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Top 10 Most Influential Slasher Films

By Gary Johnson · April 6, 2016

Slasher flicks make up a fascinating subsection of horror. Often produced on shoestring budgets with schlocky production values and excessive gore, the slasher has become an art form measured in screams over nuance. In other words, they're a lot of fun – especially if you enjoy a good scare, which the genre's rabid fan base surely does. 

After the jump, we take a look at the ten most influential slasher flicks (for better or for worse)

10. Child’s Play (1988)

Charles Lee Ray, better known as the “Lakeshore Strangler” uses voodoo to transfer his soul into a Good-Guy doll after he is shot down in cold blood by the police. He becomes the killer doll Chucky and sets out on a bloody quest to gain possession of Andy and transfer his soul to the boy’s body and become human once more. Coming onto the scene late in the era of slashers, Child’s Play delivers elements of fantasy in the form of black magic as well as the wildly entertaining foul-mouthed dialogue that Chucky uses. This film is the epitome of killer doll movies and has inspired other titles such as Puppetmaster (1989). Although originally written as a scary children’s movie and reworked as a slasher, Leprechaun (1993), also exhibits elements inspired by Child’s Play.

9. Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

The first kill sequence plays out almost exactly like the scene in Halloween (1979) when Annie gets strangled in the car, or so we think. The victim surprises us when she manages to escape and gets out of the car and finds herself in the infamous empty parking garage setting that’s become cliché to the Horror genre. A cat and mouse type chase ensues before the girl runs into somebody who she apparently knows. She says, “Oh it’s you,” just before the killer gets her with a razor. This is very similar to the original Friday the 13th (1980) in both the victim character’s recognition and false sense of security upon discovering a familiar face, as well as the P.O.V. structure of the scene, which again can be associated to Halloween. Here we’re seeing examples of how earlier films influenced the style of this one.

After that, we see elements that are more familiar to us from films that were released after this one. For example, many of the school shots are nearly identical to what we see later in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Also, the complacency and almost nihilistic portrayal of the students towards each other seems very similar to the characters in Scream (1996). There is a scene that takes place in the school where the police are questioning all of the students that also reminds us very much of a scene in Scream.

On top of these elements, we see a relationship built between that the lead girl Virginia has with her psychiatrist that seems very similar conceptually to Friday the 13th, part 7 (1988). She comes home to the place of a traumatic life-altering event in order to come to terms with it and lead a normal life; although, in that film the relationship with the doctor is very much more hostile and conflicted.

In addition, there is a very memorable kill scene in this film involving a character working out and lifting weights. In A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 (1988), one of the characters falls asleep while lifting weights and a dream sequence ensues. Our old friend Freddy seizes the moment in a very similar fashion.

8. Saw (2004)

Saw is a film that breaks the rules of the traditional slasher guise, there is no guy with a knife, and the antagonist isn’t actually a killer at all. Rather he puts his victims in situations where they either get themselves killed or in extremely rare cases they make it out alive, although never unscathed. Jigsaw in fact wants them to make it out alive and that is an interesting and unique spin for a horror film. While there is no direct killer, there is a saw in the room which ends up getting used to hack a foot off, and that is enough to throw this title in the ring with the more traditional slashers. The fact of the matter is that Saw, while breaking the rules, changed the whole game of horror in modern times. Although gritty and absolutely soaked in blood, the first two Saw films weren’t really too gory at all. The traps and situations that the victims were placed in were torturous in nature though, and thus the series broke ground and paved the way for other films in the mid 2000’s. These were mostly torture gore-fests like Hostel (2005) and even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006). Later entries to the Saw series also became much more gory to follow suit.

7. Scream (1996)

While many of the titles made it onto this list because of their penchant for breaking the rules and barriers of horror, Scream is almost the opposite. Scream pays the utmost homage to all of the classic horror movie rules and follows most of them perfectly, while quietly breaking others (such as when Sidney loses her virginity and is still able to trump the killers). Although it uses the clichés to its advantage, this film is still unique and groundbreaking in its own right, with the emphasis on keeping the audience guessing whom the killer might be. Scream was the revival that horror needed in the mid 90’s and its popularity influenced many titles that followed closely afterwards such as I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) (which was actually written by the same writer, Kevin Williamson) and Urban Legend (1998). In addition the film served as the basis for the Scary Movie comedy/parody series.

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The magic of A Nightmare on Elm Street is the endless possibilities that the dream sequences provide. The only limitation for the creative methodology of Freddy Krueger in the dream world of any Nightmare movie is the film’s budget. However, with a bit of fog in an abandoned factory, some well-placed red lighting, and the sound of a steak knife scratching against the bottom of a steel chair you can absolutely terrify an audience at very little cost.

