The basic formula for a slasher movie is instantly recognizable: gather a group of attractive young people, add a homicidal maniac to the mix, and watch the killing spree play out in gruesome and inventive ways. As a sub-category of the horror genre, slashers have endured for decades thanks in large part to their simplicity. Endless variations of the stalk-and-slash formula are possible, but the bloody heart of the slasher remains the same.
John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) is regarded by many as the blueprint by which all slasher movies are judged. Though Carpenter’s movie was inspired by horror films with similar themes such as Black Christmas (1974) and Psycho (1960), Halloween popularized the slasher format and catapulted it into the mainstream. Then, in 1980, the success of Sean S. Cunningham’s much bloodier Friday the 13th kickstarted the slasher craze which resulted in a deluge of slasher films released throughout the remainder of the decade.
Many factors contributed to the slasher genre becoming such a hit in the 1980s. For one, advances in special effects makeup gave audiences a level of gore they hadn’t seen before. In addition, increases in violent crime and divorce rates in the United States could be seen reflected in slashers where the victims were often young adults with antagonistic (or completely absent) parents.
For those reasons and more, hundreds of slashers were released in the 1980s. The movies range from box office smashes to obscure video-store trash, but they all have their charms. Offered here is a list of some of the best, bloodiest, and most notable slasher movies from the decade that defined the genre.
First and foremost, producer and director Sean S. Cunningham is a businessman. Seeing an opportunity to cash in on the demand for the next movie like Halloween (1978), Cunningham came up with the title Friday the 13th and put out an ad for the film in Variety magazine before he even had a script. The plan worked, and Cunningham was able to raise the money to make his movie (after the script was written, of course). However, the smartest business decision Cunningham made was hiring Tom Savini to create the special effects for the film’s many murders. Arrows go through necks, knives slice throats in full view, and there’s even a slow-motion decapitation.
The film is so iconic that people probably know the basics of what it’s about even if they’ve never seen it. A group of young camp counselors converge at an old campground to get it ready for summer, but they are killed off one by one by a mysterious murderer. It’s about as basic as it gets for a slasher movie, and it shines in its simplicity. If you’re just starting to get into slashers, Friday the 13th is one of the best gateways into the genre.
Silent Scream is a solid thriller with some slasher-style murders that feels like a transition between Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980).
After renting a room in an old Victorian mansion that serves as a boarding house, Scotty (Rebecca Balding) quickly makes friends with the other college students staying there. However, when one of her new friends is found murdered on the nearby beach, Scotty rethinks her choice of accommodations. It may be too late for Scotty and her fellow boarders though. A mysterious person with a large knife is creeping through the walls of the house, and no one may be able to get out alive. Silent Scream is an entertaining horror film, but it might be most notable for the appearance of European-horror legend Barbara Steele in a sinister role.
Already established as the premiere scream queen of the time for her role in Halloween (1978), Jamie Lee Curtis returned to the slasher genre in 1980 as the star of Prom Night. In the film, Curtis stars as Kim Hammond, a popular high school girl whose younger sister was killed in an accident involving bullying six year prior. Unknown to Kim and nearly everyone else, the four children responsible for her sister’s death grew up to be some of Kim’s classmates. Someone knows the truth though, and on the night of the school prom, which just so happens to fall on the anniversary of Kim’s sister’s death, that person seeks bloody revenge.
Prom Night draws a lot of inspiration from Halloween with its focus on building an interesting story with compelling characters. That attention to story and character makes the film’s finale unusually emotional for a slasher flick. If that’s not enough to catch your interest, there’s also an extended disco dance sequence where Jamie Lee Curtis shows off her moves for an extended amount of time.
Directed by the notorious Joe D’Amato, a filmmaker known for pushing the limits of decency even in genres which are indecent by design, Anthropophagus is a particularly nasty Italian slasher.
The film stars Tisa Farrow in one of her final film roles as she and a group of friends are stranded on a small Greek island with a murderous cannibal stalking their every move. The film’s pace can drag a bit at times, but the kills are extraordinarily gruesome, making them well worth the wait. Anthropophagus has gained a cult following over the years for its memorable scenes of gore, including an infamous moment of cannibalism involving a pregnant woman.
Backed by the star power of Jamie Lee Curtis, Terror Train is a classic slasher that features one of the earliest uses of the prank-gone-wrong scenario as motivation for the killer.
Jamie Lee Curtis plays Alana, a college student who is dragged into a fraternity prank on an awkward pledge named Kenny (Derek McKinnon). Kenny is traumatized by the incident and returns three years later to get revenge. The setting of a costume party on a moving train is claustrophobic and tense, and the kills are fun with the masked killer appearing in different costumes throughout the course of the movie.
