t intentional but that really was the era of slasher film late 70s and more so into the early 80s.

  12. Dan Reply

    @Castor: My Bloody Valentine was not only remade but it had the added “bonus” of 3D! The reason why slasher films were so well loved in the 1980s was because they touched a cultural nerve. Kevin Williamson recognised that when he revitalised the genre in the mid-1990s with Scream by re-energising the conventions for a new audience. The later remakes have simply tried to cash in on the success of highly stylised gore cinema and failed to capture the raw anger seen in those early slashers.

  13. James Cheevers Reply

    Being lucky enough to have my teenage years during the slasher heyday I was interested in this list. Inevitably, my own list would be slightly different. HOSR, Valentine, Terror Train and Black Christmas would be bumped for Rosemary’s Killer, Sleepaway Camp, Happy Birthday To Me and the Valentine remake (which I think is one of the best pure slashers)

  14. Dan Reply

    @James: Ah…Sleepaway Camp…it would probably find a spot on my own top 10 list. Have you seen April Fools Day?

  15. James Cheevers Reply

    I saw AFD in a double bill with F13 Part 6 back in the 80’s. I’ve now been able to introduce it to my teenage sons. Every teenage boy needs to know Deborah Foreman.

  16. mark Reply

    Funny thing happened down here in Oz just over 20 years ago …

    At the time one could only get Maniac and Fri 13 Part IV on VHS, and they were cut. Any way, Fangora issued its Scream Greats Vol 1 (also on VHS … this was circa 1991), which was on Tom Savini. It had all of the uncut stuff in it (Maniac – the head blowing apart scene, some of the scalping, Joe knifing the woman in the railway toilet, whispering in her ear as he slips the blade in etc; and F13 IV – the head sliding down the machete).

    This meant an omnibus of sorts had thwarted the censor. Yee-haw.

    When Terror Train came out in 81, one of our local TV stations did a movie show-type commentry on it, including the bit when chief conductor Ben Johnson was describing to a co-worker one of the death scenes (I think it involved a smashed mirror). The TV host (Michael Brock), tongue planted firmly in cheek, said Johnson’s character was pretty calm in his delivery given the carnage he had just witnessed.

    Not a slasher film fan … seen a few, including Final Exam, which was almost funny but pretty inept.

    Surprised that Scream or its kin didn’t make this list; ditto something by Dario Agento (maybe Bird With the Crystal Plumage cood have been a contenda?)

    Personally, I believe Joe Spinell truly undermined his legacy with Maniac, which is arguably the work of degenerate pigs. I mean here is a guy who was in at least three best picture films (Godfather I, II and Rocky), had (if I’m not mistaken) a small part in the block buster Jaws and acted in Billy Friekin’s two most interesting misfires (Sorcerer and Cruising).

    Yeah, he was untrained, had acne scars, look a bit like Ron Jeremy but no doubt had a smaller dick and didn’t get laid as much, probably drank too much as well … but he should never have stooped to this sort of codswallop, even if it meant he was going to finally have a leading role.

  17. Neal Damiano Reply

    @James Cheevers thanks for commenting but in no way is remake of MBV better than the original it was so hyped up with beautiful actresses that swayed away from the original story. The killings were quick and unoriginal and the 3D aspect sucked. Sleepaway Camp and Happy Birthday to Me both great slasher films and I considered them for list. I felt House on Sorority Row better production and storyline.

  18. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Mark thanks for reply…I’ve had this talk bout Maniac before …..the reason I put this on the list is because it was a unique type of slasher at the time brought something different to viewers yes it was misogynistic but most of these films were plus age discriminative too. It’s entertainment first and foremost that’s it. Joe Spinnell wrote a tuly frightening slasher because it could very well happen in real life and that’s why it’s on my list. It is not my favorite slasher in the least but I have other criteria of why films make my lists other than the fact I like a film….but it’s all subjective in the end.

  19. Neal Damiano Reply

    @James I agree with you on Deborah Foreman and you should have him see Valley Girl it’s one of my favorite films and made a number one in my quintessential 80s films list. April Fools Day great film as well.

  20. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Jame C also I personally feel Black Christmas has to be on this list it influenced so many slasher films to come. Not to mention how scary it was the suspense built up alone! The killings were raw and extremely violent. This is technically is the first slasher film by definition had to be on my list for sure!

  21. Dan Reply

    @Neal: Absolutely. Black Christmas has to be on any top 10 slasher list…Bob Clark’s film was hugely inspirational to the films that followed. I don’t think we would have got Halloween without Black Christmas.

  22. Neal Damiano Reply

    @creeper thanks for th input mate! But I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left technically are not slasher films. I would put them on a feminist revenge or grind house / gore list more so. Both great films.

  23. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dan thanks yes Black Christmas truly influenced so many horror films of the 80s with its stylized way ..definitely Halloween and House onSorority Row to name a few.

  24. Rodney Reply

    Would you class Deep Red as a slasher film (by Argento?) I think that ranks high on this list – plus it’s scary as hell….

    Looks like Imma check out My Bloody Valentine at some point if it beats out Psycho for the #1 spot!!

