30. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Director: Charles Sellier
Stars: Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Linnea Quigley
Released on November 9th 1984, Silent Night, Deadly Night was a movie that was surrounded by controversy. The TV spots depicted a man dressed as Santa carrying an axe and murdering people, causing enraged parents to picket the movie during its opening weekend and subsequently got the movie banned. Although they clearly had not seen the film, many felt that it was wrong for Santa to be portrayed as a killer – not knowing the fact that it was actually a deranged and psychologically tortured man dressed as Santa doing the killing as opposed to Kris Kringle himself. It’s a classic tale of morons being told they should be offended by something as opposed to being genuinely offended.
The reason why this movie works so well is that it doesn’t need to focus on Christmas to make the story interesting. Whether it was Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the idea of Santa wasn’t intrinsic to the plot so much as a mascot, which normally makes people happy, was being corrupted.
29. The House On Sorority Row (1983)
Director: Mark Rosman
Stars: Kate McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Janis Zido, Robin Meloy, Harley Jane Kozak
Seven graduating seniors of the Pi Theta sorority decide to finally get back at their evil house mother Mrs. Slater when she refuses to allow them to throw a graduation party at the house. They come up with a horrible idea for a prank that ends with Mrs. Slater’s death, which the girls smartly decide to cover up. But either she didn’t really die or someone else knows what they did because the girls start getting picked off one by one.
There is something so sumptuous and lush about this film. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “classy slasher”, they must have been referring The House On Sorority Row. From the music to the women to the photography, it’s all just about perfect. Luckily, 2009’s bigger budgeted remake turned out to be good enough not to be an embarrassment to the legacy, but it still never got close to the refined style that was delivered by its predecessor.
28. April Fool’s Day (1986)
Director: Fred Walton
Stars: Jay Baker, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Amy Steel
Hot-to-trot brunette Muffy (yes, there’s a “muff diving” joke in the movie) invites a bunch of her rich college friends to a secluded mansion which she’s about to inherit. The day is April Fool’s and she plans on throwing the party of a lifetime with jokes on them out the wazoo. Unfortunately, a happy-go-lucky psycho is also on the prowl and he has a party of his own organized – which involves slicing and dicing the guests.
Mischievously turning the conventions of the slasher film on its head a full decade before Scream did it, April Fool’s Day is a smartly written, too often overlooked slice of postmodern fun. Since the film was produced by Frank Mancuso Jr. and distributed by Paramount Pictures (both responsible for the Friday The 13th franchise), audiences naturally expected more of the same. What they got, instead, skewered the very rules they anticipated would be strictly followed, and the picture ended up being a box-office disappointment because of it. Watching April Fool’s Day all these years later, it reveals itself to clearly be ahead of its time and deserves our respect because of it.
27. Intruder (1989)
Director: Scott Spiegel
Stars: Elizabeth Cox, Renée Estevez, Dan Hicks, David Byrnes
It’s nighttime at Michigan’s Lake Supermarket and pretty cashier Jennifer is being harassed by her unhinged ex-boyfriend. Those who work at the supermarket look for him, kick him out, and call the cops. With everything back to normal, they find out that the store is closing permanently soon and by the beginning of next month they will be jobless. As a result, they will need to markdown the prices. Regardless, they go about their work. Soon, though, a deranged killer is stalking them and taking them out one by one in the most horrid ways possible.
Intruder is a truly underappreciated little slasher that seems to have been lost amongst fans, no doubt because it was released when slashers were going out of vogue. After all, 1989 is seen by most as a pretty embarrassing year for even the genre’s heavyweights (Jason, Freddy, and Michael, who all released less-than-stellar entries that year).
26. Maniac Cop (1988)
Director: William Lustig
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree
On the mean streets of New York City a man in a police uniform is savagely murdering innocent people. Detective Frank McCrae is heading up the case whilst fingers are pointing to young cop Jack Forrest, who is seemingly being framed. In a bid to escape his marital problems, Jack has sought the company of a fellow police officer, Theresa Mallory, and when the body count starts rising it’s left to McCrae and Theresa to prove his innocence.
Some critics deny that Maniac Cop is in fact a slasher picture and instead label it as a revenge flick in the same vein as Death Wish. It’s fairly easy to disagree with this assessment, because the strong, silent bogeyman and countless examples of genre self-recognition mean that it’s definitely got the right recipe to sit alongside its brethren on this list. In fairness, the larger budget allows the filmmakers to crossbreed various cinematic styles and there is something here for action audiences, those who like vigilante flicks and also back-street exploitation thrillers.
25. Happy Birthday To Me (1981)
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Sharon Acker
Virginia Wainwright is a spirited young woman who has returned to a private school having survived a deadly accident and regenerative brain surgery. She is proud that she belongs to the Top Ten – the school’s inner circle with the best students – and attempts to resume a normal life. But her friends are falling prey to a grueling series of murders, and soon there will be no one left to attend her 18th birthday party. Could it be her? Striving to rekindle the memory of her nightmarish accident, Virginia suffers from memory loss and traumatic blackouts.