The Boogey Man (also written as The Boogeyman) is an interesting cross between a low-budget slasher flick and a possession film.
The movie opens with a riff on the opening scene from Halloween (1978), complete with a young boy, a large knife, and a brutal murder. The story then picks up years later as the boy and his sister, now grown up, become entangled in a mysterious series of murders perpetrated by an unseen force. The movie can be unintentionally comical at times with its invisible killer who sometimes possesses people and sometimes just floats weapons through the air. Even so, some of the kills are bloody, and the exorcism scene at the end is fun.
Unlike most slashers prior to 1980, director William Lustig’s Maniac focuses its story on the killer rather than the victims. Character actor Joe Spinell (Taxi Driver, Rocky) plays Frank Zito, a deranged killer who stalks the streets of New York City to find women to murder and scalp. Viewers get uncomfortably close to Frank as we hear his thoughts throughout every step of his nightly routine. Frank doesn’t want to do the things he does, but he can’t fight the compulsion, and we are forced to be complicit as we watch his disturbingly violent actions.
Joe Spinell put his passion into Maniac, co-writing the script and giving the performance of his career. Once you see Frank Zito in action, he’s hard to forget. Perhaps even harder to forget are some of the brutal killings, all of which were created by special effects superstar Tom Savini.
With snappy writing, engaging characters, and many inventive and gory kills, My Bloody Valentine is easily one of the best holiday-themed slasher flicks of the era.
In the mining town of Valentine Bluffs, a tragic accident in a mining shaft on February 14th left multiple miners dead. A year later, the only survivor of the incident, Harry Warden, murdered the men responsible for the accident, leaving a warning that more deaths would follow every year the town’s Valentine’s Day dance takes place. The dance was banned, but nearly two decades later, the youth of Valentine Bluffs decide to hold a Valentine’s Day dance on their own. All of a sudden people start dying, and Harry Warden is no longer in the mental institution he was incarcerated in. Has Harry Warden returned to Valentine Bluffs?
Final Exam is a slasher movie that makes no real attempt to be anything other than a pure exercise in the stalk-and-slash philosophy. The movie is set on the campus of a college right before summer break, and there is a killer on the loose. The killer has no name and is given no motivation. He is just there to kill. The film’s body count is fairly high, and the scenes of murder are sufficiently fun once they start, but the movie does have a fair amount of downtime in the first half before the mayhem starts.
Tobe Hooper, writer and director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), directed this fun, atmospheric slasher about a group of friends who end up locked in a creepy amusement park attraction.
The friends try to escape after they witness a murder committed by a man in a Frankenstein’s Monster mask, but they are stalked by the killer as they hunt for an exit. The Funhouse contains loads of Tobe Hooper’s style of black humor, and the funhouse setting allows the director to create some really fantastic visuals. The movie is also quite clear about its inspirations, featuring a cheeky riff on both Halloween (1978) and Psycho (1960) in the opening sequence.
Released just under a year after the first film in the franchise, Friday the 13th Part 2 picks up five years after part one as a new group of counselors attend a training camp near the old and unused Camp Crystal Lake. The counselors are told a local legend about how young Jason Voorhees didn’t drown as a child. As the story goes, Jason lived alone in the woods, and he witnessed the beheading of his mother by a camp counselor five years prior. The kids are assured that the story is just an urban legend, but the legend becomes real when a huge man with a bag over his head begins systematically killing the new counselors.
Reconciling the story (and the dreamy twist ending) we saw in the first movie with the plot of the second movie is a bit of a stretch, but it works well enough for this fun, if somewhat mindless, early 80s slasher. There are enough interesting characters, and the pace is kept high enough for Friday the 13th Part 2 to be an entertaining entry on the long running and highly influential franchise.
The Burning languished in relative obscurity for many years, but it eventually achieved cult classic status as more people discovered its gory effects and alarming cruelty on home video.
Though in many ways The Burning feels like a rip-off of the massively popular Friday the 13th (1980), the film was already being worked on prior to the latter film’s release. Really though, despite the setting of a summer camp, the two movies play out quite differently. The Burning begins with a prank gone wrong as young campers accidentally set the camp’s caretaker, Cropsy, on fire. Crospy survives, but he is horribly disfigured. After being released from the hospital five years later, Cropsy returns to the summer camp get revenge in horribly gruesome ways.
The Burning is best remembered for its outrageous gore effects by Tom Savini (who chose to do this movie rather than Friday the 13th Part 2). The Burning is also notable for being the feature film debut Fisher Stevens, Jason Alexander, and Holly Hunter.
