Rahul Sharma (Editor)

Slasher film

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Slasher film

Slasher films are a subgenre of horror films, typically involving a violent psychopath stalking and murdering several people, usually with bladed tools. Although the term "slasher" is sometimes used informally as a generic term for any horror movie involving murder, analysts of the genre cite an established set of characteristics which set these films apart from other horror subgenres, such as splatter films and psychological horror films.


Some critics cite Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) as an early influential "slasher" film, and most agree that the genre's peak occurred in American films released during the 1970s and 1980s. Classic slasher films include Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), Victor Miller and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Don Mancini and Tom Holland's Child's Play (1988). Wes Craven's satirical film Scream (1996) renewed public interest in the genre, and several of the original slasher franchises were revived or rebooted in the years following the release of Scream.

Many films in the slasher genre continue to attract cult followings.


In her book Games of Terror: Halloween, Friday the 13th and the Films of the Stalker Cycle, Vera Dika theorizes that all slasher films adhere to a specific formula: there is always a past event in which the film's community, often teenage characters, commits a wrongful action, or which causes the killer to experience severe trauma. The plot involves opposing objectives of the killer and a hero/heroine. Typically, a film begins with a commemoration or anniversary of the past event that reactivates or re-inspires the killer. Often the victim survives, but is damaged in some way by his or her experience with the killer. Dika also believes that the genre's appeal is rooted in the audience's feelings of catharsis, recreation, and displacement, which is related to sexual pleasure.

Common tropes

A common tropes featured in slasher films is the final girl character. This trope is often discussed in introductory film courses. The character often cited as the genre's first prototypical final girl is Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween (1978). Final girls, who typically escape the killer's advances by a film's end, are often virgins and have at least one female friend who is portrayed as sexually active.

Another trope is the anti-heroic characterization of the film's villain. Most slasher franchises follow the continued efforts of a specific villain, rather than the killer's victims, who do not often reappear in sequels. Notable examples of these killer-icons include: Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Chucky, Ghostface and Leatherface.


Some critics cite horror plays produced at the Grand Guignol in the late 19th century as having influenced the contemporary slasher genre. Others reference the visceral images of violence in films such as Maurice Tourneur's The Lunatics (1912), a silent film adaptation of a Grand Guignol play. Public outcry in the United States over films like The Lunatics led to the passing of the Hays Code in 1930, one of the entertainment industry's earliest set of guidelines restricting what could be shown on film. Under the Hays Code, even mild references to sexuality and brutality were deemed unacceptable.

Crime writer Mary Roberts Rinehart was a major influence on the emerging horror genre. Her novel The Circular Staircase (1908), later adapted into film as The Bat (1926), tells the story of guests in a remote mansion who are menaced by a killer in a grotesque bat mask. Its success led to a series of "old dark house" films produced in the late 1920s including: The Cat and the Canary (1927), based on John Willard's 1922 stage play of the same name, and Universal Pictures' The Old Dark House (1932), based on the novel by J.B. Priestley. Both films employed the theme of town dwellers pitted against strange country folk, a recurring theme in later horror films. As well as the "madman on the loose" plot, several elements of these films would later be employed in the slasher genre, especially lengthy point of view shots and the "sins of the father" as a catalyst for the plot's violent mayhem.


George Archainbaud's Thirteen Women (1932) tells the story of a college sorority whose former members are set against one another by a vengeful peer. As they die, the culprit crosses out their yearbook photo, a device used in subsequent slasher films such as Prom Night (1980) and Graduation Day (1981). The movie's climax takes place on a train, something echoed in Terror Train (1980) and Terror on Tour (1980). Other early examples of the "maniac seeking revenge" trope include The Terror (1928), based on the play by Edgar Wallace.

Val Lewton produced Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man (1943), a film about a murderer covering up his crimes against women in a small town by framing an escaped show leopard. Basil Rathbone's The Scarlet Claw (1944) is a Sherlock Holmes story revolving around murders committed with a garden weeder that features shots of the killer raising the weapon in the air and bringing it down repeatedly, an editing technique that became familiar in the genre. Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase (1946), based on Ethel White's novel Some Must Watch, stars Ethel Barrymore as a woman who fears that her mute maid is a killer's next victim. The helpless but sympathetic heroine became commonplace in later horror films, along with black-gloved killers, point of view shots, and jump scares.

Particularly influential was British writer Agatha Christie, whose 1939 novel Ten Little Indians was first adapted in And Then There Were None (1945). The story centers around a group of people, each of whom has committed a secret past crime, who are killed one-by-one on an isolated island. Each of the murders mirrors a verse from a nursery rhyme, allowing the themes of childhood innocence and murder to merge, something that would become popular in later films of the genre.

Films released in the 1950s featuring tropes used later in slasher films included: the remake House of Wax (1953), mystery thriller The Bad Seed (1956), Screaming Mimi (1958), British B-movie Jack the Ripper (1959), and Terry Bishop's Cover Girl Killer (1959).


In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock released Psycho, a horror film featuring an iconic score often imitated in later slasher films. Psycho used visual imagery which until then had been deemed unacceptable by production companies, including scenes of violence, sexuality, and the interior of a bathroom.

Also in 1960, British director Michael Powell released Peeping Tom, which features a young photographer murdering young women in order to photograph their dying expressions. The film is shown from the killer's perspective.

William Castle's Homicidal (1961) features visual gore in its murder scenes, and Richard Hillard's Violent Midnight (1963) includes many elements common in slasher films, including a point of view shot of the killer pulling down a branch to watch a potential victim, a villain wearing black gloves and a fedora, and a skinny-dipping scene. Crown International's Terrified (1963) features a masked killer who stalks his victims.

Francis Ford Coppola's debut film, Dementia 13 (1963), follows an ax murderer who stalks relatives gathered at an Irish castle to commemorate a death in the family. The film was influenced by Italian giallo thrillers. Joan Crawford starred in William Castle's Strait-Jacket (1964) and in Jim O'Connolly's Berserk (1967), both of which feature slasher-genre elements. In MGM's Night Must Fall (1964), a remake of the 1937 British film, Albert Finney plays a psychopath who keeps a severed head in a box. Corruption (1968) stars Peter Cushing as a mild-mannered serial killer.

Influenced by Psycho, Britain's Taste of Fear (1961), from Hammer Studios, was followed by: Maniac (1963), Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964), Fanatic (1965), The Nanny (1965), Hysteria (1965), and Crescendo (1970). Amicus, a rival of Hammer Studios, had Psycho author Robert Bloch write the script Psychopath (1968). The Spanish film The House That Screamed (1969) features violent murders that thematically preempted later campus-based slashers.

Influential subgenres

Other violent film genres include splatter films, German Krimi films, and Italian giallo films. Each of these includes some aspects of slasher films.

Splatter films typically feature thin plots with static characters, and focus instead on realistic or gratuitous gore. Herschell Gordon Lewis's Blood Feast (1963), which features campy devices, and was a hit at drive-in theaters, is often considered the first splatter film. Lewis' later films, Two-Thousand Maniacs! (1964), Color Me Blood Red (1965), The Gruesome Twosome (1967) and The Wizard of Gore (1971), are similar. Other successful 1960s splatter films include: Andy Milligan's The Ghastly Ones in 1969, Twisted Nerve in 1968, Lewis J. Force's Night After Night After Night and Tigon Productions' The Haunted House of Horror (1969).

Krimi films, German adaptations of British writer Edgar Wallace's violent crime novels, were released from the late 1950s until the early 1970s. These pictures provide a very post-World War II German viewpoint of Englishness and feature villains in bold costumes. The stories are given a contemporary edge and have musical scores by jazz composers such as Martin Böttcher and Peter Thomas.

The film that popularized Krimi films in America was Fellowship of the Frog (1959), which features a murderous villain terrorizing London. The film's success led to similar adaptations and imitations, including The Green Archer (1961) and Dead Eyes of London (1961). The Rialto Studio produced 32 Krimi films.

Italian giallo films feature a crime procedural plot, but unlike American slasher films, the protagonists of gialli are adults sporting the latest fashions and jetting off to exotic destinations. Much like Krimi films, the plots of gialli films are filled with outlandish and often improbable twists, mixing horror and detective thriller genres.

Sergio Martino's The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) includes a scene where the heroine is menaced by the killer in an underground parking lot, a device used by many American slasher films. In Martino's Torso (1973), a masked killer, often shown using point of view shots, preys on co-eds, seeking retribution for a past crime. And, like teenagers in slasher films, the young victims do drugs, enjoy premarital sex, and taunt authority. The singling out of a "final girl" had horror filmmakers studying the climactic scene decades later, with Alexandre Aja's extreme French splatter film High Tension (2003) paying homage to the end chase. Also influential was Bava's A Bay of Blood (1971) which features explicit scenes of murder and creative death sequences which have been directly imitated by American slasher films, including Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). The lakeside setting, and whodunit mystery, also inspired Sean S. Cunningham and Victor Miller to create the original Friday the 13th (1980).

