What are the best slasher movies of all time? The slasher genre is a difficult one to define. On paper, they’re simply films about violent killers stalking and murdering people, usually teenagers, to be fair, but there’s far more to them than splatter and gore.
Slashers tend to be (although there are a few exceptions) morality plays where the immoral are punished, and the virtuous get to live, although you can guarantee they’ll be traumatised by the time the credits roll. The horror movies to be defined by the inclusion of a ‘final girl’ — although it can be a man — who survives the carnage to have a one-on-one confrontation with their stalker.
Honestly, though, this is just some textbook nonsense. Horror fans know in their guts when they’re watching a bloody good slasher. We here at the Digital Fix have made no secret of our love of things that go bump in the night — check out our best monster movies or best ghost movie lists if you don’t believe us — so we thought it was time we got our act together and give you a rundown of the best slasher movies.
What are the best slasher movies of all time?
- Happy Death Day
- Friday the 13th
- Tucker and Dale vs Evil
- Child’s Play
- A Nightmare on Elm Street
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Happy Death Day (2017)
Purists may argue that comedy and horror, as a rule, don’t mix. To that, we say ‘nonsense, rules were made to be broken’, and Happy Death Day breaks a fair few, including the rules of time.
The film follows Tree (Jessica Rothe), a college student who finds herself trapped in a time loop where every day, she’s attacked and murdered by a mysterious figure in a baby mask. To escape the loop and see tomorrow, Tree must solve the mystery of her own death before the killer strikes again.
Led by the wonderful Rothe, Happy Death Day manages to have its cake and eat it (let’s hope it’s not poisoned), blending creative kills with uproariously funny, if rather morbid, jokes. It’s a modern-day cult classic if you ask us, and treads the line perfectly between a horror and a comedy movie.
Friday the 13th (1980)
While the Friday the 13th movies went off the rails pretty quickly, the first is a surprisingly effective little horror. Its director was hoping to cash in on the popularity of John Carpenter’s Halloween; he just didn’t want to spend a lot of money to do it.
As a result, the first Friday the 13th, is a surprisingly stripped-back, down-to-earth affair that revels more in the mystery of who the killer might be than overt scares. While it’s slightly plodding and a touch amateurish compared to its contemporaries, the film deserves credit for kicking off one of the most popular slasher franchises in the history of Hollywood.
Funnily enough, it’s probably best enjoyed through contemporary eyes as those watching may be so desperate for a hint of Jason Voorhees, who overshadows the entire series, that they’re caught unaware when the true murderer is revealed.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
You can’t always judge a book by its cover, and Tucker & Dale vs Evil proves you can’t judge a ‘hillbilly’ by the standards of horror films. Good-natured and gory, the film sees the titular Tucker and Dale, two well-meaning guys living in the middle of nowhere who are presumed to be evil-hick killers by some vapid college students.
Flipping the traditional narrative on its head, Tucker and Dale found themselves attacked by the teens who believe they’re defending themselves from murderous hillbillys. It’s absolutely bonkers and has a lot of fun with its silly but clever premise, and we’d love to see that long-promised sequel.
Child’s Play (1988)
As someone who’s terrified of possessed dolls, I avoided Child’s Play like the plague growing up, which was a mistake on my part. Because, like the Hellraiser movies, the Child’s Play films, initially at least, aren’t as self-serious and scary as I presumed they’d be.
It’s quite creepy in places, but, aptly considering the title, there’s a childish energy to the film courtesy of director Tom Holland (not the one from the Spider-Man movies) that means it’s more exciting than out and out scary. Also, it takes a certain level of skill to convince an audience that the diminutive doll Chucky is a threat to anyone, so points for that Holland.
Wes Craven dabbled with self-parody in New Nightmare, but with Scream, he took meta-commentary to the next level. Smart, scary, and shockingly violent Scream is a modern-day masterpiece that skewers (quite literally) the tropes and cliches that had come to define the genre.
Choosing just one Dario Argento film for this list was hard, but outside of Suspiria this is probably his best movie, or at least it’s our favourite. As you’d probably guess from the title, Opera’s more theatrical than a version of The Magic Flute directed by Baz Lurhman, but it never crosses the line into outright campiness. Instead, Argento elegantly knits murder and mystery together, splattering bright red blood all over the walls as his needles click.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Scream may be clever, but it’s nowhere near as scary as A Nightmare on Elm Street. The series fell into the pit of self-parody after Craven left, which diminished the series in the eyes of some but the first Nightmare is genuinely brilliant.
The story is tight and imaginative, the kills creative, and the cast likeable. Ultimately, though, A Nightmare on Elm Street succeeds because of the killer at its centre Freddy Krueger.
While Freddy’s probably best remembered as a wise-cracking ghoul like the Cryptkeeper in this film, he’s an out-and-out monster who only seems to find joy in killing. The character’s arguably part of a great slasher triumvirate, which also includes Michael Myers and Jason Vohoores.
We laboured about putting Psycho on this list. It’s more of a proto-slasher, to be honest, but it helped to establish the foundation of the entire genre so we couldn’t ignore it.
Few these days would find this thriller movie scary, but at the time it was released the film was truly transgressive, with Hitchcock pushing filmmaking boundaries in new and disturbing ways. Even now, contemporary audiences often find themselves blindsided by the conclusion of the film’s bloody first act.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Speaking of transgressive films, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, in all its bone-chilling glory, may be the best horror movie ever made. Like Psycho, it helped to lay the bones of the nascent slasher genre, so while some may baulk at its inclusion on this list, we weren’t going to ignore it.
Few films have made my blood run cold like Chain Saw; it’s truly horrifying, and director Tobe Hooper knew it. That’s why there’s so little gore compared to other movies on this list. The film doesn’t need to cover you in viscera to frighten you; the simple bonk of a hammer is all it needs to turn your legs jelly. Stephen King put it better than anyone could when he described it as having “the authentic quality of nightmare”.
While there were arguably slashers before John Carpenter’s Halloween, it was this murderous masterpiece that figured out the perfect balance of ingredients needed to catapult the genre into the mainstream.
Brutal, terrifying, and relentless, Halloween is without a doubt my favourite horror movie which explores the banality of everyday evil. There’s no hidden farmhouse full of cannibals, no weird nightmare demons, and there’s not even an immortal zombie hockey player. No, Haddonfield could be anywhere (it’s certainly not in Illinois, judging by those palm trees), and so could Michael Myers.
Also known as the shape, Michael is deliberately nondescript. With his featureless mask and unassuming frame, Michael and the malice that courses through his veins could be anyone; he could be anywhere, even in your home right now. Later Halloween movies try to explain Michael, missing the point Carpenter was making. Evil isn’t special, it’s everywhere, and that’s a pretty horrifying thought to end this list on.
If you’re looking for something spooky to watch, we have a list of the best Netflix horror movies or if you prefer something a bit more digestible, check out our list of the greatest horror series. Finally we have a list of all the new movies coming in 2023, and there’s plenty of decent-looking horror to come.