Happy Birthday To Me is a fun Canadian slasher with memorable kills and a bonkers final act that feels like it could have been taken from a very bloody episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You.
Popular high school senior Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright’s 18th birthday is approaching, but things aren’t going well for her. Ginny’s friends, all members of the school’s elite “Top Ten,” are being killed off one by one. The deaths, harrowing enough on their own, are also bringing up repressed memories from a tragic event in Ginny’s past. Is Ginny somehow involved in the deaths of her friends? And more importantly, will anyone still be alive to attend her birthday party?
With its throwback gothic look and contemporary slasher plot, Hell Night is a fun and unique entry in the slasher film canon.
Hell Night stars Linda Blair of The Exorcist (1973) as a sorority pledge who is forced to spend the night in a supposedly haunted mansion with one of her future sorority sisters and two fraternity pledges. The leaders of the sorority and fraternity intend to torment the pledges throughout the night with a series of mean-spirited pranks, but there is a killer skulking through the shadows (and hidden passageways) of the mansion intent on ending the life of anyone who steps foot inside his home.
Sometimes seen as a spiritual successor to Anthropophagus (1980), Absurd reteams Italian director Joe D’Amato with the monster from Anthropophagus, George Eastman, for a brutal Italian slasher.
In Absurd, Eastman stars as Mikos, a man who is driven insane (and made incredibly difficult to kill) by scientific experimentation. Mikos goes on a homicidal rampage, eventually attempting to slaughter everyone inside a house inhabited by two kids and a babysitter. Absurd is somewhat derivative of American slashers of the time, but the Italian flair for violence helps make Absurd quality viewing for horror fans. The final on-screen image is well worth the wait.
Picking up immediately after the first film’s ending, Halloween II (1981) is a more violent follow-up to the 1978 original that stands as one of the better horror sequels of all time. After surviving Michael Myers’s attacks, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Over the course of the night, Michael tracks Laurie to the hospital, killing anyone that gets in his way as he tries to finish what he started.
Halloween II is quite different from the first Halloween from 1978. By the time Halloween II was released, audiences expected a certain degree of blood and violence in slashers that wasn’t present in the original film. For that reason, Halloween II is far less scary than its predecessor, but the scenes of slaughter are more numerous and bloody. Director Rick Rosenthal provided one of the better slasher sequels with this film, though he would return to the franchise many years later by helming the divisive 2002 entry Halloween: Resurrection.
Just Before Dawn is a great, lesser-known slasher that takes place in the wilderness of Oregon.
Just Before Dawn contains a simple plot about a pair of killers who stalk a group of friends, and in a lot of ways it feels like it was inspired by Deliverance (1972). With its clashes between city folks and backwoods aggressors, it’s a fun horror movie despite having one of the smaller body counts among 1980s slashers. Just Before Dawn is given a lot of credibility thanks to a great performance from George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke) as the film’s harbinger of doom who warns the young friends of the dangers waiting for them in the woods.
Initially based on the urban legend of Cropsey (just like The Burning from 1981), Madman is an entertaining, low-budget slasher film even if the story feels very familiar.
At a camp deep in the woods, the camp’s lead counselor tells a campfire story about Madman Marz, a man who killed his entire family before escaping into the very woods the camp is located in. It is said that Madman Marz will appear if he hears his name, so an obnoxious teenage camper pushes his luck by yelling for Marz to come get him. As the night goes on, a disfigured madman with an axe stalks and kills the members of the camp, leaving few survivors. Madman can be a bit campy at times, especially when the killer is fully revealed, but it’s still a solid and decently bloody slasher flick.
The New York Ripper is a divisive Italian slasher that portrays a series of murders featuring an uncomfortable mix of sexual violence and sadistic brutality.
Directed by master of gore Lucio Fulci (1978’s Zombie, 1981’s The Beyond), the story follows the exploits of a killer with an oddly Donald-Duck-like voice. The plot is rather straightforward as we watch the police try to track down the killer before more women are found dead, but the movie really stands out for its pessimistic tone. The disturbing violence throughout the film earned it a notorious reputation and plenty of detractors.
A slasher made up of a hybrid of science fiction, action, and horror, Silent Rage stars Chuck Norris as a small-town sheriff who must stop a nearly invulnerable killer from striking again.
The movie starts off in a familiar slasher fashion with a man named John Kirby (Brian Libby) chopping up his family with an axe. Kirby is shot as the local police try to apprehend him, but his life is saved with an experimental medical technique that gives him incredible strength and a healing factor. Kirby, of course, escapes, and it is up to Chuck Norris to shoot, punch, and kick Kirby until he doesn’t get back up again.