Many giallo films played in American cinemas and at drive-in theaters. Spanish and Turkish filmmakers made movies such as A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1974) that have been termed gialli. Many gialli were released in British cinemas with ads that promoted the films' sex and nudity over the thriller and mystery aspects. The British thriller Assault (1971) shares many traits with the giallo genre. Even Alfred Hitchcock film Frenzy (1972) shows a giallo influence. The genre's familiarity and conventions also inspired spoofs such as Death Steps in the Dark (1977).

Even with hits like Deep Red (1975), Tenebre (1982), or The Blood-Stained Shadow (1978) the giallo films graduall fell out of fashion by the mid-1970s. Budgets and production values began to plummet. Some films, such as Play Motel (1979) and Giallo a Venezia (1979), tried to draw in audiences by including hardcore pornographic scenes.

The exploitation film

While the giallo dominated the European market, in Britain and the United States there was an increase in exploitation films, which exploited sex and violence to lure the audience. Many of these films played in Grindhouse and drive-in theaters specializing in B-movies. There were few plot devices, and the mostly insane villains were given cursory of motives for their heinous actions. The mainly teenage audiences led to teenage protagonists being added to the plots.

British director Robert Fuest's low-budget shocker And Soon the Darkness (1970) set off the exploitation wave of the 1970s; the film moved away from the Gothic feel of 1960s horror by unraveling the sinister action in daytime. Similarly, Fright (1971), based on the "babysitter and the man upstairs" urban legend, sees the protagonist not only stalked but also humiliated by the killer. Tower of Evil (1972) features teenage murders at a remote island lighthouse, cementing the tradition of partying teens in danger.

Well known in the exploitation genre was Pete Walker, the English director of the sex, blood and gore-filled The Flesh and Blood Show (1972). He followed it with Frightmare (1974), which broke many taboos at the time and advertised its negative reviews to attract viewers. In House of Mortal Sin (1976), he tackled Catholicism with a killer priest using sacred objects as murder weapons. In Schizo (1976), an ice skater thinks she is being stalked by a serial killer. Walker's last psycho-thriller, The Comeback (1978), featured a hag-masked killer.

The American film Blood and Lace (1971) was dubbed by the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film as the "sickest PG-rated movie ever made!" William Girdler's Three on a Meathook was a loose remake of Psycho, with a higher body-count and more nudity. Scream Bloody Murder (1973) advertised that it was the first motion picture to be labeled "gore-nography." High-profile films sometimes included themes popular in low-budget productions; Westworld (1973), a theme park in which with lifelike robots turn deadly and begin to kill people, was cited by John Carpenter as one of his inspirations when creating the character of Michael Myers in Halloween.

By 1974, exploitation films were losing popularity. The Single Girls (1974) attempted unsuccessfully to spoof horror genre conventions, and the ultra low-budget Have a Nice Weekend (1975) did not exploit the sex, nudity, drugs, or violence that audiences expected. The Love Butcher (1975), released at the beginning of the punk movement failed to attract an audience with its lack of political correctness. In The Redeemer: Son of Satan (1976), ex-students at a school reunion are stalked by a vengeful maniac because of the sins they've committed, including one woman for being a lesbian. The use of masks was a central gimmick in the poorly received Savage Weekend (1976), which was shelved for several years before a small re-release in 1981.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Tobe Hooper's low-budget The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) was a major hit and the most commercially successful horror film since 1973's The Exorcist. The story concerns a violent clash of cultures and ideals, including the death of late 1960's counter-culture, and the darkly conservative values of a rural family. The film's main antagonist is Leatherface, a squealing man who carries a chainsaw, wears the skin of past victims, and eats human flesh.

The film's success spawned several imitators and its false "based on a true story" advertisements gave birth to films whose central premise was a violent reenactment of a real-life crime. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), based on the true unsolved Phantom Killer case, centers on a killer stalking lovelorn teens wearing a mask. In the same vein Another Son of Sam (1977), cashed-in on the public's fascination with the then-recent Son of Sam slayings in New York City.

Wes Craven returned to the genre with The Hills Have Eyes (1977). The film featured suburban "fish-out-of-water" protagonists facing inbred cannibals. The film was a financial success, and helped relaunch Craven's career which had been damaged by the controversy surrounding the violence in his previous film The Last House on the Left.

Black Christmas

Black Christmas is a holiday-themed horror film. The 1972 television film Home for the Holidays concerns a Christmas family reunion turn deadly when a killer starts dispatching guests with a pitchfork. The And All Through the House segment of the anthology film Tales from the Crypt, released that same year, features Joan Collins who murders her husband on Christmas Eve and, because of this crime, cannot call police when an escaped psychopath in a Santa costume terrorizes her. In the low-budget Silent Night, Bloody Night (1973), a series of murders occurs on the site of an old asylum.

Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974) utilizes a Christmas setting and creepy phone calls that were later popular in films such as When a Stranger Calls (1979) and Scream (1996). The film was praised for its tension and suspense, and plays on societal taboos of the time, including abortion and alcoholism. Both visually and thematically, Black Christmas is a precursor to Halloween, as both feature young women being terrorized by a killer, in a previously safe environment, during an iconic holiday. Like Halloween, Clark's film opens with a lengthy point of view shot. Black Christmas differs from later slasher films in that the killer is not revealed or defeated by a final girl.

Black Christmas was heavily criticized. Variety complained that it was a "bloody, senseless kill-for-kicks" flick that exploited unnecessary violence. Despite being a modest hit in its initial run, the film has since garnered acclaim, with film historians noting its undeniable importance in the modern horror film genre; many cite it as the original slasher film.

Golden age

The period from 1978 to 1984, when the genre was most popular, is often cited as the Golden Age of Slasher films. The film that jumpstarted the period was John Carpenter's Halloween. Its success and that of Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th in the spring of 1980 led to many of imitators, and by 1984 over 100 such films had been released. Despite reviews comparing the films negatively with seminal works such as Psycho (1960) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), many of these films have gone on to establish their own cult followings.

Most slasher films made during this six-year period were profitable, and together they earned hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, with no need for a large budget or well-known actors. Many of these slashers were Halloween imitators, reusing the simple template of teens being stalked by a murderous figure. Later film exploited and expanded on what had been done before, featuring more gore, nudity, and higher body counts than Halloween, which had been praised by critics for its restraint. The films used American imagery, and were often set in high schools, college dorms, summer camps, night schools, or suburbia.


Including aspects of the French New Wave film Eyes Without a Face (1960), the science fiction film Westworld (1973), and the slasher film Black Christmas (1974), Halloween became a genre-defining film with the simple plot of an escaped mental patient stalking unsuspecting teens. To minimize costs, the action was set at only a few locations, over a brief period of time, an approach that would be copied by almost every slasher film to follow.

John Carpenter wrote and directed the film, and composed its score with his then girlfriend, Debra Hill, who was the film's producer. It was budgeted at at $300,000, and Carpenter agreed to a fee of $10,000 and a percentage of the profits. Moustapha Akkad, an Arab film producer, backed the project, and continued to influence the Halloween franchise until his death in 2005. Jamie Lee Curtis was chosen to play heroine Laurie Strode; her mother, Janet Leigh, had played the victim in the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. The role of Dr. Sam Loomis, the doctor hunting the killer, went to Donald Pleasence. Carpenter's friend, Nick Castle, played the menacing killer Michael Myers.

The opening scene in the film, seen from the point of view of six-year-old Michael Myers as he stalks his sister and her boyfriend, would be mimicked in dozens of other slasher films. It became such a common convention that it was spoofed in films such as Blow Out (1981). Asked why the sexually active teens in the film were killed while virginal "final girls" survive, Carpenter denied a conservative political agenda, stating that sex-obsessed teenagers were easier targets for Myers because they were paying less attention to their surroundings. However, subsequent filmmakers copied what appeared to be the "sex-equals-death" mantra.

When shown an early cut of the film without the musical score, the major American studios declined to distribute it, one even remarking that it was not scary. With the mood-setting music added, the film was distributed in Kansas City through Compass International Pictures in October 1978, and opened in four theaters. Through word-of-mouth, the movie became a sleeper hit. When it opened at the Chicago Film Festival in November 1978, initial critical reaction was mixed, but the country's major critics soon acclaimed it, and Halloween became a box office hit, ultimately becoming the most profitable independent release to date. The film grossed over $70 million worldwide.


The TV Movie Are You in the House Alone? was first screened just prior to Halloween. It was another "babysitter in peril" flick, with phantom phone calls. Released about that time was Eyes of Laura Mars, which starred Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones. With a similar style to the giallo, which had started falling out of favor by the late 70s, Eyes of Laura Mars was a success at the box office, garnering $20 million from a $7 million budget.

