By Chris Gallagher
With a raft of postmodern horror films being released in recent years I decided to look back at the classic American slasher film. As someone who grew up with a fascination and love of horror, it’s incredibly difficult to boil down any of my favourite sub genres into a top 5 list but I decided to give it a go anyway.
The slasher film is a genre within the overall Horror sphere that may be the most popular, if not the most consistently replicated. There are literally thousands of Slasher films available, from the Halcyon days of the 1970’s and ’80s to the predictable and poorly executed botch-fests of the 2000’s, the slasher film has continued to be the go-to category for movie studios and production companies looking for a quick buck.
What defines a slasher film? Well, that’s an article within itself but my choices have been boiled down to a few specific characteristics. They are all made in the late 1970’s/80’s and they are all American productions.
Why did I choose these parameters? To be honest, it was to narrow the list down so it wasn’t bulging. If we start throwing in 1960’s classics like Psycho and Peeping Tom or some terrific British Slashers like Frightmare or the Comeback, the list would be ridiculously long…..not to mention the number of Giallo films that could be included. (They will all be Top 5 articles in the future)
Anyway, a personal list in no particular order of my Top 5 Slasher films.
What would be on your list?
Box Office: $70,000,000
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J Soles, Nancy Loomis
Halloween isn’t just on my Top 5 list of slasher films, it would likely be on my top list of films full stop.
John Carpenter had little in terms of budget but managed to create a genuine scary film by focusing on the fundamentals of horror. An attack on your senses at times, Carpenter’s score is just as powerful and unstoppable as Michael Myers himself.
The expansive cinematography captures the vast sprawling suburban landscape and at the same time the close, suffocating space where Michael Myers roams. Much can be said about the overall message that Halloween is trying to convey, Carpenter himself said that he, ‘Just wanted to make a scary movie’ but there are more layers than that. Interpret it however you want but Halloween is an expertly paced, believable and frankly frightening Slasher film.
April Fool’s Day
Budget: $5 Million
Box Office: $12,947,763
Director: Fred Walton
Cast: Jay Baker, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Griffin O’Neal, Leah King Pinsent, Clayton Rohner, Amy Steel, Thomas F. Wilson.
Okay, so this wouldn’t make a lot of people’s list of best Slasher film but I love it.
One of the first Slasher films I ever watched, the ending is one of the most debated in horror film history. Cheesy ending aside (a darker alternative ending is available) it’s a slasher with innovative deaths, dumb characters and a cast and crew that aren’t taking it too seriously.
It’s more fun than a lot of the films at the time and almost plays as a parody at times. It fools the audience more than once and is more of a murder mystery than a slasher film. The ending is what the film is most remembered for and that’s not a bad thing, with Wes Craven’s Scream maybe one of the only other slashers to fool the audience so convincingly.
Friday the 13th Part VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan
Budget: $5 Million
Box office: $14,300,000
Director: Rob Heddon
Cast: Kane Hodder and a bunch of other people
My favourite of all the Friday the 13th films is also one of the dumbest. I watched this on a Friday night on BBC 2 when I was a kid and it made my weekend.
In a similar vein to one of the Ernest films, old Jason V is taken out of his comfort zone and put on a booze cruise to New York City…..what’s not to love? In terms of cinematic quality it’s not great but again it’s fun, doesn’t take itself too seriously and there’s a really great scene where Jason punches a wee guy’s head off.
The best part of the Jason films is how he is resurrected and how he is defeated. In number VIII Jason gets electrocuted back to life and throws off the chained boulders that defeated him with ease in the last film. He’s defeated by a huge wave of toxic waste in a sewer……..it’s great.
In between Jason stabs a bunch of morally bankrupt kids to death. THE END.
Box Office: $23, 894, 000
Director: Herb Freed
Cast: Lots of people who became famous afterwards
A film I picked up for £1 in a charity shop years ago and one that still impresses me to this day.
Graduation Day is a film that tackles the abuse of power and how exploitative people can be. Every authority figure from teachers, to parents, to coaches push the students of the film to the extreme, with the opening scenes showing the death of a runner being physically pushed to the limit. There is a darker murkier tone to Graduation Day in comparison to other Slashers of the time.
The black gloved killer is a nod to Giallo as we try and figure out just who they are. In the end it doesn’t matter and the main reason to watch Graduation Day is for some great set piece action, tremendous use of quick cut editing and clichéd sequences that BECAME clichés because of films like this. A picture of the killer’s victims being crossed out as they do their nasty deeds is a nice touch. Overall, it stands out as a marker of the genre.
***It should be noted the success of Graduation Day at the Box Office compared to its low budget**
Box Office: $707,770
Director: Tony Maylam
Cast: Holly Hunter and Jason Alexander don’t ya know
The Burning was a disaster.
The only film on the list that lost money and boy did it. Some may scoff at The Burning making it into any top 5 but as mentioned before this is a personal list. I watched this film when I was younger and it has always stayed with me. The story is certainly old hat with a prank gone wrong leading to some gruesome payback.
Cropsey the janitor is ‘accidently’ set on fire by a gang of youngsters and seeks murderous revenge. Personally, I always sided with Cropsy and I’d go as far to say that there is a little Cropsy in all of us.
A normal working class guy cut down in his prime by these spoiled rich kids, wouldn’t you be a bit pissed off? The Burning doesn’t break any film conventions but again there is some nice tracking/stalking shots and Tom Savini does his thing with some terrific gore. It’s definitely an engrossing watch but possibly not for the reasons you’d think.