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10 Best and Most Foundational Slasher Movies You Need to See

The most iconic horror movie characters are the masked ones that we don't know at all. 

michael myers, jason voorhees, and freddy krueger
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  • Photo Credit: Georgetown Productions Inc / Compass International Pictures / New Line Cinema

While we can split hairs about exactly when they began, it’s hard to argue that the modern slasher movie had its first heyday in the ‘80s.

Back then, the franchises that were about to establish the formula were just getting started, and the slasher boom kicked off with films like John Carpenter’s Halloween, Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, and others.  

Inspired by the Italian giallo films and flicks such as Hitchcock’s Psycho or Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, the slasher film often put viewers in the killer’s point of view and featured “faceless” antagonists who often wore masks. Sometimes these were remorseless killers righting past wrongs, while other times they were members of the group that was being picked off, disguising their identity from their would-be victims. 

Also called “body count” films or “dead teenager” films, slashers became as inextricably linked to their formulas as they were to their iconic villains. This reliance on formula would eventually give rise to the second slasher boom in the late ‘90s, when Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson both lampooned and reinvented the genre with Scream

Today, many slasher films have followed in Scream’s footsteps, presenting themselves as deconstructions of the form, while others are late-era installments in some of the earliest slasher franchises, or remakes of classics of the genre.

Some of the most innovative new slashers, however, are taking place on the printed page, rather than the big screen, where authors such as Adam Cesare and Stephen Graham Jones are reinventing the slasher once again, for a new generation. 

Whether you’re new to the slasher genre or an old fan, however, we’ve assembled a list of some of the best and most foundational slasher movies out there (along with maybe a few surprises).

If you’ve seen them all, it might be high time for a revisit. And if you haven’t, well… it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Black Christmas (1974)

Coming out four years before Halloween, Bob Clark’s sorority-set holiday chiller has a decent claim to the title of “first slasher.”

A contemporary of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Clark’s tale of a nameless assailant who infiltrates a sorority house over the Christmas break, taunting the residents with obscene phone calls before picking them off one by one, bears a closer resemblance to the formula of the slashers that would come after than Tobe Hooper’s sun-drenched Southern horror masterpiece.

It’s also an absolutely effective film. As the poster promises, “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl… it’s on too tight!” 

Halloween (1978) 

If any one thing singlehandedly gave birth to the slasher subgenre, it was the massive box office success of John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Widely considered one of the greatest horror films ever made, Halloween combines the tone of one of Hammer’s gothic horrors with the suburban, “babysitter in peril” setting of a movie like Black Christmas, not to mention plenty of seasonal atmosphere and, as one might expect from Carpenter, a killer score.

Perhaps Halloween’s most significant contribution to the form, however, is the masked, silent stalker that is Michael Myers. 

Friday the 13th (1980) 

If Halloween was the genesis of the slasher boom, then Friday the 13th offered up its most representative icon, (almost) fully formed. 

Taking place at a summer camp, this 1980 flick was calculated to cash in on the success of Halloween—hence the semi-holiday title, which otherwise has next to nothing to do with the proceedings. 

All that was missing was the classic slasher himself, Jason Voorhees. While his backstory is presented in this first film, Jason doesn’t show up in all his unstoppable glory until the second and doesn’t acquire his signature hockey mask until the third. 

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) 

By the time A Nightmare on Elm Street premiered in 1984, introducing the third of the unholy trinity of slasher icons, Freddy Krueger, both Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees had already risen from apparent death more than once.

Despite that, though, they were not presented as wholly supernatural creatures, but potentially flesh-and-blood people—albeit, very unusual ones. 

Not so with Krueger, the first of the overtly supernatural slashers, a disfigured child killer who returned from beyond the grave to stalk the children of his original slayers through their dreams. The result was a slasher film unlike any that had come before it, one that upended the genre and kicked off a massively successful franchise. 

April Fool’s Day (1986) 

If there is one truly controversial inclusion on this list, it might be Fred Walton’s April Fool’s Day. Released in 1986, the film is, in many ways, a trademark non-franchise slasher.

A bunch of young people gather at a friend’s island mansion for a weekend of partying, only to be picked off one by one by an unseen assailant.

 The twist comes in the film’s unlikely and highly divisive ending. If you somehow haven’t seen April Fool’s Day and don’t already know how it ends, we won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that this odd duck slasher has a body count unlike any other film in the genre. 

Child’s Play (1988) 

The success of the slasher boom meant that elements of slasher films began to bleed (no pun intended) into other types of horror, and supernatural franchises such as Hellraiser and Candyman were pressed into slasher-shaped molds, to varying degrees of success

 It also opened doors for other films, including Child’s Play, co-written by Don Mancini and directed by Tom Holland. 

Instead of a human slasher, the villain of Child’s Play is Chucky, voiced by Brad Dourif, a diminutive doll with the soul of a serial killer.

Like Freddy Krueger before him, Chucky is a new kind of slasher—talkative, rather than silent—and the foul-mouthed doll became one of the most enduring icons of the genre, starring in sequels, remakes, and a television series. 

Scream (1996) 

By the mid-90s, the slasher boom had fizzled. The last Friday the 13th had come out in 1993, the last Nightmare on Elm Street in ’94, and while Halloween had enjoyed a sixth installment just the year before, the last one before that had been 1988.

More to the point, all of these franchises were flagging, showing decreased box office returns. 

Enter Kevin Williamson, whose spec script for the movie that became Scream set off a bidding war.

Eventually, his script was teamed with director Wes Craven, who had already redefined the genre once before, to make a satirical and metatextual take on the slasher formula that became a smash hit and reinvigorated the genre for a second go-round—just like the slashers themselves, who so often rise from the dead. 

House of Wax (2005) 

By the start of the 21st century, the success of Scream had kicked off a raft of new slashers that eventually culminated in a spate of reboots of existing franchises, including a 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Among these was House of Wax, ostensibly a remake of the 1953 Vincent Price film of the same name, although really having little in common with that picture except its wax museum centerpiece. 

Instead, Jaume Collet-Serra’s film brings in slasher tropes and the type of grimy backwoods horror popularized by Rob Zombie, the Texas Chainsaw remake, and 2003’s Wrong Turn.

The result is a surprisingly atmospheric (and brutal) slasher that often gets unjustly maligned, partly because one of its stars is Paris Hilton. 

Behind the Mask (2006) 

If Scream gave rise to the deconstructionist slasher film, Behind the Mask takes the idea a step further. In this mockumentary, a film crew is following Leslie Vernon, an aspiring slasher who is planning his first killing spree.

As the crew follows Leslie through his preparations, which include rigging the site of the planned massacre, as well as a strict training regime which allows him to do things like keep up with running people while apparently walking, they begin to realize that he truly intends to go through with his grisly plan, and have to decide whether they will try to stop him.

But has he been expecting them to turn on him all along…? 

The Final Girls (2015) 

Is it possible to make a PG-13 slasher movie? That’s the question asked and answered by Todd Strauss-Schulson’s surprisingly poignant The Final Girls

While many of the modern deconstructionist slashers are taking place in books rather than on screen, that isn’t always the case, and this unlikely story features a cast of characters pulled “inside the film” at a screening of an old slasher movie, which gives one of them the chance to reunite with her dead mother, who played one of the characters in the film. 

Of course, inside the film, the character isn’t really her mother, or an actress at all, and really is just the character that she’s playing.