I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I am a huge fan of horror films and my favorite type of horror film is the 1980s slasher movie. While the slasher genre arguably got its start during the 1960s and 1970s with films like Peeping Tom (1960), Psycho (1960), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Black Christmas (1975) and Halloween (1978) — all of which make my list of the best horror films ever made — slasher movies had their peak in the 1980s, particularly the early ’80s. In my opinion, some of the genre’s best movies were released between 1980 and 1984.
With Halloween approaching, I thought it would be fun to share a list of some of my favorite 1980s slasher films. You’ll notice that this list doesn’t include any films from the biggest slasher franchises — Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Child’s Play. To me, those are obvious selections, so I left them out. Of course, you might think all of the movies on my list are obvious selections. But, c’est la vie.
Since I know you’re going to comment and tell me all the movies I forgot from my list and that my list is worthless without them, let me say that I’m not claiming these are the greatest ’80s slasher flicks, nor are these the only slasher films I love — I could easily make a list of 50. So, before you tell me how much I suck because I didn’t include your favorites, keep that in mind. That said, I’d love to know what some of your favorite ’80s slasher flicks are — what would your list look like.
OK, here we go — in no particular order. (And just to warn you — some of these trailers are NSFW).
Prom Night (1980) and Terror Train (1980) — The year 1980 was a big one for Jamie Lee Curtis’s career, and in particular, her career in horror films. After getting her big break playing Laurie Strode in the slasher classic Halloween, she starred in three more horror films just two years later: John Carpenter’s The Fog, Prom Night and Terror Train. Of these three, Prom Night and Terror Train fall squarely within the slasher subgenre and they are two of my favorites ever made.
In Prom Night, a bunch of high school kids hiding a secret about a tragic event that happened when they were children being stalked — and murdered — by someone who knows what they did and wants to exact revenge upon them. In Terror Train, a group of college kids who once played a terribly mean prank on a classmate are stalked — and murdered — during a New Year’s Eve costume party aboard a train by someone who knows what they did and wants to exact revenge upon them. Hmmmm… While both films have similar premises, the stories, characters and kills are very different. And, of course, Terror Train features David Copperfield in his only film role.
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Silent Scream (1980) — I watched Silent Scream for the first time recently and immediately fell in love with it. Why hadn’t I seen this movie before? Well, it’s been out-of-print for quite some time, only recently being released on DVD. Starring scream queen Barbara Steele and Yvonne De Carlo, whom you might know best as Lily Munster from The Munsters, Silent Scream is about four Bay Area college students who are unable to find on-campus housing, so they rent a room at a seaside, hilltop mansion-turned-boarding house. The owner of the mansion, Mrs. Engel (De Carlo) and her weird son, Mason (Brad Rearden), also live in the house, making the college students a little uneasy at times. Stranger still, Mrs. Engel also has a daughter (Steele) whom she keeps locked in the attic. After one of the kids is found dead, the police begin investigating the mansion and its owners while the remaining tenants fight to stay alive. I think this is one of the better early slasher movies to be made and is also one that I don’t think enough people have seen or even heard of. Highly recommended.
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Graduation Day (1981) — This is another one I just recently saw and never knew existed until I saw it on Netflix Instant. So glad I watched it because…wow. The story centers around a high school track team who, as their graduation day nears, are getting bumped off by an unknown killer. It’s extremely low-budget, but it has a fairly unique plot, for a slasher movie, and some very inventive kills. And it features a very young Vanna White in one of her few film roles.
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Intruder (1989) — This movie is 100% crazypants in the best possible way. And how could it not be, considering who is involved — Lawrence Bender, Sam and Ted Raimi, Scott Spiegel, Bruce Campbell, Dan Hicks. With that group, you’d think this would be a campy zombie movie. But no — it is a bona fide, ridiculously amazing slasher movie. Made on a super-small budget ($100,000) and released in 1989, when the slasher movie was basically a thing of the past, Intruder didn’t make any big splashes in the theaters, most likely gaining the most attention from Evil Dead fans. I hope it’s finding a new audience now, though, because it really is fantastically over-the-top and bonkers. And actually pretty scary, the first time through — I certainly screamed like a little girl and that rarely happens any more. (Just a warning — the trailer to this movie is kind of spoiler-heavy, which is really annoying. But if you’ve seen the movie, you won’t mind.)
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Happy Birthday to Me (1981) — Ginny (Melissa Sue Anderson) is a member of the Top Ten, an elite group of the most popular students at Crawford Academy. But she harbors a secret that she only shares with her psychiatrist, Dr. Faraday (played by the legendary Glenn Ford). One by one, members of the Top Ten are murdered (in pretty interesting ways) and it would seem that Ginny is the killer — or is she? What I love most about this movie, besides its inventive kills (shish kebob!) and its random cast (Glenn Ford! Mary Ingalls! Lauren Fenmore from The Young and the Restless!), is its over-the-top, crazypants twist ending, which, from what I read, wasn’t the film’s original ending. Apparently, the first ending was much more predictable, so the producers decided to add the twist. Fine by me — I love it when my slasher movies have a ridiculous twist ending.
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Sleepaway Camp (1983) – Talk about ridiculous twist endings — this one takes the cake. Before I saw this film, I’d heard that it was said to have one of the most shocking endings in film history, and it did not disappoint. As with several other slashers of the time, this one is about murders that take place at a summer camp. But rather than some crazy, mangled serial killer stalking and murdering the kids, they’re offed by — well, you’re just going to have to watch the movie. And if you’ve already seen it — DON’T GIVE AWAY THE ENDING!