Jason was back in theaters in 1982, and this time he was popping out of the screen in 3D! Gimmicks aside, the third installment of the Friday the 13th series is notable for a few reasons. For one, this movie features the debut of Jason’s iconic hockey mask. Also, it’s the only movie in the series where “Jason Voorhees” is never referred to by name. The only person who really knows about the existence of Jason in this film is Chris (Dana Kimmell), a young woman who was assaulted by Jason years prior, but she never knew his name.
The story itself is fairly standard, following a group of young people as they travel to Chris’s family cabin on Crystal Lake for a weekend of fun, only to be stalked by a man with murderous intentions. Their trip happens to take place the day after the events in the previous film, and Jason is ready for round two. The characters in this film are mostly broad stereotypes who serve little purpose other than as fodder for Jason’s rage, but there are a few memorable characters that keep the story moving. The biggest draws here are definitely the inventive kills.
Pieces, a lurid Spanish movie filled with loads of nudity and ultra-violent kills, feels like it straddles the divide between two similar genres of horror. The mysterious, black-gloved killer looks like he stepped out of an Italian giallo, but his weapon of choice, a gigantic chainsaw, is right out of an American slasher. Regardless of its inspirations though, Pieces is an absolute horror classic.
The film depicts a series of gruesome murders of women on a college campus by someone the audience only knows by a flashback to when the killer was a child. The plot of Pieces is rather straightforward, going back and forth between murders and scenes of the people trying to identify the killer, but anything the movie lacks in story it makes up for with its memorable kills.
The Slumber Party Massacre is a memorable movie that closely follows the classic slasher formula.
With the house to herself while her parents are away, 18-year-old Trish Devereaux (Michelle Michaels) decides to have a slumber party. Unfortunately for Trish, an escaped killer with a giant electric drill is on the loose, and he has targeted Trish and her friends for death. Though it doesn’t break any of the already established slasher conventions, The Slumber Party Massacre looks great, has numerous kills, and has a strong sense of fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Directed by Dario Argento, one of the masters of the Italian giallo genre which was a direct inspiration for slasher films, Tenebrae tells the story of an American writer who is in Italy to promote his latest horror novel. The book, also titled Tenebrae, seems to be the inspiration for a series of murders, and the author, Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), takes it upon himself to help look into the killings. As Peter is drawn deeper into the mystery, the deaths get closer and closer to him.
Tenebrae features Dario Argento’s masterful use of visual metaphors to create a tense and scary film with one of the greatest final sequences in any giallo or slasher.
When a regional blackout shuts down the electric locks in a psychiatric hospital, four dangerous patients escape. The four men make their way to the home of one of the facility’s new doctors, intent on killing him in irrational revenge for replacing their previous doctor. With the power still out across the city, the doctor and his family must fight in the dark to survive the night. Alone in the Dark features a stellar cast including Donald Pleasence, Martin Landau, and Jack Palance, and it was the first movie directed by Jack Sholder who would go on to direct the second film in the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
Sweet Sixteen is a somewhat obscure slasher with a twisty, mystery-heavy focus to its story.
Big-city girl Melissa has moved to a small Texas town just before her sixteenth birthday, and she’s looking for some illicit fun with the local boys. Melissa has a big problem though: the boys she gets close to keep dying. The racist segment of the town’s population suspect local Native Americans of the murders, forcing the town’s sheriff to split his time between stopping misguided vigilantes while finding out who the actual killer is before everyone Melissa comes across ends up dead.
Remembered mostly for its bonkers ending where the film’s killer is revealed in more ways than one, Sleepaway Camp is a fabulously cheesy riff on the Friday the 13th formula.
Years after young Angela is traumatized by death of her sibling in a boating accident on a lake, Angela (Felissa Rose) returns to the same lake to attend summer camp. Campers and staff members begin dying in horrible ways, throwing the camp into a panic as they search for the killer. Sleepaway Camp is incredibly fun, and if you don’t know what the twist ending is, stay away from spoilers until you get a chance to experience it for yourself.
The House on Sorority Row is a slasher with a well-plotted mystery and a story that feels similar to later guilty-conscience movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997).
