While ghouls and ghosts may be spooky, one of the realest horrors in life is the threat of a serial killer.
As a horror fanatic, the Halloween season has always been one of my favorite times of the year. It gives me an excuse to curl up on the couch with my cat and some popcorn and watch a scary movie, and for me, that often means some good slasher films.
While classic horror movies like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby may be chilling, slasher films have always seemed to hit on a more realistic level of fear and paranoia for me, which may be why I’ve been drawn to them more than other genres of horror. Some of the classics, however, are better than others.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Arguably the first great slasher film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows Sally and her brother, along with their friends, to investigate the possible vandalization of their grandfather’s grave. On the way there, however, they make a stop at their old farmhouse and come across the iconic Leatherface and his deranged, murderous family living nearby.
The movie is rough, in a few ways. The film quality is poor and the audio isn’t quite as clear as most of us modern viewers would like (the constant screaming is almost too much to handle), but that’s to be expected for a movie produced in the early 1970s, and I may just be too spoiled from modern cinema.
Each time I watch it, I find myself trailing off a little bit and losing interest. The pace is off — it seems to go from zero to 100 then back to zero real quick — and the avoid-being-killed part seems to go on for a lot longer than it needs to.
While Leatherface is a uniquely strange horror villain, Sally, the protagonist, falls flat for me; she’s uninteresting and I feel as though I’m rooting for her by default.
Overall, though, it’s easy to see how it catalyzed the road to the “golden age” of slasher films. It’s suspenseful and violent and was one of the first films to take the concept of massacre to such great heights.
John Carpenter’s Halloween is what sparked the general premise of the slasher film as we know it.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween is the tale of silent serial killer Michael Myers. After being convicted of murdering his sister when he was just six years old, Myers is sent away, and during a transfer for a court date years later, he escapes and goes back to his hometown to kill some more.
Halloween has always felt like ‘the’ horror film to me. It’s got the stalking killer, the family ties, and the ever-impending suspense.
One of the biggest things that I always find myself thinking about — and I’m sure others do too — is the hint of serenity within Michael Myers himself. When he chases his victims, he doesn’t violently chase or run after them; rather, he calmly follows them. For me, that’s the most chilling part of the film.
Halloween is as classic as a horror movie can get.
Friday the 13th (1980)
This movie has always been one of my biggest excuses for not going camping.
In perhaps one of the most iconic horror movies of the era, counselors at Camp Crystal Lake are brutally murdered by an unidentified killer. Years ago at the same camp, a boy died, and the year after that, two counselors were killed.
For me, Friday the 13th has always been something that’s a go-to. Even though I know how it ends (and no, I won’t spoil it even though it’s 39 years old), the drama paired with the plot twist that goes hand-in-hand with the horror is something that has been mimicked throughout the years, but has never quite been the same.
Like Halloween, Friday the 13th is nostalgic to the golden age of horror. It’s one of those timeless films everyone knows whether they’ve seen it or not, and something I think will have a legacy for a long time.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Although not quite a slasher as many of us may know it, Wes Craven’s creation Freddy Krueger has become quite the icon.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a film that focuses on the relationship between dreams and reality. Krueger preys on teenagers while they sleep, and when he kills them in their dreams, they then die in reality.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is kind of weird, but I think it’s weird in some really great ways. The cinematography is beautiful, the revelation involving the parents and what happened to Krueger is creative, and the relationship between the dream world and reality is an innovative take on the functions of life.
Wes Craven reinvented the concept of horror with this movie, and it’s something I’ll always appreciate him for.
In one of my all-time favorite films, Craven is back at it again, this time nailing the satire of the classic slasher film. He mimics the common trope of the teenage girl, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) being stalked by a killer.
One of my personal favorite touches are all of the direct references to other films like Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs and even Craven’s own A Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as the general self-awareness.
From the iconic first five minutes starring Drew Barrymore and the famous “What’s your favorite scary movie?” line followed by some trivia to the party scene where the characters are watching Halloween and explicitly list the rules to surviving a horror movie — Never have sex, never drink or do drugs, and never say “I’ll be right back” — while all of those things are happening.
Overall, I think this movie is a masterpiece. From the majesty that is Skeet Ulrich’s performance as Billy Loomis to the ending plot twist to the pop culture references, Craven nailed it with Scream.