Once again, we come to the legendary makeup FX of Tom Savini. Between the slashers and the zombies, it is easy to see why Tom is one of modern horror’s icons. The Burning isn’t quite as well known as Friday the 13th or Dawn of the Dead, but it deserves to be.
Filmed in Western New York, which has always been a faintly creepy locale, The Burning makes a good case that if the people involved are creative and passionate, it can come through in the telling of what seems like a fairly standard story these days.
A prank goes horribly wrong, and the recipient returns a few years later for revenge. Pretty simple. Except the style and execution of The Burning is anything but.
Watch if: You want to see one of the best revenge slashers of all time. Avoid if: You live in Western New York.
12. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
By 1982, movies were already deconstructing and subverting slasher genre expectations. The Slumber Party Massacre was written as a parody, and yet filmed as a straightforward slasher movie. The end result is one of the most interesting entries on this list.
Slumber Party Massacre has all the tropes one might demand from this genre. It just adds a good deal more humor than the norm, especially at the time of its release.
The Slumber Party Massacre also has the distinction of being one of the few slasher movies written and directed by women (Rita Mae Brown and Amy Holden Jones respectively).
Watch if: You like stuff that walks a fine line between comedy and horror. Avoid if: You don’t care for stuff that knows it’s ridiculous.
13. Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984)
This is quite possibly the best of the Friday the 13th series. It is definitely the best of the sequels.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter offers a very satisfying culmination of the series up to that point. Beyond featuring an excellent Jason Voorhees in Ted White, the movie establishes a genuinely tense situation, bringing together a family, a bunch of idiot kids, and our buddy Jason to Camp Crystal Lake. The movie also features some of the least annoying teenagers in the entire franchise, with some characters even bordering on likeable.
The best performance in The Final Chapter probably belongs to Corey Feldman, who shifted his likable on-screen persona into something with darker implications than almost anything in this series. Later sequels would botch that potential, but don’t let that ruin how much fun The Final Chapter really is.
It’s not particularly scary, but it’s enjoyable and imaginative on a level this franchise rarely aspired to.
Watch if: You want to see the best of the Friday the 13th sequels, in addition to a slasher that stands surprisingly well on its own. Avoid if: You don’t have enough time to inevitably watch the rest of this series, which gets very hit or miss after this point.
14. A Nightmare on Elm St. (1984)
Through writer/director Wes Craven and star Robert Englund, Freddy Krueger took the fear of knowing someone is after you and applied it to devastating reality of knowing you must sleep sometime. A Nightmare on Elm St. endures because it is still one of the most inventive slashers ever. This creativity would later shift to the execution of Freddy’s kills with the sequels, which may or may not please you.
The first one? It’s decidedly low-budget, weird, and quite vicious. In his best movies, Craven could make you understand exactly what he was talking about. He could make you emphasize with things that are scary to almost all of us, in some form or fashion.
Watch if: You want to see the first, arguably best appearance of one of the greatest movie villains of all time. Avoid if: You have enough problems being scared of things that may live under your bed.
15. A Nightmare on Elm St 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Wes Craven returned to cowrite what eventually became one of the most celebrated horror sequels in recent memory. A Nightmare on Elm St 3 for some represents the best of all the various concepts and approaches to this universe, and to Robert Englund as the iconic Freddy Krueger more specifically.
It has creative visual effects on a shoe-string budget, a stellar combination of kids and adults to fight or inadvertently assist Freddy, and the touches of dark humor that would dominate later entries.
Perhaps a bit too much for some tastes.
Dream Warriors is arguably peak 80s horror combined with the peak of the Elm St series itself. It returns old characters to the series, presents new ones we actually like, and starts to move Freddy out of the neighborhood, and into a larger world.
Watch if: You want to see Freddy Krueger at arguably his very best. Avoid if: You live in constant fear of being suddenly exposed to Zsa Zsa Gabor.
16. Candyman (1992)
Candyman is another slasher movie that proved you could do more than just kill as many people as humanly possible. Nothing wrong with that, and Candyman (based on a short story by Clive Barker) is certainly a brutal example of its type, with a towering performance from Tony Todd as the Candyman in question.
