As both a horror fan and a lover of cheesy 80’s pop culture runoff, it’s like I’ve been genetically designed in a lab to love slasher films. Over my lifetime I’ve seen hundreds of the things, and my abiding love has buoyed me through some real stinkers. But sitting through CRAZY FAT ETHEL 2 is a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, so if you’re interested in following the same dark and dirty path as Yours Truly, allow me to cut some wheat from the chaff for you. Here are ten deep cuts (and at the end of this, you’ll certainly know a thing or two about cuts) from the slasher genre that you really should check out!
The first on the list got a cushy Scream Factory release on a double bill with X-RAY, so the title might ring a bell, but it still hasn’t really broken through the noise. A psychological thriller about an advice columnist being harassed by a stalker who sends her threatening letters and attacks her friends with a giant pair of scissors, SCHIZOID co-stars noted German psycho Klaus Kinski and BACK TO THE FUTURE’s Christopher Lloyd in an early role as a creepy plumber. It’s not my absolute favorite, but it’s definitely a curio worth checking out.
AND WHEN SHE WAS BAD (1981)
Italian horror got very strange after FRIDAY THE 13TH arrived on the scene. Not that it wasn’t strange before, but the giallo genre started to slowly drain away as filmmakers struggled to fit into the not-so-stylish American slasher boom. AND WHEN SHE WAS BAD is one of those wacky hybrids that hasn’t yet lost its uniquely Italian weirdness. A film about a teacher for the deaf stalked by her evil twin sister, this flick (also known as MADHOUSE) features a dog as a murder weapon, a ballet-dancing landlord named Amantha Beauregarde, and one of the most abrupt, weirdly powerful tearjerker scenes in slasher history. For fans of strange cinema, this is one to look out for.
GIRLS NITE OUT (1982)
GIRLS NITE OUT isn’t a particularly superb entry in the genre, but almost every element is so uniquely left of center that it’s pretty consistently captivating. First of all, the killer (clad in an oversized bear mascot outfit and mowing down participants in a sorority scavenger hunt) uses a razor-tipped paw that predates Freddy Krueger by two years. And then there’s its mirror-image approach to slasher nudity: Although women engage in sexual activity, there’s nary a bare breast in sight. Instead, we get loving, lingering shots of bare-chested young men. That’s a breath of fresh air in a genre that too frequently skews toward icky sexist objectification. Cult film fans will also be pleased to spot FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2’s Lauren-Marie Taylor and MOMMIE DEAREST’s Rutanya Alda in the cast, but the cherry on top is a brief appearance by Hal Holbrook, who is clearly shooting his scenes at an entirely different time than the rest of the actors.
HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (1980)
Is HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE a cheap rip-off of HALLOWEEN? Oh hell yeah, but so is FRIDAY THE 13TH, and you don’t hear anybody complaining about that. But outside of that note-for-note retool of John Carpenter’s classic theme, this story of a killer stalking women before their wedding day is a thrilling good time with strong female protagonists, a severed head in a fish tank, perhaps the most romantic slasher sex scene of the 80’s, and Tom Hanks in his very first film role! There’s a lot to like about this one.
PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS (1990)
Most horror fans have seen the 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis slasher PROM NIGHT, and the very very cool people have seen its wholly unrelated, totally bonkers 1987 sequel HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II. But there’s so much more to mine in the PROM NIGHT quadrilogy (that’s right, they made four of these puppies). THE LAST KISS brings back the vengeful prom queen ghost Mary Lou Mahoney for more hijinks at Hamilton High. She dishes out wacky Freddy Krueger murders (death by ice cream cone, anyone?) while seducing a hapless teenager into hiding the bodies. This bananas flick is packed with absurdist humor and explodes into a low budget hellbound action extravaganza in the final 20 minutes! You won’t get a better sugar rush anywhere else. Plus, this Canadian film’s desperate desire to appear American (including a sex scene atop an American flag while the national anthem plays) is truly magnificent.
THE HOUSE WHERE DEATH LIVES (1981)
Also known as DELUSION, THE HOUSE WHERE DEATH LIVES is a film I’ve literally never heard a single horror fan talk about, and it’s a damn shame. It’s a more respectable, almost Jane Eyre-esque murder mystery than a balls-out slasher film, but this tale of a nurse hired to care for a wealthy aristocrat as murders befall his property is full of duplicity, betrayal, well-etched characters, and dark family secrets. Also, Large Marge is in it as an Irish cook who despises protein.
THE FAN (1981)
With a cast this solid, it’s shocking that this film hasn’t reached more eyes. Lauren Bacall! James Garner! Michael Biehn! Bacall plays an aging actress struggling to keep her grip on her career while Biehn’s psychopathic stalker sends her threatening letters and hunts down the people close to her. THE FAN is a wicked psychological portrait that’s well-shot (one particular scene still takes my breath away). And it features at least two full Broadway numbers. That’s a recipe for success in my book.
AMERICAN GOTHIC (1988)
This is a flick I casually threw on one Fourth of July because I was tired of watching UNCLE SAM every year, and I was blown away. This is the story of a group of friends who crash their plane on a Pacific Northwest island and come across an elderly couple (one of whom is played by Yvonne De Carlo from THE MUNSTERS!) and their middle-aged children. The catch? Their spawn still dress and act like 8-year-olds and begin killing off the group with childlike implements including jump ropes and swing sets. It’s a low budget romp, but it also features some emotionally harrowing moments that rocket out of left field and sock you in the gut.
KILLER PARTY (1986)
Now, here’s an entry that’s pure cotton candy all the way through. After an opening scene so spectacular I don’t want to spoil it, a group of sorority pledges plan an April Fool’s Party that inevitably goes terribly awry. KILLER PARTY is unique in that it forgets to be a slasher for almost its entire run time. It’s a weird college sex comedy until about the 65-minute mark, where a killer shuffles in and slaughters a dozen people in a machine-gun burst of disconnected scenes before a genuinely thrilling final twist that will blow you away. KILLER PARTY is a scatterbrained, lumpy affair, but every single minute is packed with inexplicable retro camp goodness. It’s impossible not to come out loving it.
NIGHT SCHOOL (1981)
Now, this is a film that I genuinely think comes close to being a masterpiece. The acting is a little wooden, but this story of a killer in a motorcycle helmet beheading co-eds at a Boston night school is sublime, painted with dreamy gaslamp cinematography. Every character has unusual depth, no matter how small, giving the community NIGHT SCHOOL depicts a spark of inner life rarely seen in slasher films. NIGHT SCHOOL also cleverly plays with horror fans’ expectations, culminating in the single best body discovery scene ever committed to celluloid.