by John S
On March 19, author Ronnie Angel will be having a book-signing event of his new tome, Slashed Dreams: The Ultimate Guide to Slasher Movies at Scarecrow Video. His book examines the evolution of the Slasher Sub-Genre, from its early roots in the 1970s, fed by the baroque influence of Gialli (colorful Italian mystery-thrillers with horror overtones), through Halloween and Friday The 13th’s powder keg effect leading to uncountable awful clones that eventually caused the sub-genre to peter out in the mid-to-late 1980s, and finally to Scream’s massive revitalizing effect in 1996, which not only revived the sub-genre but awakened the Horror Genre as a whole.
As I recently told a friend, Slasher films are the only horror films that I find truly frightening. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and zombies may be creepy and entertaining in the moment, but they have no staying power for me because, well, they don’t exist in real life. A nutjob in a mask brandishing a knife, however, is something that could conceivably occur in the real world and is therefore a credible threat. The groaning ghosts in The Conjuring and sprinting zombies in World War Z? Not so much.
With that in mind, please find below a list of 20 Slasher Films that are, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, the best of the bunch. I haven’t read Mr. Angel’s book, so I don’t know how my list would match up with his but, hey, it’s my list. Enjoy. Try to stay calm…
20. The Initiation (1984)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga) is a co-ed who’s having sleep issues. Is she just stressed because it’s Rush Week and she and her fellow sorority pledges are expected to spend Prank Night in the lavish department store that Kelly’s rich dad owns? Or is it something from her past that can no longer be kept silent? Everything comes to a head (uh, so to speak) at the store on Prank Night when a shadowy killer declares open season on Kelly and her pals. Good luck, ladies…
FINAL ANALYSIS: A later entry in the first wave of Slashers that is relatively well-made and ably-performed, not to mention relatively unknown. Future stars like Daphne Zuniga, Deborah Morehart AKA Hunter Tylo, and James Read mesh well with veterans like Vera Miles and Clu Gulager. The script is often better than it has any right to be, and its characters are sharply-drawn and likable. Only drawback is the music score, which occasionally verges on sooooooo cheesy. A solid entry that deserves a bigger following than it has.
REMADE?: Not yet. Deserves it, though.
19. Valentine (2001)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Five lovely twentysomething ladies in San Francisco find out first-hand that love hurts—literally. Turns out they were mean to a classmate from middle-school named Jeremy Melton during a Valentine’s Day dance, which led to him having a complete breakdown (uh-oh). Thirteen years later, it appears Jeremy is back and ready to break their hearts—literally. Yes, ladies: payback is a…well, it rhymes with “rich.” Better stock up on some mace for Valentine’s.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A later entry into the second wave of slashers that is often underrated, but it’s actually a great example of an “American Giallo.” Director Jamie Blanks (Urban Legend) artfully uses color and images in his suspense set pieces, in the same manner as the Italian Gialli from the 1970s, to build an atmosphere that is both sinister and seductive. His young cast—including Denise Richards, Marley Shelton, Jessica Capshaw, and David Boreanaz—is both attractive and capable. You’ll never lounge in a hot tub without looking over you shoulder ever again.
REMADE?: Give it time. Give it time.
18. The Funhouse (1981)
IT’S LIKE THIS: For no logical reason whatsoever (other than they are clearly major nitwits), four teenagers decide to spend the night in the haunted house attraction of a traveling carnival. Little do they know, this particular traveling carnival harbors a grim secret: one of the carnies is actually a deformed maniac who makes the fake monsters in the haunted house look like cute Disney characters. Needless to say, our four idiots get what they asked for.
FINAL ANALYSIS: Directed by Tobe Hooper, this flick is a slicker, more polished affair than that grindhouse cannibal classic which put him on the map, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In other ways, though, the two are very similar. The Funhouse is like a more contained, less graphic version of that classic, with a group of teens terrorized by a hulking monster and his kin. The result is about the same: a scary, claustrophobic ride that takes some unexpected turns. You’ll never look at a traveling carnival the same way ever again.
REMADE?: Not yet. I suggest setting the remake in one of those “Extreme Haunted Houses.”
