20. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)
Director: Charles B. Pierce
Stars: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, Jimmy Clem
Set in the small town of Texarkana on the Texas/Arkansas border in the 1940s, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is something of an oddity. In addition to being presented in a pseudo documentary format, interspersed with a newsreel style narration from Vern Stierman, the film also sets itself apart from other slasher movies of the period with some ill-judged attempts at humor – the comic relief presented here only dissipates any tension built up in previous scenes.
The film’s good points, though, far outweigh its flaws and the best thing about it is the actual man who made the town dread sundown, a silent psycho who specializes in attacking young couples late at night, his face always covered in a burlap sack, with holes crudely cut so only fleeting glimpses of his eyes are ever visible. Birthed at the beginning of a genre boom known for churning out derivative masked killer movies, it’s moderately remarkable that The Town That Dreaded Sundown is as unique as it is. It’s a chaotic blend of slapstick, slaughter, police procedural, and true-crime melodrama. Sundown certainly isn’t a landmark achievement, but it also isn’t a forgettable footnote in the annals of horror history, or even a “so bad, it’s good” romp. Rather, its midnight movie cult status is well-earned simply for being so difficult to quantify under any universal standard of film criticism. There really isn’t another film quite like Sundown. And that’s saying something in this genre.
19. Child’s Play (1988)
Director: Tom Holland
Stars: Brad Dourif, Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon
In the first of many more films to come, serial killer Charles Lee Ray (aka Chucky) is shot as he tries to escape the police. Nearing death, he ultimately transfers his soul into a “Good Guy” doll he comes across in a toy store. Little does he know a little boy by the name of Andy Barclay will soon be the new owner of him. Charles confides in Andy while he commits numerous murders. Once the adults accept Andy’s story as truth, it’s too late.
Triumphantly, with every kill and every swear word, Chucky brings this movie to life and, in turn, provides the seed (pun totally intended) for which the entire franchise would grow. Had Chucky not worked, either because of the effects or the performances, this would just be another silly horror movie to poke fun at. Yet, through the magic of cinema, Chucky is brought to horrible life. The efforts of all those involved turn a potentially ridiculous idea into a legitimate scare fest (the subsequent sequels, on the other hand, are a completely different story).
18. My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Director: George Mihalka
Stars: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Don Francks, Cynthia Dale
There’s a big valentine-party planned in the little coal mining town of Valentine Bluffs, Nova Scotia. It is the first Valentine’s Day party in 20 years, because then there was an accident in the mine, and the accident happened because the men responsible for the security was at the party. The sole surviving miner later killed them, and told the town never to arrange a Valentine’s Day party again. The party begins, and so does the killing.
One of several slasher productions made in Canada in the early ‘80s (along with Prom Night, Happy Birthday To Me and Terror Train), My Bloody Valentine proved easy for slasher buffs to adore, even if the MPAA – then on a crusade to neuter the new wave of splatter films – demanded heavy cuts be made before it was awarded an R-rating. The film has a sense of place matched literally by none other. Fun fact: Quentin Tarantino has named My Bloody Valentine his favorite slasher film of all time.
17. Halloween II (1981)
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Pamela Susan Shoop
When Halloween became the highest-grossing independent film of all time in 1978, it was a given that a sequel wouldn’t be far behind. Still, how could another installment even attempt to match the success of its predecessor, a horror masterpiece that basically ushered in the golden age of slasher films that this article is praising? In short, it couldn’t. But comparing this film to its OG isn’t fair, especially since Halloween II holds up as one of the best horror sequels ever made.
The plot picks up right where the first film left off, with Michael Myers pumped full of bullets courtesy of Dr. Loomis. But while he may be down, he’s anything but out, and has followed Laurie Strode to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital where she’s receiving treatment for her injuries. Haunting the hospital’s deserted hallways, Myers makes use of medical equipment on whomever he finds in ways that the AMA certainly wouldn’t approve. While Laurie tries to evade her would be killer, Dr. Loomis obsessively hunts Myers, leading to a fiery conclusion.
16. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Director: Chuck Russell
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Patricia Arquette, Craig Wasson, Jennifer Rubin, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Penelope Sudrow, Laurence Fishburne, John Saxon, Stacey Alden
Hands down, the greatest Nightmare On Elm Street sequel, Dream Warriors was like a breath of fresh air after the relatively disappointing Freddy’s Revenge. Co-written by original NOES creator Wes Craven, the film follows our favorite dream-stalking psychopath Freddy Krueger as he takes his deadly crusade away from Elm Street to a psychiatric hospital for troubled teens.
This movie has so many wonderful qualities but let’s start with the kills. Dream Warriors offers some of the best death scenes of the franchise; from Freddy turning a kid into a human puppet using his own veins and tendons to Freddy posing as a topless nurse only to reveal his true self. Another thing to point out is the fact that none of the kid characters in the film are annoying. In a horror film such as this, that is a true rarity. When each one of the kids get killed you genuinely feel bad about it, you want them to succeed. It’s no wonder that this is the third entry of the series. In this instance, the third time was most definitely the charm.
15. Stage Fright (1987)
Director: Michele Soavi
Stars: Barbara Cupisti, David Brandon, Mary Sellers, Robert Gligorov
A theater troupe working on a musical suddenly find themselves the target of an escaped lunatic. When the seamstress is murdered in the car park during rehearsals, the director sees an opportunity to cash in on the free publicity and orders the actors to work all night so the musical can open early. After the doors of the theater are locked and the keys hidden away, the troupe discover the killer (donning an enormous owl mask) still walks among them. The actors begin a desperate search for the keys while trying to survive the night.
Stage Fright is one of the last great Italian slashers and one of the best released after the genre’s golden age. The film’s mix of atmosphere, tension, frights, and shocks indeed makes it a cut above the rest. Also, because of Stage Fright, the world is able to see an owl decapitate someone, ram a power tool into someone’s belly, dismember people with a chainsaw, and stick a pick-ax into a person’s mouth. It’s an ornithologist’s nightmare come to life.
14. Friday The 13th (1980)
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Stars: Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon
Sean S. Cunningham had a title and an image (the Friday The 13th logo smashing through a pane of glass) but not much else. With the help of writer Victor Miller, they created a film set over one night as a group of teens setting up a summer camp, and away from any adults, are picked off one by one.
In a nutshell, Friday The 13th succeeded because it was brazen enough to steal so many tricks from the many brilliant horror films that came before it. The filmmakers have cited Psycho, Halloween, Carrie, and Jaws as key influences on Friday The 13th’s production, and the “homages” aren’t exactly subtle. But by taking some of Hollywood’s all-time great horror movies and throwing them into a blender, Friday The 13th accidentally created the no-frills, platonic ideal of the slasher movie, and its modest pleasures have only grown more potent in comparison to the scores of slipshod knockoffs it inspired.
13. Maniac (1980)
Director: William Lustig
Stars: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Abigail Clayton, Kelly Piper
Frank Zito misses his mother, who was killed in a car accident years before. She was abusive to him, and made money selling her body, but Frank still misses her. He tries to keep her from leaving him, and reform her evil ways, by killing young women and putting their scalps on mannequins which he displays around his apartment.
This disturbing shocker is a dark character study in the form of a city slasher. With Joe Spinell as the lead, giving an uproariously well done performance as the film’s psychopath, Maniac has been hailed as one of the most troubling pictures ever made. Gruesome effects by Tom Savini highlight the feature and adds even more to the already severely grim atmosphere. People have called the film an abomination, filthy trash, and even the worst of the worst. And that’s what makes it so wonderful.
12. Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984)
Director: Joseph Zito
Stars: Ted White, Corey Feldman, Kimberly Beck, Erich Anderson, Crispin Glover, Peter Barton, Clyde Hayes, Barbara Howard, Lawrence Monoson, Judie Aronson, Camilla More, Carey More
If somebody was unfamiliar with Jason Voorhees and the Friday The 13th films and you could only play one movie for them, which one would it be? Answer: this one.
Friday The 13th Part IV is like a “best-of” compilation of the entire F13 franchise – the perfect distillation of everything the series had achieved up until that point. Everything that the series is known for is presented without restraint; horny teenagers, drug partaking, skinny dipping and machetes to the face. The film enjoyed the luxury of a much bigger budget than its predecessors. It also was the last entry of the series to present Jason as simply a masked killer, before he more or less became an unstoppable monster who couldn’t get hurt. The film has memorable kills, great characters and an irresistibly amiable atmosphere. Don’t let Roger Ebert tell you otherwise.
11. The Burning (1981)
Director: Tony Maylam
Stars: Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Jason Alexander
Made at the height of the low-budget slasher craze, The Burning is indeed debatably better than the films it was trying to capitalize off of (the Friday The 13th films in particular). The film tells the story of an alcoholic, weirdo caretaker at a camp (nicknamed “Cropsy”) who falls victim to a prank carried out by a bunch of nothing-better-to-do campers who accidentally burn the poor guy alive. After recovering, Cropsy leaves the hospital and heads back to the camp to execute his revenge.
As far as the genre goes, The Burning is way above average. Sure, it has the obligatory teenagers in summer camp and a deranged stalker out for “revenge” but there are some authentic tension-building moments and quite a few sufficient scares. The effects are impeccable thanks to gore-king, Tom Savini and Rick Wakeman’s electronic music score is far more effective than Harry Manfredini’s psycho-like strings in Friday The 13th. The Burning is a film that dances to its own beat, and is a ball from beginning to end. Just one piece of advice: be sure to find an uncut version of the film if you’re able to.