The Toolbox Murders went into production following the success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes at the drive-in and Grindhouse circuits. In the first act of the film, the deranged manager of a Los Angeles apartment complex kills numerous women with instruments from a toolbox. The remainder of the film concerns a kidnapping plot. Killer's Delight is a San Francisco-set serial killer story that claimed to take its inspiration from the exploits of Ted Bundy and the Zodiac Killer.


Although many slashers went into production in 1979, most were not be released until 1980 and later.

One which was released was David Schmoeller's Tourist Trap, which emulated plots in films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). However, while the teens are pursued by a masked killer, there is a supernatural twist of a killer with telekinesis. More akin to Halloween was Fred Walton's When a Stranger Calls, based on the urban legend of "the babysitter and the man upstairs". The film became known for its opening scene, in which a babysitter (Carol Kane) is taunted by a killer, lurking in the house, who repeatedly calls her to ask, "Have you checked the children?"

Less successful was Ray Dennis Steckler's burlesque slasher The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher, which had an almost documentary-like approach to the on-screen violence against the homeless. The violence against vagabonds was repeated in Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer, which focuses on the internal turmoil of the killer rather than on his murderous deeds. The Driller Killer is so bloody that it became one of the most infamous "video nasties" in Britain. Another slasher, Savage Water, was also made in 1979 but failed to find North American distribution.


1980 was the year that the slasher film exploded into the public consciousness, largely because of the success of Friday the 13th as well as hits like Silent Scream and Prom Night. With the election of Ronald Reagan as the 40th President of the United States, a new age of conservatism was ushered into America. Growing concern about rising violence, as well as the debate about the depiction of violence against women in entertainment, manifested into protests and boycotts. The slasher film, at the height of its commercial power, also unwittingly found itself at the center of a political and cultural maelstrom.

Among the first successes was Silent Scream, which made $15.8 million at the box office. The team behind Halloween (1978), including John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, and Charles Cyphers, returned for The Fog, a ghost story that was not directly a slasher, but features murderous specters that kill residents of a small seaside town. A box office smash, The Fog received positive reviews, cementing Carpenter and Hill as Hollywood heavyweights.

Two high-profile and thematically similar slasher-thrillers opened in early 1980; William Friedkin's Cruising starring Al Pacino as a vice cop investigating a series of murders against gay men in leather bars, and Windows, which equated lesbianism with psychosis as a divorcee suffers at the hands of psychotic Sapphic neighbor. Cruising drew protests from gay rights groups, who were unhappy with its portrayal of homosexuals. Although the film pre-dates the AIDS crisis, it could be argued that the film's negative portrayal of the gay community fueled the subsequent backlash when the virus broke out. Windows only played for one week before being pulled from theaters due to its homophobia.

Don't Answer the Phone! kicked off the "Don't" cycle of films, although none of these films were related. While Don't Answer the Phone! alludes to something along the lines of When a Stranger Calls (1979), it was criticized for being misogynistic by dwelling on, and attempting to be titillating, by using the suffering of females exclusively. Also in the "Don't" cycle was Joseph Ellison's Don't Go in the House, a video nasty film that also depicted graphic scenes of female suffering. New Year's Evil attempted to diminish its misogynistic undertones with New Wave music and a novel plot, although the film was ultimately unsuccessful critically and commercially. Brian De Palma paid homage to Psycho in Dressed to Kill, a film that initiated a wave of protest from women's groups for its misogyny; the National Organization for Women (NOW) picketed when it was shown on the University of Iowa campus. Despite controversy, the film was a success and took in $32 million at the box office.

Holiday-themed slashers also appeared, including Christmas Evil which received a limited release and was poorly received by audiences which were expecting something faster-paced than a slow-burn psychological study about a man's deadly obsession with Santa Claus. Also targeting Christmas was David Hess' directorial debut To All a Goodnight, which foreshadowed the popularity of campus-set slashers coming the following year. Hess also added to his acting resume in The House on the Edge of the Park, playing the role of rapist/serial killer, similar to his role in 1972's The Last House on the Left. The rock slasher Terror on Tour, from the producing team behind To All a Goodnight, was also released in 1980, proving that producers were trying to sell as many low-budget horror films as possible in the shortest amount of time, with no concern for quality.

Slashers were mainly hits at drive-in and Grindhouse theaters. The Italian horror movie Antropophagus, directed by Joe D'Amato, included a murdered woman's unborn baby being ripped out and eaten, and the killer eating his own innards as he dies. The Bigfoot horror Night of the Demon, was a splatter-slasher film hybrid that featured graphic scenes such as a man being whipped with his own intestines and two girls being forced to stab each other in a ritualistic dance. Dario Argento followed up on his 1977 blockbuster Suspiria with Inferno, the second installment in The Three Mothers trilogy. Unlike its predecessor, Inferno had a limited theatrical release and received mixed reviews. German director Ulli Lommel, known for the acclaimed The Tenderness of Wolves (1973), directed The Boogeyman, one of the first slashers include in supernatural elements. The film, playing on the success of both Halloween and The Amityville Horror (1979), was a box office smash, earning $25 million. Supernatural elements were also in The Ghost Dance, which involves the spirit of the shaman Nahalla being resurrected and possessing an Indian medicine man. David Paulson, director of the rarely seen Savage Weekend (1976), returned with Schizoid. Another low-budget slasher released in 1980 was The Unseen, which was notably less exploitative but still lured audiences with the promise of beautiful women in peril. Australia, meanwhile, saw the release of Nightmares.

Many well-known actors and directors participated in the slasher genre. Academy Award winner John Huston directed Phobia, although the film was both a critical and commercial failure. Fade to Black provides a social commentary on cinematic violence and its effects on youth culture. Jack Palance and Martin Landau, who would go on to star in Alone In The Dark two years later, played lead roles in alien slasher Without Warning. The influences of Halloween are seen in MGM's He Knows You're Alone, a movie with similar soundtrack, location, characters and scary scenes.

Tax incentives led to slasher productions in Canada. Jamie Lee Curtis starred in Paul Lynch's Prom Night; it was a sizable hit with a $15 million box office. Curtis returned for another Canadian slasher, Terror Train, also featuring Ben Johnson, David Copperfield, and Hart Bochner. Released by 20th Century Fox, the film was a minor success. Also from Canada, Funeral Home, a tamer update of Psycho was a box office success in Mexico.

One of the most controversial slashers of its time was William Lustig's Maniac, released in 1980. Featuring Joe Spinell as a schizophrenic serial killer in New York, Maniac attacked by critics; Vincent Canby of The New York Times said that watching the film was like "watching someone else throw up." Tom Savini, who also worked on Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Friday the 13th, provided graphic gore effects for the film, which mainly depicted violence against women. Lustig released the film unrated on American screens, thereby sidestepping the MPAA. The film'brought in $6 million at the box office.

Friday the 13th

After Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th is the best known slasher from the Golden Age. The film was commercially successful, bringing in nearly $40 million at the box office. Despite this success, its distributor, Paramount Pictures, was criticized for "lowering" itself to release such a violent movie. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert despised the film, and Siskel, in his Chicago Tribune review, revealed the identity of the film's killer his fate in an attempt to hurt its box office, even providing the address of the chairman of Paramount Pictures in case viewers of the film wanted to complain.

The MPAA was criticized for allowing the film to pass with an R rating. The film's violence would be replicated in subsequent slasher films hoping to cash in on its success, as it set the bar for acceptable levels of on-screen violence. The criticisms that began with Friday the 13th would lead to the genre's eventual decline in subsequent years.


By 1981, release of slasher films reached a saturation point. Films such as the heavily advertised My Bloody Valentine and The Burning were box office failures. Slashers were still cheap to make, and the search for the next Halloween and Friday the 13th continued, while sequels to those films began to hit screens.

Just Before Dawn (1981), one of the first releases of the year, celebrates nature through its cinematography and the atmosphere of the Silver Falls, Oregon location, and a memorable score by Brad Fiedel. Australia's Roadgames, starring Jamie Lee Curtis, was unsuccessful at the box office, something that director Richard Franklin blamed on its marketing as a slasher.

After the major box office success of Friday the 13th, Paramount Pictures picked up My Bloody Valentine, hoping that it would achieve similar success. The film became the subject of intense scrutiny by the MPAA in the wake of the murder of John Lennon, and was released heavily edited. Lacking the draw of gore, My Bloody Valentine made only $6 million at the box office, much less than Paramount had hoped for. The similar themed The Prowler hoped to lure the Friday the 13th audience with suspenseful sequences and gore effects by Tom Savini, but it was heavily edited for theatrical release. This contributed to its failure to find a distributor, and, as a regional release, affected its total profit. Suffering similar censorship was The Burning, which also used Savini's effects. Thematically similar to Friday the 13th it did not make much of a box office impact despite being the launching point for heavyweight film producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, and Brad Grey, as well as actors Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, and Fisher Stevens.

