(here be spoilers!)
It’s Halloween time! And that means horror films of all kinds are in the seat of honor and played non-stop. What else would you watch in October?
This is the month for dark and violent and bloody celluloid treasures, at least for you poor unfortunate souls who don’t enjoy the genre year-round. (Pathetic.) Weirdly, there are some folks who don’t watch the scariest movies even as the Night of Candy and Costumes creeps up!
I don’t necessarily want to know those people, but I do want to help them embrace their inner-psycho fan. I promise I’ll be gentle. All of these films are easy to find – popularity has its perks – and have multiple installments which, as much as I love slashers, aren’t always worth the disc they’re stored on. I’ll let you know which ones are stinkers.
Wes Craven’s 1984 bad dreams classic brought us the quick-witted, finger-bladed Freddy Krueger, the deadliest night stalker to ever grace the big screen. As entertaining as this series is, there are a couple of low points – like, deeper than the graves of Freddy’s victims low – that should be avoided like 1428 Elm Street.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare are embarrassing entries in this otherwise awesome series. The original film, Dream Warriors, The Dream Master and The Dream Child (my personal favorite) create a multipart story that builds on each previous one. The second and sixth Nightmare films ignore the canon rules and are ugly messes because of it; even the remake where Freddy is a freaking child molester is more entertaining.
New Nightmare, which was the first entry helmed by Craven since the original, takes the series into a freaky, meta place where Freddy is no longer a work of fiction but a real-life demon stalking Craven himself and actress Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson in parts one and three).
A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child
Alright, so the entire series is bad, but there are some really good-bad parts.
The first three movies, Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason X (yeah, I went there) are the top of this poop mountain, if you can ignore Pamela Voorhees’ Shatneresque acting in the 1980 original and the could’ve-been-amazing-special effects that failed to match the fake body parts to the actors’ skin tones. For all the bad, the Jason-starring films are filled with what really matters in slasher/horrors – blood. Lots of blood. And boobs, if boobs are your thing.
Now, when visiting Crystal Lake, stay far, far away from Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. It’s so bad, even Jason barely shows up for it. The hockey-masked serial killer appears in the very beginning and very end. All that happens in between, including a possibly brain-damaged bounty hunter, is pure diarrhea; runny, gross and bum burning. Watch the reboot, which is surprisingly good (Nana Visitor crams so much crazy into her short, credit-covered scene without being forced into over-actors anonymous that you’ll be left wondering who the hell Betsy Palmer even is) and you should watch it, even if you ignore the original.
Friday the 13th (2009)
When Wes Craven makes a film, chances are he’s going to take the rules of horror and twist ‘em round and round. This new classic came out in 1996 and broke and rewrote those rules when Drew Barrymore was (spoiler alert!!!!) viciously killed within the first fifteen minutes. In a genre not known for its top-tier talent, the idea that someone of Barrymore’s fame would cameo as the second victim in a slasher film was unheard of.
And that was only the first of many ways this series not only breathed new life but new ideas into the genre. Many later slashers built on what Scream did and now we have more rip-offs than you could shake a femur at. If you like these films – and why wouldn’t you? – make sure to check out I Know What You Did Last Summer and its awkwardly named sequel (ignore the third, please).
How can you not love the spine-tingling feeling the possessed Good Guy doll killer inspires when he stalks poor little Andy? With the exception of Child’s Play 3, where the producers stupidly aged and recast the main protagonist, the series has generally been one of the best since Chucky first threw the babysitter out the kitchen window. While Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky took the series in a more humorous direction, it remained bloody and violent due to the two-foot-tall molded plastic killer, so it was still a good fit. Curse of Chucky brought the story back to its roots and gave us the real Andy again after all these years. Feel free to binge the entire series.
Child’s Play 2
Not many films surprise me; Sleepaway Camp’s holy crap ending is one of the few. For the most part, it’s a pretty average slasher with painful and brutal murders, but it’s the victims – well, some of them – and the killer’s reveal that set it apart from other, similar movies. None of the sequels, until you come to Return to Sleepaway Camp which reunited the original’s stars with the man who directed the cult classic, are as memorable as the first, but if you’re like me, a completionist, you’ll want to devour them in the hope they live up to it. Spoiler alert: they don’t.
No “slasher films you need to watch” list would be complete without John Carpenter’s classic silent killer. 1978’s Halloween was the little movie that did. An independent film, it birthed one of the biggest horror franchises in history.
Ignore Halloween III: Season of the Witch; it’s a crapshoot that has nothing to do with Michael Meyers and goes so far as to show a commercial for the original film in a bar scene as if to reassure you that Michael will not be killing anyone anytime soon. Producers wisely brought the serial killer back in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers and have kept him around since.
The continuity-warping Halloween: 20 Years Later, which ignores key plot elements of The Return of Michael Meyers, The Revenge of Michael Meyers and the Curse of Michael Meyers, is a painful low point created by lazy writers too busy, I suppose, to do a good job bridging the stories. Halloween: Resurrection is only good for the Jamie Lee Curtis cameo but beyond that, is forgettable. Rob Zombie rebooted the series, and while the blood-soaked violence is the perfect way into my good graces, the overwrought white trash backstory given to Michael ruined what makes him so damn scary to begin with.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Meyers
There are so many more slashers to enjoy this season, but October simply isn’t long enough to watch them all. If you’re new to the genre, start with these top choices and their series. After that, we can talk. If you’ve seen these and have some recommendations for the sadly uninitiated, let me know in the comments which slashers you can’t do spooky-time without. For more suggestions, check out my Horror Films for the Halloween Season Part I, Horror Films for the Halloween Season Part II: Family Friendly Edition, Horror Films for the Halloween Season Part III, Top Ten Witch Films and Six Horror Movies Perfect for Halloween You may Not Know.