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The Prowler (1981) — It’s 1945 and a World War II veteran returns to his hometown of Avalon Bay, New Jersey to find a “Dear John” letter from his girlfriend. Harsh, right? Well, rather than packing up and going home, he decides to kill her and her new boyfriend at a graduation dance. But the tale doesn’t end there — of course it doesn’t. Cut to 35 years later and the first graduation dance since the murders. The killer seems to have returned, decked head-to-toe in fatigues (and a mask that conveniently hides his face), and is ready to kill again — and again and again. I saw this film for the first time last year and I thought it was fantastic. It’s quite gory and the kills are very well done. I read somewhere that this is also one of Eli Roth’s favorite slashers — I promise that’s not why I decided to love it.
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April Fool’s Day (1986) — This film’s story is pretty basic — a group) of nine college students are invited to their friend Muffy’s (Deborah Foreman, best known as Julie in Valley Girl island mansion for spring break. Pretty soon, each of the friends starts turning up dead and two of the survivors become very suspicious of Muffy’s behavior. Soon they learn she isn’t what she seems — but it might be too late. My love for this movie knows no bounds. I first saw it at a slumber party when I was about ten years old — my friends and I had convinced the slumber party hostess’s older sister to rent it for us because we were obsessed with the cover. It is one of the funniest, most inventive slasher movies I’ve seen. I like to think of it as the slasher version of Clue. And I adore the cast, which, in addition to Foreman, includes actors from some of my favorite ’80s films — Deborah Goodrich, who played Deborah in Just One of the Guys; Clayton Rohner, who also appeared in Just One of the Guys, as well Modern Girls; Ken Olandt, also known as Larry from Summer School; Amy Steel, best known as Ginny from Friday the 13th, Part II; and Thomas F. Wilson, whom you may remember playing a character named Biff in a little movie called Back to the Future. With that cast, you really can’t lose.
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My Bloody Valentine (1981) — You’ve gotta love a slasher movie that had nine minutes of footage cut by the MPAA due to the sheer amount of violence and gore (nine minutes that have since been restored on the DVD released last year by Lionsgate). In Valentine Bluffs, a small mining town in Nova Scotia, a methane gas explosion takes the lives of a group of coal miners on Valentine’s Day. The tragic accident is partially caused by the absence of supervisors watching over the mine — see, they were all at the town’s big Valentine’s Day dance. One year later, the only survivor of the mining accident, a man named Harry Warden, gets revenge by killing the supervisors and warning the town to never hold another Valentine’s Day dance — or else. Twenty years later, a group of dumb kids decide to say, “fuck your warnings, psychotic minor!” and hold another Valentine’s Day dance. The kebosh is put on that, though, when a bloody heart — and a warning — arrives at the local police station. Of course, those kids still wanted to have their party, and the dumb shits have it at the coal mine. And guess who starts getting killed, one by one?
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He Knows You’re Alone (1980) — Just as in most slasher movies, the victims in He Knows You’re Alone are mostly female. But these young women are a little different — they’re brides-to-be. With a style that very closely resembles that of Halloween, He Knows You’re Alone is a satisfying slasher classic that I don’t think gets very much attention. It also marks the feature film debut of Tom Hanks, whose character allegedly escaped certain death because the filmmakers found Hanks to be so charming, they wanted to keep him around.
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The Funhouse (1981) — If it comes from Tobe Hooper, the director responsible for horror classics such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, it’s got to be pretty fantastic, right? The answer is yes. The premise of The Funhouse is similar to other great slashers in that the killer is a deformed maniac. It’s the setting that makes this movie stand out — a carnival funhouse. I mean, that shit is freaky enough already, but to get trapped in one? With a homicidal freak show stalking you? Scary as hell.
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The Burning (1981) — This film was one of the very first released by Miramax, and was produced by Harvey Weinstein and co-written by Bob Weinstein. It also was the feature film debut of one Holly Hunter. It is probably the most blatantly similar to the Friday the 13th franchise, Part II specifically: disfigured murderer kills a bunch of kids at a summer camp as revenge for something another group of campers did to him years ago. In fact, this movie was released just one week after Friday the 13th, Part 2. I’ll let you guess which one did better at the box office.
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And a special mention to:
Chopping Mall (1986) — I know that this technically doesn’t fall within the traditional slasher subgenre, but I have to bring it up. Rather than having a psychopathic killer who is human, we’re dealing with psychopathic robot security guards at a shopping mall. It’s a silly, low-budget movie (most of my favorite slashers are), but it has some of the best kills you’re going to see in the genre. I adore the cast, which includes Kelli Maroney (who also starred in the cult classic Night of the Comet and did a stint on one of my favorite soap operas, Ryan’s Hope); Barbara Crampton (best known for her roles as Leanna Love on The Young and the Restless and Megan Halsey in Re-Animator); Tony O’Dell (also known as Alan from the ’80s sitcom, Head of the Class); John Terlesky (who also appeared in one of my favorite bad ’80s movies, The Allnighter); and Russell Todd (better known as Jamie Frame from Another World and Scott from Friday the 13th: Part 2). This movie also features one of the most entertaining end credit sequences I’ve ever seen.
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