The Best Slasher Movies

From obscure flicks like "The Prowler" to famous ones starring Jason Voorhees, these are the best slasher movies ever.

nightmare on elm street
New Line Cinema


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Before people scream “Bullshit!” and cry foul, let’s first clear the air—no, Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre aren’t slasher movies. And, sorry, Norman Bates and Leatherface aren’t slasher movie killers.

Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre belong to a different subset of horror movies, ones in which some unlucky characters go to the wrong places at the wrong times and find themselves trapped inside a kind of hornet’s nest where the hornets have two legs and carve innocent folks up. Imagine if Jason Voorhees never left a ramshackle cabin in the woods, and all 12 (yes, 12!) Friday the 13th movies featured dumb kids tragically stumbling across his secluded domain. If that were the case, Voorhees wouldn’t be the most widely recognized slasher movie villain of all time—he’d be Norman Bates in a hockey mask.

The longstanding tradition of cinematic slasher films—i.e., the Jason’s, Freddy’s, and Myers’ of the horror genre—aren’t confined to one central location. They’re always mobile, armed with a bladed weapon of some kind, and stalking nubile youngsters in the woods, or throughout suburban streets, or, in Freddy Krueger’s case, in their dreams. This week sees the debuts of two textbook examples: See No Evil 2, in which the WWE’s Kane returns as Jacob Goodnight and decimates a bunch of pretty faces inside a morgue, and The Town That Dreaded Sundown, a Ryan Murphy-backed quasi-sequel of the 1976 cult classic fictionalization of the real-life 1946 Texarkana “Moonlight Murders.”

In both films, there’s a psycho killer on the loose, picking off an assortment of under-written, cardboard-like characters in elaborate ways. Some of those characters are, naturally, caught either having sex or in the middle of foreplay; one is killed by a trombone, and another is forcefully fed embalming fluid to the point where his veins turn blue. Their DNA traces back to the Jasons of old. Although neither See No Evil 2 nor The Town That Dreaded Sundown will ignite a mainstream slasher revival, they’re the closest modern filmmakers have come to emulating the great hack-and-slash flicks of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

And since it’s October (and almost Halloween), what better time than now to honor their superior predecessors? These are The 25 Best Slasher Movies. It’s about to get extremely f’n bloody.

29. Madman (1982)

28. The Prowler (1981)

27. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

26. Terror Train (1980)

25. The House on Sorority Row (1983)

24. My Bloody Valentine (1981)

23. Stage Fright (1987)

22. Halloween II (1981)

21. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

20. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

19. April Fool's Day (1986)

18. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

17. Maniac (1980)

Director: William Lustig

Stars: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro

The best exploitation films make you feel like a dirtbag simply by association. Watching them, whether you’re in a movie theater full of like-minded fans or alone on your comfiest couch, you’re repulsed but also weirdly fascinated: how someone could make something so depraved? Why am I voluntarily watching this?

Like the best exploitation films, Maniac leaves you itching for a long, hot shower to wash away any secondhand sweat and grime. Starring the singularly greasy Joe Spinell, director William Lustig’s nasty ode to offing beautiful women and being generally disgusting centers around Frank Zito, a hulking psycho with serious mommy issues who kills women and talks to blood-drenched mannequins in his grungy NYC apartment. Shot in the Big Apple, Maniac evokes the urban decay and griminess of a long-gone Manhattan—in that regard, it’s horror’s Taxi Driver.

And thanks to makeup effects G-O-D Tom Savini, it’s also home to the greatest death-via-shotgun-blast moment in cinema history. See for yourself:


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15. The Burning (1981)

Director: Tony Maylam

Stars: Brian Matthews, Jason Alexander, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Ned Eisenberg, Carrick Glenn, Carolyn Houlihan, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter

Other slasher movies, like Halloween and Friday the 13th, have better masked killers. Some are better-made overall (see: classics like Black Christmas and Twitch of the Death Nerve), others are just more ambitious, such as The Town That Dreaded Sundown. But no slasher movie can top The Burning in one key distinction—it has the greatest multiple homicide sequence the genre has ever seen.

The film surrounding this one scene is, it’s worth noting, perfectly fine as far as ‘80s slashers go. Set at a sleepaway camp, The Burning follows the familiar path of having the camp’s attendees die one by one at the hands of someone whom past campers tormented to death. The film is unique in that it is super-producer siblings’ Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s first movie as producers, and it co-stars a bunch of then-unknown youngsters who’ve gone on to bigger and better things (Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter).

But that’s all inconsequential once you’ve seen The Burning’s 70-second pièce de résistance. Five kids row their way up to an abandoned raft in a lake; once they’re inches away from it, out pops The Burning’s killer, Cropsy, with his shears. In less than 25 seconds, Cropsy decimates all five of the kids, in different, though equally gory, ways.

Words don’t do it justice, though. Seeing is believing:


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13. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

12. Scream (1996)

11. Friday the 13th (1980)

10. Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971)

9. Deep Red (1975)

8. Torso (1973)

7. Peeping Tom (1960)

6. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Director: Wes Craven

Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia

Over the years, Freddy Krueger—played brilliantly by Robert Englund—has garnered acclaim more for his stand-up comedian qualities than his ability to inspire night terrors. It makes perfect sense, since Englund's brilliant portrayal of the child molester turned knife-glove-wearing dreamland serial killer fully embraces the character's morbid wit.

When writer-director Wes Craven first imagined Freddy for the franchise’s jump-off point, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the ideas bouncing around in Craven's head were equally sick and clever. While sleeping, people are at their most vulnerable, making it nearly impossible to stop Krueger from offing whomever he pleases in gory, imaginative ways. Furthermore, nobody can stay awake forever, so, eventually, whether it's after a week or two months or longer, you're going to enter Freddy's domain. And the outcome won't be ideal.

And if you’re a young unknown actor destined for Hollywood icon status, Freddy will kill you in grand fashion. The future icon in question is Johnny Depp, who’ll forever have horror street-cred thanks to his big-screen Elm Street debut and for his epic death scene—Freddy sucks Depp’s character into his bed and spits his blood out of it in a geyser:


3. Black Christmas (1974)

2. Halloween (1978)

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