Of all subgenres, the slasher subgenre is probably the most resilient. You can’t kill the masked madman that constantly targets foolish youngsters. You just can’t. For some time, during the latter portion of the ‘80s, it seemed the fad may die away, masks peeled off and disposed of. But Wes Craven changed all of that in 1996. It’s been a rollercoaster of good, bad and ugly since. These are the absolute best of the best.
11. My Bloody Valentine: In my honest opinion, it doesn’t matter whether you prefer George Mihalka’s original 1981 rendition or Patrick Lussier’s 2009 remake of My Bloody Valentine. They’re both immensely entertaining with quality visuals and a memorable menace. If you’re of the nostalgic breed, you’re probably leaning in Mihalka’s direction while those who enjoy refined visual effects and modern cultural references are more than likely to side with Lussier’s pic. They’re both winners and they’re both worth watching on a somewhat regular basis. I tend to toss each feature in the disc player at least once a year (it’s strangely romantic, I swear). The fact that neither has begun to feel remotely near tired speaks volumes. Must-see slasher fare right here.
10. Terror Train: I’m not about to pretend that Terror Train is a flawless production. In fact, there are a number of hiccups to contemplate and very few would argue against that. It doesn’t change the fact that director Roger Spottiswoode found a way to manufacture a thoroughly entertaining slasher loaded with whacky characters, an interesting final twist, a strong seasonal relation and a perfect stage showcase for Jamie Lee Curtis, arguably the greatest Scream Queen in the history of cinema. There’s a unique magnetism to this production that still tickles my fancy, and as an avid slasher follower, I can tell you that’s not common. A follow-up to this one seemed appropriate, but it never arrived. Interestingly enough, the film hasn’t been targeted by Hollywood head honchos for the remake treatment… yet.
09. Cold Prey: The greatest slasher to see release this side of 2000, Cold Prey continues to be heavily underrated by genre followers. A lot of fans simply do not know about the flick, which is a damn shame. Cold Prey – a Norwegian production – has all the things we look for in a great slasher: compelling characters, an amazing final girl, a terrifying villain, a sound script, beautiful cinematography and hypnotic scenery as well as some wicked, wicked homicide. It’s all here, and there isn’t a moment that lets down in the slightest. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Cold Prey is the fact that it actually gives way to one of the most gratifying sequels (which feels uncannily similar to the second Halloween film, helmed by Rick Rosenthal) to ever hit the market. This is a brand that inspires, and deserves position among the very best of the subgenre.
08. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: What really need be said of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Tobe Hooper kicked off what some might recognize as a subgenre of a subgenre. Yes this is a slasher, but it’s a cannibalistic slasher with a tone that differed significantly from everything seen up to 1974. And while Hooper hasn’t stuck around to oversee every film ever made in the franchise, the name has continued to thrive, and we’ve seen a few surprising installments that do no shame to Hooper’s original flick. What may shock many is Platinum Dunes’ initial reboot. Directed by remake specialist Marcus Nispel, the feature really delivers. It’s got an excellent young cast (including Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Eric Balfour and Mike Vogel – all strong, genre familiars), a coherent, faithful script, a truly unforgiving mood and some vicious sequences of violence (Vogel’s character Andy meets an awesome, awesome demise). It’s a pretty kick ass remake, and it isn’t the only film outside of the original to impress in the franchise.
07. Candyman: Candyman is and isn’t a slasher. In a sense, it feels improper comparing it to features like Scream, Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine. It’s such a psychologically driven tale that the after effects of the pic are noticeably unalike any other slasher out there. Having said that, Candyman is definitely a slasher, whether he sports a creepy mask or targets naïve campers or not. Played brilliantly by the prolific Tony Todd, the titular character is the thing of tangible nightmares. In all honesty, Candyman may be one of the most terrifying creations in history. We’re talking about a villain on the level of Dracula, The Wolf Man, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, etc. – he truly is that powerful, and as the decades pass, his legacy will continue to gradually gain steam. To date a trio of films have seen release. The first is amazing, the second is entertaining and the third, unfortunately is somewhat forgettable. I wouldn’t worry on that too much however, the rebooting of this franchise is inevitable.
06. Scream: Scream saved the slasher film. From the mid-80s to the mid-90s the subgenre had flat-lined. There just weren’t many (the previously mentioned Candyman was one of the extremely few noteworthy efforts) high quality pieces being released. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger had all begun to grow rather stale. Attempts at creating new iconic villains had failed. There was no savior of slashers until the notorious Ghostface arrived. It’s actually rather interesting that the man who introduced us to the last great threat of the ‘80s is the same man who revived a fading beast. That man – obviously – was Wes Craven. His celluloid inventions are nearly unrivaled, as evidenced by the sinister Freddy Krueger, which I just mentioned, and Ghostface, a murderer(s) who taps into the fictionalized realm of… well, fiction. Oh so meta! It’s really quite simple, Scream was smart and fast paced with the perfect trio of key characters that fans could get behind (that being Sidney Prescott, Dewey Riley and Gale Weathers) and a jaw-dropping cameo from then surging Drew Barrymore. Though the series has lost some steam over the years, it’s impossible to deny the impact of the first two installments. Absolutely spellbinding work.
