Slashers offer deeply violent, unsettling cinematic experiences and are renowned for their violent murders committed with blades (bonus points if the weapon is unexpected, like a chainsaw or a meat cleaver). The genre is said to have emerged from Italian giallos, a series of popular, artistically crafted psychological crime thrillers. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom are also seen as influential precursors.
While the golden age of slashers is usually defined as the late 70s and early 80s – with classics such as Friday the 13th (1980) and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – there have been many notable contributions to the genre since then, the majority of which have a cult status. Below, we share our top 21 slasher movies.
We once again return to Woodsboro, the town shocked by countless violent murders in the past, that now finds itself victim to a new killer 25 years after the release of the 1996 original. Heroine Sidney Prescott must return to uncover the truth and unmask the new Ghostface.
While this is the first instalment without input from horror master Wes Craven, the film continues his legacy with sharp writing, well-timed scares and some self-conscious mockery all overarched by a classic whodunit plot.
Original cast members Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette star alongside some fresh faces, striking a perfect balance between delighting the old fans and drawing in new ones.
It Follows (2014)
As if STIs weren’t scary enough, It Follows tells the tale of a girl plagued by a villainous supernatural entity after a sexual encounter. As her friends start to experience the spiritual “It” curse too, they form a team to help fight back.
Inspiration for the film came from a recurring nightmare the director had as a teen that he was being slowly stalked by some sort of entity he couldn’t shake.
American Psycho (2000)
They say the best horror is deadly satire, and this could not be more true of Mary Harron’s American Psycho. A portrait of yuppie despair in Reagan's 80s, the film centres around New York investment banker Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale, delivering a memorably unhinged performance) moonlighting as a twisted, violent killer. But just as the sins and heartless destruction of Wall Street go unpunished, so too does our villain Bateman.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
One of the titans of the genre, A Nightmare on Elm Street is polished and thought-provoking. The premise of the film, a certain Freddy Krueger slaughtering you in your dreams, was the perfect recipe for creating an insomniac intensity, almost like watching someone hold their breath underwater. A phantasmagoric and seductive slasher with a fresh-faced Johnny Depp, A Nightmare on Elm Street is an absolute must watch.
Black Christmas (1974)
Another of the original slasher films, Black Christmas was (terrifyingly) inspired by a real-life series of murders that occurred in Montreal in the 1940s, as well as an urban legend popular in North America about a babysitter who receives multiple calls telling her to ‘check the children’. For the film, they moved the setting over to university with young sorority girls as the victims of the calls.
The unnerving score, composed by Carl Zittrer, achieved its characteristic dissonance by attaching forks and other objects to the strings of the piano to warm the sound the instrument created. The result? A harrowing but melodious accompaniment to the grotesque murder we see on screen.
The pinnacle of the horror genre, Psycho stands as one of the most iconic slashers of all time. Testament to the storytelling prowess of Alfred Hitchcock, Norman Bates is still one of the most well crafted, fear-inducing murderers of the genre. And that shower scene has spawned its fair share of copy cats.
The score, meanwhile, an inseparable emblem of the film itself, is recognisable far and wide. As Hitchcock said himself: ‘Thirty-three per cent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.’ It’s hard to believe now, but Paramount Pictures had close to zero faith in the project, giving Hitchcock only a very small budget and expecting the film to fail.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Another of the originals of the slasher heyday, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was the most brutal horror film to acquire mainstream release at the time. Taking on big themes, like the increased redundancy of the labour force, the patriarchy and even vegetarianism, the film is a tidal wave of guts and gore and sinister undertones. Plus, it brought us the Halloween-costume favourite, Leatherface, who sports a mask made of human skin.
Deep Red (1975)
Dario Argento isn’t nicknamed ‘The Master of the Thrill’ for nothing. A classic whodunit, Deep Red shows us the brutal murder of a German psychic and then follows her neighbour as he tries to solve her murder. Naturally, a number of other barbarous assassinations occur, the majority of which are executed with a meat cleaver.
Part of what makes the film so disturbing is Argento’s peculiar drifting camera shots that make us feel both like we’re looking through the eyes of the killer, and being seen and targeted by him. The meat cleaver, according to the director, was chosen for its commonplaceness in the kitchen, making the deaths hit close to home.
Wes Craven turned his hand to satirising his own creation with the Scream franchise. A high-school student in Woodsboro finds herself to be the unfortunate target of the insidious killer and pantomime-costumed Ghostface. While a sly mockery of slashers, the film still has some of the most brutal, knuckle-gnawing knife-on-skin slashes ever seen on the screen.
With a fresh take on the clichés and tropes of slasher films, Scream single-handedly revived the genre, making for a resurgence in the late 90s and early 00s.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
While nearly everyone knows the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, its sequels are less popular. However, of the bunch, Dream Warriors is a solid entry into the franchise, featuring the return of Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) who now, as an adult, is stepping up to help a new generation of teens hold their own against the terrifying Freddy Krueger.
Freddy himself becomes a more developed character in this one too, dishing out quips and iconic one-liners, making the film frightfully entertaining. The dream sequences get more out of this world as well, with director Chuck Russell exploiting the limitless scenarios of the dreamsphere to the max.