17. Happy Birthday To Me (1981)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Awwww. Poor, poor prep school student Ginny Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson). She’s part of a clique called the “Top Ten”—and they’re a bunch of insufferable pills. The good news: someone begins offing her friends so she won’t have to put up with them anymore. The bad news: it just might be Ginny herself doing it. Trouble is, she can’t remember anything because of side effects from some brain surgery she got years ago as a result of an accident that stemmed from her pain-in-the-keester Top Ten friends standing her up at her own birthday party, which may be why she’s decided to, like, you know, wipe them out as revenge. Got all that? Good. Because my head is still spinning.
FINAL ANALYSIS: It must be said that the plot for Happy Birthday To Me has got to be one of the more atypical in the sub-genre, to say the least. The final revelation of whodunit is also very much of the “Wait… WHAT!?!?” variety. It also has to be said that it all still somehow works in a bizarro way—largely through the efforts of a solid cast that includes vets like Glenn Ford and Lawrence Dane, as well as future stars like Melissa Sue Anderson and Tracy Bregman. Like Valentine, this flick has a very “American Giallo” feel to it. It should also be noted that Scream may have taken a page or two from this film for its final denouement.
REMADE?: Nope. But it could be a great vehicle for Elle and Dakota Fanning.
16. Hell Night (1981)
IT’S LIKE THIS: If slasher movies are to be believed, joining a sorority or fraternity is just not conducive to a long life span. Marti Gaines (Linda Blair) leads another bunch of not-long-to-this-Earth pledges on another night of seemingly-harmless initiation pranks that you just know is going to go south in a big, messy way. This time, Marti and company have to spend a night at, um, Garth Mansion. What’s so bad about that? Oh, not much…just that Andrew Garth supposedly killed his entire family there and was never caught. Locals believe that he still lives there, though. Sure enough, Marti and her pals realize that they have a secret “plus one” among them—and he’s ready to get his axe on. Cue the screaming.
FINAL ANALYSIS: Similar in plot and execution to The Initiation (but preceding it by three years), Hell Night benefits from a likable cast of familiar 80’s faces playing entertaining characters and an undeniably creepy setting: “Garth Mansion” is one place I sure as hell wouldn’t want to spend a night in. This flick also has the novelty of starring a grown-up Linda Blair, who gained fame as the possessed adolescent in The Exorcist almost a decade before, giving it an unexpected horror pedigree.
REMADE?: Nope. Patience, young Jedi, patience…
15. Urban Legend (1998)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt) is a freshman at Pendleton University who’s having a rough semester—less to do with her studies, though, and more to do with the fact that someone is murdering all her friends in the style of infamous “urban legends.” Don’t you hate that? First, one of her gal pals falls victim to “The Killer In The Backseat.” Then, one of her guy pals gets knocked off according to “The Scraping Sound On The Car Roof.” Then, another of one of her gal pals meets her maker through “Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t Turn On The Light?” And then another…well, you get the idea. All in all, not a good time to be Natalie’s friend – or just Natalie, period.
FINAL ANALYSIS: With a great premise (a slasher uses notorious myths to pick off college students at an isolated school), URBAN LEGEND is one of the better post-modern slashers that came out during the second wave kicked off by SCREAM in 1996. Alicia Witt and future Oscar-winner Jared Leto lead a charismatic cast that makes their thinly-drawn characters more engaging than they might be in less capable hands. It’s just a shame the plot twists become more and more contrived the closer the movie gets to its climax. Clever closing line and image, though. Nice save. Director Jamie Blanks would go on to direct VALENTINE three years later.
REMADE: Not yet. Although the sequel in 2001 was pretty much a carbon-copy.
14. April Fool’s Day (1986)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Proving that it’s nice to be rich, Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman) invites her college buds to her private island with its luxurious mansion for Spring Break. Unfortunately, it turns out they’re all a bunch of hopeless pranksters and given it’s the weekend of April 1st, that can’t be a good thing. Sure enough, the pranks and jokes are flying furiously back and forth—until someone gets hurt. Badly. Soon, Muffy and her pals find themselves trapped on the island, terrorized by a mysterious killer who is playing for real—and wants payback. No whooopeee cushions or exploding cigars for this psycho. Swim, idiots, swim!
FINAL ANALYSIS: Released towards the end of the first wave of slasher films, April Fool’s Day is a minor classic and hidden gem that pre-dates Scream’s blend of horror and humor by a good ten years. An immensely likable cast led by Deborah Foreman, Clayton Rohner, Amy Steel, and Griffin O’Neal (Ryan’s son) provides a strong rooting interest in their characters as the shadowy assailant begins to claim them, one by one. Like some others on this list, this movie deserves a bigger following than it currently has.