When seven sorority sisters accidently shoot their overbearing house mother in a prank gone wrong, they make a group decision to hide the body in their house’s swimming pool so their graduation party can go on that night as planned. As the party continues throughout the night, the sisters become victims of a mysterious killer carrying their house mother’s cane. The House on Sorority Row makes good use of the sisters’ varying personalities as their fear builds and they begin to turn on each other.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, the fourth movie in the franchise, picks up immediately after part three, with Jason presumed dead. He, of course, is not dead, and Jason returns to Crystal Lake for another round of murder. This time, 12-year-old Tommy Jarvis (Cory Feldman) is staying at a cabin on the lake with his mother and sister Trish (Kimberly Beck). A group of teenagers arrive for a weekend of partying at the cabin next to Tommy’s, one thing leads to another, and the teens are murdered one by one.
With mainstream interest in slashers declining, this was originally supposed be the final movie in the Friday the 13th series. That seems ironic since this is the movie that introduced the world to Tommy Jarvis, the character that would appear in the next two installments of the franchise, bridging the gap between the more-or-less human version of Jason and the undead zombie-like Jason that would carry the series beyond the next decade.
Originally released as Fall Break, The Mutilator is a simple and fun slasher with lots of great gore effects.
The movie follows a group of college students as they travel to a condo on the beach while on break from school. The son of the condo’s owner, Ed Jr. (Matt Milter), has a troubled relationship with his father, Big Ed (Jack Chatham), and their family issues turn into a night of bloody murder as Big Ed brutally slays Ed Jr.’s friends.
By 1984, mainstream audiences were beginning to lose interest in slasher films. That changed when writer/director Wes Craven unleashed A Nightmare on Elm Street on an unsuspecting world. Though Craven himself was hesitant to call A Nightmare on Elm Street a horror movie, he referred to it as “more of a fantasy, an impressionistic thriller” in a 1984 issue of Fangoria, the film reignited interest in the slasher genre with its blend of frighteningly surreal imagery and a powerful story set atop a familiar slasher framework.
In the film, the kids of Elm Street slowly discover that they are all having nightmares about the same scarred killer with blades on his fingers. Nancy (Heather Langenkamp in her first lead role) realizes that the man in their dreams is trying to kill them for real after her best friend is murdered in her sleep. No one believes her, so Nancy has no choice but to fight back against the dream killer before he gets her as well.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a beautiful and gruesome horror movie with images that will remain embedded in your mind. In addition to Heather Langenkamp, the film also stars genre-film icon John Saxon as Nancy’s father, Johnny Depp in his film debut as Nancy’s boyfriend, and the incomparable Robert Englund as the terrifying Freddy Krueger. The film’s legacy as the beginning of a long-running franchise speaks for itself, and its importance in the larger canon of horror cinema cannot be understated.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is a campy slasher that stands as one of the most enjoyable Christmas horror movies of all time.
At five years old, Billy Chapman was forever scarred by witnessing his parents’ murder by a man dressed as Santa Claus. After growing up in a strict orphanage, Billy has trouble adjusting to the outside world. Now an adult, Billy ends up substituting as Santa at the toy store he works at. Wearing the suit that has caused him so much mental anguish throughout his life proves to be too much, and Billy snaps. What follows is a path of carnage that has become a classic of Christmas horror. Stabbings, decapitations, and even an impalement on deer antlers (featuring scream queen Linnea Quigley) have made Silent Night, Deadly Night a yearly tradition for countless slasher fans.
Years after Jason’s death in the previous film, Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd) is still haunted by the memories of the murders he witnessed and his own killing of Jason Voorhees. Tommy, now a young adult, is taken to a halfway house with other troubled young people, a halfway house which just happens to be near Crystal Lake. After one of the halfway house occupants murders one of his fellow troubled youths in a fit of rage, more people begin dying near the area. Has Tommy snapped, or is it possible Jason is still alive? Though not the best in the Friday the 13th series, it offers a simple whodunnit mystery and a collection of fun and memorable characters.
Following the success of the first film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was released just under a year later in 1985. At that time, the mechanics of Freddy Krueger’s abilities to invade people minds hadn’t been completely established. For that reason among others, the second film in the series feels quite different from the rest of the franchise and strays slightly into the possession and body horror genres.
The movie stars Mark Patton as Jesse, a young man whose family moves into the house once occupied by Nancy Thompson, the survivor of the first film. Jesse begins having nightmares involving Freddy, but rather than trying to kill Jesse, Freddy is intent on possessing Jesse’s body so he can wreak havoc in the real world. Jesse tries to fight Freddy’s influence, but he might not have the willpower to resist as people around him end up dead.
Much has been said about the film’s unsubtle homoerotic subtext, and though the movie has gained a cult following in the decades since its release thanks in large part to its clear interpretation as a story about repressed homosexuality, that same interpretation caused many issues for closeted star Mark Patton at the time. For better or worse though, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge remains an interesting and important film in the Nightmare legacy.
