Movies have been scaring the wits out of folks for a century now and one of cinema’s most effective terror delivery systems is the “slasher.”
Yes, horror movies have dozens of sub-genres and one of horror’s most sinister and enduring offshoots involves people scrambling for their lives while being stalked by a cunning, patient maniac. Inventive, gruesome deaths, a brutalized lone survivor, and the effortless promise of seemingly endless sequels, the slasher pits humans against themselves in a nasty fight to live through the night.
Sure, these killers sometimes have a supernatural advantage — whether they’re undead, invading your dreams, or…you know, a pint-size doll — but for the most part slasher psychos are just deranged murderers out to rack up record body counts. Distinguishable usually only by their weapon and mask of choice.
The early ’80s was a boom for slashers, which moved and morphed from pivotal pictures from horror masters to a glut of cheap knockoffs and copycats. By the end of 1984, the slasher “heyday” was kaput, but that didn’t mean the slasher fully died off. No, much like the killers in these movies, the slasher never truly dies. It’s still one of the most dependable and diabolical branches of horror and below you’ll find 15 of the very best slashers ever made, some featuring the biggest horror villains of all time – like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and more!
The 15 Best Slasher Movies
Where to Watch: Shudder, AMC+, Fubo
Though there are some important slasher heavy-hitters that arrived before John Carpenter’s Halloween (and you’ll see them on this list, as well), nothing changed the game like Michael Myers’ first outing as “The Shape.”
Halloween — with its indie movie low budget, masterful score (also by Carpenter), and direct no-frills story — launched a thousand slow-moving madmen, turning the six years that followed it into SlasherMania. It even fell victim to its own influence as eventual sequels were mostly cheap cash-grabs, never matching the magic that Carpenter was able to achieve with the original.
Halloween a simple, scary campfire tale about a lunatic who escapes an asylum and returns to his hometown, stalking a teen girl and a young boy simply because they made the mistake of stopping by his childhood porch (sequels would give “meaning” to his target, and even to Michael’s “evil”). Star Jamie Lee Curtis became an instant Scream Queen and earned an eternal place on the Final Girl Mount Rushmore. You can check out our explainer of the full Halloween timeline for more info about the other movies.
More Like This (worth seeing): Halloween II (1981), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween H20 (1998), Halloween (2018)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Before Halloween there were a handful of standout slashers. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most aggressively terrifying movies ever made.
Sure, it struggled when it came to sequels (though the 2003 reboot was solid) as the premise itself, of a nasty cannibalistic family, was a tricky one to franchise (it also wouldn’t get a single follow-up for 12 years) but like most first movies in a long-running horror franchise, it’s the best. And it’s complete. There’s no actual need for more.
Tobe Hooper’s mean, dirty road trip-gone-violently wrong touched on the changes happening to America at the time and the diminished role of farmers all while serving up an unsuspected group of young adults to a crazed, murderous family of outcasts. Leatherface, in particular, remains as a ghastly fixture of horror to this day, as a hulking, skin-wearing brute capable of killing folks with his bare hands…much less the chainsaw he wields with a butcher’s precision.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Where to Watch: Paramount+ (via Apple TV)
The idea for Friday the 13th may have come about in a copycat manner, as the creators looked to replicate the success of Halloween by pairing a killer with a “notable day/holiday” but the film is very different from Halloween, playing out more in a “whodunnit?” fashion. Plus, it’s massively influential in its own right.
Yes, some could even argue that Friday the 13th’s success, while taking cues from Halloween, is the true start of the ’80s maniac madness. And it turned the quaint, fun idea of summer camp into a go-to location for horror movies forever. Counselors would never know peace again, constantly placed in mortal peril thanks to the massacre at Camp Crystal Lake at the hands of a murderer out for righteous, misplaced revenge. It’s a must-watch horror classic that helped set the template for slasher mysteries and twist killer reveals for years to come.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Where to Watch: Max
By the mid-’80s, the slasher well was running a bit dry, carving the path for more bigger imaginations, wilder ideas, and new spins “unstoppable” killers. This is where the Nightmare on Elm Street movies began.
Wes Craven, who had already made a name for himself with ’70s exploitation horror flicks The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, created an instant-classic maniac in the form of already dead child murderer Freddy Krueger, who now, from beyond the grave, could attack and kill his victims in their dreams (which also had control over). A Nightmare on Elm Street is a legendary film, delivering terror in ways audiences had never seen before. Freddy himself became a pop-culture sensation (and eventually even a wise-cracking anti-hero in his own films) while Heather Langencamp’s Nancy helped level up the Final Girl as she purposefully put herself on a collision course with Freddy in her own mind, and kicking his ass.