  25. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Rodney I wouldn’t necessarily say it beats Psycho but I stick to my ground with number ones it just happens to be my favorite from the slashers. It stood out to me as a kid watching it. I thought it had a savy stylized way to it that’s all but definitely worth checking out if you like slasher films. It’s certainly a quintessential slasher film by definition!

  26. Pete Reply

    I haven’t seen your number one! I guess I have to now! I’m also quite up for seeing number ten. Nice list!

  27. Jess Reply

    Awesome list even though I still have to see a lot of them! I’m about to put a bunch of these in my Netflix queue to gear up for Halloween. Only movies off the top of my head not listed are Scream, as previously mentioned several times, and The Prowler. Despite it’s very very weak plot, The Prowler has some ridiculously great, memorable kill scenes and inventive uses of the pitchfork as the killer’s weapon of choice. Very cool if you haven’t seen it.

  28. Dan Grant Reply

    Fantastic list!

    Very happy to see My Bloody Valentine on it. If anyone hasn’t seen the added scenes on the SE DVD, it is worth it. It makes a very good slasher film a fantastic slasher film.

  29. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dan Grant well thank you very much Dan glad to see someone else loves this quintessential slasher…it really was an underrated film I believe it got overshadowed by the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street buzz of that time period (the early 80s) but it stands the test of time really is a scary film (the original).

  30. Dan Grant Reply

    Neil:

    I agree. I remember when I was younger, I heard so much about the laundromt scene. It was supposed to be to disgusting to have it in the film, so of course it was taken out. After they put it back in for the SE DVD, and we finally got to see it, of course by today’s standards, it’s quite pedestrian. But for the 80’s it would have been quite jarring to see that body in the dryer. That was some kick ass makeup and effects.

    Again, great list.

  31. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dan Grant. Yes, I remember that laundromat scene was taken out for cable (The Movie Channel) they did a good job with the re- release of the DVD. The sp features are excellent esp. The History of the Slasher Film documentary!

  32. Dead Reply

    I love My Bloody Valentine, but I could never rate it higher than Halloween. Still, lots of classics on this list and it’s good to see The Burning as well. I’d nominate clever, self-aware slashers like The Slumber Party Massacre, or Scream, over stuff that’s not really strictly “slasher” material though. There’s also The Prowler and other slasher gems that I consider much more relevant to the list than the influential stepping stones of decades past.

    I know Psycho is considered the grandfather of the slashers, but I don’t really consider it part of the genre. There are a lot of films that aren’t as prestigious, but that are far more relevant to the genre. They deserve a spot here over a film that was merely influential to the genre while not really being part of it. I sort of feel that way about Black Christmas and Peeping Tom as well, as many consider them among the “best slasher films” but I don’t agree with the genre categorization. Maybe I’m being overly picky, but I do not consider “influential to” as equal to “best of”. It would be akin to listing blues guitarists in a “top 10 hard rock guitar players” list. The influence of the blues on later rock styles is evident and inarguable, but it doesn’t make Muddy Waters a metal musician any more than it makes Led Zeppelin a traditional blues outfit. These films belong on a “Top 10 precursors to the slasher film” list or something.

    Oh, and for the record (why can’t this be typed without it sounding obnoxious?), it’s Friday the 13th Part 2 that is most often accused of copying Bay of Blood. Specifically, there are a couple kill sequences that employ identical methods to Bava’s film. I’m not aware of anyone who claims the original Friday to be a ripoff of the film, not anyone who would ever be taken seriously anyway. The influence is there, but Friday the 13th is an entirely different beast informed by so much else and with an identity entirely of its own. And for that matter, it’s also a better film in just about every aspect.

  33. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dead I appreciate your enthusiam and comments for this list. However I have to disagree on a few things. Black Christmas is most definitely influential to the slasher films of the early 80s. The style of the killings and the relentless stalking of the victims is what influenced most of the slasher films of the late 70s to early 80s. The original Friday the 13th is absolutely influenced by Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood I was simply stating. I would say part 3 is influenced as well if you want to get that technical. As for being taken seriously I do quite alright a lot of people on here like reading my top ten lists, than you very much.

    I put My Bloody Valentine as number one because I like the the film, it stood out to me over most of the slash and stalk style films of the early 80s.

    Again, thanks for reading mate. BTW I have a vast knowledge of film my friend.

  34. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dead You know the more I read your reply, I have to say look up slasher film my friend. This is a slasher film list, I don’t see where your coming from ,maybe you have a different defintion of what a slasher film is? Yes, I included films that are influential to the genre, but without these films there would be no Prowler or Slumber Party Massacre,Happy Birthday To Me, He Knows Your Alone etc.
    You completely lost me with the music rant??

    There was a lot of slasher films that came out in that time period I simply listed the ones I felt were best that’s all.

    I think you might be referring to the height of the genre that was the early 80s ok. Slasher films started in the mid 70s my friend.

    Thanks for reading the list.

    Neal

  35. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dead, furthermore, my last statement in response to your reply –
    “Scream” is a mockery of the slasher genre that Wes Craven so brilliantly made.

  36. Olly Reply

    What about the texas chainsaw massacre? was very surprised not too see it on here, is it not a slasher? and scream? not sure if psycho is a slasher or not! enjoyed reading through your lists, great website!

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