The title says it all. Jason is back for real this time, and he’s more unstoppable than ever. Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) accidently pulls a Frankenstein and brings Jason Voorhees back to life with an unfortunately-timed bolt of lightning. Of course the local law enforcement doesn’t believe him when Tommy goes to them for help, and the police actively try to stop Tommy from taking matters into his own hands.
Meanwhile, Camp Forest Green (the former Camp Crystal Lake) is starting up their summer camp. As the children arrive, kids and counselors alike are terrorized as Jason once again rampages through his old stomping grounds. Though there is a fair amount of comedy in this installment, Jason Lives features some of the most iconic visuals of the series with zombie-Jason in his full glory and actual children being present at the camp for the first time in the series.
The follow-up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) feels like quite a departure from the original film. The first movie is terrifying with its restrained approach to showing blood on screen and hints of dark humor, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is an unhinged black comedy with a strong emphasis on action and gore.
In the film, Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and his family travel into town for a chili cookoff, murdering a couple of people along the way. When audio of their deed ends up on a local radio station, the family decides to kill the radio host responsible. Meanwhile, the uncle of two of the victims from the first movie, former Texas Ranger “Lefty” Enright, has been on the hunt for Leatherface and his kin for over a decade. Paths converge, leading to a climactic battle of chainsaws and explosions.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is directed by Tobe Hooper, the director of the first film and one of the filmmakers influential in the early development of slasher films. Also, the film stars Jim Siedow reprising his role as Drayton “The Cook” Sawyer, and newcomers to the franchise Dennis Hopper as Lefty and Bill Mosely as Chop Top.
On April Fool’s Day, a group of students at Doddsville County High School pull a pair of cruel pranks on class nerd Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore) that leave him horribly scarred physically and mentally. Ten years later, the same group of students is invited back to the school for a reunion. Oddly, the school looks abandoned, and Marty’s tormentors are the only people who received invitations. Undeterred, the group breaks into the building to have a party, and it’s not long before they are stalked and killed in gruesome ways.
Slaughter High is a somewhat formulaic slasher (its basic plot is so similar to The Redeemer from 1978 that it could be mistaken for a remake in the beginning), but it’s a fun movie highlighted by the appearance of English horror star Caroline Munro.
More than the first two installments in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors established the Freddy Krueger that became a pop-culture icon. Freddy cracks wise repeatedly throughout the movie, bringing out his humorous personality which was much more subdued in the first two films.
Heather Langenkamp returns as Nancy Thompson, now a grad student who works with doctors attending to some of the kids from Elm Street who are currently being tormented by Freddy. Nancy does her best to help the kids (including Patricia Arquette in her film debut), but even though one doctor is on her side, the head doctor stands in their way. Freddy begins picking off the kids in their dreams in fantastically unique ways, and it all builds to a finale where Nancy and her new friends have to fight Freddy in both the dream world and in reality.
Blood Rage is a standout of the genre as slashers were declining in popularity and increasing in goofiness.
Young Terry Simmons frames his twin brother Todd for a brutal hatchet slaying at a drive-in theater, sending Todd away to a mental asylum. Now, as young adults ten years later, Todd leaves the asylum and heads back home. Terry then embarks on a bloody night of murder in an attempt to once again frame his brother Todd and prevent him from bringing Terry’s past crime to light. Mark Soper stars as both Todd and Terry in this well-made slasher with plenty of great blood and gore.
A giallo-inspired Italian slasher bursting with style, StageFright is one of the most visually interesting horror movies of its era.
The story focuses on a troupe of actors who end up locked inside their rehearsal space with a vicious killer. Though the basic plot may not be wholly original, the care with which the movie was crafted makes it a standout entry in 1980s horror cinema. Director Michele Soavi (credited as Michael Soavi) creates many memorable scenes of gorgeous terror, all stalked by a killer in a giant owl mask. One of the most effective scenes blends fiction with reality as the play being rehearsed in the film becomes all too real for the actors involved.
Doom Asylum is a wacky horror comedy featuring ridiculous kills, wonderfully eye-rolling dialogue, and plenty of goofy blood and gore.
Patty Mullen plays Kiki LaRue, a young woman who travels with her friends to an abandoned asylum near where her mother died many years ago. The asylum is being used as the rehearsal space for an all-female punk rock power trio, but it is also home to a horribly disfigured killer. When people start to disappear, Kiki and her friends enter the asylum and begin to fall victim to various implements of death including a comically gruesome buzzsaw to the face. Doom Asylum never takes itself seriously, feeling pretty much like a parody of slasher flicks.
