’80s slashers. Even today, these are how a lot of people define the entire genre. As a sub-genre, it’s never had as strong of an output as it did from 1980-1985, despite some resurgence in the mid-1990’s and late 2000’s. If it was a fad, though, it was the most influential and powerful one in the genre’s long history.
Because there were so many slashers being produced at the time, a lot tend to go overlooked. Everyone remembers the classics. Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as sequels to Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There were enough sequels to fill the decade up with slashers as it was.
Some die-hard fans will know a few of the ’80s slashers we’ll be looking at, of course. And some of these you’ll probably know the name of even if you’ve never seen them. Still, here are nine ‘80s slashers that you might have missed but need to see.
The directorial debut of Evil Dead producer Scott Spiegel, Intruder is a fun and campy ’80s slasher that naturally sees cameo appearances by both Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. It’s set in a supermarket, just after closing, where a bunch of employees have to band together as they are stalked by a mysterious killer. It’s one of the later ‘80’s slashers, but definitely worth a watch.
Return to Horror High was ahead of its time. It really was. It was meta long before Scream. It’s about an indie film crew trying to make a slasher in a high school where something terrible reportedly happened, but of course the members of the crew start to get picked off one by one. It’s also worth watching for an early appearance by George Clooney as the dashing lead of the movie-within-the-movie.
I’ve sung plenty of praise for Terror Train before, but it still goes relatively overlooked. Of the post-Halloween horror appearances by Jamie Lee Curtis, it is definitely the most unseen. It makes the most out of its interesting premise, which is two-fold. The first gimmick is the fact that it is set on a train, which is really an inescapable location. Even in the isolated summer camp of Friday the 13th you could try to run back toward town. The second, even better gimmick is that it’s set during a costume party and the killer is constantly changing outfits throughout the movie so that even the audience can lose track of him at points.
It’s late-‘80’s, low budget, campy as hell, but there’s a definite charm to Slaughter High. It gets a lot of flack for casting actors that are at least in their thirties as high school age kids, which makes me wonder how many of those detractors actually saw the movie. Slaughter High is about these characters returning to the high school ten years after a terrible accident. They’re all adults by this point, all successful in their own way, although this does seem weird since they don’t act any differently than your typical high school slasher cast. Even though it was just following the big slasher craze, it feels almost classical in its loving embrace of every single trope.
I still think The Prowler contains the best makeup effects work that Tom Savini ever did. It was still toward the beginning of his career, just after the success of Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th. He was known for creating realistic gore, but took it to another level in The Prowler. It’s one of the more mean spirited of the early slashers, which is understandably not for everyone, but there’s something so impressive about its stark grittiness. After doing so many fun, surprising, almost gag deaths in Friday the 13th, the deaths in Prowler were legitimately frightening and remain unnerving even now.
Stage Fright is bizarre, but that strangeness makes it unique all the same. It’s about a killer terrorizing the production of a stage play about a killer. One of the most important things for a slasher is the look, which is something that Stage Fright nailed. You have a killer in a giant, oversized owl mask, wielding a chainsaw, wearing a black unitard. None of these elements should work together, but they do. Add to that the weird surrealism of the whole film itself and Stage Fright is definitely an underrated gem worth watching.
Happy Birthday to Me
Happy Birthday to Me is probably one of the better known ones around these parts, but it doesn’t have nearly the viewership of Friday the 13th or even Sleepaway Camp, which is a shame. Because there’s some good filmmaking in Happy Birthday to Me, it feels like a much more expensive movie than it actually was, yet still has one of the most bizarre third acts of any slasher ever made.
It’s a shame Madman Marz never became an icon and went on to be a classic name akin to Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, but I guess it’s understandable since the movie wasn’t a huge hit and never seems to stay in print for very long. It’s still a great slasher on its own, with a memorable villain and a solid atmosphere in particular.
The Mutilator won me over early on by having one of the best posters of any slasher and, in particular, one of the best taglines. “By Sword. By Pick. By Axe. Bye Bye.” It delivers on that promise too, both by creating a series of imaginative and surprising death scenes as well as a sense of humor clearly promised by that tagline. This is one that seems to not be on a lot of people’s radar, but definitely worth the look if you can track it down.