is one of the most prevalent types of horror movies around, and with good reason: it taps into the most basic fear of being hunted by someone trying to kill you (often for no good reason other than they're nuttier than a squirrel's nest). Here's the 25 best that I've seen, each with their own uniquely morbid appeal.
Note: People's definition of a slasher varies, so a few films on this list might not be considered slashers by some people, while I might not include other films because I myself don't consider them slashers. Go figure.
25. Madman (1981)
© Anchor Bay
1981 was a heck of a year for slashers, and this is the first of five -- count 'em, five -- from that year to make the list. Madman has the lowest budget of the Class of '81, but that actually helps to add a gritty realism to this visualization of an old-fashioned campfire story about a lunatic named Madman Marz who chopped up his family and might still be haunting these woods to this day...BOO! Really, though, with a name like Madman Marz, you had to know it was coming.
Although its title sounds as much like an after-school special as an R-rated slasher, The House on Sorority Row plays out like I Know What You Did Last...Night, with a mystery figure stalking a group of sorority sisters who accidentally killed their house mother the day before. It feels like there's something missing near the end (like unmasking the killer perhaps?), but is still a must-see for the decapitated head-in-the-toilet scene alone.
This slick slasher is one of the few in the genre with a supernatural slant. During a rideshare to a big rave/festival, a car carrying five college kids breaks down in the middle of the desert at a diner where everyone has mysteriously disappeared. A cloaked, gas mask-clad killer begins bumping the 20-somethings off with an array of homemade power tools, which, combined with his ability to turn invisible (his notable stench being the only clue to his presence), make him the Predator of slasher villains.
© Anchor Bay
This slasher gained an unprecedented level of notoriety upon its release because it dared sully the name of Santa Claus, but beyond that shock value, it's actually a very effective film. Much less campy than you'd think, it's an unusually insightful peek into the mind of a killer, a sympathetic antihero who suffers multiple childhood traumas: being warned by his creepy grandfather that Santa will punish him, subsequently witnessing a man dressed as Santa murder his parents and then being sent to an orphanage run by a strict nun who preaches punishment for naughtiness. It isn't particularly scary, but with an all-American, boy-next-door killer named Billy running around yelling "Punish!", it's very entertaining.
This film has achieved a cult following in part because it was so hard to find for many years (It was banned in the UK.) and in part because of the makeup effects from gore maestro Tom Savini. The setup is classic slasher: a summer camp caretaker is severely burned by a prank gone awry and returns years later for revenge. It starts slow, with a bunch of teenage politics that makes you wonder if you're watching a horror movie or Meatballs 4, but the action picks up when the killer picks up his weapon of choice: gardening shears. The terrifying canoe attack scene in particular is a bona fide classic, with echoes of Psycho. Ironically, The Burning was produced by the Weinsteins, whose Miramax Films would go on to champion artsy-fartsy fare.
© Anchor Bay
The Exorcist's Linda Blair, all grown up and vomit-free, stars in this slasher that takes place in the old horror movie standard: the haunted house. Well, supposedly the house is haunted, and Blair and company are fraternity and sorority pledges who must spend the night for their initiation. Unbeknownst to them, the house doesn't contain ghosts but rather a maniac who goes about killing them off one by one. There wouldn't be this many dead Greeks in a film again until 300.
© Anchor Bay
Malevolence proves that you don't have to have a big budget to generate big scares. In the movie, a group of bank robbers split up and agree to meet at an abandoned farmhouse, not realizing that a killer haunts the grounds. He wears a bag over his head with two slits for eyes -- a simple yet eerily effective guise with a pale, expressionless visage that hearkens back to Michael Myers in the original Halloween. As with Halloween, it's less about gore and more about scares, as the killer tends to "lurk" in shadows, ratcheting up the creep factor (granted, "lurking" doesn't make for efficient killing).
© Warner Bros.
Starring The Love Boat's Lauren Tewes and a very young Jennifer Jason Leigh, you might think this would end up as a Lifetime movie of the week, but it's actually a nasty, gory flick that mixes slasher showmanship with crime thriller grittiness. Tewes plays a news reporter who believes that her neighbor is the serial rapist and killer (not to mention crank phone caller) who's been terrorizing the city. She plays a cat-and-mouse game that comes back to bite her when the killer goes after her blind and deaf sister (Leigh). As with so many great horror films of the era, Tom Savini handled the makeup effects.
© Anchor Bay
While not always laugh-out-loud funny, this is a ceaselessly entertaining mockumentary that exploits the conventions of the slasher genre in often brilliant ways. In the story, Leslie Vernon is a serial killer looking to take his place alongside the likes of Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers. A documentary crew follows him on his journey as he reveals the trade secrets of the killing game, which play upon established slasher clichés. Surprisingly, no black people were harmed in the making of this film.
© Blue Underground
The setup in The Prowler is similar to the inferior My Bloody Valentine: Two lovers are killed in 1945 during a college graduation dance, and ever since, graduation dances have been forbidden in the small town. In present day, however, the dance starts up again, and so do the killings. Funny how that works. The film features a nice budget, solid direction, good gore (Tom Savini again) and a particularly intimidating villain sporting WWII fatigues with a hood pulled over his face -- often with a pitchfork for some reason.