The slasher movie: a term given to any horror film where there’s a psychopathic killer on the loose. The golden period for this sub-genre was during the 1970s and 1980s. Even if you’ve never seen a slasher movie, you’ll probably have some idea of the classic tropes that come into play.
Most of these films focus on a group of young people, who get hunted down by a killer and there is usually a lone survivor. “The Final Girl” is one of the main elements in a slasher film. For those who don’t know, this person (normally the protagonist) is specifically the last person left alive to face the killer, and this character is always a girl.
Slasher films serve as time capsules, channelling the fears of society and its culture. But most of all, they have given viewers lots of blood, thrills and far too many dumb teenagers running up the stairs as a means of escape. Today, they have mostly died out. Successors like IT FOLLOWS are still being produced, but the sub-genre is nowhere near as popular as it once was.
So, let’s take a look back at some of the greats. Here I’ve picked out my five favourite slasher films.
1. Psycho (1960)
As we all know, Pysho is a landmark film. Hitchcock’s masterpiece changed the face of horror cinema, with its reconfiguration of traditional storytelling. Hitchcock’s manipulation of the audience’s point of view shocked the film industry, and his unique style has since become iconic and timeless. On top of that, Psycho launched the slasher sub-genre.
Unfortunately, I and the majority of you reading this weren’t born when Psycho came out, so we can’t fully know what its impact felt like. But we can still appreciate what a game-changer this film was. It set the standard and laid the foundation for modern-day horror films.
That infamous shower scene has sliced through the centuries. Every slasher film ever made is inspired by Psycho in some form. That also goes for a large bulk of other films that have tried to recapture the fear and anxiety that Psycho created. Every true cinema fan should love Psycho!
2. Scream (1996)
“What’s your favourite scary movie?” is a line I’ll never forget from Wes Craven’s Scream. I have such fond memories of watching Scream with friends and I’ve seen it multiple times. It’s an important film as it revived interest in horror in the ’90s. Before the film was released, people had grown tired of horror films, so the genre was in decline.
Scream revitalised the genre with its clever use of satire and parodic comedy. The film mocks and embraces horror cliches as it unfolds, greeting viewers with winks and nods. This is the genius behind Scream and its lasting legacy. It’s hard to look back at the film in context these days, but I firmly hold the view that it has stood the test of time.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Before Scream, the master of horror Wes Craven, directed this classic horror film with such conviction, that it still holds up as one of the best slashers. Like in most horror franchises, the sequels were terrible and the remake was even worse. I can’t even place the original and the other instalments in the same category, there’s just no comparison.
It’s hard to pin point what makes A Nightmare on Elm Street so great. I think it mainly comes down to the concept. The film introduces Freddie Krueger, a killer who stalks people’s dreams. And if he kills you in the dream, then you die in real life.
Craven actually based this idea on various news reports of people claiming they were being hunted by some kind of dream killer. This film had a large impact on pop culture and it’s just one example of Craven’s great works in the horror genre.
4. Halloween (1978)
Halloween is another important staple in the entire slasher film canon. It’s the one that often springs to mind when people think of a slasher movie. I see it as a film that encapsulates everything the golden years of the horror genre had to offer.
Halloween is, of course, remembered for Michael Myers, who is as emotionless and scary as the mask he wears. There is no explanation for his madness. He’s driven by pure evil. But the film is more than just a man running around with a mask.
When you look at it in context, Halloween cleverly reflected the fears and tensions surrounding the babysitter boom in the 1970s. This period was long before I was born, but it’s safe to say that every horror film is built on the foundations of fears circulating at the time.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most controversial and disturbing horror films ever produced. The main villain Leatherface, is loosely inspired by the crimes of the real-life serial killer, Ed Gein. Out of all the slashers listed, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the grimmest and my least favourite because of that reason.
The low budget nature of this indie horror is what makes the film so unsettling. At the time of its release, it was banned in many countries, but its influence on the horror genre can be seen across the board.
It introduced the characterisation of the faceless, unstoppable figure. The creation of Michael Myers and many other horror villains were inspired by Leatherface. The impact of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is felt all over horror.
Overall, I believe these are the definitive films of the sub-genre.
In recent times, slashers have moved to television. Showtime’s Dexter and A&E’s Bates Motel have taken elements of the slasher film and created their own beasts. But the heydey of horror is long gone.
There’s no doubt there will be more reboots and remakes of classic horror films in the future. So, all I can do is quote Sidney Prescott from Scream 4: “You forgot the first rule of remakes, you don’t f*ck with the original!”
What’s your opinion on the horror genre? What’s the best horror film you’ve seen? Let me know in the comment section!