Studio interest in potential slasher films grew after the success of Friday the 13th. Eyes of a Stranger was acquired by Warner Bros. and, while not quite as mean-spirited as the previous year's Don't Answer the Phone! (1980), it was similarly violent and sadistic, although much of the gore was cut. Warner Bros. also distributed Night School, a film heavily influenced by the giallo genre, especially Andrea Bianchi's Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975). Screen legends Lauren Bacall and James Garner starred in The Fan, which was unsuccessful both critically and commercially for distributor Paramount Pictures. Universal Pictures, known for its monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s, released Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse, which scored a modest success of $8 million. Columbia Pictures picked up independent Canadian whodunit Happy Birthday to Me, directed by J. Lee Thompson, the man behind Cape Fear (1962). Promoted as a "psychological mystery shocker" with "six of the most bizarre murders you'll ever see", Happy Birthday to Me underwent cuts ordered by the MPAA but still made $10 million. Slashers translated to television, with CBS releasing Dark Night of the Scarecrow.

Independent companies also released low-budget slashers with varying degrees of success. Bloody Birthday, about killer children, was aesthetically and thematically similar to Halloween, proving that John Carpenter's hit had not lost steam. Linda Blair, star of The Exorcist (1973), continued her career in Hell Night. That film's director, Tom DeSimone, was well aware of the MPAA's backlash against the slasher genre, so he de-emphasized gore in favor of suspense. Deadly Blessing (1981) marked Wes Craven's first stab at the genre three years before he would revolutionize it with A Nightmare on Elm Street. The year's most surprising success was Herb Freed's Graduation Day, a film that revels in its gratuitous violence, featuring everything that has become synonymous with the genre. The film was a hit, making $25 million at the box office against a $200,000 budget. 1981 also saw the releases of Absurd (Joe D'Amato's follow-up to 1980's Antropophagus), Jesus Franco's German slasher Bloody Moon, and Ovidio G. Assonitis' Italian slasher, Madhouse.

Thin plots allowed cheap budgets. Final Exam marked a point where redundancy was becoming commonplace, as it copied Halloween in numerous ways, from a motiveless killer hiding under the window of the final girl, to the similar-sounding synthesizer soundtrack. Thanksgiving-set Home Sweet Home relied on little-to-no plot, only featuring a PCP-fueled psychopath on a killing spree at a family dinner. Also released was backwoods slasher Scream. Among other oddities of 1981 was Christian morality tale A Day of Judgement, Romano Scavolini's "video nasty" Nightmare in a Damaged Brain. Bill Condon and Michael Laughlin's Strange Behavior, and Riccardo Fredo's giallo, Murder Obsession. Strangest was Don't Go in the Woods... Alone!, a film that embraced its inept plot, cheap gore effects, and grating score.

The slasher film began to use fantasy and other supernatural elements, leading to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). GhostKeeper, based on the Native American legend of the Wendigo, was Canada's answer to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). Despite its relative obscurity, the film has enjoyed a healthy resurgence in later years, as fans have found its emphasis on atmosphere to be refreshing. Evilspeak involved a social outcast using his computer to summon demons and cast spells on his tormenters.

1981 also saw the start of slasher film sequels. Steve Miner's Friday the 13th Part 2 is perhaps the quintessential 80's slasher movie: fast-paced, gory, and fun. Despite being heavily trimmed by order of the MPAA, the film was a huge success. Even more successful was Halloween II. While John Carpenter and Debra Hill were reluctant to return to the genre they launched, they agreed to write the screenplay. Aware that the horror landscape had changed since the release of the first film, they added more gore and a higher body count, showing how Friday the 13th had equally affected the subgenre. This Universal Pictures film premiered on October 30, 1981 and had a final domestic take of over $25 million, making it the second highest-grossing horror film of 1981, behind An American Werewolf in London (1981).


1982 marked the beginning of straight-to-video production of slasher films; this was the main method of release from the mid-1980s onward.

Slasher film budgets dropped drastically. One of 1982's first slasher films was Madman, which made the top 10 Variety list the week of its New York city release and did well on home video. Death Valley was picked up and distributed nationwide by Universal Pictures. Death Screams focused largely on small town teenage drama rather than slasher deaths to keep costs to a minimum. Other low-budget films included The Dorm That Dripped Blood, made for just $90,000, and Honeymoon Horror, made for $50,000. Like Madman, both films found a strong audience on home video, and became successful sellers in the early days of VHS.

Some independent productions had trouble finding distribution. Girls Nite Out had a very limited release in 1982 through Aries International, but was re-released in 1984 to more theaters, before achieving modest success on home video. Paul Lynch's Humongous was released through AVCO Embassy Pictures, but a change in management at the company severely limited the film's theatrical release. Cheap shockers like Dark Sanity, The Forest, Unhinged, Trick or Treats, and Island of Blood quickly fell into obscurity, barely getting theatrical releases and receiving only sub-par video transfers.

Filmmakers attempted to make slashers that poked fun at the conventions and controversy surrounding them. Alone in the Dark, starring veteran actors Donald Pleasence, Martin Landau, and Jack Palance, acts as a self-aware parody employing jokes without becoming farce. In The Last Horror Film, Joe Spinell reunited with his Maniac (1980) co-star Caroline Munro in a gory commentary on the nature of horror films and the audience they attract. Feminists Amy Holden Jones and Rita Mae Brown acted as director and writer respectively on another parody of the genre, The Slumber Party Massacre. Despite featuring exploitative violence against men, feminists did not get the joke their colleagues Jones and Brown were playing and criticized the film.

The success of Halloween II (1981) led to more hospital-set slashers. Among them was Visiting Hours, which pitted liberal feminism against macho right-wing bigotry. Also utilizing the setting was Hospital Massacre, in which Playboy Bunny Barbi Benton and gory hospital-themed set-pieces were the main draws. Australia's Next of Kin opted to use a retirement home. Like Visiting Hours, slashers attempted to take on political issues during the early 80s. William Asher's Night Warning tackles incest and homophobia while alluding to classic literature, borrowing from Sophocles tragedy Oedipus Rex.

Goofy fun carried into Friday the 13th Part III, which was the first slasher film to be the third in a series. The film was an enormous financial success, grossing over $36 million, $14 million more than its predecessor. It's also the first in which Jason Voorhees donned his iconic hockey mask. The film Pieces, starring Lynda Day George and Christopher George, was a Puerto Rican production, filmed in Boston and Madrid, by an Italian-based American producer, and a Spanish director with gory scenes, bad acting, memorable dialogue, and disco music. Italian giallos also continued to see output in 1982, with releases including Sergio Martino's The Scorpion with Two Tails, Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper and Dario Argento's Tenebrae.

Hollywood continued its output of slashers, although new approaches moved in different directions. The Seduction mixed erotic thrills, selling itself as a thriller rather than a horror film. It was a surprise hit, generating $11 million in its run and predating blockbusters like Fatal Attraction (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992). Deadly Games, about a journalist who returns home after the mysterious death of her sister, saw slasher elements inserted into an otherwise routine thriller purely because the film's backers assumed audiences wanted them. Silent Rage stars Chuck Norris, showcasing his talent for martial arts.

Supernatural and fantasy continued to be themes in slasher movies. The Slayer surely influenced Wes Craven's film by finding a woman dreaming of a boogeyman as her friends disappear, blurring the lines between the dream world and reality. Demons appeared in The Incubus, based on Ray Russell's novel about an evil creature raping and murdering women in a small town, while supernatural themes were also the driving force behind Blood Song and Don't Go To Sleep. The haunted house opus Superstition takes a formula established by The Amityville Horror (1979) and adds a body-count with gory deaths. The Halloween franchise had also ventured into the supernatural with the release of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a stark departure from the stalk-and-slash plots of the first two films.


Classic plots and settings continued to appear in 1983. Mark Rosman's The House on Sorority Row has a similar plot to Prom Night (1980) and Terror Train (1980), where teen protagonists accidentally commit a crime and try to cover it up, only to have a witness seek vengeance. Lamberto Bava's A Blade in the Dark follows a composer who has to figure out the identity of a killer who is stalking victims at the Tuscany villa he is staying at. The Final Terror, a backwoods slasher in the vein of The Burning (1981), sees park rangers terrorized by a forest-dwelling woman. Co-eds were, as always, nubile prey. The TV thriller Deadly Lessons finds a group of school girls terrorized by a killer at a private school. Slashers continued to take on political issues, as seen in Sweet Sixteen, where a rash of crimes are blamed on local Native Americans, highlighting racism and prejudice in the American Southwest.

