Slasher movies are controversial, but that might be oversimplifying things. Most self-proclaimed "movie enthusiasts" might think of the #slasher genre as a cheap excuse for filmmaking. Casual moviegoers might refrain from these films altogether due to the excessive, disturbing visuals. But slasher films aren't just about violence and buckets of blood (though there's a lot of that). They often incorporate relevant trends and reflect the ideas of their respective time periods. Like many other horrors, slasher films go to great lengths to make real statements about society, human behavior, politics and religion. These hidden themes are often overshadowed by the extremity of the genre, which is why these films don't get a ton of respect from the larger film community.
The reasons that make these films controversial are exactly why most slashers have gained a cult following and are celebrated by #horror fans. With hundreds of slasher films out there, it's difficult to know where to start. This is exactly why I've made this list, compiling 10 films you should absolutely watch if you truly want to understand this controversial horror sub-genre.
10. 'A Bay Of Blood' (1971)
A Bay of blood a.k.a Twitch of the Death Nerve may not be as good as Mario Bava's gothic or giallo horrors, but this movie did present the most apt image of a modern-day slasher, something Psycho is unfairly credited for. With nudity, sharp weapons. tricky situations, frail teenage victims, an anti-social killer suffering from PTSD, and a nihilistic ending, this was the gorno of the early '70s that unfortunately tainted Bava's reputation. It inspired #Halloween as well as other slashers and was revered as a cult classic later on. Though not being very popular among mainstream audiences, it is nothing short of a masterpiece from this sub-genre.
What to Look Out For: The camera techniques.
9. 'Maniac' (1980)
Joe Spinell was everywhere during the '70s — Taxi Driver, the two Godfather movies and Rocky being his popular works. He followed these by writing and appearing in this absolute shocker that forced many critics to walk out of the film. The violence is very descriptive, with Tom Savini using his firsthand knowledge of war to create ruthless practical effects. Spinell's character, Zito, is a middle-aged psychopath who kills young women and scalps them to assemble a "beautiful" mannequin collection. Zito could be described as a contemporary killer in the Ed Gein mold and may have inspired Ted Levine's portrayal of Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.
Watch Out For: The scalpings!
8. 'The Prowler' (1981)
The Prowler is another important film from the '80s slasher era that made considerable alterations like My Bloody Valentine, focusing on a heavily dressed killer and non-linear narrative. It beats MBD in terms of gore, courtesy of some great practical effects by Savini that would fit right into a splatter flick. The merciless killer doesn't always choose blades and will resort to any means necessary to off his victims, even using a sawed-off double barrel shotgun to blow your brains out.
A Treat For: Practical effects enthusiasts.
7. 'Black Christmas' (1974)
#BlackChristmas may not be an archetypal slasher, but it did pave the way for other movies like Halloween, House On Sorority Row and When A Stranger Calls to follow suit. One of the focal points is the ambiguous identity of the killer, which isn't really surprising considering its inclination towards psychological horror. There is minimal display of gore and the only look at the killer is highlighted in the iconic shot of his eye. Atmospherically, it's one of the scariest slashers out there, pleasing to watch because of its realistic characterization. The movie does focuses a lot on build-ups and even uses comedy, so the shock is intense when it does arrive.
Pay Attention To: The killer's voice.
6. 'Torso' (1973)
Torso is the only #giallo on the list because of its strong resemblance to slasher flicks. Another forerunner of the modern slasher, it continued the trend in Italian movies that A Bay of Blood started and made the use of nudity along with underdeveloped femme fatale, a genre trope. In perhaps one of the earliest uses of a masked assailant, Torso is brash and outspoken about its gore with low-quality practical effects and stylized peeping shots that are present in most Italian horrors. The killer also adopts a specific method for murdering people, which is usually accompanied by flashbacks.
Infamous For: Skin. Lot of it.
5. 'Child's Play' (1988)
Out of the many unsettling scenes in #ChildsPlay, I opted for this because of contextual reasons. Having a child sleep beside a vengeful and murderous doll is pretty scary, and I imagine viewers watching this with similar motionless eyes. Though I prefer the sequel, the original was responsible for giving us the most entertaining killer of that era. This was nothing like the movies towards the franchise's end that intended to be campy. The voiceover from Brad Dourif is remarkably effective because it shatters the kid fantasy of his favorite doll coming to life. Frankly, I have never tried handling dolls after this.
Be Careful Of: The F-bombs!
4. 'My Bloody Valentine' (1981)
#MyBloodyValentine is a striking piece of cinema, and though many critics would ridicule its plotting, you have to appreciate its decision to balance genre tropes and progressive visual techniques. A defining slasher from the '80s, it changes the event of resurgence on an auspicious day like Halloween to Valentine's Day. The underground setting expresses a chilling sense of dread, which is captured flawlessly on film. Few movies boast a certain location to such extent.
Pay Attention To : The shots and the opening scene!
3. 'Alice, Sweet Alice' (1976)
Alice, Sweet Alice is a very effective horror movie and was released before everyone started ripping off everything. It doesn't opt for a timeless build-up like Halloween, and right away there's a shocking death. The movie doesn't treat the characters as bait and the animosity between the two sisters hint at a sibling killer, which along with the death, is pretty horrid. The motives of the killer are revealed in a twisted climax that takes digs at religious fanaticism and the minds corrupted by it.
Pay Attention To : The intricate plot and character development.
2. 'A Nightmare On Elm Street' (1984)
It was 1984 and though the slasher fad was well established, it was wearing away because of incessant, cheap rip-offs whose originality was only limited to casting. Then arrived Freddy and, well, nightmares took on a new identity. A sweetly knitted sweater combined with a boiled face perfectly suits his origin as a child killer, who now haunts teenagers. What it added was a new setting for murders (via dreams), something that was never explored in the history of slashers and wouldn't have been if it wasn't for Craven's evil, ingenious mind.
To Look Out For: Just keep looking. Close your eyes and you're as good as dead.
1. 'Halloween' (1978)
Slashers were gaining momentum in the '70s as sleeper hits or films (Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes) that loosely incorporated similar elements. It was only after Carpenter's Halloween that the sub-genre became a force to be reckoned with. Though #Halloween doesn't indulge in over-the-top gore, something slashers are now affiliated with, it set unachievable standards for the killer. With the unstoppable #MichaelMyers, the killer was now the personification of fear, whose lingering presence reflected terror of the unknown.
Famous For: The build-up scenes and Carpenter's soundtrack.