Several months ago, I did a short list of some of my favorite horror movies. I lamented how hard it was to narrow down to just a few favorites. From there, the idea of doing shorter lists for some of my favorite subgenres was born. You can check out my 5 Favorite Creature Features here.
I thought this time I would tackle another beloved subgenre, but one that is slightly harder to nail down as far as what makes it what it is, slashers. There is the basic, any horror movie where a killer uses slashing weapons, but most don’t really stick in that narrow parameter.
For me, Slashers are a lot more about the killer and their relationship and interactions with their victims. It often includes a degree of stalking. A masked or unknown killer; frequently, when they are “known,” there are still unknowable qualities about them. I would argue that a final girl or someone that is closely related to the trope is pretty much a requirement. Even as slashers progressed and we frequently got multiple survivors, there was still someone who really fit the “final girl” narrative, see Sidney from Scream. They also commonly used to end in a drawn-out final chase, although now it can be more chase, confrontation, or mix. Many slasher movies use POV shots, although that is not a requirement or exclusive to the genre, but something we often see.
There is also simply an element of how it “feels,” which I, of course, understand is a ridiculous way to define it. However, when watching an exploitation movie that might fit many of the slasher tropes, there is still something about it that is different. Going along with that “feeling” element, many killers in slashers could constitute redefining their genre. Freddy, later Jason, and several others you could make an almost supernatural case for, yet we don’t. Likewise, you could make the case that Hellraiser is a slasher movie, but the lack of motivation to kill from the Cenobites and the later overdoing of the religious themes seemed to keep Hellraiser out for many.
So with that pretty broad definition, the following are my personal favorite Slashers.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
This movie sort of represents a weird bridge between exploitation films and slashers for me. Many people struggle with whether or not this franchise, and this entry, in particular, fits within the subgenre. Filming style, editing choices, and even the pacing of specific scenes scream exploitation film. However, it contains elements that became key to slashers.
As both slasher movies and the franchise developed the two sort of circled each other, with TCM always managing to bring it’s own kind of brand of inanity to keep it from being easily defined. It wasn’t until the remakes that the franchise really made it’s place among the slasher world.
For me, it remains one of the most questionable choices when I say I like slasher flicks, I am not exactly sure what to do with this movie. However, Sally fits the bill as a final girl so well and clearly inspired future versions of the trope. It ends in an epic chase scene. And Leatherface certainly is included with famous horror slasher killers and fits right in. What seals it for me is really how much of the foundation of slashers was built on this movie. Hooper shaped an entire future subgenre with this movie, so it deserves its due.
It also remains exceptionally scary and intense experience, especially with the drawn-out scenes but quick cuts.
With the last movie, Tobe Hooper laid part of the foundation for slashers with TCM, John Carpenter added the rest of it and then strengthened the whole. Laurie Strode expanded our understanding of the final girl to a tomboy-like character who valued brains and resourcefulness over the more “popular” things of the time. However, Laurie and many of my favorite final girls were less in your face about their “final girl qualities” as later slasher movies were.
Michael is our masked killer, who we might know his name but has many unknowable qualities. He stalks Laurie, seemingly obsessed, something we’ve seen before and became key after. Often in slashers, while a killer has a high kill count, the final girl is such because she is the ultimate target. Although we have killers like Jason, who lost that aspect fairly quickly and just killed.
And it all leads up to a long chase and standoff climax. This final part is one of my favorites in any horror movie. It is slower than we are used to, but I love it for that. It’s such a slow build that is painful because you just want someone to help. However, it’s also the ending that makes the biggest case for the importance of a “slashing” weapon in a slasher. The symbolism of Michael using such a weapon most of the movie, then for Laurie to turn it on him, is… significant.
I don’t think it precludes movies that don’t include the “slashing” element, however that element does have it’s own significance.
Once again, a foundational entry, but also one that I just adore. This movie is so suspenseful, I love the score, I love Laurie. I enjoy everything about this movie from start to finish, no matter how many times I watch it.