REMADE? Yes. In 2007. It completely changed the story and was awful.
13. I Know What You DId Last Summer (1997)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Goody two-shoes Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and her three best pals who look exactly like Ryan Philippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Freddie Prinze Junior celebrate high school graduation by partying on the beach and going for a joyride afterward. It’s all fun and giggles until they accidentally hit someone and decide to cover it up by tossing the body into the sea and never talking about it ever again. Yes, because that always works and never catches up to you. Flash forward a year later, when a nutter in a fisherman slicker starts chasing after our foolish foursome with a giant hook. Talk about “The Deadliest Catch…”
FINAL ANALYSIS: The first slasher film to be released after Scream revived the sub-genre a year prior, I Know What You DId Last Summer is an effectively moody exercise in slow-burn, old-school horror that has more in common with Prom Night than the young-adult novel of the same title by Lois Duncan. The link with Prom Night is further underscored by the terrific chase scene involving Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) that echoes Wendy’s (Eddie Benton) classic cat-and-mouse pursuit from the earlier film. Not as smashing as Scream—but a modern classic, nonetheless.
REMADE?: Just you wait.
12. CURTAINS (1983)
IT’S LIKE THIS: It takes a lot of balls for a guy to summon six gorgeous actresses to his isolated winter estate in the mountains for the weekend and try to pass it off as work. However, that’s exactly what ruthless director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) has done. You see, he’s trying to cast the controversial role of “Audra,” a part that most of the six women would kill for. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that one of them is actually willing to do just that. Literally. Let the body count begin. Oh, yes. Heads will roll.
FINAL ANALYSIS: From the suspense set pieces that are scary and stylish, to the eerie and dream-like atmosphere, and finally to the chilling final twist that makes sense in a bizarre, nightmare-logic way, Curtains stands out from most of the rest of the first wave of slashers by being very much like a Giallo. Classic set pieces include an unexpected attack on one of the actresses as she figure skates in the middle of a frozen pond in broad daylight, and a long cat-and-mouse chase of another lady through a labyrinthine prop house that resembles a funhouse from someone’s bad dream. This latter sequence in particular is very reminiscent of a similar chase in Mario Bava’s Giallo classic, Blood and Black Lace.
REMADE?: No. But if there ever was a movie that deserved it….
11. Night School (1981)
IT’S LIKE THIS: It’s a bad time to be a student at Wendell Women’s College in Boston. Not because of the course load or high tuition, but because a psycho wearing a black helmet and motorcycle suit is going around decapitating some of the co-eds with a Kukri, a combination of a machete and sickle. All the women were students of Professor Vincent Millet (Drew Snyder), who is known to be a bit of a lothario. Could he be the Kukri-wielding killer? And could the lovely, lovely Eleanor Adjai (Rachel Ward), his research assistant and lover, be the next victim? Hmmmmmmmm….
FINAL ANALYSIS: Just like Curtains, this films is more like a Giallo than a Slasher with its stylish setpieces, adult characters, and erotic undertones. Director Ken Hughes is a veteran who helmed the classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and he steers Night School with an assured hand. This movie is sleek and handsome to look at, with a talented cast. The gorgeous Rachel Ward, in particular, is a highlight as the imperiled Eleanor. Ward, a former model, made her film debut here and holds the screen effortlessly with cool beauty and talent. She would go on to bigger acclaim in The Thorn Birds and Against All Odds.
REMADE?: No. But just like CURTAINS….
10. The House On Sorority Row (1983)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Once again, we’re back in Sorority Land, folks. This time, seven sisters who are graduating decide to pull one last prank on their reviled housemother, Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt). Led by the witchy Vicky (Eileen Davidson), the ladies unleash their joke on Mrs. Slater in the sorority’s unused swimming pool. Unfortunately, pranks in slasher films usually backfire and this one is no different: Mrs. Slater indavertently drowns. Panicking, Vicky and the other girls weigh down the body and sink it to the bottom of the dirty pool to conceal their crime. That night at their graduation party, though, someone begins picking them off by one. Has Mrs. Slater come back for payback? Hmmmmm…..
