When it comes to 80s slashers, a few heavyweights dominate the discourse. But these 7 lesser-loved slashers deserve your attention.
The 1980s birthed more slasher films than there are bodies at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake. The era’s slasher boom is responsible for some of horror’s most famous franchises, from Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street to a slurry of Halloween sequels. These behemoth icons are looming in more than just stature, as they tend to overshadow many other highly entertaining, sometimes campy, and downright gory entries into the genre.
It’s time to step off the dock, out of the boiler room, and wade into the depths of some of the best other slasher films of the revered decade. There are college campus slayings, high school horrors, and a trail of bodies just waiting to be exhumed.
Let’s look at seven of our favorite lesser-loved 80s slashers, ranked from good to great.
7. April Fool’s Day (1986)
This 1986 classic is known and loved by horror fans but doesn’t make it to the headlines as frequently as its predecessors.
April Fool’s Day accomplishes what many other films in its classification fail to – it is simultaneously intelligent and stupidly funny. In between the occasional fart joke or lude remark, there are subtle subversions to the genre that make it cut above some of the rest.
The acting isn’t phenomenal, but the actors are comfortable enough in their roles to portray believable, sometimes obnoxious characters rather convincingly. It’s enough to engage audiences and raise the stakes for each character’s death and disappearance, which is all any slasher fan could ask for.
April Fool’s Day is light on the on-screen violence, making it a divisive choice. Some could argue that this is a testament to the movie’s quality. It is still revered as a great slasher without checking all the boxes of what makes a slasher…a slasher.
And who doesn’t love a solid surprise ending?
6. Pieces (1982)
Let’s get this out of the way early. Pieces is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s also irresistible in a depraved kind of way.
Pieces introduced viewers to a chainsaw-wielding maniac. No, not the Texan you’re thinking of. The killer in question is Timmy.
As a young boy, Timmy’s mom walked in on him playing with a pornographic puzzle. She shamed him for his behavior and was met with a red-hot rage coming from her son. Timmy murdered his mother with an ax.
Fast forward several decades. College students are dropping like flies around campus. There’s a slew of decapitations, disembowelments, and limb removals. Timmy is committing murders, cutting his victims into pieces, and using them to assemble a new body…like a puzzle.
Pieces could have been a statement piece on pornography and how it can impact young men’s minds and perceptions of women – but it is not. At its heart, Pieces is just a slasher film for viewers interested in watching half-naked women run away from a psychopath.
It is tremendously successful in this endeavor and should be appreciated for being unabashedly itself.
5. The Prowler (1981)
The Prowler’s lack of prestige is a little surprising. Joseph Zito’s 1981 slasher mystery seemingly has it all. Dear John letters, pitchfork murders, a hulking killer in Army fatigues — and, most importantly, effects by Tom Savini.
It’s a tale as old as time. During World War II, a small New Jersey community is devastated by a double homicide. The murder results in the banning of rowdy parties in the town, an overreaction that will indeed protect the town’s teenagers from future harm. Until it doesn’t. We cut to the town of Avalon Bay nearly forty years later.
The town is once again struggling to thrive as a killer in Army fatigues begins to reenact the murder that shook the town decades prior. Like any imitation, the kills are more plentiful, more gruesome.
The Prowler gets some heat for not having a strong narrative structure – or enough kills – but this is a film that relies on quality, not quantity. Savini’s practical effects do a lot to amplify the violence and squelch factor of the kills.
But that’s not all this film has going for it. The film’s Final Girl, Pam, is a likable, more mature, and athletic incarnation of the genre’s token trope – making her a breath of fresh air for viewers.
Ultimately, The Prowler isn’t groundbreaking but is adept at altering the slasher formula just enough to be worth a watch or two.
4. My Bloody Valentine (1981)
This slasher classic is more renowned than some of its cohorts, and for a good reason. My Bloody Valentine combines the messy horrors of the human condition – love, betrayal, Hallmark holidays – with the terror of a murderous psychopath.
Valentine’s Bluff is a quaint coal-mining town full of horny teenagers and one dark tragedy. This tragedy, involving the abandonment of a coal miner in a mine collapse and his subsequent vengeful massacre through the town, had been shared through whispers and lore over two decades.
When the townsfolk, at last, decide it’s time to move on and host their Valentine’s Dance, things begin to go awry.
My Bloody Valentine features believable performances from actors who seemed to care about their roles and distinctive kills. The killer is truly scary. From his motive to his costume, the slasher is a multidimensional scare machine that looks as horrific as his actions.
Even though a lot of this film’s most graphic kill scenes were cut from the theatrical release, the charm of this film is not lost.
3. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
It would be remiss to leave Sleepaway Camp off this list, as it manages to tread the line between batshit crazy and eccentric genius with unmatched skill and intent.
This film is well-loved – but it could always use a little more attention. The time, the place, and the performances created the perfect storm for this ahead-of-its-time classic, which balances horror camp with hard-hitting social commentary.
Sleepaway Camp is proof that fortune favors the patient and not just the brave. Critics and audiences alike commend Robert Hiltzik for the film’s gut-punching final shots – but there’s more to it. This movie is more than the sum of its parts, even if they don’t always fit together cohesively.
If you’re looking for laughter, egregious behavior, and an unforgettable performance from Felissa Rose, Sleepaway Camp is for you. You’ll never forget the line delivery, the subtle messaging, and the oddities that await in this bloody romp through summer camp.
2. The House on Sorority Row (1982)
Some horror films give audiences characters so full of charisma and charm that it hurts to see them fall prey to a sadistic slasher. The House on Sorority Row does just the opposite: stacking its cast of characters with vapid, evil, and entitled sorority sisters that deserve their inevitable fate. The stakes feel low, but the kills are so satisfying.
A group of sorority sisters becomes enraged with their housemother for denying them the pleasures of partying in the house. To get back at her, they orchestrate a prank that results in her death. It doesn’t take long for karma to come calling in the form of a mysterious killer.
Co-writer and director Mark Rosman injected intentional dark humor into this film, making it feel smarter and slightly more purposeful than other slashers, which can err on the side of comically bad.
This paired with a motive that feels more believable — and therefore scarier than supernatural slashers with impenetrable skin — makes this one of the best movies to come out of the 80s slasher boom.
1. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
When you think about slasher films, especially those created in the 80s, descriptors like smart, feminist, and impactful rarely come to mind. This isn’t to disparage the genre, but the era was a different time with different expectations from fans of hack ‘em all horror.
The Slumber Party Massacre was, and remains, one of its kind.
This movie centered around the feminine experience and allowed its women characters to become fully realized, three-dimensional human beings. Written by Amy Holden Jones (of Mystic Pizza fame) and written by Rita Mae Brown, The Slumber Party Massacre smartly exploited the genre’s exploitation of women. The marketing materials played to bouncing boobs and half-naked beauty queens, only to deliver something more empowering for its victims and Final Girls.
Full of scathing satire, good humor, likable characters, and substantial suspense, Slumber Party Massacre offered audiences an alternative perspective of the genre and illuminated the art of the possible.
The Slumber Party Massacre is a relic of 80s horror and remains a celebrated trilogy for everything that it chose and refused to be.
Slasher films proliferated at alarming rates in the 1980s, reviving a genre that had only ever gotten sporadic attention. To conquer the full filmography of 1980s slashers is a noble pursuit and one that may often feel like a slog to get through. If you’re interested in exploring the slasher genre outside of horror’s giants, start with this list.
Some of the films became favorites based on merit, some because of what they inspired in others, and some because they’re just plain entertaining.