Predator is usually labeled an action movie or a sci-fi action movie, but when you really look at it it's basically a Jason movie, but instead of horny teenagers, the slasher's victims are a team of badass commandos led by Ahnold Schwarzenegger. When we first see Ahnold's team (the Carl Weathers, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, Shane Black, and Bill fucking Duke), they're laying waste to a group of heavily armed guerillas. They kill the bad guys silently at first, they then unleash an unholy barrage of machine guns (Ol Painless!), grenades, and knives. Once that's over and they try to get out of the jungle, the slasher monster, the alien Predator, picks Ahnold's team off one by one. The Predator uses a super laser, a nasty wrist blade, brute strength, and a kind of camouflage that makes the Predator essentially invisible. Ahnold is the flick's "final girl," and he takes the Predator on using whatever he can scrounge up. This movie still kicks ass twenty five years later, and deserves a real seat at the horror movie table.
4. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
This is my favorite movie in the Friday the 13th franchise. It features the best Jason performance to date (yes, C.J. Graham, to me, is the best Jason, with Kane Hodder a very close second), some of the best kills in the series (triple decapitation, a man is bent in half, the camper, and the bloody cabin are just some of the great kills in this movie), and has a general fun tone, something you don't see all that often in slasher movies. But best of all, it's got Jason as a "classic" monster. I like the "he's just a guy that's hard to kill" Jason that we saw in parts 2-4, but the "zombie" Jason that's brought back to life via a bolt of lightning is just unbelievably cool. It actually makes him scarier because he can't possibly be real, can he? A zombie with a machete and a hockey mask? That's bullshit. And yet there he is, walking through the woods, looking for something to kill. Amazing stuff.
3. Silent Rage (1982)
I reviewed this movie in my The Gratuitous B-Movie Column back in July. Like Predator, Silent Rage is usually considered an action movie because of the presence of its star Chuck Norris. But when you really look at it it's a slasher movie, just with Chuck Norris in it. John Kirby is a disturbed man who goes on a rampage and, after getting killed by Chuck Norris, ends up becoming an indestructible monster after scientists inject him with a serum. There are some nifty stalk and suspense scenes, some good kills, and just a great killer. Norris is in actual danger when he finally faces Kirby at the end. I mean, yeah, he's Chuck Norris, you know he's going to win, but there's still a chance there that he could lose, that Kirby could get him.
And then there's the end credits theme. It's not as scary as the theme from Halloween, but it's up there. Take a listen:
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
What makes Freddy Krueger so dang scary, besides the burned up face, the weird voice, and the razor glove, is that he gets you in your dreams. You're asleep, you're disoriented, not all your faculties are there, and Freddy seems to have complete control over the dream world. Seems to. As we see, Nancy figures out how to stay alive, but she's the only one that figures it out. Freddy kills all of her friends, killing them both in the dream world and in the real world. When Nancy brings Freddy into the real world and destroys him, it should be all over. But it isn't. Because even after killing Freddy in the real world, he can come back. He seems to be eternal, a demon that will never go away. That's messed up.
1. Halloween (1978)
John Carpenter's Halloween is still a major thrill ride some thirty four years later. Chick full of mood, dread, and unending suspense, Halloween is all about a masked killer, with potential supernatural properties, stalking and killing teenagers because, well, that's just what he does. Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, is the only one that seems to notice the killer, Michael Myers (well, besides Dr. Loomis, played by Donald Pleasance). When she finally has to deal with Myers at the end, you will be on the edge of your seat. The music is also outstanding. Carpenter composed the music himself, and he came up with one of the most enduring and scary movie themes in history. When you hear it, you'll feel a small sense of dread. I know I still do. Michael Myers, The Shape, is still out there. Where will he strike next?