When cult leader Franklin Harris (Richard Lynch) convinces his followers to commit suicide, a young girl named Cynthia escapes as the lone survivor. Thirteen years later, after awakening from a coma caused by the incident, Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) attends group therapy to try to get over the trauma. Cynthia is still haunted by images of Franklin Harris in her mind, but the dream world crosses over into reality when the other members of Cynthia’s group therapy sessions are found dead after Cynthia sees Harris kill them in her dreams.
Bad Dreams has rightfully been accused of being an unsubtle rip-off of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). Even though the third Nightmare movie is superior, Bad Dreams still manages to create a compelling fantasy-slasher that stands on its own. Much of the appeal of Bad Dreams can be attributed to the performances of Jennifer Rubin (who also played Taryn in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3) and Richard Lynch (who played a similarly terrible cult leader in the 1985 film Cut and Run).
Japanese horror in the 1980s doesn’t include a ton of slasher movies, but Evil Dead Trap is a glorious outlier in that sense. The film focuses on TV show host Nami Tsuchiya (Miyuki Ono) as she travels to a remote factory to investigate a video tape that was sent to her which seemingly shows a real murder. Nami and her small crew find the factory apparently deserted, but when they split up to have a look around, a killer in a black parka strikes. The members of Nami’s crew fall victim to elaborate traps and a few up close and personal ways to die while Nami herself gets closer and closer to the killer. If you’re a slasher fan who is looking for a gateway into Japanese horror, Evil Dead Trap is the way to go.
The fourth Nightmare on Elm Street film pushes the comedy stylings of Freddy a bit further, but it still manages to find a nice balance between fun and scary.
After the third installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise proved to be a hit, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) was back on the big screen the following year with A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. This time around, Freddy abuses the dream powers of the surviving Elm Street kids to move on and find a fresh batch of teenagers to torment. Freddy might have met his match though, as one of his targets, Alice (Lisa Wilcox), becomes more and more powerful as she absorbs the dream powers of her friends after they die.
Edge of the Axe is a well-made Spanish slasher that focuses more heavily on the mystery rather than the killings themselves.
When a series of axe murders rocks a rural town in northern California, computer enthusiast Gerald (Barton Faulks) and college student Lillian (Christina Marie Lane) find themselves investigating the crimes. Both Gerald and Lillian have recently arrived in town, and they form a quick connection over their shared love of technology. As the killings continue, Lillian suspects her mentally challenged cousin Charlie might be to blame, but the truth may be even more challenging for the budding relationship between Lillian and Gerald.
In Child’s Play, the first film of the long-running franchise, a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) escapes death by magically transferring his soul into the closest nearby human-like form: a Good Guy doll. After the doll ends up being the prized possession of young Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), the doll, calling itself “Chucky” in a seemingly pre-recorded routine, begins acting oddly. People around Andy wind up dead, and Andy’s mother Karen (Catherine Hicks) fears her son is losing touch with reality. The truth is far darker.
The legacy of Child’s Play includes being part of the inspiration for future slasher movies where the killers take center stage as wise-cracking anti-heroes (an approach also established by Freddy Krueger). Child’s Play quickly became a more comedic slasher series with its second installment, but this first movie is played mostly straight with some very effective scares. The scene where Karen discovers Chucky is alive is one of the great scenes in horror cinema, and the finale with Andy standing up to his murderous best friend is the stuff franchises are built on.
Released late in the 1980s slasher cycle, Cutting Class could be easily dismissed as just another slasher-on-campus movie. Even though that basic description is accurate, this straight-to-video gem has enough humor and horror to make it stand out as quality viewing. The plot involves a love triangle between recently released mental patient Brian (Donovan Leitch), pretty high school student Paula (Jill Schoelen), and school basketball star Dwight (Brad Pitt). When people start dying, Brian and Dwight quickly become the main suspects, leading up to a bloody revelation by the end of the movie.
The fourth Nightmare movie was a commercial, if not critical, success, so a fifth movie naturally followed just about a year later. Titled A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, the film adds even more mythology to Freddy (Robert Englund) and how his dream demon powers work. Lisa Wilcox returns as Alice, the final girl of the previous film, and she discovers that she is pregnant after having a nightmare about Freddy coming back. Alice’s friends start dying, leaving it up to Alice to find out what connection her pregnancy has to Freddy’s comeback and how she can use that connection to stop him once again.
Directed and written by Scott Spiegel, co-writer of Evil Dead II (1987) and high school friend of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, Intruder is a simple and obscure slasher that takes place in a grocery store after it has closed for the night.