05. Psycho: In 2014 Alfred Hitchcock is still recognized as one of the sharpest, most inventive minds to ever ply his talent in the realm of cinema. The man understood the importance of the crescendo and whether a major hit or not, the bulk of his movies showcase a flare for the psychological. For Hitchcock it was all about that buildup, and then the slight draw back, which allowed viewers to exercise their imagination more than their sense of sight. He was a mastermind who influenced too many future filmmakers to count, and the one film that is pointed to as stimulus more than any other on his résumé, is Psycho. Loosely based on the factual case of deranged murderer Ed Gein, Psycho follows the irrational actions of the introverted Norman Bates, whose hobbies included taxidermy, incestuous thoughts, cross dressing and cold blooded murder. Robert Bloch’s original novel was a stellar piece of work and Hitchcock’s production does the tale true justice. Many, in fact, would cite Alfred’s movie as one of the rare pieces that surpasses the entertainment value of its original source material. I can’t say I would personally agree with that (the novel is amazing), but I can say in all scrupulousness that Psycho is one of the greatest movies ever shot.
04. Black Christmas: Before Michael Myers was introduced to the world, Bob Clark put together a little Canadian film that would not only become the greatest seasonal horror film in history, it would also serve as the precursor to John Carpenter’s Halloween, the vehicle that delivered us Mr. Myers. Clark’s film is a fine blend of slasher and the classic someone’s in the house recipe. The cast is young and attractive, featuring a few very familiar faces in Margot Kidder and John Saxon. But it isn’t the cast exclusively that propels the film into the echelons of amazingness. The production is loaded with mystery and tangible tension. From the opening shot in which we see the first person POV shot of a lunatic finding entrance into a sorority house to the first time the telephone rings and a tirade of extreme obscenities spew from the receiver, the viewer understands that this is not going to be the typical trek into horror. If John Carpenter mortified by taking terror to the comfortable streets of middle class America in 1978, Clark paralyzed by bringing a very similar fear right into the house of a group of unsuspecting college students four years prior. A remake was released in 2006, and it wasn’t well-embraced. The vibe of the picture differs dramatically from the original, but aesthetically, it’s stunning. Few Christmas films look this authentic, and while it isn’t anywhere near the technical masterpiece that Clark’s piece was, it’s still enjoyable on a brainless, sadistic level, assuming you can forget the original exists for about 90 minutes.
03. Friday the 13th: Sean S. Cunningham watched the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween launch him into immediate stardom, and he wanted a slice of that pie. Who can blame the man? Halloween was a low budget affair that not only turned the heads of fans, it completely captivated peers. Michael Myers was a theatrical monster in more than a single sense, and the Voorhees clan soon followed suit. Although the first Friday feature lacks a grown murdering Jason Voorhees, it was a beautiful launch to a powerful mythos that still sees evolution and expansion today, 33 years later. To date 11 official Friday flicks have seen release, as has an enjoyable crossover pitting Jason Voorhees against Freddy Krueger. Highlights of the franchise include the first two Friday films, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, Jason X (sometimes considered one of the franchise’s major duds, though I find it to be a thoroughly charming pic) and Marcus Nispel’s wicked 2009 reimagining which incorporates key elements from the first four installments in what proves to be stunningly cohesive fashion. A new Friday film is planned for next year, and you can bet things won’t slow for this violent behemoth or his familiar machete.
02. A Nightmare on Elm Street: In terms of pure originality, A Nightmare on Elm Street probably deserves to be recognized as the king of all slashers. Freddy Krueger epitomizes evil. This isn’t a simple vengeful dude with a grudge, and it isn’t a brainless figure with a mask. This is the bearer of bad dreams, the truth in the dreaded monarchy of disturbed sleep; the abuser of children who refuses to relinquish his paralyzing grasp on fear. Once you fall asleep, and Krueger targets you, it’s all over. Very, very, loosely based on factual events, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has been toying with peoples’ minds for decades. And of a total nine films (that includes the crossover with Jason), there are quite a few enjoyable segments to absorb. The original film is gripping, as are A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (one of the most terrifying of the lot) and Samuel Bayer’s 2010 remake, which suffers from some pacing and casting (Rooney Mara turns in an embarrassingly horrific performance, and is completely and utterly outshined by her male counterpart Kyle Gallner, who actually tries) issues, but ultimately introduces a new, severely disconcerting Freddy, played by the diverse and perfectly cast Jackie Earle Haley.
01. Halloween: Let’s all be real with each other and admit that Halloween is the godfather of slashers. Sure Hitchcock made major, major waves with Psycho, and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas was not only influential to Carpenter and his creation, but also frightening deep down, in the bone marrow. But those films didn’t spawn the creation of a subgenre. Halloween did. Michael Myers made the masked murderer cool. It made every guy with a camera and a dark side eager to cash in on what was immediately viewed as an untapped gold mine. And there’s a reason the picture was able to make that kind of mark: it was about as close to perfect as it gets. Michael Myers’ assault on suburban American was shocking. No longer was the middle-to-upper class neighborhood safe. The looming trees didn’t offer any sense of safety, they offered a place for to evil hide. The plush green yards became unguarded trails for imminent doom. Everything we knew, as horror fans, was turned upside down and shaken. And we loved it. Michael Myers has continued to scare the hell out of viewers since 1978. He’s been featured in nine films (and not featured in one franchise feature, Halloween III: Season of the Witch) to date, and the majority of those features have been impressive. Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween H20 and Rob Zombie’s first Halloween reboot are all well worth a look.