Slasher top tens: Robert Freese

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Freese has been a staff writer for Videoscope Magazine since 1998. He also contributes to Drive-in Asylum. Slasher movies are some of his favorite movies. In fact, slasher movies are most of his favorite films. He probably enjoys slasher movies more than anyone should.

Whittling down the mountain of slasher films that I love into a “Top 10” favorites list was a daunting task of “Sophie’s Choice” proportion. I literally love hundreds of these dumb flicks. They are the films of my twisted youth, most of which I first saw on VHS and Beta tapes and cable until I was able to see them in theaters. My list is ten random favorites I don’t think any fan will feel too cheated by spending a little time with. They are presented in alphabetical order with an additional title for each one to make it a slash-tastic Halloween double feature.

Cheerleader Camp (1988): “Give me a K! Give me an I! Give me an L! Give me an L!”

Cheer squads converge on Camp Hurrah so the gals can shake their pom-poms and the guys can leer at them creepily. It’s the site of both the all-state cheerleading finals and the slashing grounds for a psycho who is chopping the pep-girls and boys into puddles of chunky teen chum. This one ladles on the gore but never takes itself so serious it doesn’t slow down for some good old fashioned teen jackassing and horndoggery. Pure 80’s slasher delight! Double bill it with The Majorettes (1987).

Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)“…t’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…they were all dead!”

Father Christmas is the repeated target for a nut job in this scummy, greasy British slasher. Kate Briosky becomes connected to the killer and Inspector Harris is determined to keep her safe. The slayings are graphic with one concerning a urinal and a straight razor that always gives male viewers the heebee-jeebees. Sleazy good fun! I probably rented the Vestron Video VHS a half a dozen times back in the day. Double bill it with To All A Goodnight (1980).

The Final Terror (1983): “Without knowing, they have awakened an unknown force. Can anyone survive?”

Junior forest rangers and wayward girls head into the mountains for a weekend of what appears to be community service. Uppity bus driver/head geek Eggar taunts the junior rangers and basically gets on everybody’s bad side before disappearing. They find a cabin filled with stuff stolen from their camp and soon a wild woodland lunatic is hunting them. Fast moving and filled with great characters and dialog, it’s not considered a classic by most slasher scholars but it checks all the right boxes during its abbreviated running time. I still remember first seeing this on cable with friends, then seeking out the Vestron Video at the local vid shop. (Although these tapes were movie only, at the time that was enough. Vestron Video was the gold standard for VHS releases in the ‘80s and any flick you saw available on their label you knew you’d have a good time with it.) AKA Campsite Massacre. Double bill it with Madman (1982).

Girls Nite Out (1984): “The next time you go to a fancy dress party…check who’s going with you”

After the big homecoming basketball game (?), the team mascot goes on a murderous rampage, slicing coeds into taco filling with a homemade claw. An all night scavenger hunt keeps plenty of victims out and about. Anyone can die at any time and anyone can be the killer. Above average cast may confuse you into thinking this is a better movie than it is and includes Hal Holbrook, Julie Montgomery and Rutanya Alda. Some of the awkward soundtrack is provided by The Lovin’ Spoonful. This was one of the last theatrical releases from Sam Sherman’s Independent International Pictures. What’s not to love about this one? AKA The Scaremaker. Double bill it with Splatter University (1984).

Graduation Day (1981): “The class of ‘81 is running out of time.”

The Midvale High track team is screwed once an unseen killer begins stalking them one-by-one, timing each death to sixty seconds on a stopwatch. This is a great teen hack ‘n slash whodunit with plenty of quirky characters, roller skating, disco music, big hair, gratuitous Vanna White, gratuitous Christopher George and a fairly sick wrap-up reminiscent of Psycho (1960). Well worth a watch. Double bill it with Fatal Games (1984).

House of Death (1982): “He wants your body…in pieces!”

Lily Carpenter and her friends party and fall prey to a madman with an axe to grind…in their heads! Completely brain dead and all but forgotten today, I still have a soft spot for these old slasher flicks I discovered on tape. Most fans saw it during its only home vid release on VHS via Video Gems in one of those glorious “big box” packages. Playmate Susan Kiger keeps her clothes on as Lily while her pals suffer gory extermination. Filled with bizarre characters and regional charm to spare. Directed by David Nelson, son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. AKA Death Screams. Double bill it with Funeral Home (1980).

The Last Horror Film (1982): “The Cannes Film Festival. A cast of thousands, but only one killer.”

Cab driver Vinny dreams of making a horror film with scream queen Jana Bates. He travels to the Cannes Film Festival to stalk her while she promotes her new film Scream. (She was also in Stab!) People around her begin dying in glorious slasher fashion and Vinny always seems to be nearby. Most fans know the Joe Spinell/Caroline Munro slashfest Maniac (1980), but unfortunately, this follow up effort has gone mostly unseen. Among all the bloody shenanigans, Spinell makes time to share a joint with his real life mom on screen (!). AKA Fanatic. Double bill it with Fade to Black (1980).

The Mutilator (1984): “By Sword, By Pick, By Axe, Bye bye.”

Little Ed fatally wounds his mother in a shotgun cleaning mishap in an attempt to surprise his father for his birthday. (Suffice to say, Big Ed is surprised.) Years later, college aged Little Ed and his friends go to close down his dad’s coastal condo for Fall Break. Unknown to them, Big Ed is waiting to hunt them when they arrive. One of the best regional slashers of the era with plenty of loony characters and buckets of stomach churning gore. This was another Vestron Video VHS I rented repeatedly back in my youth. Double bill it with Sleepaway Camp (1983).

Silent Scream (1980): “Terror so sudden there is no time to scream.”

College students seek housing and a quartet  of coeds find themselves rooming at the big, creepy Engels’ house on the hill. Mrs. Engels is a strange old bird and her geeky son Mason is more than a little bit off himself. Scotty tries to mind her own business, but that becomes increasingly more difficult between her flat-mates disappearing and the strange noises coming from the attic above. She soon finds herself in a decades’ old web of madness and murder. A solid shocker that is less a Halloween/Friday the 13th clone than one of the last “Sons of Psycho” that were still being produced for drive-ins at the time. Top notch cast and plenty of depraved creeps along the way. (I still remember the joy of finding a brand new, still sealed copy of the Media VHS in a “cut-out” bin at a Camelot Records at the mall in the early ‘90s.) Extra points to anyone who recognizes the Engels’ house as the Merrye house from Jack Hill’s Spider Baby (1964). Double bill it with The Unseen (1980).

Student Bodies (1981): “At last, the world’s first comedy horror movie.”

Prudish Toby abstains from sex while her friends hook up and die under the wrath of the unseen (but quite audible) killer, the Breather. This is a silly but fairly successful melding of slasher with comedy in an attempt to deliver an Airplane! (1980) type horror parody. It’s ridiculous and dumb as a sack of rocks but fans still quote it and it is the only film on my list that is instantly recognizable by quoting the simple line, “Horse-head bookends.” Oddly, the characters are no less obnoxious or asinine than characters in slasher flicks played straight. Remember, “Sex kills!” Double bill it with Wacko (1982).

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