Top 25 Slasher Films of the 1980’s

Is there another genre of film that encompasses as many sub-genres as horror does? Monster movies, slasher films, giallos, paranormal, psychological, animal attack, home invasion, torture, etc., the list goes on and on. That then leads to genre-bending films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – is it a “slasher” or does it fit more into the sort of “cannibal” genre with The Hills Have Eyes? How about Argento’s Deep Red and Opera? They certainly look like “slashers” but aren’t they giallos which is more of a “mystery-horror” film? Even Child’s Play is suspect; is that a “slasher” or does it fall under “supernatural/voodoo” …or even “possession”?

Well, lately, some friends and I have been having socially-distanced discussions about slasher films, in particular, ones from glory days of the 1980’s. While I tend to think that the slashers of the 70’s were better (Halloween, Black Christmas, Twitch of the Death Nerve, etc.), the sheer volume of slasher films made in the 80’s is absolutely stunning. So, as one does, I decided to make a list. Gathering a list from my brain of 80’s films that seemed to be slashers was easy; what was not easy was whittling said list down to 25 and making judgement calls on what is a slasher and what is not. For instance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was on my list but then I took it out because it’s more of a cannibal film, right? I also removed Child’s Play and some Argento films for similar sub-genre reasons as I mentioned above. Am I right? Maybe…maybe not. Even if I’m wrong, I’ve got some pretty awesome slasher films listed here in the order that I dig them (which is an order that changes almost daily). Feel free to argue with me, please! Especially about leaving out all of the Friday the 13ths past The Final Chapter because, in my opinion, that particular series should have ended with Part 4.

Enjoy!

25. SILENT SCREAM (1980)

It’s fitting that the first one on the list might have been the first slasher film released in the 80’s. Technically, The Silent Scream got a small, two city release in late 1979 but opened to a much larger audience in mid-January of 1980. While in no way is this the most amazing of films, it’s definitely one for the list and the addition of The Munsters‘ Yvonne De Carlo and the goddess Barbara Steele doesn’t hurt it’s standing.

24. MANIAC COP (1988) 

Yes, yes, I know…Maniac Cop is one of those rare films where the sequel is actually a superior film but unfortunately for this list of 80’s slashers, Maniac Cop 2 came out in 1990. Still, the first in the series is a ton of fun; I mean, how can you go wrong with Bruce Campbell and Tom Atkins as your stars? Throw in the late Robert Z’Dar and you got a whole lot of chin.

23. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

Man, the PTA had a friggin’ cow over this movie – protests galore! Poor Billy, and his baby brother Ricky, watched a guy dressed like Santa Clause murder his parents so naturally when Billy is released from the Catholic orphanage he was raised in, he realizes that he needs to PUNISH. Extra points for Linnea Quigley in the cast.

22. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982) 

Yeah, this is the one with the groovy disco theme song. Released in amazing 3D, we got to see Jason Voorhees’ spear come right at us through the screen…as well as a guy’s eyeball and some other random stuff. The high-point of this one is that Jason receives his hockey mask courtesy of one of the most annoying characters in horror film history, Shelly.

21. INTRUDER (1989) 

Based on the popularity of the Evil Dead franchise at the time, Intruder really pushed the names Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and Ted Raimi in all of the marketing for the film. Well, the fact is that Bruce and Sam are in the film for maybe a total of 15 seconds and while Ted gets a bit more time, it ain’t much. However, Intruder is totally enjoyable and full of gore (and plot holes).

20. FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)

Ahh…here’s where it all should have ended. After skipping out on Parts 2 and 3, the gore-master Tom Savini returned for this film just so he could kill off Jason; little did he know that it wouldn’t take! A young Corey Feldman gets the honors of ending the “mortal” Jason and a sassy Crispin Glover provides us with one of the best dances in cinematic history.

19. PROM NIGHT (1980) 

Speaking of dancing…holy crap, there’s a lot of disco dancing in this movie; not to mention doughy guys with rape-vans who call themselves “Slick”. Jamie Lee Curtis kicks off her year of 1980 horror films with this one (she was also in The Fog and the abysmal Terror Train); also, it’s fun to watch Leslie Nielsen in a straight role.

18. THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982) 

Amy Holden Jones wrote the romantic hit Mystic Pizza starring Julia Roberts before penning the smash family film Beethoven about that loveable, zany puppy. But, before all that, she directed The Slumber Party Massacre! Written by award-winning feminist novelist and poet Rita Mae Brown, SPM was maybe the first slasher film that made the girls into real, multi-dimensional characters rather than just victims for the guy with the large drill (although most became victims anyway).

17. HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (1980)

Soooo much Halloween here, like the title card should have read, “inspired by John Carpenter”. Anyway, still a fun slasher reminding girls that getting married is a bad idea. Bonus points for a young Tom Hanks and it’s always fun to see Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) in anything.

16. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981)

You’ve seen the VHS cover or the movie poster a million times: a screaming teenage guy about to get a shish-kabob jammed into his throat (minds out of the gutter, please). Made by some of the same team who made the vastly superior, but also Canadian, My Bloody Valentine, Birthday stars Mary Ingalls (Melissa Sue Anderson) from Little House on the Prairie as she tries to break out of her typecasting (it didn’t work).

15. DRESSED TO KILL (1980) 

Thankfully for all of us, Michael Caine turned in a better performance as Dr. Bob in this Brian De Palma classic than he did in Jaws: The Revenge a few years later. Also stars Angie Dickinson, Keith Gordon and De Palma’s then-wife Nancy Allen. I remember seeing this at the drive-in as a kid and thinking to myself, “I probably shouldn’t be watching this”.

14. STAGE FRIGHT (1987)

An Italian horror film not made by an Argento, a Fulci or a Bava – what gives?! Well, don’t sleep on Michele Soavi who also gave us the AWESOME Cemetery Man in 1994. Just as colorful and artistic as you’d expect an Italian horror film to be and packs enough blood and scares to make the list.

13. EVIL DEAD TRAP (1988) 

And now we head to Japan for number thirteen on our list! It’s really a terrible name, I know and other than those first two words, it bears no resemblance to the Evil Dead franchise. It’s really more visually and stylishly Italian with an American-type story? It’s a bloody slasher film with a really crazy ending that you’ll love or hate – I loved.

12. PIECES (1982) 

Another “love it or hate it”, I love it; it’s always nice to know that you don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre and you don’t have to go far to watch someone try to make a full woman out of random body parts either. Pieces has gotten some of my favorite reviews ever too; stuff like, “Pieces is a wretched, stupid little picture” and a “gross-out extravaganza” and a “bargain basement abomination.” Way to sell me on a movie, guys!

11. THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1982) 

It’s really tough that this one didn’t crack the top ten because it is damned good; it’s really a testament to the top ten films that The House on Sorority Row didn’t make it. Smarter than your average slasher with well-written characters and solid gore; it’s one to add to your collection if you don’t already own it.

10. HALLOWEEN 2 (1981)

Maybe I could have flipped this and House on Sorority Row but I really do love Halloween 2 – as a continuation to 1978’s Halloween. By that I mean, and I’ve always contended that, Halloween (1978) and Halloween 2 (1981) when watched back-to-back, is damned near perfect. However, as a stand-alone movie, Halloween 2 is lacking. That said, I still love it so it’s top ten for me.

9. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983) 

You know damned well that, at some point in his career, M. Night Shyamalan sat at his desk wishing that he had written the ending to Sleepaway Camp. Even without the amazing ending, SC is a hell of a slasher film featuring a creepy cook getting drowned in a pot of corn and one of the best movie lines ever: “Eat shit and live, Bill”.

8. THE PROWLER (1981)

I can still remember being in the horror section of my local video store and spotting the VHS cover for The Prowler with the military guy, face covered, holding a knife to a woman’s throat and realizing that I had to see it immediately. Like so many great slashers of the 80’s, the Savini special effects are sublime.