5. The Bird with the Crystal Plummage (1970)
You could probably argue about a few Dario Argento flicks that should contend for this list (Deep Red, Suspiria, so on), but this is the first one of his I saw and thus it made the biggest impact on me out of his canon. It was also my introduction to the giallo genre. In the hands of a weaker filmmaker this would have been just another standard thriller, but Argento establishes his talent right off the bat in this stunning debut. He integrates such vivid and heart pounding images that augment the intrigue of the mystery. The initial attack sequence while Sam watches in the glass cage, the chase scene through the buses and the streets, the moment where Julia is trapped in the apartment while the killer hacks away, the artist who uses a ladder to enter and exit his house (he also eats cats), and of course the outstanding conclusion. Obviously a lot of Hitchcockian elements here, but Argento works the audience like a master puppeteer, showing us the main attack over and over again, yet we see as Sam sees, and miss the truth until the end. We are too busy guessing other possible killers to observe what is right under our nose. Even the investigation conversations are fascinating. The performances are top-notch from Tony Musante and Suzy Kendall, the cinematography from Vittorio Storaro is splendid as he captures so many frightening moments in the dark, and Ennio Morricone's score possesses a light creepiness that reveals suspenseful nature of the substance. My plan was to start with this title and work my way through all of Argento's oeuvre, but I haven't quite reached the end yet. Still, this early effort is one of my favorites.
4. American Psycho (2000)
This is one of the films that helped propel Lionsgate to grow into such a major player before franchises like Saw became their bread and butter. This was also probably the film that introduced Christian Bale to many folks unless you were following him since his Empire of the Sun days. I'll never forget when I first heard about this movie. I was in college and my roommate told me to watch a certain part. It was the threesome scene and when Bale started running his hand through his hair and pointing as he's having sex listening to Phil Collins, I couldn't stop laughing and knew I had to see the full movie asap. Of course it has the standard elements of a slasher, though an axe is the primary weapon, but Mary Harron's sophomore feature is more intelligent than most efforts of the genre and likely has the slickest production design. The sets, the lighting, the music, and the costumes all stood out for me in this movie. The direction is fantastic, but the greatest aspect of this is the amazing deadpan lead turn by Bale, who is composed one minute and positively nutty the next as Patrick Bateman. I appreciated how American Psycho mixed black comedy and horror, acting as a satire of American values (specifically in the 80's). This was controversial at the time, but the execution was spot-on and the ending is thought-provoking enough that repeated viewings are a joy.
3. Scream (1996)
I saw the first Scream the day it was released in theaters, before anyone knew how big it would become. Having never been the biggest horror fan, I was surprised by how clever Kevin Williamson's script was and how much fun I had watching the film overall. Scream deserves credit on this list for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is that it single-handedly reinvigorated slashers after their run had fizzled out in the 80's. Second is how deftly it simultaneously pokes fun at and honors the slasher formula. The basic trademarks are present, but everything feels a lot fresher and smoother. The self-conscious dialogue has a snap, crackle, pop style to it that is infectious. Veteran director Wes Craven weaved the antiquated aspects of slashers with a novel flair and crisp balance. It also has a slew of terrific performances including Neve Campbell, preChill Factor Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard before he became annoying, a super hot Rose McGowan, a sexy Courtney Cox, Jamie Kennedy, and….David Arquette. Of course the opening scene where Drew Barrymore gets gutted was crazy at the time and has not lost its power. I was fond of the sequels, but the original in this case is definitely the best.
2. Psycho/Peeping Tom (1960)
One of the earliest slasher films dates back to 1932 and is titled Thirteen Women, but 1960 saw the grandfathers of the sub-genre make their debut. The reason I put them side-by-side is because they were released only weeks apart and are both important pioneers concerning this week's topic. I'm not sure if people immediately think of these two titles when the term "slasher" is mentioned, but they really should as the majority of the traits viewers are accustomed to seeing in slashers began with this massive two-punch. Obviously not a lot needs to be said about Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, an indisputable masterpiece that incorporated the mystery, stalking POV, and twist ending that would be seen so often in the future. Hitchcock's gutsy techniques would pave the way for all future knife-wielding entries. But before Psycho came Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, which more people should be familiar with if you ask me. My appreciation for it is just as high as it is for Psycho. This killer uses a portable movie camera to murder the women while filming their dying expressions. And for those who don't know, Mr. Carpenter shall we say "borrowed" scenes directly from Peeping Tom for the title you see below. The performances in both efforts are outstanding, as are the scores, production design, pacing, etc. Perhaps the arguments could be made that these are as much (or more) thrillers/suspense flicks than pure slasher horror, but I might have something to say about that and any way you divvy that up , my #1 pick (and many others) would not be here without them.
1. Halloween (1978)
If my #2 selections showed all spawn how things should be done, John Carpenter's Halloween took that education and made it better. It might not be the very first of its kind, but it is the measuring stick to which all other slasher offerings must strive to equal. Michael Myers is a horror icon who would be in numerous disappointing sequels, but none of them have tarnished the perfection of the original. From top to bottom, this is an unforgettable piece of horror. I do not have to lavish praise on this. We've all seen and know why it's here. Every Halloween holiday, you can be sure that I will pop this in the DVD player. It is a ritual I'm certain many others engage in. I doubt anything else could take its place as King.
