The slasher movie is an interesting beast. Long neglected and dismissed, it has lately seen something of a resurgence of interest in both current slasher movies (the likes of the “Hatchet” series to more recently “Final Girls” and the TV series “Scream Queens” for example) to something of a critical reassessment from both horror fans and some in the critical community as well.
So, the question could be: what is the best slasher movie of all time? Well, I hope to probably answer this question. By that, I mean give my humble opinion that I’m sure some will disagree with. Without further adieu, her is numbers 5-1 in my list of the best slasher movies of all time.
Before he directed “Porky’s”, “A Christmas Story” and…um, “Baby Geniuses”, Bob Clark directed two cult favorites in the darkly comedic zombie film “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” and the underrated “Monkey’s Paw” by way of Vietnam tale “Deathdream”. However, his most celebrated entry in the horror genre remains the Canadian film “Black Christmas”, which alongside two movies mentioned later in this article, became a major architect in what would come to be known as the slasher movie.
The plot is fairly simple-a group of sorority girls find themselves being hunted by a killer. However, this premise was something that was new in the mid 70’s-horror movies involving sororities and killers stalking college kids was something that hadn’t been done in such a manner before, nor in such a manner. However, don’t expect a particularly gory movie. Like the mentioned in the previous article film “Curtains”, this movie relies more on an atmosphere of dread than it does gore.
Unlike that movie though, this sucker owes a great debt to the then popular “Italian Giallo” sub-genre-violent murder mysteries given usually based on or inspired by books with yellow covers. Unlike those films however, *spoiler*this movie ends on a note where the killer is never stopped.*end spoiler* It’s one thing to end your movie on a note of finding out who the killer is. It’s another to end it in such an open ended manner, which was something that felt rare, especially in 1974. More than 40 years later, “Black Christmas” still feels audacious.
Oh, and a fun bit of trivia: this is one of Steve Martin’s favorite movies.
“Do you like scary movies”?
So asks the killer in the 90’s classic “Scream”. Look at it like this: it’s 1996, and while there’s been some great stuff (“Silence of the Lambs”, “In the Mouth of Madness” and “Candyman” for example), major studio horror was in a bit of rough shape. The old standbys in Jason and Freddy had become played out, and let’s face it, nobody was thrilled to see the Cenobites in space. Then there’s Wes Craven, who was in need of a hit. Along came “Scream”, which remains something of a divisive film in horror circles. Some love it and think it saved major studio horror. Others hate it, thinking it either ruined horror or is massively overrated. Me? Fuck what the haters say, “Scream” is still awesome nearly 20 years later.
Unlike many slasher movies of the time, “Scream” was not only self aware, but aware to the point that it wasn’t afraid to point out that these movies tended to have rules-don’t drink, don’t have sex, don’t drink, don’t say that you will be right back-you get the point. Hell, this is a movie that not only acknowledges the existence of the likes of “Prom Night” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”-it lives in a world where these movies exist. In a way, the movie points out a painful truth that some didn’t want to admit and still don’t-that the slasher genre had become played out (hell, it became played out when the 80’s ended) and it was time for a movie to not only say it, but give the genre a much needed shot of adrenaline.
Oh, and what a shot of adrenaline. The film still has some of the best set pieces and chase scenes in slasher history, with an opening murder that still packs a punch and chase scenes that actually get the heart racing and eschew the usual “slow, stalking villain route.” Then there’s the fact that, for all the jokes the kids make in this movie, they end up making the same mistakes kids make in the movies they watch. For all the snark they may have, it ends up being a weak shield when they come face to face with true evil. In the end, “Scream” is still one of the best celebrations of the mere existence of horror. It’s a movie that proudly says “horror is fucking awesome”, and that’s one of many reasons why I love it so to this day.
If you love horror, the name Mario Bava better be important. I say that because this man was essentially the architect of Italian horror. In 1960, he created the Gothic Italian horror film with “Black Sunday”. Then in 1963 and 1964, he directed “The Girl Who Knew Too Much” and “Blood and Black Lace”, which created the Giallo film. 1971 however, he directed “A Bay of Blood” (aka “Twitch of the Death Nerve”-man oh man do I love that title) which gave birth to something that goes past Italian horror-the world’s first slasher movie.
