One of the many wonderful and formidable aspects of horror movies is the genre’s ability to evolve over time with a new trend or style associated with each generation (but not without a few underwhelming hiccups here and there). Probably the most definitive era for the genre is the 1980s and the trend most commonly associated with that decade is easily slasher flicks, such as Friday the 13th - a quintessential example for the subgenre (mainly because it is one of the earliest from that specific era). Thirteen is, appropriately, the number of classic ‘80s slasher movies we have compiled below (along with tips of where to find them on streaming, available for digital rental, or to purchase on physical media), starting with the sequel to one I would have included if it wasn’t made two years too early.
Halloween II (1981)
Just moments after surviving Michael Myers’ murderous rampage, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is taken to a hospital where she learns that the terror has not yet ended and discovers a shocking revelation about herself on a deadly All Hallow’s Eve.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: The first direct follow-up to John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece is infamously responsible for introducing the needless hidden connection between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode (which is no longer canon thanks to 2018’s soft reboot), but Halloween II is still worth revisiting for some of the most brutal and inventive kills of the Halloween movies series, all while still maintaining much of the same ominous tone.
Prom Night (1980)
A group of high school seniors are stalked and killed one-by-one by a masked assailant, bringing to light a shocking revelation about each other which they have kept hidden for years, on the night of their school dance.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: This list would not be complete without more than one entry starring the all-time greatest of the Scream Queens, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Prom Night is the most iconic and arguably best of her freaky filmography outside of the Halloween movies for its fun mystery story, visceral approach to gore, and the late, great Leslie Nielsen in one of his last non-comedic performances.
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
The citizens of a small mining town learn that they should have listened to a decades-old urban legend about a killer out to turn any celebration on February 14th into a night of bloodlust.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: Speaking of Halloween (again), the holiday-themed horror movies inspired a huge trend of holiday-themed horror movies in the 1980s, including My Bloody Valentine - a cult favorite that redefines what it means to have your heart stolen on the most romantic of day of year and Quentin Tarantino cites as his favorite slasher.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Years after witnessing his parents get murdered on by a man in a Santa suit, an 18-year-old gets a job as a department store Santa, at which point his latent homicidal tendencies are awakened and promise the opposite of a merry Christmas.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: Christmas was not safe from the holiday horror movies trend either and, despite its cheesy sequel being remembered as the more iconic installment, the original Silent Night, Deadly Night is held in higher regard as a comparatively more earnest and scary way to have a bloody good Christmas.
Friday The 13th (1980)
Years after the murder of two young counselors resulted in its closing, a group of youths spend a seemingly normal Friday preparing to revive Camp Crystal Lake for another summer, only to fall prey to someone who will kill before that happens.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: Of course, the most successful attempt to cash-in on the success of Halloween was the very first of the long-running, beloved series of Friday the 13th movies - which many also consider to be the best of the franchise (especially for Tom Savini’s always brilliant special effects) despite a villain who is not the hockey-mask clad, machete-wielding Jason Voorhees, but someone very close to the immortal psychopath.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Years after surviving a horrible accident, a shy girl (Felissa Rose) and her close cousin (Jonathan Tiersten) are sent away for the summer to a camp where counselors and campers alike suddenly begin to turn up dead.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: One of the more successful attempts to cash-in on the success of Friday the 13th was Sleepaway Camp, which, despite an infamous twist ending that many consider to be transphobic — more on that topic here — is one of the slasher genre’s most definitive guilty pleasures for hilariously amateur acting and special effects that, while charming, certainly do not hold a candle to Tom Savini’s abilities.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
A teenage girl (Heather Langenkamp) struggles to stay awake when she suspects that, if the badly burned boogeyman (Robert Englund) stalking her subconscious kills her in her dreams, he will kill her in real life, too.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: The film that skyrocketed writer and director Wes Craven into the mainstream and introduced the world to one of the creepiest horror movie villains, Freddy Krueger, is A Nightmare on Elm Street - a supernatural slasher that still holds up very well today, especially when you learn that the story was loosely inspired by true events.
Child’s Play (1988)
A single mother (7th Heaven’s Catherine Hicks) begins to suspect that the horrifying things happening around her are somehow connected to a popular doll she bought for her son at a discounted price from a street vendor.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: Another classic supernatural slasher famous for bringing another legend of the genre to life is Child’s Play - a genuinely fun, often shocking, and clever indictment on consumerism with great special effects which jumpstarted a franchise that is still alive today with one of the newest horror TV shows, Chucky, in which Brad Dourif returns to voice the deadly doll.
Hell Night (1981)
Two college fraternity pledges and two aspiring sorority girls agree to be locked inside a supposedly haunted house as part of an initiation ritual on a night that might see this greek life tradition come to a fateful end.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: Speaking of legends of the genre, Linda Blair (whose performance in 1973’s The Exorcist earned her an Oscar nomination at 12 years old) leads the cast of Hell Night - another ‘80s cult favorite that is a bit of a slow burn, but concludes with one of the most exciting final acts I have ever seen in a slasher movie.
The overnight stocking crew at a local grocery store soon discover that they are locked inside with a murderous maniac when grisly calls for clean-ups begin to appear in the aisles.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: Fellow horror movie legends Sam Raimi (writer and director of the Evil Dead movies) and Bruce Campbell (star of the Evil Dead movies) both appear in Intruder - another fun and clever cult classic that likely inspired one of the Fear Street movies’ most shocking and memorable kills.
Basket Case (1982)
A series of horrifying murders begin to happen in New York, with signs showing that they are somehow connected to a young man (Kevin Van Hentenryck) who carries around a mysterious basket wherever he goes.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: Writer and director Frank Henenlotter would become a horror legend with help from his feature-length directorial debut Basket Case - another shamelessly schlocky, gloriously gory, and thoroughly entertaining somewhat supernatural slasher favorite that, in many ways, might have inspired James Wan’s Malignant… but I will not dare spoil how.
The Funhouse (1981)
A young couple on their first date, with two other friends tagging along, go for a visit to their local amusement park, only to be subjected to a night that is anything but amusing when they become trapped inside an attraction with a killer.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: Director Tobe Hooper was already an established horror legend years earlier with the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but The Funhouse is one the last examples of the late, great filmmaker at his most raw and nightmarish and in a setting that is normally meant to make one feel at ease.
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
A (mostly) innocent night shared by a group of young ladies is interrupted by the intrusion of an escaped mental patient whose weapon of choice is giant power drill.
Why it is a great ‘80s slasher movie: B-movie legend Roger Corman’s producer credit for the stylish and creepy The Slumber Party Massacre is just one reason why writer Rita Mae Brown and director Amy Holden Jones’ vision of a nuanced commentary on female representation in the horror genre went over critics’ and audiences heads at the time, but modern audiences have luckily come to praise it as such.
Stream The Slumber Party Massacre on Shudder.
Stream The Slumber Party Massacre on Tubi.
Stream The Slumber Party Massacre on IMDb TV.
Rent/buy The Slumber Party Massacre digitally on Amazon.
Buy The Slumber Party Massacre on DVD/Blu-ray on Amazon.
Whoever said that all slasher movies are the same has likely not seen enough of them because the 13 titles above are some of the best horror movies ever made (or, at least, in the ‘80s) as far as I am concerned.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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