And we are powering through to yet another slasher movie that helped to define the whole genre. Only this time, it helped to modernize the old “rules” for a new generation. Horror was struggling at this point. The so-called “golden age” of slasher was over and was followed with a lot of “bad” (fun) sequels.
Wes Craven came along, decided to subvert expectations, name and call out tropes (the rules), up the gore, and simply breathe life back into the subgenre and help bring excitement back to horror. From killing off your A-Lister in the opening something another influential and subversive horror director did. To boldly laying out the rules of the very subgenre your film is and still hoping to scare and excite the audiences. To throwing down the gore to grab audiences that had desensitized and needed to be made uncomfortable again.
Scream was exactly what was needed at the time and is just such a solid entry in the slasher subgenre. Not to mention it has 3 sequels that are… all decent but a bit all over the place. We might touch on some of them later.
Cards on the table, this is my nostalgia/personal memories entry on this list. You should still read on, this movie is actually rather fun. I just want to be honest that it’s more personal feelings than anything else for this one.
Urban Legend is a rather brilliant idea that I find both underutilized but kind of perfect. For me, it doesn’t exactly meet the goal, because I love urban legends and think you can expand on them more. I would almost rather an examination of various legends themselves (several horror movies are actually tied to their own legends). However, when you think of the broad audience for urban legends, it’s teens, and this is an ideal teen movie.
It knows it’s audience. It’s slightly faster-paced, the story is not fleshed out, but it is dramatic, and there are lots of hot people that we would all recognize at the time. As well as a few people thrown in for their horror status. It is not the best or most scary slasher. It is, however, entertaining, has unique kills, and is pretty fun all around.
I remember watching it when I was younger and revisited it over the years. In adulthood, I have grown quite the appreciation for it. I also like that it plays with the standard tropes of slasher movies. While I still feel it fits with the teen slashers (especially post Scream), it does stretch the limitations where it is able, which is a good thing. HOWEVER… spoilers incoming
This movie has a brutal dog death and one that I have actually never seen. I have closed my eyes every time because my sister (or a friend of her’s) prevented me from watching it when I was younger and have dared not since. I cannot actually tell you my experience with this death, I haven’t had it, I just have heard it’s bad. You do have time to prepare and I also highly recommend the use of the website doesthedogdie
The hard part about this entry is that Candyman is pretty difficult to define as far as what subgenre it fits in. However, it managed to sort of get right up to being a slasher, while still flirting with other subgenres. It is ultimately the “feeling” I mentioned that push it for me.
So the case for slasher is primarily based on The Candyman and his interactions/obsession with Helen. Helen is not exactly a final girl, and she is certainly not what we expect from one. Helen is older for starters, and at this point, we were still largely used to slasher movies being teen movies. However, she does have a lot of the qualities we like in final girls. She is resourceful, smart, she tries to be brave even when it is difficult. She also notably, when she realizes how terrible the situation has gotten, is willing to fight and confront The Candyman.
Our killer is obsessed with Helen and does use stalking tactics. Much like Freddy, he is defined by supernatural elements from the get-go, though, and uses those elements to stalk her. He does not literally follow Helen around like Michael does with Laurie, but he is aware, watching, and waiting.
The supernatural elements are what start to throw this a bit for me. That and the kills are done differently than we are used to in slashers, in that we don’t see the vast majority of them and only the fallout. They are also being guided by The Candyman instead of directly acted upon. However, despite all of this, when I am sitting down to watch a slasher, Candyman is often one I consider. I have never considered it when looking for a more supernatural movie. There is something about it that feels more closely related to slasher movies.
It is also a damn fine movie. The performances are excellent, an extra shout out to Tony Todd. The story is compelling
and tackles issues that horror movies were still sort of dancing around, or haven’t even approached since. It is fascinating and unique, with a decent amount of fear and scares. For years this movie did not get the love I felt it deserved, but the horror community has really embraced it, even more so with the upcoming entry.
So what are some of your favorite slasher movies? Do you disagree with any of these movies being on this list? What do you look for in a slasher?