Any way you slice this birthday cake you certainly get an excellent piece of ’80s style horror. HBTM is now considered a verifiable classic to gorehounds. Many of the genre’s rules/clichés that we now take for granted were forged by this opus and no real slasher fan should exclude this well wrapped gift from their collection. Whether you buy the outlandishness of the final reveal or not, the atmospheric and delightfully grotesque party scene is one for the ages.
24. The Prowler (1981)
Director: Joseph Zito
Stars: Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Lawrence Tierney, Farley Granger
A soldier returning from World War II receives a Dear John letter from his lady, Rosemary, saying she’s tired of waiting for him and has found a new man. This rightfully pisses off soldier boy, and he gets revenge by murdering the two of them on the night of the Graduation Dance. Cut to the present – well, 1981 – and the dance hasn’t been held in Avalon Bay since the murders. This year it’s back, and someone apparently has a problem with that because a “prowler” is stalking kids at the local college dorm and murdering them in gruesome ways.
The Prowler is the perfect example of an early slasher film; this is well before the franchises began to take over. The cast of relatively unknowns all handle their roles well and the pacing between the grisly murders is flawless. The film benefits greatly from makeup effects guru Tom Savini’s first-class carnage, particularly when the titular maniac jams his pitchfork through a naked chick while she’s showering – the blade-into-flesh impact looks startlingly real. The Prowler also doesn’t mess around with its final scare as it truly is a terrifying last shot that will cause even the hardest horror fan to have trouble sleeping at night.
23. Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Director: Scott Glosserman
Stars: Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Zelda Rubinstein, Bridgett Newton
The hugely underrated Behind The Mask flourished as a new brand of ironic horror because it knows about horror movies. It knows them because it exists inside the same world as them. Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Michael Myers, and Ghostface are all real murderers in the reality of this film.
This clever mockumentary centers around a small-town serial killer Leslie Vernon. In a vain attempt at self-promotion he permits a film crew to follow him around, explaining why he has chosen this morally questionable career path, and revealing tricks of the trade whilst debunking certain myths of his occupation. Indeed, it’s the slasher genre’s answer to Man Bites Dog, and like that 1992 Belgian classic, Behind the Mask-director Scott Glosserman nails the see-sawing tone that all horror-comedies need to master. When Vernon’s murderous antics go south, the film is funny in the best pitch-black sense of the word; whenever Vernon stops laughing, puts on his memorable blank-faced mask, and starts hacking up flesh, Behind The Mask abandons all humor and matches any joke-free slasher movie’s brutality. The fact that Glosserman’s film isn’t a full-blown cult classic yet is maddening.
22. Hatchet (2006)
Director: Adam Green
Stars: Kane Hodder, Tamara Feldman, Joel David Moore, Deon Richmond
Adam Green’s horror debut, Hatchet, as the film’s marketing at the time had trumpeted, was a true throwback to the slashers of days past. This isn’t a tribute. It’s not a homage. Hatchet is an original, often hilarious, no frills gore-fest. Green eschews antagonists whose back-stories are as convoluted as their killing styles for Victor Crowley, a tormented freak with a propensity for ripping off limbs.
The plot of Hatchet see a group of three male, college friends seeking to take a temporary break from the constant barrage of booze and boobs of Mardi Gras to take a haunted swamp tour. Additional members of the tour group include the Asian American tour guide, an older husband and wife tourist couple, a seedy softcore porn director and his two “actresses,” and finally the girl with a mysterious past. The tour takes a turn for the worse when the boat runs aground and they get stranded out in the middle of the bayou. Things go from bad to even worse when the groups happens upon the ghostly yet physical manifestation of Victor Crowley’s childhood home. Prepare yourself for heads being ripped in half and belt sanders to the mouth.
21. You’re Next (2011)
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Wendy Glenn
Crispian Davison has brought his girlfriend Erin to meet his family at their secluded country house for his parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. Along with Crispian’s father Paul and mother Aubrey, the guest list includes his brothers Drake and Felix, his sister Aimee and their significant others Kelly, Zee, and Tariq. There’s some tension between Crispian and Drake, but the filmmakers efficiently set up the relationships and establishes that this isn’t a group of people we want to see dead, but a regular family who don’t deserve the violence that’s about to befall them. After a tense first act, the family comes under siege by a group of masked, unknown attackers whose motives may not extend beyond mindless killing. Erin springs into action and tries to protect the family from the killers picking them off one-by-one.
Given its title, you can be forgiven for assuming that this home-invasion slasher will be just another blood-soaked body-count flick. But You’re Next is better than that. A lot better. The filmmakers parcel out the gross-out moments carefully at first, building up the bump-in-the-night surprises without drenching the whole enterprise in fake blood. This is smart, frightening, and funny material that’s an invigorating kick in the genre’s ass.