In Scream, Sidney Prescott describes slasher movies as; “Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door.”
And it is true that, until its nineties revival, the genre had gained a bad reputation.
At its peak in the mid-eighties, the slasher was a license to print money. Quantity took precedence over quality with more gore, more nudity and each new movie capitalizing on the formula of its predecessor.
Luckily Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven were there to drag the genre kicking and screaming into the postmodern era.
Things have been quiet for the slasher in recent years but the most innovative modern horrors like It Follows and The Guest have taken inspiration from the slasher.
Here are 10 of the best:
10 My Bloody Valentine 3D
A Valentine’s Day party at the Hanninger mine ends in slaughter when an injured miner wakes from a coma and goes on a rampage.
Survivor Tom (Jensen Ackles) returns to the town a decade later still struggling to deal with the events of that night.
A killer dressed as a miner starts murdering his old friends.
Since 3D came back in fashion, the American remake of My Bloody Valentine (Lussier, 2009, US) is one of the few films to have used the medium to its full potential.
It has great set pieces and makes use of the dark, claustrophobic mine tunnels with the deadly pickaxe ‘flying out of the screen’ at every opportunity.
9 A Bay of Blood
A Countess is murdered for the inheritance, spurring residents up and down the bay to off each other in an attempt to be the last relative left standing and inherit her fortune. Four curious teens get caught in the crossfire.
Italian Giallo A Bay of Blood (Bava, 1971, IT) has some of the ensemble zaniness of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World coupled with a body count that inspired the likes of Friday the 13th.
Each murder is more audacious than the last and the movie’s special effects were ahead of its time. Bay of Blood made murder a spectacle and shocked and inspired in equal measure.
After two students are murdered the police retrieve the scarf used to strangle them. Jane (Suzie Kendall) and her girlfriends recognize the scarf but can’t remember who wore it.
Afraid that they might be targeted next, the girls go to stay at a remote country house, but the killer is in hot pursuit.
Torso (Martino, 1973, IT) was another Italian forerunner of the high-body-count American slasher.
Each murder is more shocking than the next and the scarf clue keeps us guessing about the identity of the killer, but it is the thrilling final set piece at the country mansion that earned Torso its cult status.
7 American Psycho
On the surface, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a highflying investment banker with an interest in popular music but beneath the perfectly choreographed mask, he is a psychopathic serial killer.
As his disdain for society grows the two aspects of his life become increasingly muddled.
American Psycho (Harron, 2000, US) is as much a satire of eighties excess as it is a horror movie.
Based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name, the Patrick Batman parable is as relevant today as it was on its first release; the excesses of the financial sector are the same, Batman’s idol Donald J. Trump is now president-elect and, thanks to Instagram, we can all be Patrick Batman.
6 Friday the 13th Part 2
Five years on from the Camp Cristal Lake murders a new group of young people attempts to reopen the camp.
After all of their friends are murdered Ginny (Amy Steel) and Paul (John Furey) realize that Jason has returned to seek revenge for his mother’s death.
Just as its predecessor before it, Friday the 13th Part 2 (Miner, 1981, US) takes inspiration from Italian Giallo cinema.
Imitation is flattery if it is done with passion and enthusiasm and Part 2 is one of the most well put together tense and thrilling slashers of the eighties.
Jason is terrifying with his sack mask and a sprightliness that gives the impression he might jump out of the shadows at any moment.
5 A Nightmare on Elm Street
Burnt child molester Freddie Kruger (Robert Englund) is stalking Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends in their dreams and killing them off one by one.
With her parents in denial about the killings, Nancy must face Kruger on her own.
Based loosely on a real case that Wes Craven had heard about, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, US) was as seminal for the slasher genre as Halloween and Psycho before it.
Wes put surrealism and the repressed horrors of the subconscious at the forefront of the picture.
As a final girl, Nancy was smart, capable and closer to a feminist heroine than a victim.
4 Deep Red
Marcus (David Hemmings) sees a murder in progress and rushes into the woman’s apartment to try and help.
Afterward, he feels that something is out-of-place in the crime scene but he can’t put his figure on it. The mystery spurs him to investigate the murder himself with the help of a local journalist.
Dario Argento is well known for his creative murder sequences and Deep Red (Profondo Rosso, 1975, IT) is no exception. One victim is smashed through a window, another is burned with scalding water and another is menaced with a laughing mechanical doll.
The off-kilter soundtrack from prog rock band Goblin coupled with the use of extreme close-ups give a glimpse into the killer’s damaged mind
Escaped lunatic Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield to re-enact the murder of his sister on the anniversary of her death.
Only Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) realizes the danger he poses. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her teenage friends are terrorized by Myers on Halloween night.
Halloween (1978, US) is the movie that has most influenced modern original horror cinema, even if the slasher itself has fallen out of favour John Carpenter’s influence is everywhere.
Halloween continues to improve with repeated viewing and is still terrifying.
As franchises go the Halloween series is gold dust; from the hospital-set H2 to 90’s revamp H20 you will find a fan somewhere that believes their favorite is a cult classic.
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals from her employer and goes on the run. She quickly regrets her decision and plans to return the money.
Exhausted, she stops for the night at a sleepy old motel owned by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his controlling mother.
Psycho (1960, US) is a classic, tight Hitchcock thriller but has also been widely credited, along with Peeping Tom, with birthing the slasher genre.
Hitch uses all the tools in his arsenal to get us right where he wants us; worrying about the stolen money, before blindsiding us with the fast, frenetic, murder of Marion as she enjoys a hot shower. No shock has been more effective before or since.
The brutal killing of two classmates stirs up bad memories for Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) who is still dealing with the murder of her mother a year previous. Sidney becomes the next target for the ghost-faced killer.
Scream (Craven, 1996, US) was a game-changer for a dying genre. Kevin Williamson’s script was smart, witty and inclusive while veteran horror director Wes Craven handled the tone of the movie perfectly; balancing the comedy and horror.
The teens in the movie are both self-aware and culturally aware, commenting on the conventions of the slasher movie throughout and referencing classic movies.
Scream is literally a textbook guiding would-be fans through the genre.