Okay, it’s also still a Giallo, but it has so many of the things the slasher genre adopted: the dumb teens who smoke pot, have sex and then get knocked off in bloody ways (one kill was even “borrowed” by “Friday the 13th Part II” for crying out loud!) The increasingly gory and inventive murder set pieces. The ridiculous “whodunnit” element originating with the Giallo film pushed to it’s extreme. The offbeat theme of the murders (there are 13 of them-again, think “Friday the 13th” and others before those existed). The fact that, like so many movies after it, the thing is basically a bloody take on Agatha Christi’s “Ten Little Indians”. If it weren’t for this movie, you wouldn’t have “Black Christmas” or the “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th” franchises. It all starts here.
But it’s so much more. Opening with a murder-then the death of the murderer-“A Bay of Blood” is also the most playful of the films listed. Lovingly toying with the audience expectations of just who the killer might be throughout it’s running time, this is a movie that’s equal parts scary and fun-the work of a master artist teasing his audience, knowing when to push the right buttons and ending with a conclusion that’s equal parts shocking and darkly funny. What’s not to love?
The movie that made Wes Craven one of the biggest horror directors of all time, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” also created once of the most unlikely horror icons in Freddy Krueger. I say so in that so many people love the character, yet he’s also a God damn child molester. Not exactly somebody I’d want my kids to dress up as. Then again, people should probably know not to trust or like a guy wearing an ugly sweater and fedora. He pretty much dresses like a child molester.
I digress however, because there is a good reason why this thing holds up. A part of it is the fact that at times, it doesn’t even feel that much like a slasher movie. The entire concept of a killer that gets people in their dreams is a novel one, and Craven milks that eeriness for ever drop, creating a sense of unease, paranoia and all around surrealism that’s impossible to shake off. It also, being a Wes Craven movie, manages to say something about the world we live in-here being the inability parents have to listen to their children. Among other things, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is the slasher movie that to this day understands kids better than any other.
Then there’s Freddy. Unlike later entries in the franchise, there’s nothing funny or wisecracking about this guy. He isn’t the darkly playful boogeyman he’s most commonly associated with. Here’s he’s just evil, taunting and killing without remorse. An entity without conscience or regret. Even today, this incarnation of Freddy Krueger is still the best one. Somebody-something-that is evil in it’s purist form.
The white, expressionless mask. The chilling theme music. The fact that it helped launch the career of one the the greatest directors of the fantastic that has ever lived. The fact that it’s creation lead to the creation of so many other slasher movies. The fact that the killer, no matter how hard you try, just can’t seem to be killed. These reasons and so much more are why “Halloween” is the greatest slasher movie of all time. There really is not competition, it simply is that important and that great of a film in general.
One of the reason this still stands out is that like “A Nightmare on Elm” street, it doesn’t feel much like a slasher movie to me. To me, this transcends the genre. At it’s heart, the movie is a tale of suspense that owes much more to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock than it does to mere exploitation or trends. That and classic horror-indeed, the use of October and Halloween based images (things like rustling leaves, Jack-O-Lanterns and something as simply as somebody in a white, ghostly looking white sheet) as well as some of the best understanding of how atmosphere and suspense work in a movie ever done really sticks out. This movie isn’t just called “Halloween”-it is Halloween.
Oh, and then there’s Michael Myers aka “The Shape”. Antagonists in movies-especially horror-almost always have a motive. For Freddy and Jason, it’s revenge. For Norman Bates, it’s for his mother. For Leatherface, it’s to provide for family. Why does Michael Myers kill? Why is he what he is? In the original, it’s quite simple-he just is. We don’t know why he kills. He’s evil. He’s the boogeyman. Nobody knows why the boogeyman kills. Hell, Michael himself probably doesn’t know why he kills-it’s just what he does, no reason or motive given. Sometimes, the mere banality of evil is just more horrifying than any true motive. Isn’t that scary?
With that, I conclude my list of the greatest slasher movies of all time. Thank you for reading.