5. Slumber Party Massacre II
This one makes my list not so much for being a great flick, but for being one of the first actual slasher flicks I had seen. Show of hands, who remembers USA Up All Night? It was a Friday Night mainstay on the USA Network from 1989 to 1998. Rhonda Shear would host B-Movies. This movie is one I remember seeing on the show a lot. The combination of half naked women, blurred out boobs, and a darn drill guitar used to hand out the carnage. This one will always have a nostalgic place with me.
4. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
Aside from Tommy Jarvis, Tina is by far my favorite of Jason's opponents. I loved the fact that this movie offered something a bit different. I've always been drawn to fights like this that feature supernatural forces. Seeing Jason matched up against something he hadn't faced before really clicked with me. Seeing Tina use her psychic powers to keep the monster at bay is always fun for me to watch.
A case could be made for this to be called a more psychological thriller, but it is basically a slasher flick with "possessed" people as the victims instead of teenagers. Think about it, we have a man killing people, using basically the same weapon every time. Does it count? I think so. Frailty is a great movie, that puts a different twist on the slasher flick, and it works.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street
The first Nightmare scared the absolute crap out of me. Wes Craven really crafted something special when he created Freddy Krueger. From the part in the alley where he stretches his arms out the entire width of the alleyway, to Tina being murdered on the ceiling. The movie is chock full of memorable moments.
1. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Yes, the birth, officially, of zombie Jason. Tommy Jarvis just had to make sure that Jason was dead. I'm sure we all remember how that played out. This entry in the series may have been handled a bit more tongue in cheek than previous entries, but by this point, why not take a chance? Remember the bloody smiley face when he smashed that one poor schmuck against the tree?
5. The Devil's Rejects (2005)
Slasher villains have long been considered the main characters of their horror films, but few have actively been the protagonists. Rob Zombie, always more interested in monsters than men, set out to change that. While House of 1,000 Corpses is a lot of style and very little substance, it was popular enough that he was able to make a far superior film as a sequel in The Devil's Rejects. The Firefly gang is far more terrifying when they are regular people on a road rampage than they were in freaky outfits on their own property. This is a vicious, unrelenting film and it is still the best film Zombie's made to date (faint praise to some, but not to me).
4. Scream (1996)
By the mid-1990s the slasher genre was pretty much dead. There were still a few last gasps and leg twitches but on the whole there wasn't much left to explore. Then Wes Craven returned to the genre and put the phrase set the seeds for "meta" to be firmly-embedded in the lexicon of pop culture. With a fantastic cast, lots of plot twists and some very pointed jabs at the genre Craven helped popularize, Scream became a deservedly-huge hit. With this film the horror genre got another rush of life and while dozens of substandard imitators followed, Scream still stands tall as a great slasher flick.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Technically The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did not truly start the slasher genre. The first slasher films on a technical point would be Peeping Tom and Psycho. With all due respect to those films though outside of madmen, death and some stylistic touches, there is little they have in common with the rest of the slasher films. It is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that set the rules for the slasher film and it is the true spiritual birthplace of the subgenre. Tom Hooper created a film that, while actually not very gory, set off waves of controversy and became almost instantly infamous, giving rise to some of the greatest cinematic killers ever. The final shot of Leatherface chasing down poor panicked Sally Hardesty and waving the chainsaw over his head in frustration is burned into many a horror lover's mind, and for good reason.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Pure personal preference in these last two for me. There were two slashers who I really grew up with and believe it or not, Jason Voorhees was not one of them. Instead it was his contemporaries, and the first of those is right here in Freddy Krueger. Sure, these movies basically evolved into horror-comedies by the later entries but the first one is legitimately creepy as hell. Robert Englund manages to make Freddy terrifying by virtue o relatively little dialogue (especially compared to later entries) and Heather Langenkamp is a great Final Girl as Nancy. Few horror films legitimately give me nightmares, but this was one of them.
1. Halloween (1978)
And here we have my all-time favorite slasher film and cinematic serial killer. Michael Myers is terror personified. He is the Shape, a pure malevolent force born to the poor Myers family to be unleashed onto the world. And he has Jamie Lee Curtis to hunt down as Laurie Strode, as well as Donald Pleasence to hunt him down as Dr. Loomis. John Carpenter made the seminal babysitter killer film here and created an enduring legacy that would be often imitated but never matched.