The most successful slasher of 1983 was Psycho II, an ambitious attempt at following Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Reuniting original cast members Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles, the film continued the legacy of the tormented Norman Bates, who may or may not be behind a new series of slayings. His victims now include pot-smoking teenagers rather than the adult characters of the original. It scored $34.7 million at the box office, a success that led to the production of two more sequels; Psycho III (1986) and the TV movie Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990).

Canada continued its output of slasher films, most notably Curtains, produced by Peter Simpson, who was behind Prom Night and Humongous (1982) and the low-budget thriller American Nightmare which follows a man as he delves into the seedy urban underground of prostitutes, drug addicts, and pornography addicts.

The genre's eventual transition from theatrical releases to home video began in 1983, with the release of Sledgehammer, the first slasher made directly for home video. Produced for just $40,000, Sledgehammer features a climax with a gender reversal, as former Playgirl model Ted Prior takes off his shirt to fight the killer for no other reason than to reveal his six-pack abdomen. 1983 had a few sexualized home-video slashers, including Blood Beat, about a woman who conjures up a seven-foot-tall samurai serial killer while masturbating, and Double Exposure, where female nudity is on display as a photographer Michael Callan, (who also produces) dreams of murdering models and is shocked to discover that they are really dying. Prolific B-movie director Fred Olen Ray released Scalps, which became one of the most censored films in history, largely due to its graphic rape scene where the spirit possesses one of the student's and proceeds to rape his girlfriend and then scalp her.

Perhaps the best remembered slasher of 1983 is Robert Hiltzik's Sleepaway Camp, a Friday the 13th-clone featuring victims who appear barely pubescent and also featuring a mix of themes, including paedophilia and transvestism, as well as homosexual scenes, which were taboo at the time. A cult classic, Sleepaway Camp launched a series.

Some releases attempted to distance themselves from the genre, despite being plotted after slasher films. Mortuary featured a poster in which a hand is bursting from the grave, an image that has nothing to do with the film itself. This indicates that distributors were aware of the fading box office attraction of the slasher, and were attempting to hoodwink audiences into thinking they were seeing something else entirely. J. Lee Thompson, director of Happy Birthday to Me (1981), returned to the genre to with 10 to Midnight starring Charles Bronson, inspired by the real-life crimes of Richard Speck. The film promoted Bronson's justice-for-all character above any slasher elements, as Bronson's career had become defined by vigilante films such as Death Wish (1974) and its sequels.


By 1984, the public had largely lost interest in theatrically released slashers. Production of slashers plummeted, and a whiff of desperation surrounded the few new releases. Major studios all but abandoned the genre that, only a few years earlier, had been very profitable. Although it was rare to see slasher films on the big screen in 1984, reissues and new video productions brought the genre to a whole new generation.

Many films had very brief theatrical runs in 1984 but would find varying degrees of success on home video. These include campus-themed Splatter University, supernatural-themed Satan's Blade, the micro-budgeted Blood Theatre, rock n' roll slasher Rocktober Blood, and athletes-in-peril slasher Fatal Games. The Prey and Evil Judgement were filmed years earlier and finally had small theatrical releases. Riding on the success of Friday the 13th Part III (1982) and its use of 3D was Silent Madness, which used the effect in an attempt to lure an audience for its short theatrical run; the 3D effects did not translate to its VHS release. Deadly Intruder was another TV slasher, but was not as successful as the small-screen runs of films like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). 1984 also saw the release of the Lucio Fulci dance academy giallo, Murder Rock.

Although the box office returns of Friday the 13th Part III were extremely impressive, the filmmakers behind Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter decided it was time to bring the saga of Jason Voorhees to a close, using his demise as the main marketing tool for the film. Directed by Joseph Zito, the film was darker and more brutal than the three previous entries, and featured more graphic gore and death scenes. When The Final Chapter scored a massive $32 million at the box office, it was clear that the series would not end, however the death of Jason also meant the death of an era that he represented: the Golden Age of Slasher Films.

The real death of the Golden Age came with the controversy and box office failure of Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). Protesters picketed theaters playing the film with placards reading, "Deck the hall with holly -- not bodies!" Despite earlier releases portraying a psychopath in a Santa suit, including the same year's Don't Open till Christmas, the promotional material for Silent Night, Deadly Night featured a killer Santa swinging an ax with the tagline: "He Knows when you've been naughty!" Released in November 1984, on the same day as A Nightmare on Elm Street, distributor TriStar Pictures found that not all publicity is good, as persistent carol-singing parents forced one Bronx cinema to pull the film a week into its run. Soon after, widespread outrage from the press led to the film being pulled from other cinemas across the country. The film was a box office bomb, making only $2.5 million for its entire run, as opposed to the enormous success of the more inventive horror fantasy, A Nightmare on Elm Street, signaling that audiences were ready for something a little more spectacular than low-budget horror.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

While interest in the slasher waned, Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street revitalized the genre, although its mix of fantasy and horror weeded out low-budget films that dominated the Golden Age. Craven had toyed with the genre before in Deadly Blessing (1981), however he was frustrated that the genre he had arguably helped create with The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) had not benefited him financially. Having worked on developing what would become A Nightmare on Elm Street since 1981, Craven knew that time was running out due to declining revenues from theatrical horror releases, and the slasher subgenre in particular looked to be all but dead within a year. He had little idea that his soon-to-be-iconic villain, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), would capture the imagination of audiences worldwide and shape a decade of horror films.

A Nightmare on Elm Street, and especially Freddy, became a cultural phenomenon. On a budget of just $1.8 million the film grossed $25.5 million and launched one of the most successful film franchises in cinematic history. It also helped establish its studio, New Line Cinema, as a powerhouse in Hollywood; to this day, it is referred to as "The House That Freddy Built." As well as launching Freddy and Craven, the movie also featured considerable talent from its well-versed leads, including a young Johnny Depp. Other films quickly attempted to cash in on its success, including The Initiation (1984), which also had a subplot of dreams and a horribly burned man.

The success of A Nightmare on Elm Street ended the low-budget phenomenon of the Golden Age, ushering in a new wave of horror films that relied heavily on special effects and strong acting, almost systematically silencing the simpler low-budget features that were modeled after John Carpenter's Halloween.

Video nasties

Video Nasty was a British tabloid term coined in the early 1980s to describe violent exploitation films. This category included some slasher films, including The Burning (1981), Bloody Moon (1981), Don't Go in the House (1980), and The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982). During the early 1980s, the British market was flooded with uncensored films, publicly available due to a temporary loophole in the laws governing home video. These films created a moral panic, sensationalized by newspaper headlines as well as campaigning politicians and religious groups.

Video nasties were placed on the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) list, created after the Obscene Publications Act first appeared in 1983. The films on the list were subject to seizure by police, and, in the end, a total of 39 films were banned from Britain by law. The Video Recordings Act of 1984 was hurriedly assembled, ensuring that all video releases in Britain would be previewed and censored by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The hysteria resulted in many slasher films, even those not included on the DPP list, to be cut or to have their video release delayed.

In recent years, Britain has taken a more relaxed attitude toward film censorship, and some "video nasties" have received uncut releases on DVD.


By 1985 audience fatigue had hit the slasher film and its popularity had declined substantially but not died out completely. The home video revolution, fueled by the popularity of VHS, provided new outlets for low-budget filmmaking. With the exception of a few franchises and mainstream thrillers, the slasher film was condemned to straight-to-video production. Without the backing of major studios or their willingness to pick up independent features for theatrical release, slasher films relied heavily on the home video, which brought new life to all genres and, with the exception pornography, horror was arguably the most popular. Although financial returns were down, there was still potential to turn a profit, especially on the new cheaper medium of video.

A few holdover titles produced during the Golden Age found releases in the home video market that provided an outlet to generate lost money. Originally filmed in 1982, Too Scared to Scream (1985) found distribution from Vestron Video, while The Mutilator (1985), filmed in 1982, was released by Ocean King Releasing in the mid-80s. Killer Party (1986), a movie filmed partially in 1978 but not completed until 1984, was not released until 1986 when it received limited distribution from MGM. The campy Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1986) was filmed in 1983 but not picked up for distribution from New World Pictures until several years later. Mirroring the punk rock movement, novice filmmakers felt anyone could make a movie with home video. The results included Blood Cult (1985), which was wrongly advertised as being the first shot-on-video slasher. Another film that tried to make the "first shot-on-video" claim was The Ripper (1985). Other films that made their way directly to video stores included: Spine (1986), Truth or Dare? (1986), Killer Workout (1987), and Death Spa (1989), among dozens of others.

