As we reach another Friday the 13th and wonder if there really are murderous creatures like Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, it’s time to reflect on the best the slasher horror genre has to offer.
Slashers have been a staple of horror films for decades, outlasting many other gimmicky horror genres, like found footage films. So, grab your hockey masks and machetes, and let’s talk about some of the best slasher films of all time.
“Black Christmas” (1974 – streaming on Peacock and Shudder): Nine years before he directed “A Christmas Story,” Bob Clark made one of the more unique slasher films centered around the holidays. Like many slasher plots, “Black Christmas” is based on real-life events or legends, this one about a group of sorority sisters being killed around Christmas. Imagine if Kevin McCallister from “Home Alone” went mad, and you’ve got “Black Christmas.”
“Candyman” (1992 – streaming on YouTube and Prime Video): Of all the supernatural slasher villains, “Candyman” offers the most unsettling and realistic killer by creating an urban legend around him. I’ll bet everyone has heard of how to summon Candyman, but the film elevates above this by making viewers doubt whether the main character, played by Virginia Madsen, really is summoning him or if it’s all in her head.
“Deep Red” (1975 – streaming on Hulu and Shudder): It is impossible to make a list of the best slasher films and not put in at least one Italian “giallo” film. And the master of the giallo film is Dario Argento. He’s made many great horror films, such as “Inferno” and “Suspiria,” but “Deep Red” ramps up the brutality and blood while still delivering a fascinating and complex narrative.
“Friday the 13th” (1980 – streaming on Netflix and HBOMax): In terms of the most iconic slasher movies, there’s only one that I’d take over the first entry in this bloody and unrelenting franchise. Any slasher list wouldn’t be complete without at least one “Friday the 13th” movie. Brutal and graphic despite its insanely low budget, this one is worth the price of admission just for the final scene alone.
“Halloween” (1978 – streaming on Hulu and Shudder): If I was forced to pick one slasher film as the best, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” would easily slice through the competition. Part of this is because it began many of the tropes we associate with slashers, like sex equaling death and psychologically messed up slashers. But another reason is because of how Michael Meyers seems less like a man and more like a force of nature.
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984 – streaming on Netflix and Shudder): While “Halloween” is the best slasher movie, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is the most iconic one. If you took the urban legend of “Candyman” and blended it with the embodiment of evil of Meyers, you’d get something like Freddy Krueger, a wisecracker who loves to torture his victims in the most memorable ways of any slasher.
“Peeping Tom” (1960 – streaming on Prime Video and Shudder): One of the proto-slasher films that has always stuck out to me is Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom,” about a killer so obsessed with film that it’s more than just a lifestyle but his weapon of choice. This one delves deep into the psychology of a slasher villain while offering a deeper look at just how far voyeurism in cinema can and should go.
“Psycho” (1960 – streaming on Peacock and Prime Video): All these slasher villains had to originate from somewhere, and many of their traits and staying power come from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and Norman Bates. “Psycho” is so enthralling and entertaining that filmmakers have been trying to catch that same high for 60 years. Whether they know it or not, slashers like Myers and Krueger owe everything to Bates.
“Scream” (1996 – streaming on Netflix and Prime Video): Wes Craven’s “Scream” is a strange yet refreshing take on the slasher genre. It is both a parody and a reinvention of tropes and cliches that had become glaringly obvious by 1996. It comes across as a spoof and yet an homage at the same time. The opening scene alone is the perfect example of that, setting the tone for the charismatic, yet chilling film ahead.
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974 – streaming on Prime Video and Shudder): Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece is honest in its brutality, presenting one of the hardest-to-watch horror films ever shot, if only because it doesn’t hold anything back about a family of inbred serial killers. While Leatherface might be the most iconic part of this movie, his whole family is just as unsettling in their motives and the delight they take in torturing young teens.
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