Honorable mentions: American Psycho, Blood and Black Lace, Eyes Without a Face, Peeping Tom, Scream, Twitch of the Death Nerve
5. Child's Play (1988)
I'm not going to begin to justify that Child's Play is a great movie. But – as someone who was just a bit older than a toddler when it came out – it scared the bejeezus out of me and likely scarred me for a number of years concerning talking dolls and gingers. It's more of a personal choice since it was one of the first horror films/slashers I ever saw. It was one of those movies that when you went over for a sleepover (do they still do that?) your friend's older brother would sneak it down and let you watch. Once you get older and once the sequels started to get more jokey and slapstick, it obviously lost some appeal, but for nostalgia reasons, I can't not mention it. When you're young, having your toys or dolls/action figures come to life and try to kill you really is the stuff of nightmares.
4. Suspiria (1977)
Mario Bava might be the Godfather of the giallo, but Dario Argento is its favorite son. Former Village Voice critic J. Hoberman wrote that Dario Argento's classic Suspiria, "made sense only to the eye." And yet, sometimes that's enough in cinema. It's a dazzling film with style to spare and remains one of the most influential of Italian genre filmmaking. Hugely influential on filmmakers such as Carpenter and Darren Aronofsky (just take a look at Black Swan), Suspiria is a pretty intense supernatural slasher flick and one any fan of horror should see.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
What's scarier than someone invading your dreams? Nothing, that's what. Freddy Kruger is the single scariest "boogeyman" in any slasher (sorry Michael and Jason) and A Nightmare on Elm Street is terrifying both in its concept and execution. Iconic images and scenes, including the bedroom geyser and Tina getting dragged up the walls as her boyfriend helplessly looks on are enough to have it included, but it is Robert Englund's performance as Kruger that makes the film so memorable and a must-have on any great slasher list.
2. Psycho (1960)
Unlike say, Child's Play, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is one of the great films ever made. And yes, it's a slasher – it and Peeping Tom essentially laid the foundation for what the slasher would eventually become. We can argue is it is the director's greatest movie, but Psycho is undeniably his most slasher-ish and the Janet Leigh shower scene is perhaps horror's most iconic scene.
1. Halloween (1978)
Honestly, I think Psycho is a better film, but it's undeniable that no film has had as big a legacy and impact on horror and slashers in general than John Carpenter's Halloween. It has the most perfect representation of the boogeyman in Michael Myers and has one of the top five most important scores and hooks in the last half-century of film. It is the gold standard among slashers and the first film that comes to almost everyone's mind. And there's good reason for that. It is the most important slasher ever made...and one hell of a scary ride.
John D-Rock Dotson
5. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
This is a film that proves you should not judge a book by its cover. If I had seen this film sitting on a shelf, I probably wouldn't have given it a second glance. Luckily, one boring night in college, a group of my friends decided to watch a horror movie, and one randomly chose this one to rent. At first glance, Behind the Mask appears to be just another crap-fest horror/slasher film, but what you end up getting is an interesting mockumentary that satires the entire genre. It's like in grade school, when they read you the reverse story of the big bad wolf. The wolf explains his side of the story of the 3 Little Pigs - only here, you get to see the killer's point of view on things and how there is a purpose to his craft.
I know it's not an old school slasher flick like some legends out there, but I am a Scream generation kid. When I was in junior high, this was the film that reenergized the horror genre and brought teens back to the theaters every couple of years to be terrorized. What made Scream work so effectively was its ability to make you care about the characters before brutally killing them. After the bloody opening sequence with Drew Barrymore, you automatically know that anyone can or will die in this film. Another great quality of Scream is the ability it has to poke fun at itself while still being truly terrifying. Before this film, no movie used its own rules as a mechanism for scares, which brought something fresh to the genre. I will always cherish Scream because it was the first fun scary movie experience I had in the theaters, so it will always hold a nostalgic place in my cinematic heart.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street
1… 2… Freddy is coming for you. I don't care what happened in Freddy Vs. Jason. Freddy Krueger is the man. This is a villain who damn near scarred my childhood. Even before I ever saw the original, Robert Englund's portrayal of Freddy would keep me up at night. Wes Craven's vision of Freddy's violent nightmarish world is displayed with such fearful excellence that even the million sequels couldn't match its tension. Especially the way the film often keeps you guessing whether the person is awake or in fact still dreaming. With a horrific plot and unpredictable finale, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a true slasher-piece.