The mid-1980s had a wave of sequels. Wes Craven directed The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1985) for a paycheck, although he repeatedly disowned the film since. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) attempted to revive the franchise that was supposed to have ended with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter in 1984. Although profitable, A New Beginning did not achieve the commercial success of the earlier films in the series and fans reacted poorly to it, leading producers to re-think the entire direction of the series' overarching storyline. After A Nightmare on Elm Street became a sleeper hit, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) was rushed into production. Freddy's Revenge distinguishes itself from other slasher films by having a male protagonist and overtly homoerotic undertones. Freddy's Revenge was a financial success and the highest grossing horror film of 1985, making more than A New Beginning. The A Nightmare on Elm Street films were so successful that they inspired their own "dream" fantasy slasher subgenre, including Dreamaniac (1986), Bad Dreams (1988), Deadly Dreams (1988), and Dream Demon (1988) are just a handful of movies that attempted to capitalize on the supernatural fantasy horror trend. April Fool's Day was a parody of the slasher film and was a modest hit for Paramount, although it was not the start of a franchise as the studio had hoped. Also spoofing the genre was Evil Laugh (1986), featuring characters who make self-referential remarks about surviving horror movies. Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) emphasized laughs over scares, but only brought in a meager sum of $8 million at the box office, showing that a franchise made famous on the terrifying reputation of the 1974 original didn't translate into comedy. The most popular among 1980s slasher comedies was Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, which took a more ironic approach to the fledgling franchise. Inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the roles of the monster and Dr. Frankenstein were placed upon Jason Voorhees and Tommy Jarvis, and worked as both a straightforward sequel and a postmodern spin on the genre its predecessor helped define.

Original Elm Street stars Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon returned for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), which brought in then-record breaking box office numbers of $44.8 million domestically. The following year, Renny Harlin's A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) catered to the MTV generation with a hip soundtrack and cross-promotion and became even more successful than Dream Warriors, bringing in nearly $50 million at the domestic box office. While the Elm Street franchise thrived in the late 1980s, the Friday the 13th and Halloween movies failed to make large impacts. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) continued a decline of the franchise's box office. On the 10-year anniversary of John Carpenter's original Halloween (1978) was Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), which was bolstered by the return of Donald Pleasence. Despite being number one at the box office for two weeks in a row, the movie pulled in a modest $17 million. Villains like Jason, Freddy, and Michael were challenged by a smaller competitor in Child's Play (1988), the first film to feature evil doll Chucky. Proving that audiences responded positively to well-made, fresh ideas, the film was a box office hit, grossing $33.2 million. Child's Play 2 (1990) showed that good will toward the first continued, as it brought in nearly $30 million domestically, however series fatigue hit hard with the release of Child's Play 3 (1991), a film that managed to fail both critically and commercially.

Internationally, the slasher film remained producible. In Mexico, Ruben Galindo Jr., released three slasher films in the late 1980s: Zombie Apocalypse (1985), Don't Panic (1988), and Grave Robbers (1990). Another Mexican release, Hell's Trap (1990), harkened back to films like The Prowler (1981) where teens are stalked by an ex-soldier. In Sweden, Blood Tracks (1985) recalled The Hills Have Eyes. The United Kingdom had the killer-priest opus Lucifer (1987), and Australia released Symphony of Evil (1987), Houseboat Horror (1989), and Bloodmoon (1990). Despite the popularity of American slasher films in Japan, the country only released one slasher in the late 1980s called Evil Dead Trap (1988). In Italy, Michele Soavi's giallo-slasher hybrid StageFright (1987) is often cited as the best film to come out of Italy's late 1980's horror wave, while Ruggero Deodato decline to backwoods slasher cliches in BodyCount (1987). In Spain, the surrealist Anguish (1987) echoed horror films like Lamberto Bava's Demons (1985) by setting up two stories - one centered on the film-within-a-film, and the other being about the audience watching that film.

The final year of the 1980s also ended the 1980s slasher film craze. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) was a box office failure, and provided Paramount Pictures a reason to sell the franchise rights to New Line Cinema in 1990. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) made less than half of what the previous two films had made at the box office. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) fared worst of all, barely making $11 million at the box office and never receiving a theatrical release in Europe. With the three major slasher franchises all failing to generate much interest, the genre fell out of favor by the end of the 1980s, a decade that it had become synonymous with. Because of the box office failures of 1989, the early 1990s produced few slasher films. Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) and Jason Goes to Hell (1993) attempted to breathe new life in to their dying franchises but failed to generate much interest. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) was one of the first distributed by Bob Weinstein's Dimension Films and was a mediocre success, drawing in $15 million and signaling that like the Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises, the Halloween franchise was in desperate need of a revival.

Scream and revival

Bernard Rose's Candyman (1992), based on the short story by Clive Barker, saw its eponymous villain (Tony Todd), become the first black slasher film icon. The ghostly "Candyman" appears to kill those foolish enough to say his name in the mirror five times, borrowing from the Bloody Mary urban legend. The movie anticipated films that would take common folklore as their hook, notably Urban Legend (1998). The film's $25.8 million box office earnings were enough to generate two sequels, as well as arguably providing the impetus for revival of the slashers several years later in New Nightmare (1994) and Scream (1996).

Unexpectedly, Wes Craven, who had retooled the slasher in 1984 with A Nightmare on Elm Street, returned for New Nightmare (1994), a spin-off of that franchise. With the concept of a spin-off from the Freddy Krueger films, Craven utilized characters from the Elm Street films, including Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp and even himself, to play versions of their true personas targeted by a demon that had taken the form of the Freddy Krueger character. The film single-handedly led to the subgenre's postmodern revival in the coming years with the release of Craven's Scream. While New Nightmare was a meager success at the box office, it would help establish the meta self-referential irony that dominated the genre for the next decade.

By 1996, the slasher film was pretty much a fad of the 1980s that had not translated to the 1990s. The subgenre's surprising resurrection with Scream was proof that the slasher film, like many of its iconic villains, refused to stay dead. A box office smash at the tail end of 1996, Scream skillfully juggled the postmodern humor found in Quentin Tarantino's landmark film Pulp Fiction (1994) with visceral horror. The film played on nostalgia for those who had frequented theaters during the slasher's Golden Age, yet also appealed to a younger audience who saw their contemporary stars menaced and terrorized by homicidal maniacs for the first time. In a decade where pop culture was cannibalizing itself, Scream exploited this and worked as a straightforward slasher whodunit.

Scream was the brainchild of screenwriter Kevin Williamson, a self-confessed fan of slasher films including Halloween (1978). Prom Night (1980), and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986). Originally titled Scary Movie, the twist in Scream is that the victims are well versed in horror film lore and know all the clichés, comparing scenes for their favorite movies to a series of murders in their small town. The fact that the audience was also aware of those clichés added to the fun and helped propel the film to a gross of over $103 million, making it the first slasher film to cross $100 million at the domestic box office as well as being the most successful horror film since The Silence of the Lambs (1991). As the attraction of slasher films had been exhausted by 1996, Scream{'}s advertising distanced itself from the subgenre; posters for the film announced Scream as a "new thriller" from Craven, and played up the celebrity of star Drew Barrymore as well as other recognizable cast members from hit TV shows and films, a casting decision that differed from the unknown actors used in low-budget slashers of the early 1980s.

The stellar box-office of Williamson's follow-up I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) silenced naysayers who assumed that Scream was a flash in the pan. Based loosely on the Lois Duncan novel, four teens find themselves targets of a killer after they cover up a hit-and-run. The film acknowledges the setup of films such as Prom Night and The House on Sorority Row (1983), where an accident is the catalyst for later mayhem. Despite the success of Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer played as a straight slasher film with little pop-culture trickery. Unlike the positive critical response that Scream received, I Know What You Did Last Summer was reviewed negatively, but proved to be "critic proof" as it grossed over $70 million at the domestic box office.

Following in the wake of the slasher revival was Urban Legend (1998) that uses the premise that a killer is targeting co-eds using methods described in American folklore. The film was widely criticized as being silly, earned only $38 million at the box office, and showed that the slasher film revival was losing momentum. The next year Canada, which had produced its fair share of slashers in the Golden Age, attempted a comeback with The Clown at Midnight (1999), but the film received little attention and was widely panned. Valentine (2001) brought to mind My Bloody Valentine (1981) and Hospital Massacre (1982), however despite starring Denise Richards and Katherine Heigl, it was a box office bomb, making just $20 million, not enough to cover its own production budget.

Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer found popularity not only in America, but across the world, although their international success was not as immediate. Hong Kong's The Deadly Camp (1999) took inspiration from backwoods slashers of the 1980s, while South Korea had a string of prolific slasher film hits, starting with Bloody Beach (2000), The Record (2001), and Nightmare (2000), the latter mixing the slasher film with the supernatural chills of Japanese ghost films such as Ringu (1998). Australia's postmodern slasher film Cut (2000) cast Molly Ringwald, a 1980s icon from John Hughes films, as its heroine. India's Bollywood produced the first ever musical-slasher hybrid with Kucch To Hai (2003) as well as the more straightforward Dhund: The Fog (2003). Britain also had a release with Lighthouse (1999), and the Netherlands produced teen slashers School's Out (1999) and The Pool (2001).