Nightmare is most certainly one of the most unique film experiences to the slasher genre. It’s easy to replicate a guy with a machete killing people in the woods. It’s a little bit more difficult to rip off a severely burned man in a dirty old hat and a red and green sweater, who kills teens as they dream with a glove made from knives. The quip of the fast talking maniac was an angle that could and would be replicated over time however. In the original Nightmare, Freddy doesn’t say too much although in later entries to the series he develops a knack for delivering one-liners and cheesy puns. These playful antics from the killer have gone on to become a staple in the world of horror in films such as Child’s Play (1988) and Blood Rage (1987).

5. Black Christmas (1974)

One of the most well done, and perhaps one of the most overlooked early slashers to come about, Black Christmas holds its own amongst many of the more memorable names. Setting the scene inside of a sorority house has certainly spawned a sub-sect of slashers surrounding sororities, such as House on Sorority Row (1983), Hell Night (1981), and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988). Another great influence to come from Black Christmas is the idea of the urban legend of phone calls coming from inside the house. A very similar concept comes to us in the form of When a Stranger Calls (1979) and perhaps even more directly throughout the Scream series.

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Upon its release in the mid 70’s, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre caused some serious controversy. Although, it’s not too surprising as to why, that is. If you’ve ever watched the film then you’ve experienced first hand just how intense witnessing these events unfold in front of you for the first time really is. The magic of this experience though is the incredible vision that Tobe Hooper had for the film. In memory, we consider this to be one of the most intense gore-fests we’ve seen. However, in retrospect, this movie really doesn’t have a whole lot of blood or gore in it at all. All of the shots are done in such a way that it tricks the audience into imagining what it wants to believe, and pulls it off brilliantly without losing any of it’s effectiveness. In fact, it only seems to gain steam as the movie progresses mostly due to the relentless way the tension is layered and built up to the climax. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a prime example of how the intensity and pacing structure of a horror film should be achieved. It also is considered one of the most influential horror films of all time, and sets the standard for backwoods rural setting slashers such as Slaughterhouse (1987).


3. Friday the 13th (1980)

Following the popularity of Halloween, Friday the 13th hit theatres at the perfect time with the perfect blend of elements. A serene setting of a camp at a lake, with a group of teenagers who simply want to have a good time as they get things in order for the camp to open. Add in a touch of excellent kill scenes from special effects guru Tom Savini, a beautiful score from Harry Manfredini, and a shocking ending and you have everything you need to help push a cultural shift for movie lovers. While stylistically Friday the 13th, Part 2 was probably more directly influential to the genre in the following years, the popularity of the original film sent a shockwave through the market. The year following the release of Friday the 13th saw an incredible wave of slashers appear. Filmmakers everywhere were seeing the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, and they wanted a piece of it. The campground / forest setting served an excellent backdrop for low budget slashers to take. Films like The Burning (1981), Madman (1982), and Sleepaway Camp (1983) all took after the precedence set by Friday the 13th

2. Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchock’s beloved classic film from 1960 is really what started it all for the slasher genre. The film was ahead of its time in many ways, and although it doesn’t fit the typical model of what we think of when we talk about slasher flicks (it’s much more centered around the psychological thriller elements), there is little doubt that the shower scene is one of the most memorable and frightening moments in cinema history.

The basic concept is still what drives horror films to this day: take something that should seem normal, mundane, and relatively safe under normal circumstances and find a way to make it terrifying. There are none better at this concept than Hitchcock. The camp setting, the house setting, even the dream setting: these all follow that same basic rule. The shower is something of a safe zone for us; we’re very rarely in a more vulnerable state than when we’re naked in the shower. Later, during the 80’s hay day of slashers, this evolved into the cliché of taking out teenagers while they’re having sex. Although it is pretty much the same concept in that one is absolutely defenseless in that situation.

We also seem to find the concept of morality in these pictures. If somebody is doing something that they shouldn’t, like trespassing or drinking and doing drugs, they typically become punished for these transgressions. Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh (who hardcore horror fans recognize as Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother), steals cash from her employer’s client that she is supposed to be depositing in the bank. This sets her down a path that eventually takes her to check in at a tiny motel in the middle of nowhere. Karma ultimately catches up to her as she falls victim to the infamous madman Norman Bates.

1. Halloween (1978)

Upon the mention of the slasher genre, this is undoubtedly the film that comes to mind first, without even having to think twice about it. Halloween sets the tone with the silent masked killer who is fueled by pure evil and cannot be killed. From the opening credits, ringing us in with the unique and eerie score, we know that this chilling feature has an almost magical air about it. So much so that just about every slasher film that has been released since is directly influenced by John Carpenter’s masterpiece.

Michael Myers receives the aid of the best hype man in horror – Dr. Samuel Loomis, as played by Donald Pleasance – to set his legacy in stone. Almost mad in his own right, Loomis sells us the silent stalker with his unforgettable dialogue performances. In addition to setting the gold standard of the archetype of the antagonist killer, we also have the pure spirited protagonist in our heroine Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. This sweet and innocent girl next-door type has become the basic character model that would follow with the “final girls” throughout the genre to the present day. While not the first film to utilize these specific elements, Halloween is certainly the most memorable. This film opened the floodgates, inspiring countless other films and giving rise to the popularity of the slasher genre in the following decades.