When Jennifer’s (Elizabeth Cox) violent ex-boyfriend Craig (David Byrnes) shows up, a scuffle ensues and Craig is tossed out of the building. The crew of the store go about their nightly closing duties, but someone is stalking the workers and killing them in many elaborate ways. Is Craig the culprit, or does someone else have it in for the young employees and store owners? In a style similar to Sam Raimi’s movies, Intruder deftly mixes comedic character moments with scenes of gory violence.
Rush Week is a relatively bloodless slasher that follows journalism major Toni Daniels (Pamela Ludwig) as she investigates a series of murders on her college’s campus. As Toni gets closer to the truth, she also gets closer to the murderer, a figure in a black cloak who carries a large axe. Rush Week has a solid mystery and a decent twist in the finale, and its basic kills make it feel like a throwback to the days before slashers were filled with blood and gore.
Darkroom is an obscure slasher released as the 1980s were coming to a close. The film isn’t particularly bloody or violent like many other slasher movies from the era, but it features a decent mystery with a few nice kills.
Darkroom is about a killer on the loose at a remote farmhouse as college student Janet (Jill Pierce) returns home to visit her family. The killer has a penchant for photographing his victims, and his interests in photography and murder are both tied to a traumatic incident in his past.
More 80s Slashers
The list above covers a lot of ground, but there are still plenty more slashers from the 1980s to choose from. Here are just a few more to keep that body count rising.
- Christmas Evil (1980) features a man who goes on a killing spree dressed as Santa Claus after being scarred as a child when he learned that Santa isn’t real.
- He Knows You’re Alone (1980) is credited as one of the first horror films to truly follow Halloween (1978) with its plot about a woman stalked by a killer just days before her wedding.
- Motel Hell (1980) isn’t technically a slasher, but its finale with a deranged farmer wielding a gigantic chainsaw while wearing a severed pig’s head over his own head is the type of killer you could build an entire slasher franchise around.
- New Year’s Evil (1980) features a series of murders during a New Year’s countdown with a radio disc jockey as the ultimate target.
- American Nightmare (1983) feels more like a crime thriller with its story about a man searching for his missing sister, but its mix of gratuitous nudity and bloody murder was absolutely inspired by slashers.
- Scalps (1983) takes place on near a Native American burial ground where college students inadvertently unleash a spirit that slaughters them one by one. This low budget shocker from director Fred Olen Ray is notable for its cameo from horror and sci-fi mega-fan Forrest J. Ackerman, editor and co-creator of the Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
- April Fool’s Day (1986) is a slasher movie (sort of) about a group of college students spending their break in an island mansion. The film has a twist ending that has left moviegoers extremely divided over the years.
- The Majorettes (1986), a straight-to-video slasher, features a string of murders of a majorette squad before switching gears and becoming an action-oriented vigilante flick.
- Berserker (1987) takes place deep in the woods as a reincarnated Viking warrior terrorizes campers.
- Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987) features the brother of the first film’s killer picking up where his sibling left off. The movie has become famous for its ridiculousness, including its “garbage day” scene.
- Return to Horror High (1987) is a slasher comedy about a film crew who are systematically killed while producing a movie at the location of an unsolved series of murders.
- Killer Workout (1987) is one of the most visually-1980s slashers of the time, featuring loads of scenes containing attractive women and men doing aerobics while clad in skin-tight neon spandex. The killer targets these attractive people, killing many of them with a comically oversized safety pin.
- Slaughterhouse (1987) takes place in a small town slaughterhouse where a hog farmer sends his son to murder the people who are trying to foreclose on his property.
- Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) goes for comedy in the second installment of the franchise, in which the first film’s killer is reincarnated as a deranged musician with a giant drill stuck to the neck of his guitar.
- Cheerleader Camp (1988) is a fun low-budget slasher about, you guessed it, a killer loose at a camp for cheerleaders.
- Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) got the Halloween series back on track with Michael returning to Haddonfield to stalk his niece Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris).
- Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) follows Tina (Lar Park Lincoln), a young woman whose telekinetic powers awaken Jason from the depths of Crystal Lake.
- Shocker (1989) stars Mitch Pileggi as a serial killer executed in the electric chair for his crimes, but who finds a way to come back from the dead by riding currents of electricity. Wes Craven directed this fun supernatural slasher.
- Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) continues the story of Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) as Michael Myers once again stalks her, this time arriving at the children’s clinic Jamie has been staying at ever since her last encounter with her killer uncle.
- Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) takes place mostly on a ship as Jason spends his time on the cruise murdering people while he hitches a ride to New York (via a river connected to Crystal Lake, naturally).