By Nick Maylor
This Halloween, we here at Foote & Friends on Film will each be taking a look at a specific horror sub-genre, highlighting films that exemplify the best each genre has to offer. Alan’s article came first where he took a look at movies featuring witches. John then explored werewolves. For my piece, I have decided to focus on a time-honoured tradition within the horror genre: the slasher film.
Tracing its roots back to the 1960s, the slasher film came into its own during the final years of the 1970s and has been a long-standing tradition ever since. Here are my choices for essential slasher films.
In chronological order, they are…
10. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock laid down the foundations for the slasher genre in this 1960 horror/thriller. Prior to Psycho (1960), most horror films featured elements of gothic lore; supernatural elements like vampires, werewolves and the like. Hitchcock broke the mold in several ways with this film but the most notable was that the villain was a mortal man; albeit one with some series mommy issues and mental health problems. Norman Bates would serve as the prototype slasher villain for years to come, famously stabbing Janet Leigh’s character in the shower scene which has become embedded as an iconic moment in pop culture.
9. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper took inspiration from real-life murderer Ed Gein (also an inspiration for Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter) for his 1974 slasher film about a family of inbred killers living in a dilapidated Texas home. A group of innocent people descends upon a family mansion investigating reports of vandalism and graverobbing. The featured “monster” killer in this film (and subsequent franchise) is “Leatherface”; a man who (like Ed Gein) used the removed face from a corpse as a mask. Wielding a chain saw, Leatherface became an iconic slasher villain who became associated with his weapon of choice, like Michael Myers and his butcher knife, or Jason Voorhees and his machete.
8. HALLOWEEN (1978)
Although Hitchcock laid down the foundations for the slasher film, it didn’t come to fruition until John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). Appropriately, Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis starred as the stalked and tortured teenager who was hunted down by killer Michael Myers (referred to in the script only as “The Shape”). Halloween was made on a shoestring budget and set the tone for all slasher films that would follow, many quintessential installments in the genre coming in the decade immediately after its release.
7. Friday the 13th (1980)
While the film spawned a franchise consisting of several sequels that featured the hockey-mask sporting killer Jason Voorhees, the original Friday the 13th (1980) used a layer of mystery as part of its appeal. A group of camp counselors is stalked a picked-off individually by an unknown and unseen killer. Revealed during the film’s final act to be Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), a woman whose son Jason drowned at Camp Crystal Lake due to the negligence of the camp’s counselors. This film was largely riding off the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween and subsequent sequels would feature a grown-up Jason Voorhees as the main antagonist. Jason bore several resemblances to Halloween villain Michael Myers, including a mask, silent presence, and a signature weapon.
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Riding off the newfound enthusiasm for the genre, Wes Craven created his villain Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund) as a dream-inhabiting demon; the living spirit of a child-killer who had been burned alive in retribution for his crimes. Unlike Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger did not hide behind a mask. He spoke tauntingly to his victims, killing them in their dreams. This film also reintroduced a supernatural element that had not been previously seen in the slasher genre. Once again, the villain had a signature weapon. In this case, a custom-made glove with four metallic claws. The film spawned several sequels, all of which featured Englund reprising his role as Kruger.
5. Child’s Play (1988)
Spawning yet another horror franchise, Child’s Play (1988) featured a villain of a different kind. “Chucky” was a household doll, the kind of thing intended to be a kid’s best friend. The only problem was that this particular toy was inhabited by the reincarnated spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). Ray performed a Haitian Vodou ritual on the doll prior to his death, having vowed revenge against the detective who fatally wounded him, and his cowardly accomplice who leaves him for dead.
4. SCREAM (1996)
In the 1990s, Wes Craven decided not just to lampoon, but also reinvent the genre he helped create with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). The result was Scream (1996), a film about a group of horror-film enthusiasts who decided to use their knowledge of slasher movies to pull off a series of murders of their own. The film serves largely as a work of meta-fiction, being very self-aware and full of interesting commentary on the genre. It spawned three sequels, all of them directed by Craven before his death in 2015, the same year the film series served as the inspiration for an anthology television series of the same name.
3. Freddy vs. Jason
Like pitting an Alien against a Predator or King Kong against Godzilla, this film sees the main baddies from the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises pitted against each other. The film was in development hell for several years before it finally came to fruition. Serving as more of a teen slasher film than a true horror story, the film sees the residents of Springwood, Ohio (Freddy’s slashing grounds) in a state of amnesia about the Kruger murders, rendering Freddy powerless in the dream realm as no one remembers him. Freddy resurrects Jason Voorhees and sends him to Springwood in the belief that once Jason starts killing people, the town will think it is Freddy, thus remembering him and giving him back his power. However, Jason refuses to stop killing victims that Freddy wants for his own, resulting in a battle between the two horror icons. It’s corny. It’s cheesy, but it’s damned good fun.
2. Saw (2004)
James Wan is now a household name for horror fans having launched both the Insidious and The Conjuring franchises. His first big hit came with this new twist on a favoured genre. The Jigsaw killer’s modus operandi was to capture victims who he deemed unappreciative of life and trap them in hellish conditions wherein they would be faced with extreme challenges in order to remain alive. Live or die, make your choice. Saw spawned a slew of sequels that became tired and redundant but the premise of the original was a breath of fresh air to a genre that many believed had become stale. Still a gripping watch.
1. Halloween (2018)
After a slew of ridiculous sequels and a full-on reboot, the Halloween franchise decided to wipe the slate clean by ignoring every film aside from the first and making a direct sequel to the 1978 original. Jamie Lee Curtis returned to the franchise and David Gordon Green’s sequel got rid of the familial ties between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, aiming to strip away the backstory of The Shape and return his status to a blank vessel for evil. The sequel succeeded critically and commercially and future installments are in the works, although how the story will progress is unknown at this time.
From all of us here at Foote & Friends on Film, Happy Halloween!
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is currently working on a book about the American Cinema Renaissance (1967-present) with John H. Foote. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor