I used to think a Slasher was basically a horror movie where people got slashed—generally by a weapon: a chainsaw, a hook, something big and metal that was maybe even kind of (or a lot) phallic. Little did I know that the Slasher was an entire horror subgenre with its own set of rules.
Other horror subgenres with familiar rules to the slasher include:
Haunted House Horror: The characters HAVE to stay in the house; otherwise, there isn’t a story. All of the reasons WHY people stay range from things like financial issues, illness, they're injured, they're lost in the walls (we don’t talk about Bruno!), or simply (and most frequently), human stubbornness and stupidity. It’s a fact that a lot of haunted house stories don’t happen to reasonable people with reasonable thoughts.
Vampire Horror: It's pretty simple—someone is (sort of/mostly/completely) dead and drinks blood. Generally, this subgenre features other recognizable traits. The vampire is incredibly sexy and the person said vampire is in love with also tends to be sexy, but it’s not a rule. It’s also not necessary for the vampires to turn into bats or die instantly in the sun. Death and blood, though. That seems to be consistent.
Zombie Horror: The zombie subgenre seems to be the most straightforward of all horror subgenres. If there are zombies, that means humans have fucked up on a massive biological scale.
So while the above genres may have similar or intersecting rules with the Slasher, for a film to be a Slasher there needs to be a Bad Thing/Dude, a Final Person, and the countdown kills.
Here is how it goes: the Bad Thing/Dude kills a bunch of people sequentially, getting closer and closer to the final person, all while that final person continues to (knowingly or unknowingly) evade them. The most recent and best example of this is The Black Phone. The Grabber is the Bad Thing that has grabbed and slashed kids, counting down to Finn, who is the Final Boy. Often, it’s a final girl like Nancy, Sidney, Laurie, etc—but this is not actually required.
Some films are slashers in disguise
But what are the weird slashers? Who is secretly playing by the rules? Or—who has bent the Slasher algorithm and, in some cases, sung (or bit) their way into a different genre with an entirely different audience?
All we need to find these Off The Path Slashers are the basics—we need a Bad Thing/Dude, the countdown kills, and a Last and Final Person—plus, maybe even a weapon, if we get lucky.
Please enjoy this list of unconventional slasher horror films—slashers in disguise, if you will.
The Phantom of the Opera
The first installment of Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux was published in a Paris newspaper in 1909. The novel wasn’t complete and published until 1910—which proves that publishing has always been weird. Phantom has been adapted for Broadway and the screen—and, in fact, it just closed after 35 years.
While Phantom of the Opera has more in common with Peter Pan than it does Halloween, the Phantom is a Bad Dude who has a weapon. His hanging has been written into lore—in multiple songs, characters warn to “keep your hand at the level of your eyes” otherwise, the Phantom will “catch you with his magical lasso” (please note, lasso here is said with a lovely french accent so it rhymes with “you.”
While the kills for a Slasher don’t have to be revenge based, in Phantom, they are. The Phantom, after Christine informs him that he is not alone and that she, too, understands the darkness, he descends back into his own—thus becoming (much like Freddy and Michael) a thing of legends.
The Mummy (1999)
Has everyone seen the meme that says, “my sexual orientation is the cast of the 1999 The Mummy?” It’s so true. Just about everyone is so dang spicy and the story itself is great fun. And While The Mummy is an action story, the Slasher is most definitely embedded within it.
Imhotep, the revived priest who was buried alive for having an affair with whe Pharoh’s wife (Ancksunamun), comes back to life and needs to rebuild himself. His goal is to bring Ancksunamun back to life so they can finally be together—it’s very romantic, but Imhotep has to kill a bunch of people (sequentially, who didn’t heed the warning, who didn’t listen to an inscription’s warning) to get his body parts back— we’ve got our weapon (he sort of just inhales deeply), the countdown kills, as well as our final girl. Evelyn is the last person he needs to complete his ritual and she—with help from sexy friends—escapes, kills Imhotep (again) and everyone wins and gets lots of treasure.
Is it a monster movie or is it a slasher? It fits the “slasher algorithm” perfectly. A naked lady gets eaten first, people don’t heed the warning (close the beaches!) and Jaws the shark eats our characters one at a time, slowly getting closer and closer to our final two dudes.
The only way to really know if they are all dead is if you nuke the site from space. That’s exactly what Ripley intends to do. Alien has been considered one of those “on the fence” slashers for a while because the Bad Dude is, well, an alien. However, the algorithm works.
We have the Bad Dude, the countdown kills, and of course, Ripley—one of the best final girls, in my opinion. This stands out as a great example of slasher algorithm to me because the people who didn’t listen, who didn’t heed a warning, are punished so very slowly.
Sweeney Todd (2007)
What if Freddy took to the ice and sang about his time in dreamland? What if there was a whole big number with fireworks and spinning beds geysering up blood about how killing Nancy was really, really hard, and he was sad inside? That’s Sweeney Todd in a nutshell.
Sweeney is somewhere between a mad-dog killer and a revenge killer because he is slicing out of anger. Judge Turpin had Sweeney wrongfully imprisoned so he, the judge, could steal Sweeney’s wife and daughter. Sweeney can’t just hunt him down—it has to be in his shop so he can have a whole big “I am Benjamin Parker” revenge moment.
This film is a Slasher to its core—we’ve got the weapon, the bad dude, and the final boy. I secretly wish all slashers would sing, but I do sort of wish they hadn’t let Johnny sing.
There is a scene in Supernatural when we, the audience, meet Death—the fourth horseman of the apocalypse. (Episode Two, “Minutes to Midnight”, for anyone who is interested). Julian Richings is exactly how I will always picture the personified “Death”.
It’s how I imagine Death in Final Destination looks, even though Final Destination came first. This is truly a weird slasher because, in Final Destination, Death itself is the Slasher. We’ve got a group of teenagers and the systematic countdown kills—but the weapons are—whatever Death can find? A collection of our greatest fears? Busses, bricks, and logs, oh my! Still, it fits the algorithm. Welcome into the Slasher club, Death.
“Broke into the wrong goddamn wreck room, didn’t you, you bastard!”
Tremors is called a monster movie, but it’s the countdown kills that make me feel like this is a Slasher in disguise. Yeah, there is a monster, but it’s no more monster than Alien or Jaws. Plus, there are scenes in Tremors that pay homage to the Jaws kills.
For the sake of brevity, let’s focus on the countdown kills—first, it’s Edgar, someone on the outskirts of town. Next, it’s Fred and his flock of sheep. With each death, the monster gets closer and closer to its final people until its faceoff time.