My first real job was working in a comic book shop in Ottawa. During one of my shifts, a woman came in and asked which books her son should read to get “the gist” of Batman. I remember wondering what the hell she meant by that, the gist of Batman. But after a brief chat, I realized her son just wanted to know the Batman story without having to read every damn one of the books out there. And remember, at the time, Batman’s story was divided between no less than three titles, maybe four. So how was a reader expected to catch up, to get the big picture, to sift through all that chaff?
Honestly, I don’t know exactly which titles I ended up recommending, probably some Miller stuff, maybe A Death In the Family, The Killing Joke, and the Knightfall books (whatever I sold her has likely been rendered obsolete by one of DC’s many Crises, or the New 52 stuff, or whatever), but I found myself asking myself (and the Internet) variations of that lady’s question over the years: Which albums do you listen to if you want to get the Beatles experience without having to purchase the entire discography? Which stories do you read if you want a working knowledge of Sherlock Holmes without wading through the whole Strand collection?
And, if you want a thorough but manageable education in Slasher cinema, which movies should you watch?
Clearly you aren’t going to watch, or even try to watch all of them. So where do you start, where should your focus be aimed, which Slashers are okay to skip and which must be watched to get a solid overview of the sub-genre? In other words, what are the key Slasher films?
On this site, and in this article, I try to answer that question, to provide a guide to key Slasher films. I’m not talking here of the best Slasher films according to me or anyone else. Best and worst and okay and great, those are all subjective terms. Whether I enjoyed a particular film will not determine whether that film is important to one’s Slasher education (Slashucation?).
Key Slasher films are significant films, movies that helped shape the sub-genre, that have had an impact, whether historical, cultural, technical, or otherwise. These are films that are of some definable importance to Slasher films as a type—objectively so (I hope).
Of course, you may not agree with me, but that’s what the comments section below is for (register to Disqus first if you haven’t already). I truly hope this article and the list that follows will engender some interesting debate.
There are three ways by which you can learn about Key Slasher Films on this site. One is to visit the Index and click on Key Film. This will bring up all the reviews of movies tagged as a Key Film. Of course, this will be a limited list given that we may not yet have reviewed all of the Key Films.
The second way is to look to the right-hand sidebar. There you’ll find thumbnails for the three last Key Films reviewed and a link to all Key Film reviews. Again, this is a limited list.
Then there is the list below. Here I have tried to include as many Key Films, in order of release date, as I could manage. The list will likely grow, maybe even change, but it will always serve as a trust-worthy map through Slasher-dom, whether you’re new to the sub-genre and want an overview, or you’re a diehard fan who may have missed a must-see title or two.
Enjoy, and do leave comments below.
Black Christmas (1974): One of the two first Slasher films.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): The second of the two first Slasher films, and a movie that continues to be imitated today. A major franchise-starter.
Halloween (1978): The movie that put Slasher films on the map and the prototype for countless movies to follow. It began one of the most enduring franchises.
Friday the 13th (1980): One of the first Slashers to be released by a studio (Paramount, in this case), it helped Slashers tear their way into the mainstream. The genesis of another popular franchise.
Maniac (1980): Often reviled as misogynistic, Maniac is not so much an expression of the hatred of women as it is about the hatred of women. There is no question, however, that it pushes the boundaries on violence and that all the violence therein is perpetrated on women.
Prom Night (1980): Like Hell Night, Terror Train and Friday the 13th, Prom Night demonstrates that Slasher films of the ’80s were not only made for the guys. Prom Night helped bring Slashers into the mainstream blurring the gender-division within its target audience.
Hell Night (1981): Though not a great film, Hell Night helped widen the appeal of Slasher films and makes excellent use of setting to create tension.
Friday the 13th 2 (1981): Introduced Jason Voorhees as killer and kick-started the franchising of Slasher films, proving that lightning could strike twice.
Terror Train (1981): Essentially Prom Night on a train, Terror Train stars Jamie Lee Curtis and features solid intrigue and superior cinematography.
Just Before Dawn (1981): A key film in part because it is so often overlooked, Just Before Dawn is a near perfect example of the backwoods Slasher.
The Burning (1981): Similar to the Friday the 13th movies, The Burning is another camp Slasher that features excellent Savini effects, some genuinely tense moments and a raft of soon-to-be stars.
My Bloody Valentine (1981): Like most of the 1981 releases on this list, My Bloody Valentine helped define the Slasher sub-genre and proved that a few suspenseful scenes leading to creative violence and hung on a gimmicky premise (like a holiday) could lead to healthy box-office returns.
The Prowler (1981): Tom Savini has said that the work he did on The Prowler is his best. Atmospheric and expertly crafted, The Prowler is a superior work.
Happy Birthday to Me (1981): In the early ’80s Happy Birthday to Me actually came to define the Slasher film-type, even before it had a name. Kids wouldn’t say they enjoyed “Slasher films,” they’d say they liked “Happy Birthday to Me and films like that.”
Friday the 13th part 3 (1982): Here Jason Voorhees first dons his famous mask. The film was also shot in 3D and features some undeniably creative kills.
Sleepaway Camp (1983): Though, for the majority of its running-time, Sleepaway Camp is typical of its type, the ending—that infamous ending—makes it a must-see for any lover or student of Slasher films.
Friday the 13th part 4: The Final Chapter (1984): Part 4 ends the true story of Jason; he is killed here by a machete-wielding Corey Feldman. Jason’s final breath features some of Savini’s most iconic work.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984): Important because of the controversy it caused when it was first released. Silent Night, Deadly Night sparked an outcry from parents across the U.S. calling for its removal from movie theatres—which they were granted. The backlash may have helped precipitate the end of the First Slasher Cycle as financiers began to see the movies as bad investments.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): The first in the series, Nightmare introduced the world to arguably the most recognizable modern movie monster, Freddy Krueger. Wes Craven injected an element of magic and the supernatural into the typical Slasher formula and, in doing so, revolutionized the sub-genre.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987): The movie helped define Freddy’s ironic sense of humor and destruction (for better or worse) and further developed his mythology. It is one of only three movies in the series to feature Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, one of the most iconic Final Girls in horror cinema history.
Child’s Play (1988): This one might make a few of you roll your eyes and groan. Child’s Play, though, introduced viewers to a brand new killer, Chucky the doll, and put a fresh spin on what had become a dead and rotting formula.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994): Perhaps presaging his work on Scream, Wes Craven takes a new, self-referential look at the Freddy mythos, exploring the ways by which horror cinema interacts both with its viewers and its creators.
Scream (1996): The movie that resuscitated the Slasher film and launched the sub-genre’s Second Cycle. The script by Kevin Williamson is entirely of its time, self-aware and smart, while Craven’s direction ensures that the film is both genuinely scary and suitably bloody.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997): Coming right on the heels of Scream, Summer, also scripted by Williamson, is a lesser film but helped build on the foundation its superior predecessor had set down.
Halloween: H20: 20 Years Later (1998): As the title promises, the film was released and takes place twenty years after the original Halloween. Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, now a mother. The film blends elements of the First and Second Slasher Film Cycles to produce the one and only worthy sequel to Carpenter’s 1978 original.
Freddy Vs Jason (2003): Massively long awaited, the movie is sometimes a little goofy, but it brings together two of the most iconic Slasher villains in a single giant-budgeted (by Slasher standards) event.
Wrong Turn (2003): Wrong Turn is suspenseful, action-packed, gory, and features characters you can root for. It is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake we should have gotten.
Reeker (2005): Just as Craven put a decidedly new spin on Slashers with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Reeker does so on a smaller yet still impressive scale. It’s creative and original and wonderfully gory.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006): A mockumentary that gently pokes fun at Slasher films while professing its undying love for the genre.
Hatchet (2006): A love letter to Slashers of the ’80s, Hatchet is packed with every conceivable Slasher movie excess, including plenty of hilarious, over-the-top kills and the beginning of a brand new franchise.
Agree? Disagree? Want to add a movie, remove a movie? Let us know!