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
With pretty much every other notable event on the calendar marked with its own slasher at this point – including Black Christmas, Halloween and Friday the 13th – it was only a matter of time before Valentine’s Day got its own violent chain of horrific cinematic events too. Quentin Tarantino’s all-time favourite slasher film follows a group of young adults who throw a Valentine’s Day party and unwittingly trigger the vengeful wrath of a killer disguised in mining gear.
The 1981 version of the film shocked audiences with its buckets of gore, but the uncut 2009 version reinserts a lot of lost gory death sequences including a death by water tap, which is switched on while inserted into the victim’s brains. It doesn’t get much worse than that!
You're Next (2011)
With You’re Next, it was time for new masks to elicit slasher hysteria: Lamb Mask, Tiger Mask and Fox Mask. You’re Next is a home-invasion movie where the vengeful assassin is actually organised by a member of the family, however, nobody could anticipate how out of control things get.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Friday the 13th spurned a lot of camp-based slasher movies, but Sleepaway is one of the few gems in a sea of ripoffs. The movie follows Angela (Felissa Rose), taunted and picked on by her peers for no discernible reason in that classic 80s way. Pretty quickly every one of Angela’s bullies starts to meet a violent end, with murders so grotesque the film falls nicely into the horror-comedy category.
Some of the finest sticky ends include the leering cook, who winds up with a vat of boiling water on his face, and a kid who gets stung to death by bees in an outhouse. Plus, without wanting to give anything away, the ending is probably one of the best but most perplexing finales in slasher history.
Twitch of the Death Nerve aka. A Bay of Blood (1971)
When an elderly heiress is killed by her husband, a full-on murder spree ensues as relatives scramble for her fortune. The film also features a classic teen camp out which, naturally, doesn’t end well.
The Italian slasher Twitch of the Death Nerve, also known as A Bay of Blood, is widely considered director Mario Bava’s most violent and bloody film. The numerous graphic murder scenes inspired the slasher subgenre as we came to know it in later years.
A PhD student writing her thesis on myths explores the Candyman legend in Chicago’s social-housing estate, finding herself enmeshed in a sensual but fatal duet with the titular killer.
One of the more pensive horrors, Candyman takes on issues of race, class and prejudice while ramping up the romance and tragedy. The charisma of Tony Todd’s titular villain gives Candyman an alluring, mystical quality which, in his seductiveness, makes the character all the more terrifying.
A direct sequel of the same name was released last year, but it lacked the mesmerising quality of its predecessor. For supreme slasher quality, stick to the original.
Friday the 13th (1980)
At Camp Crystal Lake, a group of canoodling camp counsellors are knocked off one by one by a vengeful killer ticked off that anyone dared reopen the abandoned campsite where tragedy had befallen years before.
While the script is somewhat wanting, what made the film such an iconic horror was the impact it had. Embodying the era’s fascination and fear of casual sex, Friday the 13th spawned a thousand imitators and helped solidify the slasher subgenre in the mainstream.
Child’s Play (1988)
What at first seems faintly ridiculous, a possessed kid’s doll going on a killing spree, is actually one of the more refined slashers of the genre. This is mostly down to the perfect casting of Brad Dourif as blue-eyed dungaree-clad Chucky who delivers as much charisma and wit as he does chills. Plus, it gave the film what all iconic slashers need: a pint-sized, portable mascot for your nightmares.
Happy Death Day (2017)
A college student murdered on her birthday night is forced to relive the day on repeat, Groundhog Day-style. Given plenty of opportunity, she decides to intervene and stop the killer.
It’s not often that the post-2000s have been able to produce a worthwhile addition to the slasher genre, but Happy Death Day defies the odds by taking a new spin on the tropes, adding in a supernatural element: a time loop.
What makes the film a standout effort is its keen black humour and the rehashing of the final girl, who is, incidentally, also the first girl to kick the bucket. Plus, Jessica Rothe was perfectly cast in this role, having improvised the legendary catchphrase: ‘Who takes their first date to Subway? It's not like you have a foot-long.’
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson wrote the first Scream, a movie that satirised the slasher and rehashed the tired formula to deliver something fresh, witty and the opposite of cliché. He immediately followed it up with the somewhat formulaic, purist, 80s style slasher I Know What You Did Last Summer. In a way, Scream paved the way for the horror-lover to follow his heart's desire and create a true-to-form slasher.
However, while his 1997 effort may lack the originality of Scream, it’s nonetheless an enjoyable, well constructed classic, distinctly 90s thanks to icons of the decade Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
As the title suggests, a group of students head to a remote hut surrounded by forest where they slowly fall victim to supernatural attacks orchestrated by a group of hidden scientists. Despite having all the tropes, the film is filled with plenty of surprises to keep even seasoned horror fans on their toes.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard confined themselves to a cabin in the woods to find inspiration for their fantasy horror. Like most post-heyday slashers, the film takes a subversive spin and falls into black comedy. The writers’ goal was to revitalise the slasher genre and satirise splatter horror – both of which they achieved.
Drawing inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera, a young actress catches the attention of an admirer with homicidal tendencies. Her sinister fan takes it upon himself to kill off anyone who stands in her way, while her recurring nightmares seem to suggest she and her adoring killer go way back.
With its lurid chromatics that heightens the outlandish, gory murders, the cinematography is stunning. A masterpiece of horror, there are few giallo productions quite as good as Opera.
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