7. THE BURNING (1981)

This was a late 80’s rental for me and my friends. We’d rent a few terrible movies, have some beers and sit around laughing at the crap on the TV; except that once in a while, they weren’t crap – as was the case with The Burning. Yeah, we’d all seen the wronged, deformed guy turned killer before but this one was different: it had a great cast of (mostly) likeable characters, a good story, good score and great Savini effects. Bonus points for George Costanza and Holly Hunter. Cropsy loves you.

6. MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) 

Valentine’s Day in Valentine Bluffs is no laughing matter. Or no dancing matter…it’s like a gory Footloose but instead of Reverend John Lithgow, it’s the memory of lost, cannibalistic miner Harry Warden that’s keeping everyone from partying. MBV really has everything you’d want from a fine Canadian slasher film, eh?

5. FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

For what was just a project created with the intent of cashing in on the success of 1978’s Halloween, Friday the 13th blazed the trails for a slew of slashers to come. A clever story with a good twist ending, now-iconic music by Harry Manfredini, and AGAIN, amazing effects by Tom Savini puts the OG F13 in the top 5. Bonus points for Kevin Bacon.

4. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

If you know me, you know I’m not the hugest fan of this franchise but it’s hard to deny how good the first one really was. I know, you also love the Dream Warriors and you thought it was great when the kids became pizza toppings or whatever…not me. Before Freddy Krueger became the king of one-liners, he was actually really scary as the slasher extraordinaire in this Wes Craven classic.

3. APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986)

Holy crap, do I love this movie? Obviously, it’s in the top 3! First of all April Fool’s Day is a who’s who of 80’s casting. While it’s no Outsiders, it’s got a slew of favorites like Deborah Foreman from Valley Girl, Ken Olandt from Summer School, Amy Steel from Friday the 13th Part 2, Griffin O’Neal from The Wraith, Deborah Goodrich and Clayton Rohner from Just One of the Guys and of course, Thomas F. Wilson – Biff from Back to the Future! April Fool’s Day is the perfect balance of scary and funny with a great twist ending.

2. MANIAC (1980)

Joe Spinell, how do I love thee, let me count the ways. Written by the late/great Spinell and directed by William Lustig (Maniac Cop), Maniac is about a bat-shit crazy serial killer named Frank Zito who sweats a lot and scalps women…but at least he feels bad about it sometimes? It’s honestly one of the creepiest and uncomfortable pieces of film I’ve ever seen. It also stars the incredible Caroline Munro (Dracula A.D.) with effects by…you guessed it, Tom Savini (who also has a role as the awesomely named “Disco Boy”).

1. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981)

There it is. My favorite. My numero uno. The peanut butter to my jelly. For my money, the rise of Jason Voorhees as the series’ antagonist in this film makes it the tops of 1980’s slasher films – and yes, I prefer the sack to the hockey mask. I always liked how scary Jason was in this film, yet also vulnerable…falling off the chair when stalking Ginny, getting tricked by Ginny in the creepy mom-shrine room. Not to mention, Amy Steel as Ginny is my second-favorite “final girl” of all-time. Hmm…that sounds like another good list. In the meantime, go watch F13 Part 2 again and tell me you don’t love it, I dare you.

 

Alright…how about an honorable mention? While I could maybe mention 1982’s Madman, 1984’s The Mutilator or even 1982’s Visiting Hours – I won’t! I’m going to throw in 1981’s Nightmare! Is it a good film? No! Haha…not really but it’s really dark and hella gory. So bloody, in fact, that the British distributor was supposedly sentenced to prison for his refusal to edit out the gore. There’s also another Tom Savini connection here; they promoted his name is being involved and I believe he sued them to take it off because he claimed to have no involvement with the movie – it’s worth an honorable mention for that alone!

Click here to read more about ‘Friday the 13th’

Click here to read more about ‘Halloween’

Click here to read more about ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

Larry Dwyer
Larry Dwyer has been writing for Horror News Network since 2012. Catch up with him on Twitter at @LarryDwyer and read his in-depth bio on our About Us page.

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