About the author: Gregg Harrington is a journalist, musician and podcaster. He co-hosts the 80s horror podcast Neon Brainiacs with filmmaker Ben Dietels, and sometimes performs in the bands Rabid Pigs and Pummeled. You can also find Neon Brainiacs on Twitter.
10. The Stepfather (1987): Having only seen this movie for the first time a couple years ago when covering it for Neon Brainiacs, I’m kind of disappointed I hadn’t seen it earlier in life. Despite being very freaked out its real-life horror (literally: it’s loosely based on John List), I really enjoy. Terry O’Quinn gives a hell of a performance, as does the always fantastic Jill Schoelen. It’s not very effects heavy, but you can tell the story kind of unravels in a way our killer stepfather probably didn’t anticipate, with a healthy body count in his wake. I still haven’t seen the two sequels that followed the original, but I wouldn’t doubt if Stepfather 2, which sees the return of O’Quinn, is just as tense and entertaining.
9. The Majorettes (1987): While Pittsburgh and its surrounding neighborhoods may be known as “Zombie Capital of the World”, largely due to George Romero’s cinematic contributions, the steel city has also been the setting for a few oddball slashers, including the 1987 giallo-inspired cut-em-up The Majorettes, penned by John Russo (co-creator of Night of the Living Dead) and directed by Bill Hinzman (the first ghoul to appear in Night). This one’s got it all: gore, nudity, a religious angle to the slayings, plenty of red herrings, and a litany of terrible Pittsburgh accents. Have you ever wanted to see a man get hit with a chair by someone wearing a Jack Lambert jersey for trying to grope a snake-handling stripper? How about a by-the-book slasher that houses a third act that largely resembles a Charles Bronson revenge flick? Russ Streiner as a priest with a mustache? The Majorettes has it all.
8. You’re Next (2011): To repeat what I said about The Stepfather, real-life horrors get under my skin, so home invasion really freaks me out. From the entire swath of ideas you can build upon for a horror movie, it strikes me as the most real scenario. So when you get a dysfunctional family together for a healthy dose of bickering and a gang of masked intruders start picking off each family member one by one, it really makes for a terrifying scene. The film also boasts a great collection of horror masterminds in cast and crew, including director Adam Wingard, actors Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Ti West and AJ Bowen.
7. The Burning (1981): What can be said about the effects prowess of Tom Savini that hasn’t been said by most of us already? The man is a legend in the horror game, and one of his crowning achievements is 1981’s The Burning. Telling the story of bullied and burned camp janitor Cropsey, Tony Maylam’s early slasher flick was heavily censored by the MPAA and cut down to gain an R rating. This is another one I wish I’d seen at a younger age instead of in my 30s, but nothing sticks out more in my mind than Fisher Stevens getting his fingers lopped off with garden shears. Well, maybe seeing Jason Alexander with hair is more alarming…
6. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987): As a kid, I was brought up on two things that really laid the foundation for the pop culture I would be into as a kid: horror movies and hair metal. My dad was a huge hair metal fan and was pretty well versed in the modern horror of that time, but his big interest as far as slashers went was Freddy Krueger. Now maybe the fact that Dokken had not one but two songs in Dream Warriors (the titular theme song as well as the ass-beater “Into The Fire”) was a determining factor in that, but we’ll never know. All I can tell you is this one has it all: peak Freddy one-liners, great special effects, a great soundtrack and score, and fantastic acting from the cast, including Patricia Arquette, Ken Sagoes, and the returning Heather Langenkamp. Not to mention it was also directed by Chuck Russell, who a year later would take The Blob and turn it into a gory monster movie that, in my eyes, far surpasses the original flick.
5. Child’s Play 2 (1990): Chucky is one of those slasher icons that even people who barely watch horror movies are familiar with in name and face. Our favorite killer doll has really slashed and hacked his way into the public consciousness, and one of the best stops along the way is Child’s Play 2. Following our pre-school protagonist Andy once again, now in the foster care system, we’re set on the roller coaster of Chucky tracking down Andy once again in an attempt to possess his body and exit the Good Guy doll he’s been trapped within. This one also boasts an impressive genre cast including Gerrit Graham (Phantom Of The Paradise, CHUD 2), Jenny Agutter (An American Werewolf In London) and Grace Zabriskie (Galaxy Of Terror). This one enthralled me and terrified me as a kid all in one fell swoop; as I would watch it, I would cautiously look at the My Buddy doll that would usually be seated across the room and wonder if it would come alive and try to kill me.
4. Intruder (1989): When a horror fan is asked to name a film Sam Raimi worked on, usually Intruder isn’t the first thing out of their mouth. However, this 1989 supermarket slasher directed by Scott Spiegel is a wild thrill ride of dark moody lighting, gruesome effects, and over-the-top acting (in the best way possible). Producer Sam Raimi and his brother Ted appear as employees of our doomed market, as well as Evil Dead II’s Danny Hicks, Renee Estevez, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by the chin himself, Bruce Campbell. It’s an absolute blast that will have you laughing and gagging from one scene to the next.
3. Halloween (1978): I felt a bit vexed about which Halloween film to include on my list, as I’m a big fan of a good chunk of the franchise. The Michael Myers-less Season Of The Witch is one of my favorite horror movies of all time. But, as the saying goes, a true classic never goes out of style. John Carpenter’s 1978 kickoff Halloween really set the blueprint for the modern slasher. The final girl trope, the promiscuous teens being picked off one by one by the antagonist, the synthesizer-driven score… Carpenter really set the stage for a majority of horror films during the 1980’s. Iconic roles are delivered by Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, PJ Soles and Charles Cyphers, many of which are still ripped off to this day. Let’s not forget that the Halloween franchise, including the Rob Zombie-directed efforts, have spanned five decades. Five! How is that not impressive as hell?
2. Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985): Okay, look. I know you’re reading this and wondering why A New Beginning is the Friday The 13th film I chose to pick for this list. I get it. Much like Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, the franchise’s familiar face is missing. Kind of. But hear me out. Part V is a sleazy, bloody good time with a gigantic body count and enough nudity to appeal to most prepubescent horror fans. As for me, I caught this on TNT’s Monstervision more than any other Friday film up to that point, and it was always available at the video store on a Friday night. In hindsight I’ve pieced together that it was because this one is the least sought after sequel, but as it stands on its own, A New Beginning is a damn good slasher with some wild kills and a decent twist at the end.
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): There’s a pretty damn good reason Tobe Hooper’s 1974 magnum opus The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been heralded as one of the best horror movies of all time. Its gritty, stomach-churning cinematography makes it feel legitimately dangerous to watch. Hooper shot the movie in such a way that makes it seem more like a documentary than a fantastical horror flick. The acting in it is terrifyingly convincing as well, with gigantic performances from final girl Marilyn Burns, the iconic Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface, and the offputting nature of Edwin Neal as the hitchhiker. And if the patron saint of the drive-in, Joe Bob Briggs, claims it as his favorite movie, that’s a pretty damn good seal of approval. Even horror’s number one enemy of the 70s and 80s, Roger Ebert, praised the technical prowess and acting the film conveyed. That may be even more high praise than Mr. Briggs.