Return of the sequel

After the success of the first few Halloween and Friday the 13th films in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the slasher movie was built around setting up a familiar pattern, with sequels being made of the most successful films. Scream 2 (1997) followed just a year after the release of Scream, and scored big at the box office. The film had the highest grossing opening weekend of any R-rated film at the time, and brought in over $101 million at the domestic box office. Reuniting much of the surviving cast of the original, as well as bringing back creators Williamson and Craven, Scream 2 successfully combined straight scares with postmodern quips about the nature of sequels. Scream 2 took the campus slashers of the early 1980s, such as Final Exam (1981) and Graduation Day (1981), as inspiration. Along with its stellar box office, the sequel was also a critical hit. Scream 3 (2000) finished the trilogy with a distinct case of diminishing returns. In another self-referencing manner, murders are plaguing a Hollywood movie set. The film marked the first entry in the Scream series not written by Williamson, and was also the first film in the franchise not to break $100 million at the box office, however it did bring in $89 million and was a financial success. Released one year after its predecessor, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) was hated by critics and fans alike, yet was still a modest success with $40 million at the domestic box office. Profits continued to shrink with Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000), in which film students are attacked by a killer in a fencing mask - another postmodern reference to Graduation Day. The film starred Hart Bochner from Terror Train (1981), and made a meager profit of $21 million. Both the I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend franchises would find life in the direct-to-video market in later years.

Michael Myers returned in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), spurred by the success of Scream and Scream 2. Steve Miner, who directed Friday the 13th Part 2 and Friday the 13th Part III, directed the film from a story by Williamson. It was a direct sequel of Halloween II, ignoring all the sequels between, to the annoyance of many fans. This allowed final girl Laurie Strode, once again played by Jamie Lee Curtis, to take on Myers. Despite John Carpenter's refusal to return, the film was a sizable hit, bringing in over $55 million at the box office and receiving some positive reviews. Curtis would return for a cameo in the sequel, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), which was inspired by the reality TV craze, as cameras placed around the infamous childhood home of Myers capture the killer's murderous deeds. It starred rapper Busta Rhymes and supermodel Tyra Banks, hoping to attract the black demographic. While not being the hit that Halloween H20 was, Resurrection still earned a respectable $30.3 million at the domestic box office, even if it was met with scathing reviews by critics and fans.

Chucky also made a comeback in the dark comedy Bride of Chucky (1998), featuring Jennifer Tilly as the titular bride with supporting roles by Brad Dourif, John Ritter, and Katherine Heigl. The film mixes genuine scares from the original Child's Play with the self-referencing humor of films such as Scream and was a hit, scoring a respectable $33 million at the domestic box office, enough to warrant Seed of Chucky (2004). Seed, directed by series creator Don Mancini, was a straight comedy with little emphasis on scares Compared to its predecessor its lack of success at the box office success was such the franchise was put on hold for nearly a decade.

Jason X (2002) did little to bolster the slasher film revival's fleeting appeal. Marked as the tenth film in the Friday the 13th franchise, the movie propelled Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) into the distant future where he kills teens aboard a spaceship. The film was a box office bomb, bringing in just $13 million, making it the lowest-grossing film of the franchise. However, the following year's Freddy vs. Jason (2003) would prove to be a totally different case. An idea around since 1986, the battle of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees came to fruition under director Ronny Yu, who had directed Bride of Chucky. The film featured Freddy (Robert Englund) and Jason (Ken Kirzinger) battling each other with an unlucky group of teens caught in the crossfire. As Scream had done, the film played off nostalgia as well as interest from new fans. The movie scored a massive $82.6 million at the domestic box office, however it was unable to regenerate the slasher genre, and instead acted as a send-off to the second slasher revival with its wink to the Golden Age.

Remakes, reboots, and throwbacks

By 2002, the slasher film had all-but disappeared from mainstream Hollywood cinema, largely due to budgetary declines and more popular, diverse subject matter. Make a Wish (2002) distinguished itself as the first lesbian-centered slasher film. Because the genre typically aimed to lure men with the promise of female nudity, horror and homosexuality appeared to have no connection, however the genre's queer fan base is possibly its largest. Whereas it once steeped in allegory, Make a Wish was one of a number of horror films that emerged primarily for the gay audience in the early 2000s. It was followed by HellBent (2004), the first gay slasher film that features the famous West Hollywood Halloween Parade as the setting. There was even a gay porn version of Scream called Moan (1999). Slasher films were also being made primarily for black audiences, with all-black casts, including: Killjoy (2000), Holla If I Kill You (2003), Holla (2006), and Somebody Help Me (2007).

Although the slasher film had seemingly died by 2002, it was once again jumpstarted by the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), a loose remake of Tobe Hooper's 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Produced by Michael Bay and starring recognizable stars including Jessica Biel and R. Lee Ermey, the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a surprise sleeper hit, grossing over $100 million and signaling a significant change from the days of franchise sequels of the 80s and self-aware 90s slasher films. It was the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake that launched a string for remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings of classic horror that attempted to lure audiences in through familiarity. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, these films added more slasher movie trappings to the retelling of the original film and only brought back key ingredients of their original counterparts, such as the lead villain being prominently featured or, in some cases, just the title and very basic premise. The margin of profit behind producing relatively inexpensive remakes that already had a built-in audience ensured that the trend would be long-lasting. As with most remakes, including Psycho (1998), these films diluted the original's more controversial aspects for maximum commercial appeal. The success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot was followed by a prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) starring Matt Bomer and Jordana Brewster. Although the prequel didn't match the remake's financial success, it managed to make a respectable $39.5 million at the domestic box office.

Among the early films to ride on the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake was House of Wax (2005), a film marketed as a remake of House of Wax (1953), itself a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), although it shares little in common with either of those earlier films. Typical of the remake trend, the film was more a re-imagining loosely based on the original's core premise, as the House of Wax remake shared more similarities with other films, such as Tourist Trap (1979). The film cast then-bankable upcoming television stars Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Elisha Cuthbert, and Paris Hilton, and was marketed largely on showcasing Hilton's demise. Glen Morgan, the writer-producer behind Final Destination (2000), was tasked with writing and directing Black Christmas (2006), a remake of Bob Clark's influential 1974 film. Morgan changed the story into a black comedy, focusing on over-the-top gore more than the Gothic imagery and suspense of the original.

One of the most financially successful remakes was When a Stranger Calls (2006). Expanding the original film's first twenty minutes into a 90-minute feature that relied solely on the tale of the babysitter and the man upstairs, the film was a hit with younger audiences who could see it due to its PG-13 rating, bringing in a total of nearly $50 million at the box office. This was not the first, or the last, slasher film that attempted to capitalize on the PG-13 rating to lure the younger audience. In 2005 two PG-13 slashers were released, although neither were particularly successful critically or commercially. Cry_Wolf (2005), starring Jon Bon Jovi and Lindy Booth, arguably did not have the studio-backed marketing push to become as big a hit as When a Stranger Calls, but The Fog, a remake of John Carpenter's 1980 film, hailed from Sony Pictures and used the popularity of its TV stars Tom Welling and Maggie Grace to promote it. Following the success of When a Stranger Calls, the PG-13 slasher remake craze continued with Prom Night (2008), which was similar to the 1980 original only in title alone. It boasted a higher body count and was a more straightforward slasher film than When a Stranger Calls, yet its PG-13 restrictions led to negative reception from fans who did not find it gruesome enough to be a slasher. Still, it was a hit, pulling in nearly $44 million at the box office.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, several remakes exploited their original counterpart's notoriety, pushing ultra violence. Rob Zombie's Halloween (2007) took the simplicity of John Carpenter's 1978 film and added an extreme vision that, according to critics, systematically replaced everything that made the first film a success. Despite these criticisms, Zombie's remake was a financial success, pulling in $58 million and warranting a sequel. Halloween II (2009) featured more of the same ultra violence only now with surreal imagery. The negative reaction to the 2007 remake carried over to its sequel, as the film made less than half of what its predecessor made at the box office. In contrast, Alexandre Aja used modernized violence to enhance The Hills Have Eyes (2006), an update of Wes Craven's 1977 film. It followed the original's premise closely, adding a few sequences of violence and assault that would not have passed censors in the 1970s. The film was a hit, generating more than $44 million at the box office and getting its own sequel the following year. The sequel upped the violence, gore, and sexual assault, yet was met with harsh reaction from fans who found its gratuitous violence to be too over-the-top, to the point of absurdity.

The remake craze stretched into 2009, when several updates were released, with varying degrees of success. From Lionsgate, the company responsible for the Saw franchise, came My Bloody Valentine (2009), a remake of the 1981 cult classic. The movie did not stick close to the original in terms of plot, but it had plenty of homages to it. To add to the roller-coaster, carnival feel of the film, it has impressive special 3D effects. The movie also generated enough interested to secure a re-release of the original film on DVD, this time completely uncut. The film made over $100 million. A month after the release of My Bloody Valentine came Friday the 13th (2009), made by the same team behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. A reboot of the first three films of the franchise, this remake exploited the slasher film's fame for gruesome death scenes, oblivious partying, and gratuitous sex, all with a self-aware wink. The film was another successful remake, earning over $90 million at the box office.

While a slew of slasher remakes were hugely profitable, the remake craze declined in the late 2000s. On top of the disappointment of potential "franchise-fuelers" such as The Hills Have Eyes II and Halloween II, the Terror Train remake, Train (2008), failed to generate enough interest to obtain a theatrical release. The film was poorly received, owing more to Hostel than the 1980 original. Sorority Row (2009) is a loose remake of The House on Sorority Row (1983) and featured rising stars Audrina Patridge, Rumer Willis, and Jamie Chung, both of whom were nominated for Teen Choice Awards for their performance. April Fool's Day (2008) played it straighter than the 1986 horror-comedy, but received complaints from fans of the original film who criticized its lack of creativity and bad acting. The low-budget holiday-themed slasher films Silent Night (2012) and Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming (2013), remakes of Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) and Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972), respectively, fared just as badly, generating little-to-no interest. The once high-profile Mothers Day (2010), directed by Darren Lynn Bousman of the Saw franchise, starring Rebecca De Mornay, changed the plot line of the 1980 Troma film, but production delays and distribution problems forced the film into a little-seen direct-to-video release.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), a remake of Wes Craven's 1984 film, starred Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger and Rooney Mara and Katie Cassidy as his teenage targets. The film returned the story to its darker, scarier roots. Despite its financial success, the movie was almost universally panned by fans and critics alike. The popularity of the slasher remakes faded, as talks of further sequels and remakes were put on indefinite hold.

The film Wrong Turn (2003) earned over $25 million worldwide and launched a franchise of straight-to-video films. That same year, Rob Zombie's directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses (2003), hit theaters and was a modest success, although the film was greeted with mixed reviews. It was followed by a sequel two years later, The Devil's Rejects (2005), which a harshly violine film which mixed several exploitation genres. The film was a modest hit, bringing in over $15 million at the box office and gaining a strong cult following.

Dark Ride (2006) and Hatchet (2006) used the setting of a theme park and a swamp, respectively. Hatchet was a minor success, generating two sequels. Simon Says (2006) and The Tripper (2006) were also released in the mid-2000s to DVD. In Simon Says, Crispin Glover returned to the genre 22-years after 1984's Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and in The Tripper, directed by David Arquette of the Scream trilogy, a killer in a Ronald Reagan mask slices his way through kids at a music festival. WWE Films made its first feature starring wrestling phenomenon Kane as a monster who picks off juvenile delinquents in an abandoned hotel in See No Evil (2006). The film was followed by a sequel in 2014. The parody Gutterballs (2008) made several references to the early 1980s Golden Age, including its poster which played on the advertisements for Maniac (1980).

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) was a straight horror film that showcased tragedy over the thrill. The film had trouble finding a distributor, and sat on the shelf for over seven years in the United States; it was released after cast member Amber Heard became a star. A more comedic, postmodernist slasher was Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), in which a documentary crew follows a fledgling serial killer who models himself after slasher film icons of the 1980s. The film was a "found footage" slasher film. Independent film director Adam Wingard created You're Next (2011) and The Guest (2014), both of which added twists to the familiar genre conventions; in You're Next, the masked killers unknowingly pick a target in a final girl (Sharni Vinson) who is a survivalist expert prepared to fight back, while The Guest turns the hero (Dan Stevens) into the villain.

Internationally, filmmakers tested extreme levels of tension and violence through slasher films. In France, a new wave of extreme horror began in the early 2000s, including Alexandre Aja's High Tension (2003), the bloody Inside (2007) and the suspenseful Them (2006), which was remade in the United States as The Strangers (2008). Austria's Dead in 3 Days (2006) was a loose remake of I Know What You Did Last Summer, only with much more violent results. Among the many British films that embraced the violent new-wave of filmmaking were: Long Time Dead (2002), Creep (2004), Wilderness (2008), The Children (2008), and Tormented (2009). Britain would also see the release of slasher films that would achieve worldwide acclaim, including: The Descent (2005), the black comedy Severance (2006), and the disturbing Eden Lake (2008), starring Michael Fassbender. In Norway, the snow-set Cold Prey (2006) launched Europe's most successful slasher franchise of the decade. The film's popularity was overshadowed by the even-greater success of its sequel, Cold Prey 2 (2008). A third installment, Cold Prey 3 (2011), was released with less success. South Korea tested the limits of violence with films like Bloody Reunion (2006), and Taiwan followed suit with: Invitation Only (2009), Scared (2005), and Slice (2009).

The decade saw some throwbacks to 1990s slasher films. The sequel I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006) bypassed cinemas and was released directly to DVD. The film has a similar premise as the 1997 original, but the characters, setting, and overall storyline are different. The movie was harshly received, ending the franchise. Curse of Chucky (2013) brought the killer doll back nearly a decade, focusing on scares but not forgetting the series' comedic undertones. It marked the first straight-to-video entry in the franchise, and was well received. Fifteen years after the release of the original, Scream 4 was released in 2011. The film, in which the killer tries to recreate the original film's murders, It was Wes Craven's last film before he died of brain cancer in August 2015.

Transition to television and second film revival

In the mid-2000w the slasher film moved to television. The Showtime series Dexter tells the story of a serial killer who justifies his urge for murder by targeting other serial killers. Set in Miami, the series' darkly comedic undertones reflected the 1980s serial killer thrillers. The first season of the HBO vampire series True Blood revolved around a small town being terrorized by a slasher targeting women who engage in sexual activities with vampires. FX's American Horror Story: Asylum has a plot that centers on a slasher called "Bloodyface", and MTV's Scream and American Horror Story: Freak Show featured a slasher villain in the form of a deranged clown named Twisty. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho inspired A&E's drama thriller Bates Motel, a prequel detailing teenager Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his relationship with his mother (Vera Farmiga). ABC Family's teen thriller Pretty Little Liars, based on the series of novels by Sara Shepard, plays on themes established by films like Prom Night (1980), The House on Sorority Row (1983), and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). MTV has adapted the Scream films with Scream (TV series), Chiller has released the Slasher (TV series) and Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films is developing a Friday the 13th series for television.

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk developed in 2015 the Comedy Horror Slasher series Scream Queens which features a Red Devil-masked killer murdering people of a fictional college campus in comical fashion. Despite the advent of slasher television, slasher films began to make a comeback with Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson's horror classic Scream.

In 2012 Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard created The Cabin In The Woods which featured Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Sigourney Weaver and Brian J. White. The film concerns an ensemble cast of five freshmen college teenagers who are manipulated into going to a cabin in the forest and are beset by a zombified, murderous family as their behavior is modified with pheromone-changing narcotics. The characters are killed one by one as part of a worldwide ritual in which ancient, gigantic dormant gods beneath the earth's crust must be appeased with at least one nations' cultural sacrifice. The Cabin In The Woods became a commercial and critical success grossing $66,486,080 worldwide at the box office.

Prior to Scream 4, Wes Craven released My Soul To Take in 2010. The film conerns a group of teenagers set upon in a small town by a costumed and masked killer out for vengeance as they are the remnants of his multiple souls and they were born on the same night of his supposed demise. The film was presented in 3D in its theatrical run. In 2014 Blumhouse Productions released the supernatural teenage slasher horror Ouija in which a group of high school students are set upon by a grisly spirit after messing with a Ouija board following a classmate's death. The film was a box success despite poor critical reception.

In 2015 Blumhouse productions released the teenage slasher horror Unfriended also starring Ouija's Shelley Hennig. The film portrays a group of high school youths set upon by the unseen apparition of a former classmate driven to suicide by their cyberbullying and viral video humiliation of her. The film was a commercially successful, and it received mixed to mostly positive reviews praising the film for its innovative style. A sequel for Unfriended was greenlit for 2016 and a German version was released by Warner Bros. entitled Friend Request.

Also in 2015 Blumhouse distributed the directorial debut of Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, The Gallows. The movie was a box office success but was panned by critics. Like Cabin, the film was heavily promoted and marketed to Western audiences. The film concerns four primary high school teenagers entrapped in their high school at night stalked by the murderous spirit of a Hangman costume and masked character by the name of Charlie Grimille. Presented in High Definition and quality found footage, the teenagers and other supporting characters are killed one by one by various means attributed to the antagonist of the film Charlie's hangman noose. Promotional trailers released for the film promoted Charlie as a new horror icon with a signature weapon like Jason Voorhees of the Friday The 13th franchise and Freddy Krueger of the A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise.


Slasher film Wikipedia