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)
A 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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