This one might create a little controversy among you readers, because it's not a slasher film in the same way the others I mentioned are. This is not a movie built on the body count of killing teens, but it does in fact deal with a homicidal maniac. Although, that isn't revealed until the finale, which is an absolute mind-blast. Audition is very interesting because it starts out like a love drama with a man searching for companionship after losing his wife. By the second hour, it switches gears and turns into something truly horrific. The things this woman does in the movie's final moments would make Michael Myers piss on himself, which should make this a worthy contestant for this list.
1. American Psycho
Oh how sickly twisted and glorious this movie is. When it was first released, I actually disliked the film greatly. Now, I can't help but just be sucked in by the amazingly demented performance Christian Bale delivered. Even though half the film was probably just the dark fantasies of a mad businessman, it still is very much an artistic slasher. There are very few movies where you can say that you got to see someone axed up to the song "Hip To Be Square". There's also very few actors who can make such a violent scene so humorous as Bale. His execution of the character Patrick Bateman may not be Jason Voorhees, but it's just as sadistic and maybe a little bit more complex than most slashers attempt to bring to the table.
Shawn S. Lealos
I always held a soft spot for Candyman, mostly because Tony Todd was such an awesome villain. When I interviewed Todd a couple of years back, he didn't want to talk about Candyman, because there were so many other things he wanted to promote, but one thing pulled from the interview was how much he loved and respected the horror genre. The movie that made him a star remains one of the best slasher horror movies out there, a tragic story of a man tortured to death and seeking vengeance from beyond the grave. I dare you to watch the movie and then immediately head in to look in the mirror and chant "Candyman… Candyman… Candyman."
4. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
I absolutely loved this movie. There are so many staples from slasher horror movies, many of which Scream so lovingly pointed out. However, Behind the Mask went one step further. Instead of just talking about the staples and then stepping into them to die, Behind the Mask actually shows how the killer sets up the massacres. Set up as a documentary, a crew follows a famed slasher killer who stalks and kills teens and young adults, while also throwing out Easter eggs to everything from Halloween to Friday the 13th. It is one of the best modern day slasher movies.
3. Friday the 13th
I liked the Friday the 13th franchise for what it is, but it honestly got monotonous after awhile. There were moments of freshness, such as Tommy Jarvis, but nothing ever reached the brilliance of the first movie in the series. This wasn't about a monstrous zombie, this was about a mother who lost her son and slowly lost her grip on sanity. The movie really took the first-person villain point of view and made it a work of art. The kills were fresh for the time, and the revelation of Ms. Voorhees at the end was brilliant. Sure, the movie makes little sense because she did things that are not realistically possible for a woman of her size, but that is easy to ignore. The movie is almost a perfect slasher film.
2. Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
The first A Nightmare on Elm Street movie was a fantastic horror movie, and one of the scariest of its era. The idea that a killer could attack you in your dreams was horrifying and brought additional nightmares to kids for years. Then the second movie was a horrible misstep that never should have existed. However, the third film in the series remains my favorite of the entire franchise. The kids were locked in a mental asylum and forced to sleep, which put them in immediate danger. Nancy returned to help, and the best part of all was that they all were able to go into the nightmares together and fight him as a group. That made the movie much more exciting than just waiting for Freddy to kill the next kid. It made it an exciting movie where, you still got the slasher killer stuff, but there were also reasons to cheer.
Halloween was not the first slasher movie, despite the fact that people like to point at it as such. There was Psycho, years before, as well as movies like Black Christmas and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but John Carpenter pretty much wrote the rules for the slasher movie genre. Unlike Jason, Michael Myers was a man, albeit one with superhuman strength. He also was the embodiment of evil, hell on earth. The babysitter in danger really pushed the story into the realm of the kids watching the movies at the time and made it even scarier. The fact that normal people, in their homes, could be the victim of a slasher killer was a lot more scary than having one try to kill you in a summer camp or a sorority house. This could happen to anyone, and Carpenter was the master of bringing this terror to life. It wasn't the first, but it was the best.
Our writers pretty much all chose Halloween as the best slasher movie of all-time. What do you guys think? And remember, if you want to take part in one of these Top 5's as a reader contributor, just send me an email and let me know.