The definition of 'slasher' has to be the most widely contested rhetoric in all of horror. It varies to absolutely everyone and precise agreement is found with no one. To state the genre has passionate fans would be akin to saying Wayne Gretzky was merely a decent hockey player; the fans are as rabid and detail attentive as any out there. Given the simplicity of the slasher film, nostalgia would seem to play the predominant role in their acceptance. Nostalgia makes everything difficult because to be nostalgic means to have a strong emotional connection and with that means breakdowns in logic; kind of like how a cop shouldn't work a case involving a loved one. The slasher can only be defined as an individual's own perceived classification of a certain film. For myself, I usually identify the stereotypical slasher to be a seventies or eighties stalker film with a bodycount at the core of its purpose and generally with a more impressive ad campaign than film itself. I have dozens of exceptions to my own rule, but when I get that slasher feeling and turn to my collection, I'm much more apt to watch Sleepaway Camp than High Tension despite the fact that the latter is a much better film. The feeling is what I'm in search of more so than the quality of the content.
In an attempt to create a list that doesn't seem too generic, I've limited my selections to only involve films that distinctly have the feeling, good or bad, that I alluded to earlier and kept beloved slasher franchise repetition to zero.
10. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
The first of many holiday themed slashers to make this list is also one of the most controversial. Really nothing more than a fast paced, wild little slay ride, Silent Night, Deadly Night brings it on all levels. Especially in the uncut version from Anchor Bay which re-inserted all the gory bits that were omitted from the original release by the censors. Plus, it wouldn't be a horror list if Linnea Quigley wasn't flaunting her naughty bits on a pool table only to be impaled on deer antlers through her chest! While the killer Santa is definitely out to punish, its hard to take any film with a decapitation scene involving a poor sap on a dashing sled too seriously. And who could ever forget the timeless cover art featuring Good Old Saint Nick sliding down the chimney, axe in tow?
I just have to include this one in here, a gimmicky little slasher that you will either love or hate, and I just happen to love. Working on elements of whodunit slasher and spicy teen comedy, April Fool’s Day ultimately lives and dies on its final twist. The one drawback is this one slightly lacks in its ability to be watchable after the initial viewing, but it can easily be checked out time after time if you watch it with a new crowd. The sexually active teens are entertaining enough on their own, though, and hey, it's as good of a way as any to kill next year's April Fool’s Day.
Rituals is probably going to be one of the biggest surprises featured in this piece, but it is a film that deserves its inclusion 100%. A deepwoods slasher if there ever was one, the hard to find uncut version of this Canadian subclassic is the only way to experience its true magic. Gore is kept to an exception sans the creepy parts that were edited out of American releases and public domain copies under the title, The Creeper, but magnified the on screen desperation and impact exponentially when present in those small bursts. Utilizing the dangers of the woods as a life threatening scare tactic alongside a vengeful maniacal killer, the slasher community probably won't ever fully appreciate this title until it receives a long overdue official DVD special edition.
Mario Bava is a master of Italian gothic horror and if Bay of Blood hadn't been the first film of his I had the pleasure of coming across, I would probably be surprised. Whereas slasher fans attest the genres beginnings to films like Psycho, the earliest pure violent bodycount film came from Bava in 1971. Although more plot heavy than the average slasher, the murder mystery aspect is topped by memorable, outrageous murders whose influence would ripple through the horror world and become infamous from the slasher hit, Friday the 13th. Also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve and even Last House on the Left Part 2, the slasher world owes a lot to this pioneer of the trade.
I enjoy comedy in my slasher films and teen sex comedies of the 80s are my favorite lowbrow genre of all time. Not surprising then is the fact that Cropsy, the charred murderer out for vengeance makes an appearance in this cross between Meatballs and Friday the 13th Part 2. Unlike so many considered of the same ilk, this one actually takes place at and feels like a summer camp hi jinx movie! The kills are violent and bloody with Tom Savini's effects and Cropsy is a hideous looking man worthy of being a slasher icon. Out of print for years and highly sought after, MGM released The Burning to DVD with a stunning transfer miles ahead of the old tape, this slasher remains on fire with slasher audiences nearly 30 years after its release!
The second, but certainly not the last Canadian slasher to grace this top ten list is the perennial maritime favorite, My Bloody Valentine. Its unique mine setting takes viewers out of suburbia and the woods and into the world of the hard working man's mindset of manual labor, Moosehead lager, women and friendship. Revenge is the key motive here (yup, it's definitely Maple Leaf Macabre) as a result of an old mining accident that left the town of Valentine's Bluff reeling in agony for years whenever February 14th rolled around. An old woman named Mabel decides to brighten up the town's Valentine's Day spirit and comes out of everything looking a "little washed up". Recognized as being more than just another slasher by the way of the internet, fans worldwide now regard the film, and its theme song, as the true slasher gem that it is.
Ahhh, good old Jason. No slasher list would be complete without the man who put summer camp slashers on the map without having much to do with summer camp at all. Of particular importance is The Final Chapter which represented the flawless amalgamation of the two 1980s home video trademarks; the slasher and the teen sex comedy. Chock full of nudity, violence and talented, up and coming actors portraying some of the most entertaining characters in slasher and teen comedy history (I'm looking at you, Jimbo and Teddy), it is without a doubt the king of the hill when it comes to Paramount's profitable but unappreciated, deformed son. Hot, naked twins, Zaxxon, vintage stag films and actors from eighties gems, The Last American Virgin, Back to the Future and License to Drive?! Sign me up, I'll pay double.
It's quite surprising just how smart Kevin Williamson's script for Scream is. Most impressive for taking slasher stereotypes and swerving audiences away from the predictability before roping them in with the same old bloody ruses that have worked countless times before accompanied by high production value and top notch performance make this one a cinch for my number three spot. Slasher fans should love the character of Randy in particular, a horror obsessed teen who basically puts all the hardcore fans in front of the lens and up against a duo of masked killers in silly, yet creepy masks that fit the tone of the flick to a T. A big tip of the hat should go to director Wes Craven, who further cemented his longevity in the horror genre by churning out at least one legit classic in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Not many horror mainstays can stake such a claim.
The final example of Maple Leaf macabre to make an appearance on the list is also the finest. The road to popularity for the late Bob Clark's masterpiece has been a slow and rocky one, but thanks to word of mouth and various DVD and BD releases, it has perched itself high up on the horror ranks like a star atop the family Christmas Tree. One of the few examples of utter realism in slasher history, Black Christmas is edge-of-your seat, skin of your nails entertainment that rumbles within well after the credits roll with anything but stereotypical characters, chilling POV shots and a creepy variation on the Silent Night carol as a theme. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Bob Clark should be very flattered at what my number one slasher was about to accomplish...
The best slasher of all time comes from John Carpenter and by the way of one of cinema's most legendary killers. Michael Myers' mask is an imperfect silhouette in the night, the perfect combination of mystery and ghostliness and his actions and strength have scared audiences since its release in 1978. A slow moving, building masterpiece in every sense of the word with some of the best synth ever, it is no wonder that Halloween is the most well loved slasher in history amongst fans and critics. I wasn't brought into this world until seven years after its release and I can't fathom what Halloween night would be like without Dr. Loomis, Laurie Strode and Michael Myers.
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