More Like This (worth seeing): A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Where to Watch: Rentable on most platforms
Setting Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” in Chicago’s Cabrini–Green housing project was a master stroke of taking source material and breathing more meaningful life into it. Candyman is a tragedy, a love story, a slice of social commentary, and a movie where a lot of folks meet their end via a gross crusty hook all rolled into one. Tony Todd’s seductive, almost Dracula-like killer, who haunts Cabrini–Green as a vengeful boogeyman, is an iconic monster born of America’s violent racist past, now serving as a reminder that bigotry is still a solid fixture in our society. Candyman casts a huge, illustrious shadow in the somewhat horror-starved ’90s, mixing supernatural chills with urban legend thrills.
More Like This (worth watching): Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019), Candyman (2021),
Child’s Play (1988)
Where to Watch: Max
Once again, by the back half of the ’80s, regular human mass murderers were out and killers with crazy, cool powers were in. Freddy Krueger was ambushing teens in their dreams, Jason Voorhees was now a full-fledged zombie brought back from the dead, Michael Myers was part of some demonic cult, and…Lakeshore Strangler Charles Lee Ray found his soul trapped inside a “I’m your friend to the end” Good Guy doll, allowing him to continue terrify people as toy. Child’s Play is miraculous for several reasons. Firstly, it works. Really well. It’s an awesome movie. Secondly, Child’s Play’s decades of sequels, and recent ongoing TV series, are all part of the same timeline and continuity. And all written (and sometimes directed) by creator Don Mancini. That’s unheard of in horror. Lastly, the Chucky brand is groundbreaking, over the last 20 years, for LGBTQ+ representation and allyship. And all of this traces back to a tremendously fun and fiendish film about a poor young boy being blamed for the murderous actions of his doll. You can check out the full Child’s Play timeline, which actually includes a TV series as well.
More Like This (worth watching): Child’s Play 2 (1990), Bride of Chucky (1998), Chucky: The Series (2021- )
Where to Watch: Paramount+
Wes Craven’s Scream brought the quasi-dormant slasher genre back in a big way thanks to his masterful hand at suspenseful directing, a young charismatic cast, and a crackerjack meta-humor script from Kevin Williamson. It was a horror movie filled with characters raised on horror movies, and a mystery killer psychotically influenced by them. The Scream franchise is still going strong today thanks to the saga’s ongoing “whodunnit?” premise, in which anyone could be the stab-happy Ghostface. The story’s legacy characters, including Neve Campbell’s stalwart surviving Final Girl Sidney Prescott, is another big draw, though the recent hit Scream movies have demonstrated that the bones of the story are strong enough to pass the torch to a new crew of young stars. Scream, despite being rooted in a love for ’80s slashers, is timeless in a way. It speaks to the horror fan in all of us.
More Like This (worth watching): I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Urban Legend (1998), and any Scream movie
Where to Watch: Shudder, AMC+, Plex, Kanopy
It’s important to note that slashers were not purely an American pop-culture sensation, and that Italian horror master Dario Argento had been serving up spectacular slaughter all through the ’70s, including many notable slashers. The best of his catalog, from a slasher standpoint, is Tenebrae, about an American author (Anthony Franciosa) on an international book tour who discovers that a serial killer has been inspired by his murder-mystery novel. Seen as Argento’s masterwork of his favorite thriller genre, giallo (psychological/exploitation slasher), Tenebrae explores the nature of voyeurism, dark doubles, trauma, and death.
More Like This (worth watching): Blood and Black Lace (1964), The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Deep Red (1075), Opera (1987)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Where to Watch: Paramount+
Okay, so why are there TWO Friday the 13th films on the list? Well, it’s because of the huge (killer) shift between the first and second movie, with the latter introducing the character of Jason Voorhees. By the fourth Friday the 13th movie, Jason had taken over the series fully as the masked killer in the woods (permanently donning a hockey mask thanks to the third movie). Of the many Jason-filled sequels, Part 4, The Final Chapter, is the crowning achievement as it really was, at the time, designed to be Jason’s final romp. Pure and simple, this film is epitome of everything the slasher genre had been built toward for years, complete with a killer who’d been up until now, unbeatable. While on a brand new murder spree, picking off a gaggle of young, horny cabin renters, Jason would ultimately meet his nemesis in young Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman), a boy whose quick thinking and savage machete skills would spell the (temporary) end for Mr. Voorhees.
