Of all the many sub-genres in horror, the slasher is probably my favorite. There aren’t many good ones, but even the bad ones tend to deliver exactly what we want from the formula. They’re horror movie comfort food, and Shudder is offering an entire buffet this October.
Black Christmas (1973, dir. Bob Clark) In many ways the first modern slasher film, Bob Clark’s holiday horror movie is, to this day, a genre masterpiece. From its chilly Canadian atmosphere to the disturbing obscene phone calls being made to a sorority house, Black Christmas is brilliantly constructed and hugely influential. It’s not just one of my favorite slasher movies, but one of my favorite horror movies of any type, full stop.
Blood Rage (1987, dir. Bruce Rubin) There are slasher movies that are tense and scary and stylish. Blood Rage is not one of them. Shot in 1983 but not released until 1987 (in an edited version under the title Nightmare at Shadow Woods), Blood Rage is the kind of crazy slasher that has to be seen to be believed. The performances are all over the place (the film’s biggest star, Louise Lasser, appears to be acting in another movie altogether), the gore effects are shockingly effective and well-executed, and the movie is nearly impossible to predict. This one also deserves attention for being arguably the best Thanksgiving slasher movie ever made. And also maybe the only one.
Fender Bender (2015, dir. Mark Pavia) The first original Scream Factory production marks a return to the horror genre for director Mark Pavia, directing his first feature since The Night Flier in 1997. It’s got a great hook—a guy causes traffic accidents so he can get the personal information of his victims in the insurance exchange—a cool slasher costume, and more likable, well-rounded characters than many other entries in the genre. Plus, we just don’t get that many slashers anymore. We have to celebrate those we do get. Especially the good ones.
Hide and Go Shriek (1987, dir. John Hough) Though not necessarily a “good” movie in the way other titles on this list might be, Hide and Go Shriek has the crazy factor that makes it the kind of film that’s fun to watch in a group. A bunch of recent high school graduates decide to spend the night in one of their dad’s furniture store, making this maybe the only slasher to ever take place fully inside a furniture store. Some crazy choices take this into unexpected directions; it’s entertainingly goofy and features at least one spectacular kill involving an elevator.
Last Girl Standing (2015, dir. Benjamin R. Moody) If there’s such a thing as “post-slasher”—and believe me, I hate myself for typing it as much as you hate me for saying it—then Last Girl Standing is it, if only because it’s a movie that literally takes place after the events of a slasher film that we don’t really get to see. Akasha Villalobos gives an incredible performance as the Final Girl survivor of a slasher slaughter, now living with PTSD and haunted by what she has lived through. Where the movie goes from there, I won’t say. Trust that this is a smart, well-acted drama that understands the tropes of the slasher film and explores the “what next?” with thoughtfulness and style.
Lake Bodom (2017, dir. Taneli Mustonen) This Finnish horror film, streaming now as a Shudder Exclusive, finds four friends who venture into the woods to recreate a series of real-life murders that took place on Finland’s Lake Bodom in the 1960s. Not quite a straight slasher, Lake Bodom’s best quality is its ability change genres several times before it ends.
Madman (1981, dir. Joe Giannone) One of countless low-budget slashers borne in the wake of Friday the 13th’s success, Madman probably should have launched a new horror icon in Madman Marz (Paul Ehlers), an axe murderer on a rampage in the woods. Of course the movie is derivative, but it has some solid regional atmosphere, a supporting performance from Dawn of the Dead’s Gaylen Ross, and the world’s most inappropriately long hot tub scene.
Pieces (1982, dir. Juan Piquér Simon) I deliberately held off putting this Spanish slasher on my “WTF” list so that it could be included here. A sleazy and bizarre mystery in which women are being murdered on a college campus, Pieces lays claim to some of the oddest non-sequitur moments in any horror movie, from Professor Bad Chop Suey (you’ll know it when you see it) to the inexplicable ending moments. For as much as Pieces is just like so many other slasher movies, there’s nothing else like it.
Sleepaway Camp (1982, dir. Robert Hiltzik) No list of slasher movie recommendations would be complete without Sleepaway Camp, one of the few summer camp slasher movies ever made in which actual child campers are both the victims and the killer. There’s a crudity to Robert Hiltzik’s debut feature, but also an ability to cut through the fat found in similar slashers. More than anything, Sleepaway Camp is famous for its bonkers sexual politics and stunner of an ending, still one of the greatest in all of ’80s horror.
Stage Fright (1987, dir. Michele Soavi) One of only a handful of features directed by the incredibly talented Michele Soavi, Stage Fright (aka Aquarius) is a hybrid of a ’70s giallo and an ’80s slasher in which a group of young people putting on a theatrical production are stalked and murdered by a killer in a giant owl mask. Gorgeously made and characteristically eccentric, Stage Fright is another reminder that we got too few horror films from Michele Soavi.
The House on Sorority Row (1982, dir. Mark Rosman) One of my very favorite slasher movies that doesn’t get as much love as most of its brethren, The House on Sorority Row sees a group of sorority sisters being bumped off after they cover up the accidental death of their house mother. The appealing cast goes a long way towards making this movie special, as does Mark Rosman’s deft direction and one of Richard Band’s best scores. I’m hoping the fact that this is streaming brings more eyes to the movie, because it’s one of the best of the ‘80s slashers. It was remade in 2009 as Sorority Row, which you can skip. Mostly because it’s not streaming on Shudder.
The Mutilator (1983, dir. Buddy Cooper) Despite a great title and an even better tagline (“by sword, by pick, by axe, bye bye”), The Mutilator is a mostly generic effort from the same class of early ’80s slasher as Madman and Slaughterhouse. What makes it stand apart is the handful of impressive gore moments it contains and its insanely catchy theme song, “Fall Break,” which would be much more at home in a teen sex comedy than it is in a slasher movie.
The Prowler (1980, dir. Joseph Zito) To the world at large, The Prowler is an underrated gem; to us dedicated horror fans, it’s a genuine slasher classic. A college town experiences a rash of murders 35 years after similar killings took place around WWII, which is what inspires the super scary costume worn by the slasher in this one. Director Joseph Zito, who would go on to make another slasher classic with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, has a no-nonsense style and knows how to accentuate brutality, while the gore effects from Tom Savini make this one stand apart even further from the pack. It’s a great slasher.