Hey, everyone! Last Friday, we celebrated all the fun independent horror that was released throughout the 1980s (you can read that piece HERE), and before we examine the ’90s indie horror scene tomorrow, I thought I’d take today to celebrate a few more underappreciated indie genre gems from the ’80s that are currently available to stream on Shudder’s platform. When it comes to movies from this decade, there are so many titles that get endless love, so I thought it would be fun to put the spotlight on five movies that I would consider to be underappreciated, but very much worth checking out if you’re a horror fan who enjoys offbeat horror stories.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

The thing I love about Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is that it feels like someone watched Friday the 13th and they were like, “What if we do some variation on this story, but make it as weird as possible?” Directed by William Asher, Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is centered around a teen named Billy (Jimmy McNichol) who has been in the care of his Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell) after his parents died in a freak automobile accident when he was only three years old. Cheryl is a bit of an odd duck, as the way she dotes on Billy is a bit too “involved,” she refuses to date anyone, and she’s an avid pickler to boot. As Billy turns 17, he begins to plan for a future away from Cheryl, but his controlling aunt is just not having it. Things take a horrific turn one night after a brutal murder occurs in their home, which leaves Billy’s future plans in question, and Aunt Cheryl’s facade of normalcy begins to slip away, leaving her nephew wondering just what she’s been planning for all these years that she has been caring for him.

While that brief synopsis might seem somewhat straightforward, nothing that I’ve said here taps into the total lunacy that is Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker at all, which is all by design, as I’d like to preserve the experience for those who haven’t had a chance to see it yet for themselves. I wouldn’t exactly say that Asher’s exploitative psychological thriller is the picture of cinematic perfection—far from it, in fact—but there’s something wildly fascinating about this movie all the same. I do think it’s rather interesting that Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker, which was released in 1981, has a storyline that features a gay character, but I still am not a fan of how much the film relies on a certain derogatory “f-word” a lot in its script. In any case, Tyrrell is utterly fantastic here, and we also get an appearance from a young Bill Paxton as well.


Groceries aren’t the only things being checked out in Intruder—there are also all the unsuspecting employees who are about to become victims to a homicidal killer lurking about. The fun thing about Intruder is that it perfectly taps into the fact that working retail is never fun, but no matter how bad you’ve ever had it, things are even worse at the Walnut Lake Market. There’s cashier Jennifer’s ex-boyfriend who just got out of jail and is being a pain in the ass, all the workers find out that the store is being sold in a few weeks and they’re about to lose their jobs, and then that pesky serial killer starts stalking the store’s aisles, which is just the proverbial cherry on top of everything.

Scott Spiegel’s Intruder does start off a bit slowly, but once it hits its stride, it really amps up in some shockingly fun ways (Spiegel somehow even makes the appearance of musician Sting on a magazine cover seem terrifying). As someone who has worked in accounting and in a produce department, Intruder scratches so many cinematic itches for me in terms of its super gnarly kills, and it’s hard for me not to enjoy a slasher where the killer beats people up with a severed head. And if that’s not enough to enjoy, Bruce Campbell and producer Lawrence Bender show up in Intruder, playing a pair of jerk cops.

Just Before Dawn

Filmmaker Jeff Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn isn’t what I’d call the most “exciting” slasher to come out during the 1980s, but I love how well he’s able to immerse viewers into the bewildering feeling that comes from immersing yourself within the confines of a massive forest, and how vulnerable that often makes you feel. Just Before Dawn follows a group of friends into the mountains of Oregon for what’s supposed to be a routine trip to claim some land in the area that one of them has inherited, and it evolves into a brutal fight for survival against a barbarous backwoods killer who stalks their every move.

From its opening with a hunter getting violently stabbed through the groin by a serrated machete to its use of Blondie’s "Heart of Glass" to George Kennedy as a forest ranger who has a penchant for botany to its extremely unexpected reveal in the film’s second half, Just Before Dawn serves as the perfect reminder of why going camping isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I also really enjoy the cinematography from Dean King and Joel King in Just Before Dawn, and the film’s naturalistic approach makes it a standout effort amongst its slasher peers of that time. Also, I’m someone who is extremely afraid of heights, so the various scenes involving a rope bridge really creep up under my skin.


As someone who unabashedly loves weird slashers, Mortuary checks a lot of my boxes as a movie fan. The story is centered around Christie (Mary Beth McDonough), who sees her father murdered one day by a mysterious figure in a black cloak, but everyone else thinks his death was an accidental drowning. Some time later, Christie’s boyfriend Greg (David Wallace) sets out to steal some tires with his pal Josh (Denis Mandel) from Josh’s boss Hank (Christopher George), a local mortician, when Josh seemingly disappears without a trace. Things begin to ramp up from there when Christie finds herself being stalked by the same cloaked figure, and Greg starts to suspect that Hank’s oddball son Paul (Bill Paxton) might somehow be involved.

And from there, Mortuary goes from “what on earth is happening” territory into full-blown WTF-ery, and I cannot help but applaud the efforts of co-writer/director Howard Avedis for making a slasher that defies any kind of expectations you might have had for the film going into it. I totally love how Mortuary’s main killer character looks and talks like popular indie wrestler Danhausen, and the movie also has several unnerving embalming scenes which totally tap into my own fears about death and what happens after that. Also, Bill Paxton gives us a delightfully demented performance here, and Mortuary’s finale is so wonderfully absurd that I couldn’t help but fall in love with this film even if parts of it don’t make a ton of sense. That’s the power of Paxton, I ’spose.

Edge of the Axe

In José Ramón Larraz’s Edge of the Axe, a nondescript killer is slaughtering the residents of a small, sleepy town in Northern California, and it’s up to a pair of technology-obsessed teens (Barton Faulks, Christina Marie) to figure out just who is behind this brutal string of murders. As far as the set-up goes in Edge of the Axe, things are pretty run-of-the-mill for the most part, but what makes Larraz’s something of a standout project from its time is how advanced the technology feels considering the story takes place in the late 1980s.

I also really dig the look of the killer in Edge of the Axe. He wears a black trench coat and a nondescript gray mask that somehow feels even eerier than the blank slate look of the Michael Myers mask, and the kills in Edge of the Axe are super brutal as well, where it feels like you’re really watching these victims get hacked up in actuality. The story does seem to meander a bit here and there, but there’s a super gnarly twist at the end that I think adds a lot to Edge of the Axe, and while I know that slashers were very much on a downturn at this point in the 1980s, Larraz’s efforts here prove that there was still a little bit of fuel in the tank after all when it came to this subgenre during that time. Also, kudos for making something as innocuous as getting a car wash seem like a terrifying proposition.


Go HERE to catch up on all of our Indie Horror Month 2022 features!

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.