More Like This (worth watching): Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
The Burning (1981)
Where to Watch: Prime Video, Fubo
A cut above most slasher clones, The Burning is summer camp carnage at the hands of a previous caretaker horribly disfigured thanks to a prank gone wrong. Setting aside Friday the 13th similarities, The Burning makes its own distinct mark with suspense, gore, and nastiness. Directed by a Brit whose bread and butter were usually rock documentaries, and scored by prog rock icon Rick Wakeman, The Burning is largely considered one of the best of the era, for an era overflowing with lackluster and derivative horror. It has red in its ledger but its the perfect combination of camp (location), camp (tone), and actual scares.
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Where to Watch: Fubo, The Roku Channel (w/ ads), Vudu (w/ ads), Pluto TV (w/ ads)
Another surprising standout amongst the ’80s slasher rabble is Slumber Party Massacre, one of the rare teen in terrifying turmoil movies directed by a woman, Amy Holden Jones (who would write Indecent Proposal and create Fox’s The Resident…whaaaat?). Here, a madman on the loose, with a giant power drill, targets a suburban sleepover, but this film, even so early in ’80s slasher boom, toys with horror conventions. Written as a parody, but filmed like a drama, Slumber Party Massacre flipped gender cliches on their head, giving us a group of proactive female characters who supported one another, and shirking the traditional gory deaths that usually befell women in these movies. Sometimes seen as a precursor to Scream, because of its “straightforward meets satire” sensibilities, this killer flick is definitely one to catch.
Happy Death Day (2017)
Where to Watch: Rentable on Prime and most platforms
You might be asking: are there any more recent slasher offerings worth checking out? Absolutely. Happy Death Day (and it’s even more bonkers sequel) provides a much-needed jolt to the aging genre, trapping its shallow narcissistic heroine, Tree (Jessica Rothe), in a time loop where she’s killed over and over again on her birthday by the same masked killer. It’s a sci-fi slasher-mystery that has Tree growing as a person while dying as a victim, all while trying to solve her own murder and unmask the culprit before she eventually dies too many times to keep looping. Rothe herself shines here in this miraculous combo of rom-com, college caper, and horror mystery. It also works as one of the best time-loop movies.
Black Christmas (1974)
Where to Watch: Peacock, Pluto TV (w/ ads), Freevee (w/ ads), Roku Channel (w/ ads)
One classic slasher that never seems to get enough love is Black Christmas, an absolutely essential horror watch. Directed by Bob Clark — who would, yes, go on to direct 1983’s A Christmas Story — Black Christmas is heralded by many as the first true North American slasher, in the genre’s fullest form (mysterious killer looming, picking off teens/young adults via various methods). Based on an urban legend/campfire story commonly known as “The Babysitter and The Man Upstairs” (which would influence many horror movies, in general), the movie is set in a sorority house during the holidays, as a crazed killer, with no explained backstory, holes up in the house, hidden away, and murders his way through college students. Delivering genuine shock and suspense, Black Christmas is perpetually listed as one of the tip top slashers of all time.
Where to Watch: Rentable on Prime and most platforms
If we’re truly looking for the source code for all slashers, including the movie that influenced Halloween the most (just look at Halloween’s opening sequence) it’s Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which had unsuspecting ’60s moviegoers full on fainting in theaters. Which an apex achievement for a horror movie (other winners include The Exorcist, Terrifier 2, etc). Purposefully filmed in black and white, Psycho was “Master of Suspense” Hitchcock’s honest, earnest experiment in terror, unleashing a landmark murder scene so intense that it scarred a generation. The story of a woman on the run (Janet Leigh) seeking refuge in a motel run by the biggest “mama’s boy” of all time (Anthony Perkins) pushed the horror genre forward by light years, inspiring an entire wave of new horror masters. It’s also one of the best thriller movies of all time.
Where to Watch: Peacock, Fubo, The Roku Channel (w/ ads), Vudu (w/ ads), tubi (w/ ads)
Okay look, Terrifier is unhinged, absurdly gory ugliness. Perhaps made even more unsettling by its ultra-small budget (though the makeup effects do not skimp). We’re providing a warning here since it’s for strong stomachs only but this bare bones trail of blood and guts, about an insane person in clown gear gleefully doing some of the most unthinkably sadistic things to people, is as raw and nerve-wracking as a slasher film can get. This is the one some viewers may tap out of but sometimes it’s good to see just how crazy and, in a way, devolved a slasher movie can get.
You can also watch the sequel, Terrifier 2, which is just as unhinged as the orginal.
Matt Fowler is a freelance entertainment writer/critic, covering TV news, reviews, interviews and features on IGN for 13+ years.