FINAL ANALYSIS: With shades of Black Christmas and Prom Night, this movie is an unsung classic that actually was quite financially successful when it first came out in 1983, making back its small budget almost ten times over. However, since it came out a couple of years after the peak of the first slasher boom, it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of similar but inferior films. Director Mark Rosman was a student of Brian De Palma’s—and it shows in every shot. The House On Sorority Row may not have had a big budget, but you could never tell by Rosman’s stylish and assured direction. He is also aided by a talented cast with some future stars like Eileen Davidson, Kate McNeil, and Harley Jane Kozak—and a wonderfully lush, classy score by Charles Band.
REMADE?: Yes. In 2009. Not bad. Pretty good in its own way, actually.
9. The Burning (1981)
IT’S LIKE THIS: If no one ever played any practical jokes in slasher movies, then absolutely no one would get murdered later on. Once again we have another prank gone horribly wrong. In this case, a mean and unpopular summer camp caretaker named Cropsy (Lou David) gets accidentally burned alive by some of the campers. Flash forward five years later: Cropsy is released from the hospital resembling, in the words of a very sensitive orderly, “an extra-crispy Big Mac.” Nice bedside manner, dude. Anyhow, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the first thing on Cropsy’s agenda is to head upstate to the summer camp where the accident occurred to give just as bad, or even worse, than he got. Yup. It’s going to be a short summer for some folks….
FINAL ANALYSIS: This movie could have been just another Friday the 13th rip-off, but ends up having an appeal all of its own. It does this by tweaking the slasher formula a bit. For instance, there is no real “Final Girl”—instead we get a couple of “Final Guys.” The character who would’ve been the “Final Girl” still plays an important role by going for help and sending the cavalry. Also, the notion of “safety in numbers” is brutally dashed by the now-classic “raft scene.” These subversions of what are normally sacrosanct tropes, not to mention solid direction and acting, help The Burning stand tall above all the other “killer in the woods” flicks that tried to cash in on Friday The 13th’s success. It should also be noted that not only was this movie one of Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein’s first films, but the cast also features such future stars as Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, Brian Backer, and Holly Hunter. Talk about pedigree.
REMADE?: Surprisingly, no.
8. Terror Train (1980)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Could it be? Are we back in the land of drunken fraternity/sorority party animals, pranks gone horribly bad, and vengeful psychos unleashing big-time payback? Yes, it could. Because apparently these rocket scientists just never learn. This time, a combined fraternity/sorority New Years’s costume party set on an excursion train is crashed by, yes, a vengeful psycho unleashing big-time payback. He is Kenny McCormick (Dereck MacKinnon), who was psychologically-scarred by an initiaton prank four years ago and wants to even the score with the folks responsible. Trouble is, no one knows what Kenny looks like now. Add to that the fact that everyone’s wearing a costume and it becomes clear this is going to be a party no one will forget anytime soon. Have fun, kids.
FINAL ANALYSIS: One of Jamie Lee Curtis’ classic slasher films from the early years of the sub-genre, Terror Train is a well-made and nicely-acted entry that gets a lot of mileage from a very able cast that, in addition to Curtis, also includes Hart Bochner, Sandee Currie, and Ben Johnson. The gimmick of having the killer wear each successive victim’s costume as he works his way through the party also adds considerably to the suspense. In many ways, it is a perfect companion piece to Prom Night which is also from the same year and stars Curtis.
REMADE?: Sort of. What started as a faithful remake turned into 2008’s Train starring Thora Birch (Ghost World), which is very different. Not to mention repellent.
7. My Bloody Valentine (1981)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Twenty years ago, the mining town of Valentine’s Bluff (yes, that’s the name of the place) suffered a terrible mining accident that killed all but one miner, Harry Warden (Peter Cowper). Harry blamed two supervisors who were in such a hurry to get to the annual Valentine’s dance that they forgot to check the gas levels in the mine, which led to the explosion. He basically killed both of then, dug out their hearts, and warned the town not to EVER have another Valentine’s dance EVER AGAIN, or he’d get all axe-happy again. For twenty years, Harry Warden disappeared and the town complied with his ultimatum—until now. Seems like some townsfolk are thinking its time to bury the past, and are staging the first Valentine’s dance in 20 years—to hell with Harry Warden and his ominous threat. You know where this is going, right? Yes, it’s going to get very messy all over again in the quaint little town of Valentine’s Bluff. Idiots.
