There are not a lot of slasher movies that have become classics in the horror genre. Psycho is widely thought of as the grand-daddy of the sub-genre and is viewed as one of the best horror titles of all time. Later efforts like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Black Christmas are regarded as such. And Halloween is credited with kicking off the subgenre. But there are really only a handful of films released after Halloween that are regarded as classics. For today’s purposes, we will be taking a look back on five films from the slasher boom of the ’80s that should be remembered as classics.
My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine was a success in theaters in 1981 and, in 2009, saw a remake that also did fairly well at the box office. Yet it never gained the audience it truly deserved. It wasn’t an entirely innovative slasher, but it had everything the rising sub-genre needed: There are some imaginative kill sequences, the killer has an amazing look, and more importantly, the movie itself has a good balance of humor and genuine scares. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s actually better for that.
After creating the effects for Friday the 13th, Tom Savini became a superstar in the genre immediately following that film’s release. Every horror fan turned out to watch his insane, bloody FX work and what kind of elaborate death scenes he could come up with. Even if they didn’t consciously know who he was, everyone had seen Friday by this point and wanted to see more violent and imaginative special effects. The Prowler isn’t terribly innovative in its storyline. It’s nearly identical to My Bloody Valentine for the first 45 minutes. But the films were released the same year so that is likely just coincidence. And what it lacks in originality, it makes up for with strong atmosphere and the best gore effects that Savini ever created. The Prowler is a showcase for those effects, and as such it works perfectly.
For a long time, fans hated The Burning because they thought that it was much too similar to Friday the 13th. Some of the detractors have warmed up to it now, but many haven’t and the film has definitely never come close to the popularity of Friday the 13th. The comparisons between the two movies are certainly valid. The Burning came out only a year later, it was set at a summer camp, and it featured a mysterious silent killer. Tom Savini actually turned down doing the effects on Friday the 13th Part 2 to work on this feature. What really makes this film stand out is the cast of characters. In some ways, they are better, more lively players than those featured in Friday. The Burning feels like a solid 1980s teen comedy up until the horror starts and that is precisely what makes the film work so well.
Like The Burning, Sleepaway Camp relies on a summer camp setting, but this one completely spins the structure on its head. The movie is funny, sleazy, and while it is most known for its shocking, out-of-left-field ending, from beginning to end it is the last thing you’d expect. That’s what makes it such a cult classic. Well that and the insane, cartoonish characters and appallingly amoral camp staff.
Terror Train is the best slasher movie that Jamie Lee Curtis did after Halloween. It has a great setting that echoes Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. The look of the killer is what really sells this one. Everyone in this movie is in costume, so the killer’s look is constantly changing, which keeps both the characters and the viewer on their toes from beginning to end. It also has one of the most shocking reveals of any slasher ever.