The slasher is one of the most prevalent types of horror movies around, and with good reason: it taps into the most basic fear of being hunted by someone trying to kill you (often for no good reason other than they’re nuttier than a squirrel’s nest). Today we will be counting down the 50 greatest of all time, each with their own uniquely morbid appeal.
Note: People’s definition of a slasher varies, so a few films on this list might not be considered slashers by some people, while some films you were sure should have been included weren’t. Go figure. For instance, the most prominent exclusion on this list would have to be Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sure, the film has early slasher elements but isn’t necessarily a fully fledged slasher. And a slasher movie killer Leatherface is not. In slasher movies the antagonist is hunting down his prey. In the case of Leatherface, he is confused/frightened when these people start coming into HIS house. TCM is essentially a reverse home invasion film. The killer didn’t come to them, they came to him. Also, even though many will argue that they be respected as their own thing, don’t be surprised to see a few giallo films on the list (sometimes the line between the two sub-genres is quite indecipherable).
Anywho, now that we have all the caveats out of the way, let’s get started.
50. Scream Bloody Murder (1973)
Director: Marc B. Ray
Stars: Fred Holbert, Leigh Mitchell, Robert Knox, Suzette Hamilton
Scream Bloody Murder: This here is one sick puppy. As the film opens, a mop-headed youngster named Matthew is watching his father fix the family tractor. Being the inquisitive sort, and harboring an obvious bias against authority figures, Matthew hops on the idling tractor and proceeds to run over dear old dad. But alas, there is no such thing as a perfect crime, for when he tries to jump down from the still-running farm machine, his hand is mauled. The boy is sent to a mental hospital, where he’s outfitted with a hook to replace his lost hand. Years later, he’s eventually released from the asylum. He returns home to find his mother has remarried, which, naturally, sets him off on a murderous rampage.
This is one hell of a weird movie. The character of Matthew is never explained; why did he run down his father? What’s his obsession with his mother? What’s his story?! The filmmakers probably didn’t care, as long as they could pile on as many gory murder sequences and out-of-this-world psycho babble to creep out the audience. And to be perfectly honest, it works. The incredibly moist special effects will keep gorehounds happy and are truly unsettling. The surprise shock ending will either tick you off or crawl under your skin, but either way, it’s a gutsy as hell!
49. The Mutilator (1984)
Directors: Buddy Cooper, John Douglass
Stars: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock, Frances Raines
A group of teenagers decide to take a vacation at the beach house of one of their fathers. The kid whose father owns the house just happened to accidentally kill his mother when he was a child. When they get to the house, the father has mysteriously disappeared. Hmmm…
As you can tell by its place on the list, The Mutilator isn’t the greatest slasher but it earns its spot for one reason… the kills. Indeed, the filmmakers managed to conjure up quite an impressive array of original and tasteless deaths. Among these kills there is a drowning, a vicious attack with a boat motor, and a throat impaled by a pitchfork. There is also a rather sexual death in which one of the female characters is killed by a giant fishing hook used in a most uncomfortable way. Limbs are hacked off and throats are slit, one character is even split in two after an unfortunate run in with an automobile. The Mutilator plays out like a gorehound’s wet dream and the red stuff is poured out in abundance. Yet another impressive death involves a character getting a large blade of metal shoved into their face just before their head is hacked off with a battle axe. It’s great.
48. Graduation Day (1981)
Director: Herb Freed
Stars: Patch Mackenzie, Christopher George, E. Danny Murphy, Linnea Quigley
After a high school track runner, named Laura, suddenly dies from a heart attack after finishing a 30-second 200-meter race, a killer wearing a sweat suit and a fencing mask begins killing off her friends on the school track team one by one.
During the early ’80s, it seemed like any sort of holiday or landmark day became hazardous to your health if you were a teenager or young adult. Given the debauchery surrounding graduation, it was only a matter of time until some maniac decided to confer hatchets to the head rather than degrees. Director Herb Freed is your master of ceremonies for this bloody Graduation Day, and the commencement exercises include rocking tunes, bouncing breasts, and plenty of slashing.
47. Bloody Moon (1981)
Director: Jesús Franco
Stars: Olivia Pascal, Christoph Moosbrugger, Nadja Gerganoff, Jasmin Losensky
A horribly scarred man is cruelly rejected by a girl he made advances on, and thus, in a fit of rage, he stabs her to death with a pair of scissors. Five years later, he is released from the mental hospital into the care of his sister and an ailing relative. Soon, at a nearby Spanish language school, beautiful female students are being brutally murdered in various macabre ways. Angela is a student at the academy. She thinks she witnesses the murder of one of her friends but nobody believes her due to her love of murder mystery novels. What’s a girl to do?
It has to be said that this film succeeds despite its flaws. There are obvious red herrings, the acting is weak and the dialogue is atrocious but the film works in spite of these limitations. This is because it features abundant nasty violence – a girl is stabbed with the blade exiting her nipple, another gets her head sawed off by an industrial chainsaw machine, on top of a brutal stabbing in the stomach and several strangulations. It’s an entertaining fusion of stalk-and-slash with Eurotrash sleaze.
46. Evil Dead Trap (1988)
Director: Toshiharu Ikeda
Stars: Miyuki Ono, Yuji Honma, Hitomi Kobayashi, Shinsuke Shimada
TV personality Nami Tsuchiya is the hostess of a late-night TV program called, appropriately enough, “Late Night With Nami.” The show plays homemade blooper videos sent in by her viewers. One day she receives a disturbing snuff film of a woman being horrifically tortured in a local abandoned factory that contains an image of Nami shown at the very end. Taking a camera crew out to investigate, Nami finds the factory deserted. As Nami and her crew begin to scour the factory, they are murdered one-by-one in grisly fashion.
