For the most part, slashers are fun popcorn horror movies. We’re not meant to think too deeply about them. We’re not really meant to mourn for the passing of these characters, we’re just along for the ride. I think that’s really part of the appeal of slashers in general. They approach death in a fun and inviting kind of way, a fairly harmless glimpse into mortality.
But then there are always a few slashers that really—no pun intended—go for the throat. They’re the ones that linger on the violence, the ones with sleazier tones and characters. Overall, they just give off a meaner, more unforgiving vibe.
Some slashers, like Sleepaway Camp, can be incredibly sleazy and still not have that kind of tone. The really mean-spirited ones just have that extra edge to them. It doesn’t mean they’re not great, or even not fun to watch to some degree, but that extra layer of sleaze adds an entirely different flavor.
Maybe it’s the way it was shot, but there’s something uncomfortably grainy about Intruder. It’s like you’re watching a grocery store massacre by just viewing the security camera footage. I’m not saying it’s not artfully made, there’s certainly a craft to it, but it’s definitely raw and that makes for an experience that’s definitely funny at times, but uncomfortable at other times.
For the first third, Toolbox Murders is just kill after kill after kill. It’s so in-your-face, so blunt about everything that it gets really uncomfortable to watch. The death scenes are gory and, more than that, they’re slow. Even when it shifts gears and changes tone, it’s an unrelenting and often cruel movie.
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
A New Beginning is definitely the sleaziest of the Friday the 13th series and that’s kind of the key to its success. It did things a little differently, in a whole lot of different ways. This had the most nudity in the franchise and had the highest body count by far for that point in time. It’s full of grimy side characters we would never have seen in the previous entries. But that’s part of what makes it unique.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
There’s something really interesting about Silent Night, Deadly Night in that it takes a different approach to the slasher genre by telling the story from the killer’s perspective. It doesn’t do it in a Henry or Martin kind of way. This is still a very specifically formulaic slasher, it hits all of the beats, but the killer is our main character this time around. Interestingly enough, this basic structure would be very similarly adopted by Rob Zombie’s Halloween.
Maniac is definitely viewed as a slasher by and large. The main character is the killer, but it’s a part of the larger slasher cycle of the early 1980s. It’s just way too sleazy and exploitative to really be labeled a thriller. Even if it’s not the goriest or the most shocking, it’s still among the most uncomfortable horror films ever made simply because of the tone and the lead performance by Joe Spinell.
The New York Ripper
I would say New York Ripper counts as both a slasher and a giallo. It’s really the midway point between the two. It goes further than most films I’ve ever seen from either sub-genre. There are scenes in it that I just can’t watch. They’re just too much. Mostly the eyeball scene. I’d seen things happen to eyeballs from Fulci before, but this takes the cake. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.
Prowler tops this list not because it’s the meanest or the grittiest, but because I think it best embodies what the whole list represents. It is a classic, straightforward slasher. It adheres to every major element of the slasher formula. It came out during the huge influx of slashers in ’81. And it just goes further than any of the others that were released alongside it. The film has a more unrelenting tone than My Bloody Valentine or Prom Night. It lingers on the gore, on the violence as a whole, and some of the death scenes are not just gross—they’re genuinely scary.