10. A Bay Of Blood (1971)
Director: Mario Bava
Stars: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Camaso, Anna Maria Rosati
An elderly heiress is killed by her husband who wants control of her fortunes. What ensues is an all-out murder spree as relatives and friends attempt to reduce the inheritance playing field, complicated by some teenagers who decide to camp out in a dilapidated building on the estate.
Though rarely acknowledged by the mainstream press, A Bay Of Blood (aka Twitch Of The Death Nerve) is now regarded by most of the horror community as the progenitor of the slasher wave from the ’80s (with Steve Miner’s Friday The 13th Part II suffering the most direct accusations of, ahem, “direct inspiration”). However, Mario Bava’s film is a more clever, subtle, and visually sumptuous affair than your standard stalk and kill yarn; even with limited means he conjures up a swirling symphony of poetic images. The cheeky gore effects still shock today, including an unforgettable facial machete application, a unique shish-kebab variation, and a startling beheading, all laced with some ’70s-styled helpings of nudity and sex.
9. Deep Red (1975)
Director: Dario Argento
Stars: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Macha Méril
A psychic who can read minds picks up the thoughts of a murderer in the audience and soon becomes a victim. An English pianist gets involved in solving the murders, but finds many of his avenues of inquiry cut off by new murders, and he begins to wonder how the murderer can track his movements so closely.
Deep Red was Dario Argento’s first full-fledged masterpiece, a riveting thriller whose secrets carefully unravel via a series of carefully calibrated compositions that become not unlike virtual gateways into Freudian pasts. Through occasional insert shots of marbles and toy dolls, we see a disturbing glimpse into the killer’s mind. The killings in the film are particularly eerie, due to the killer’s insistence on playing a tape of a bizarre children’s song before each crime. The killer’s appearance is stereotypical for films of this time, coming complete with a rain slicker, black leather gloves, and a fedora. The film is also, one could argue, Argento’s most grounded in reality. There isn’t as much loopy logic to follow, as most of the clues, motivations, and suspects are somewhat plausible. Its power lies in both its ability to unsettle and the unpredictable course of events that take you to the edge of your seat in a truly gripping finale.
8. Torso (1973)
Director: Sergio Martino
Stars: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson
Someone is strangling coeds in Perugia. The only clue is that the killer owns a red and black scarf, and police are stumped. American exchange student Jane and her friends decide to take a break from classes by going up to Danielle’s uncle’s villa in the country. Unfortunately the killer decides to follow, and the women begin suffering a rapid attrition problem.
Discussions about Italian horror films always involve the following directors: Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci. And for good reason – those guys comprise Italy’s holy trinity of terror. But one of the country’s best scare flicks has always been overlooked and under-appreciated, despite the fact that it’s just as good as any of those filmmakers’ most celebrated movies. The film is Torso, and it’s directed by Sergio Martini. Here, he delivers all of the goods; nudity, violence and some really solid scares. The stylized direction and cinematography really amps up the tension using tried and true gimmicks like point-of-view action and odd angled camera shots. What the film lacks in explicit gore, it more than makes up for it in off-screen carnage and uncontaminated suspense. As the tagline says: “Enter… if you dare the bizarre world of the psychosexual mind.”
7. Peeping Tom (1960)
Director: Michael Powell
Stars: Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer, Maxine Audley
Released the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, our psychopath in Peeping Tom is Mark Lewis, a mild-mannered member of a film crew who has aspirations of being a director. Though his actual career behind the camera has gone nowhere, that doesn’t stop him from constantly carrying a camera around; a perverted voyeur, Mark especially likes to capture women, particularly their dying moments as he kills them. No one suspects him, however, and he is able to carry out a fairly normal life otherwise; this includes a budding romance with a young lady named Helen (Anna Massey) who lives in the same building as him. His traumatic childhood and his violent present clash with his desire to create a happy future, as he must overcome the demons that torment his mind.
A stylish mix of suspense, eroticism, and violence, Peeping Tom is a masterwork of psychological horror. Like Psycho, it marks a distinct change from most of the horror output from the previous decade, as the villain is no longer aliens from outer space or nuclear monsters; instead, it’s just a normal guy who could easily live in the room above you. So many movies about the most depraved of life-takers also function as therapies for their audiences; this one makes us accessories to deplorable deeds, and rejects all opportunities to find relief from them.
6. Alice Sweet Alice (1976)
Director: Alfred Sole
Stars: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula E. Sheppard, Brooke Shields
It’s generally a bit of a taboo in film to combine children with murder. Usually that means filmmakers are wary of killing a kid in a movie – that’s crossing the line – but it also works the other way too. Alice Sweet Alice isn’t scared of such taboos: not only does it include a child being killed mere minutes into its runtime, its entire plot also revolves around the notion that another child may be the one doing the killing.
The child in question is the titular Alice, a badly-behaved 12-year-old girl who constantly bullies her younger sister Karen. With her parents divorced and her dad out of town, it’s perhaps understandable that Alice isn’t getting along with her sister or her mother. It’s not long, however, before things go seriously out of control.
5. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Director: Robert Hiltzik
Stars: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Katherine Kamhi
After a horrific boating accident kills her family, Angela, a shy and gloomy youngster, moves in with her oddball Aunt Martha, alongside her protective cousin Ricky. One summer, Martha sends the kids to Camp Arawak. Soon after their arrival, a series of bizarre and increasingly violent accidents begins to claim the lives of various campers.
Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp is indeed one of the greatest slasher films ever made. The film manages to create a very creepy atmosphere throughout, the killings are original and gruesome and the disclosure of the murderer’s identity is one of the most shocking climaxes in the history of cinema. Felissa Rose is marvelous as Angela, especially with her effortlessly creepy stare. Sleepaway Camp is a bit different than your standard slasher fare; it’s filled with strange and deviant characters, disturbing flashbacks and sexual subtext. There isn’t much gore to speak of, still we do get an arrow through the neck, a severed head, a bloody stabbing and death by hair curler. This is ’80s horror at its finest; truly one of a kind.
4. Scream (1996)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Rose McGowan
During the early ’90s the horror genre was floundering: all the major franchises had pretty much run out of steam by this point, and a fresh, smart perspective was sorely needed. Enter Wes Craven who, alongside screenwriter Kevin Williamson, created a new horror franchise that took to task the tired genre tropes everyone was thoroughly tired of watching.
So, what exactly made this slasher so different? It’s simple: Scream caused a schism in the horror genre, its legacy being the creation of a distinct period of post-Scream horror movies. Unlike most smash hits, however, Scream didn’t just inspire a fleeting rash of imitations; it created a ripple effect in both filmmakers and the film industry as a whole. Craven’s seminal film about a slasher in Woodsboro who has a bone to pick with the friends and family of a young lass named Sidney Prescott, couldn’t help but comment on the rules of the horror genre – only to turn around and turn the knife on each cast member. The method was simple: Have your characters expressly lay out the horror movie commandments, have them break said commandments, and then punish them for doing so. This pattern followed the franchise through every sequel, but the original will always be the most potent, as well as the most fun.
3. Black Christmas (1974)
Director: Bob Clark
Stars: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon
Although Halloween is credited as the film that kicked off the slasher genre and Friday The 13th is considered the one that inspired a slew of imitations, Black Christmas pre-dates them both by nearly half a decade. This makes it all the more impressive, then, that despite being one of the earliest proper examples of the genre, it remains one of the better slasher movies 40-plus years after its original release.
Black Christmas opens with someone approaching a sorority house. We don’t know who. He watches as the drunken sorority sisters and their boyfriends are having a little fun before the holidays. The figure moves up the side ladder, crawling through to the attic window of the house – no one is the wiser. A phone rings downstairs. It’s him again! The moaner! All the girls are listening in. The caller is intense, holding nothing back. In an eerie, distorted falsetto voice, he calls the girls “pigs” and threatens to “lick [their] pretty piggy c*nt[s].” After being challenged by one of the girls, he ends the call with a simple, monotone threat – as if using his regular voice: “I’m going to kill you.” Thus, the wheels are in motion for one of the all-time great whodunit horror mysteries.
2. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp
When writer-director Wes Craven first imagined dream-stalker Freddy Krueger, the ideas bouncing around in his head were equally sick and clever. While sleeping, people are at their most vulnerable, making it nearly impossible to stop Krueger from offing whomever he pleases in gory, imaginative ways. Furthermore, nobody can stay awake forever, so, eventually, whether it’s after a week or two months or longer, you’re going to enter Freddy’s domain. And the outcome won’t be ideal.
We all know the story: Freddy was a child murderer, the parents of his victims burn him alive and about a decade later he comes back and starts killing the remaining children of those parents in their dreams. There are just so many things that make the original Nightmare On Elm Street great, it’s hard to pinpoint just one. The lead, Nancy Thompson, is still the quintessential horror movie heroine. She’s brave, clever and actually turns her back on Freddy and lives to speak about it. All these years later, there are horrific moments of helplessness that still resonate – a geyser of blood shooting out of the bed that sucked up poor Glen Lantz, Freddy’s glove emerging from the still waters of Nancy’s bath, Tina Gray writhing around on the ceiling, Nancy’s feet sucked into the stairs as she tries to run away. They’re all so simple, so primal, but so clever and impeccably executed. From the concept to the imagery to the characters, Craven crafted a horror film that attacked the visceral and the cerebral in equal measure.
1. Halloween (1978)
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Kyes
While it’s often wrongly credited as the first ever slasher movie, there’s no denying that Halloween was the first to really nail it and the one that would inspire the endless stream of low-budget slashers that followed it (a stream that would flow right through to the present day). Its simple premise – a babysitter stalked by a faceless, unstoppable killer – made it easy for the viewer to relate and as such made it terrifying to the teenage audiences that came in droves to see it. Simply put, Halloween changed horror cinema forever.
It, of course, tells the story of Michael Myers, a young boy who suddenly snaps one Halloween. Putting on a clown mask, Michael grabs a kitchen knife and goes upstairs, stabbing his older sister over and over. When his parents get home and find that young Mike has turned his sister into a human colander, he’s sent to a mental asylum for the rest of his life. Fifteen years later he escapes and returns to his hometown to kill again. Simply put, to call Halloween merely brilliant isn’t giving it enough credit. As a horror film and as a historical milestone that single-handedly shaped and altered the future of an entire genre, it’s downright transcendent. Oh, and it has one of the best boob shots ever!
Do you disagree with our ranking? Is there a slasher you’d like to add to the list? Should we have included more Friday The 13th sequels? Let us know in the comments section below.