As a loving Japanese take on the slasher genre, Evil Dead Trap kicks the ass of many of its fellow cookie-cut J-Horrors. Rather than being a supernatural tale steeped in folklore and overrun by long haired apparitions (as we have come to expect from Japanese horror), Evil Dead Trap is more reminiscent of non-Asian horrors of the era such as the works of Henenlotter, Argento and Fulci. Evil Dead Trap has a grim and gritty anti-charm that’s almost endlessly entertaining.
45. Terror Train (1980)
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, Sandee Currie
Any legitimate slasher movie list needs to have multiple Jamie Lee Curtis films on it – that’s just common sense. Terror Train stars Curtis as Alana Maxwell, a graduating med student who is celebrating New Year’s Eve at a costume party on a chartered train. Haunted by a three-year old practical joke that went wrong and drove a fellow classmate insane, Alana and her fraternity friends’ evening of booze and sex is interrupted when they find themselves the target of an anonymous killer.
Firstly, yes, Terror Train is an atypical slasher, giving away its killer’s identity almost right away. Without any whodunit mystery trappings to worry about, the film instead makes you guess what silly costume will the killer wear next (every time he offs someone, he dons whatever get-up the last victim had on). And because of that, Terror Train is the only slasher to ever have someone butcher a co-ed while sporting a giant lizard suit.
44. Final Exam (1981)
Director: Jimmy Huston
Stars: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown, DeAnna Robbins
Lanier College is getting ready to conclude its current semester. Fraternity pranks are at a fever pitch and everyone across campus is studying hard for their final exams. Everything seems pretty normal, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. A mysterious stranger driving an ominous van has entered the idyllic grounds of Lanier. This person has a chip on his shoulder and isn’t exactly concerned with whether or not he will pass his Chem final. This individual has murder in mind, born of an agenda all his own. Will the jocks, brainy nerds, and buxom bimbos of Lanier make it out alive, or will they all fail the ultimate test of human survival that only a killer this deranged could create?
Final Exam truly does not get enough credit. As a slasher picture, it’s a slow burner, but it has got enough eerie cinematography and ominous atmosphere to engage long before the body count starts to rise. The film is a splendid exercise in subtle spookiness, and you’ll likely never find an empty college campus so unsettling.
43. Blood And Black Lace (1964)
Director: Mario Bava
Stars: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Mary Arden
Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace takes place in a fashion boutique which is basically a high-glamour facade that covers a multitude of sins, including drugs, cheating, and abortions. Someone begins knocking off fashion models one by one while everyone tries to get their hands on a secret diary; everyone looks guilty, and so it’s not easy to find the killer.
Decadent visualist as well as severe moralist, Bava locates the macabre beauty at the heart of his art in this fashion-world dollhouse, where the models, both human and inanimate, become the main canvases for the sensual lushness of the mise en scène; the witty opening credits already suggest the link by posing the cast in sinister tableau, and mannequins are trenchantly arranged throughout as mute witnesses to the spectacle of human malice. This gives the entire production a beautifully bizarre quality, which is broken only when the characters meet their maker.
42. Tourist Trap (1979)
Director: David Schmoeller
Stars: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Robin Sherwood
Tourist Trap begins as so many other low-budget slasher films do; namely, with a group of young attractive girls and a couple of their male friends stranded in the middle of nowhere with car trouble. Then, wouldn’t you know it? A Good Samaritan comes along and offers to help the kids with their troubles. The guy’s a little weird and lives alone in a house filled with stuff that belongs in a circus tent, but hey, there’s no one else around, so why not accept the old geezer’s offer?
So from what you’ve just read, you probably have a fairly good sense of where the movie is going from here? Thing is: you’d be wrong. All because we didn’t mention the mannequins that come to life and kill one of the youngsters during the first five minutes of the film. You see, one of the two guys in our coterie of stranded travelers makes the initial foray into a house up the road while seeking help. Within minutes, mannequins – indeed, the type you’d see in a department store – come to life and murder him. It’s from then on that you know you’re not watching just another slasher film. What we get is an off-kilter, slightly funny (the killer complaining about his brother not letting him use his telekinetic powers is a particular delight), but yet very unique and creepy movie.
41. Santa Sangre (1989)
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Stars: Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell, Thelma Tixou
A young man named Fenix is confined in a mental hospital. Through a flashback we see that he was traumatized as a child, when he and his family were circus performers: he saw his father cut off the arms of his mother, a religious fanatic and leader of the heretical church of Santa Sangre (“Holy Blood”), and then commit suicide. Back in the present, he escapes and rejoins his surviving and armless mother. Against his will, he “becomes her arms” and the two undertake a grisly campaign of murder and revenge.
As much as Santa Sangre is a fevered trip into Fenix very Freudian psyche it also has a very strong slasher movie spine. In fact Fenix sees himself as an old movie monster constantly watching the 1933 version of The Invisible Man and acting out the scenes as if he himself were in the film. With brutal murders, sexual obsession and strange scenes of mutilation, disfigurement and hallucination, Santa Sangre is a surreal and original take on the genre that elevates it above other slashers crafting a film that attempts to visualize the inner madness of a disturbed mind as well as the outer actions that mind is driven to do.