FINAL ANALYSIS: Full of genuine small-town, blue-collar atmosphere and working-class characters, MY BLOODY VALENTINE stands in stark contrast to other slasher films of the period which were usually set in colleges or high schools, and revolved around sleek, urbane people. This gritty quality really helps this movie as it anchors all the unfolding horror in a very credible place. The cast is mostly filled with young unknowns, but their acting is solid and goes a long way in making their relatable characters engaging. The killer’s full-body outfit is also quite terrifying, making him look like a murderous version of Darth Vader. The final act deep in the mine, with the “mad miner” playing cat-and-mouse with his remaining victims, is truly scary and rivals anything in Halloween, Friday The 13th, or A Nightmare On Elm Street.
REMADE?: Yes. In 2009. Quite good, actually.
6. Prom Night (1980)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Four kids cause the accidental death of a classmate during a game of “killer”—which is like a messed-up version of “hide-and-seek.” Six years later, all four of them are now high school seniors and it’s the eve of their much-anticipated prom dance. Unfortunately, it turns out someone witnessed that terrible incident from their childhood and has chosen prom night as the night to mete out some overdue justice. Sure enough, that evening at the prom, our foursome are attacked, one-by-one, by a mask-wearing person who has brought an axe to the dance instead of a date. Talk about a killer party.
FINAL ANALYSIS: One of the Giallo tropes that is often used in slashers from both the first and second waves is the “whodunit” aspect. Gialli often featured killers whose identities were unknown to the protagonists (and audiences) until the end of the film. Friday The 13th and Black Christmas, unlike HALLOWEEN, featured this “whodunit” element to some extent. However, it was Prom Night that really cemented its usage as a mystery hook, so much so that Jamie Kennedy’s character spells it out bluntly in Scream. This movie has strong production values across the board, and some great setpieces including a chase through the high school at night that has been much-imitated. Jamie Lee Curtis leads an engaging cast that also includes Leslie Nielsen in a refreshingly straight role.
REMADE?: Yes. In 2008. Not terrible. But not good, either.
5. Black Christmas (1974)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Yes, we’re in Sorority Land again. Happily, though, no one is playing a horrible prank on anyone else which results in an elaborate revenge plot several years later. Nope, we just have an unidentified weirdo who climbs into the attic of a sorority during Christmas break and proceeds to terrorize the sisters who have stayed behind through phone calls made from within the house (unknown to the clueless ladies). Soon, the calls just aren’t enough for the killer anymore and he decides leave the attic to meet each of the ladies, up-close, one-by-one. Soon, it’s down to only one lady and our bizarro killer. Who will win?
FINAL ANALYSIS: Pre-dating Halloween by a good four years, Black Christmas is cited by some fans as being the true “GrandDaddy of Slashers.” Whether you agree or not, it can’t be denied that this is one frightening film. Director Bob Clark deftly uses point-of-view shots (which Carpenter would also use later in Halloween) to indicate the killer’s presence and movements, as well as distorted angles and transitions to create an eerie vibe. The phone calls themselves are very unnerving and get under your skin. The bleak atmosphere of encroaching doom that permeates this film gets stronger as it reaches its denouement, which is chilling and disturbing in equal measure.
REMADE?: Yes. In 2006. Has its moments. But misguided, overall, and can’t hold a candle to the original.
4. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
IT’S LIKE THIS: The teenagers of Elm Street have been having the same nightmare featuring the same burn-scarred, red-and-green-striped-sweater-wearing killer with knives for fingers. Soon, they start perishing one-by-one in their sleep. Surviving teen Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) determines to find out who this creepazoid named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) really is—and stop him before he kills anyone else. It turns out her connection to him is closer than she thought. Sweet dreams, Nancy.
FINAL ANALYSIS: Released toward the middle of the first slasher wave, A Nightmare On Elm Street provided a shot in the arm for the ailing sub-genre and became a major hit by introducing surreal supernatural elements to the tried-and-true slasher template. Freddy Krueger, like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers before him, has gone on to become an iconic horror figure. The success of this film would lead to six sequels and a remake. Also, points to late director Wes Craven’s excellent direction and Charles Bernstein’s eerie musical score.
REMADE?: Yes. In 2010. Starts out okay, finishes weakly.
3. Friday The 13th (1980)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Camp Crystal Lake has been plagued by a spell of bad luck over the years. First, some kid named Jason Voorhess (ahem) drowned in the lake. Then, a couple of horny camp counselors were butchered the following summer, leading to the camp to be shut down. Now, it appears entrepreneur Steve Christie (Peter Brouwer) and his team of perky counselors are ready to put the past behind them and open the place for a new start. Too bad a certain shadowy killer feels differently and begins trimming their numbers with some sharp objects. Best of luck with that project, Steve.