Yet the film, directed by Bernard Rose from his own screenplay, also leaves room for an unshakable element of social commentary and historical context. Taken as a whole, Candyman shakes your senses in a way few slashers can or ever will.
Watch if: You want to be creeped out for a long time afterwards. Avoid if: You live alone.
17. Scream (1996)
Despite a tone that some have described as condescending, Scream is still one of the best efforts anyone has ever made to celebrate and gently tease the genre equally.
It makes sense Wes Craven directed Kevin Williamson’s screenplay (and Williamson himself became quite prolific within slashers for much of the 90’s) about a masked killer pursuing teenagers. The movie distinguished itself and won audiences over in 1996 for dropping the standard slasher concept into a culture wholly cynical of horror movies in general, and slasher films in particular.
It doesn’t hurt either that Scream has a genuinely charming sense of humor, combined with the perfect cast to assemble for something like this.
Craven came back for the rest of the series, which offered a few more surprises, but nothing quite as satisfying as the first installment.
Watch if: You like it when movies celebrate and send up conventions Avoid if: Self-referential horror movies make you want to self-referential yourself right off a cliff.
18. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Behind the Mask goes for a similar self-referential style to what you get from Scream and its sequels. However, whereas Scream plays things relatively safe, Behind the Mask aims to go over the top before you’re even a fourth of the way through. That doesn’t appeal to everyone, but The Rise of Leslie Vernon is proof positive that good slasher movies continued well beyond the heyday of the 1980s.
It doesn’t hurt that the movie also dips into the found footage frenzy that was going on at the time, with further still to offer on the growing popularity of horror films that have been categorized as torture porn.
The influence of Freddy, Jason, Michael, and the others on young Leslie Vernon is clear. At the same time, Leslie also aspires to take things in an entirely new direction. What helps make Behind the Mask a modern slasher classic is the fact that for several reasons, the film itself matches the ambitions of the madman.
You also get some immensely enjoyable supporting performances and cameos from Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and the late, great Zelda Rubinstein.
Watch if: You want to see the concepts of Scream explored in a more surprising, less commercial kind of way. Avoid if: It sounds like someone stole your actual weekend plans.
19. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
“Sweet” is not a word that generally follows a slasher film. Yet that is one of the better descriptors for Eli Craig’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.
This isn’t the first movie to play around with slasher or horror movie expectations. It is one of the funniest, anchored by hilarious and genuinely moving performances by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as two likable rednecks who get mixed up with some college kids and mass murder.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a standout horror comedy in an increasingly crowded field of such movies. It stands out by not only taking slasher movies seriously, but by knowing where to shift the comedic gears from one moment to the next. Sometimes, it’s character-driven. Other moments, it becomes a gentle roast of horror movie tropes. At still other times, it is physical comedy heaven.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil will surprise you with just how deep your enjoyment goes.
Watch if: You love horror comedies with good characters and impressive twists. Avoid if: You don’t like things which remind you of how ridiculous this genre can sometimes be.
20. The Final Girls (2015)
We end this list with another horror in the comedy vein. Does that mean slasher movies can now only offer self-effacing humor and parodies of tropes? Of course not. It does suggest that moving forward, slashers will have to work harder to embrace a certain sense of humor, or to at least know when the proceedings are in danger of descending into mediocrity.
Obviously, movies like The Final Girls work so well because they celebrate and tease with a consistent back-and-forth between the two. Only slasher fans could have made something like this, in which a recent orphan (Taissa Farmiga) attends the screening of a horror movie her recently-deceased mother had made some years earlier. That gets the slasher plot started.
The Final Girls has its own unique fun with the expectations and downfalls of the genre. At the same time, it also appreciates its best qualities: Cinematic brutality in gory, artful glory, combined with a pace that occasionally gives you the impression that things are about to spiral out of control.
Watch if: You want to see a wholly unique tribute to slasher movies. Avoid if: You don’t really have a sense of humor about these movies.