FINAL ANALYSIS: While not as technically-accomplished or sleek as HALLOWEEN, this movie still has an undeniable effectiveness to it. Although it would go on to spawn ten sequels and two remakes, this first film remains the scariest because of how little we know about about what’s going on and who’s doing the killing. Unlike the sequels which paraded Jason Voorhees in all his glory, Friday The 13th functions very much like a whodunit, with the killer keeping to the shadows and not making a full reveal until close to the end. Director Sean Cunningham also creates some suspenseful sequences and moments, including an early chase sequence that ends in an unexpected death, the extended outhouse stalking scene, and the final jump scare at the end. Classic score by Harry Manfrendini, as well, that nicely echoes Bernard Herrmann’s work on PSYCHO.
REMADE?: Yes. In 2009. Quite good, but still not as eerie as the original.
2. SCREAM (1996)
IT’S LIKE THIS: Woodsboro, California looks like a great place to live. If only it weren’t for the Grim Reaper-style killer going around quizzing potential victims on Horror Trivia and killing them if they answer wrong. Well, actually, he (she?) also kills them if they answer correctly, so I guess it’s an all-around no-win situation. Nice girl Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and her buddies find themselves the target of the killer, so what do they do? Lock themselves in their basements, armed with sawed-off shotguns pointed at the door? Take a long vacation in Europe? No, they decide to throw a big party in a very unsecured house miles outside Woodsboro, where it would take forever for the police to respond. Because that’s safer and makes more sense. No, it’s not going to end well for Sydney and her fellow Mensa candidate pals.
FINAL ANALYSIS: The importance of Scream to slasher films and the Horror Genre in general can’t be over-stated. When this film came out in 1996, the genre had been flailing for years and was essentially untouchable. This movie changed all that, kicking off the second wave of slasher movies. Like Halloween in 1978, it spawned numerous sequels and clones. However, it also made all horror films, not just slasher movies, viable again. It did this by nicely sending up the slasher/horror tropes while cleverly using them to the story’s advantage. Even when the second wave of slasher films began to slow down in the early 2000s, the energizing effect of SCREAM on other horror sub-genres provided a cumulative revitalizing momentum that has ensured the genre’s robust health to this day. Great work from all involved, especially the late Wes Craven, who was also responsible for A Nightmare On Elm Street. Kudos also to Kevin Williamson’s sharp, smart script.
REMADE?: Does Scream 4 count? I hope not.
And the Number One Slasher Film Of All Time is…..
1. Halloween (1978)
IT’S LIKE THIS: As a boy, Michael Myers killed his older sibling on Halloween night and was put away for life. Unfortunately, 15 years after his crime he decides to break out and head home to Haddonfield, Illinois to crash his hometown’s Halloween festivities. Specifically, those of the three former babysitters who caught his eye. They are are the shy Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), the mouthy Annie (Nancy Loomis), and the “trampy” Linda (P.J. Soles). These three girls think they have an uneventful, boring All Hallow’s Eve in front of them. They are sooooooo wrong. Cue the screaming. And running. And bleeding.
FINAL ANALYSIS: The release of Halloween in 1978 both kicked off the first wave of slasher films and also jump-started director John Carpenter’s career. While you could argue Black Christmas first set up some of the sub-genre’s tropes, it’s really this movie that assembled them into the template that would be followed religiously by innumerable clones. Later films like Friday The 13th and Prom Night may have added Giallo-like whodunit aspects, but the main formula was cemented by Halloween. While lead Jamie Lee Curtis’ career was also kick-started by this movie, its real star is Carpenter’s stylish technique. His gliding camera movements, artful compositions, and expressive use of shadow, music, and color echo the style of Italian Giallo masters Dario Argento and Mario Bava. However, Carpenter puts his own personal stamp on these elements, making Halloween very much a one-of-a-kind experience.
REMADE?: Yes, in 2007. Has its moments, but doesn’t come close to the original.
In closing, I should add that John Carpenter will be performing his movie music this June in Seattle’s Paramount Theater. Please check the theater’s website for dates and ticket availability. An event not to be missed.
John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Dario Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Peanut M&Ms with popcorn, Julia Roberts in PRETTY WOMAN, Theo James in anything, HALLOWEEN (movie and holiday), Scarecrow Video, Russell Crowe as a villain, strawberry soda, and Karaoke – not necessarily in that order.