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Top 10 Slasher Movies of the ‘80s – Part 1

by Jason Pyles (aka “Jay of the Dead”)

Editor’s Note:  For this installment of Forgotten Flix’s Top 10 we’ve asked horror guru and podcasting journeyman Jason Pyles to give us the Top 10 Slasher Films of the 80s.  We loved Jay’s article.  In fact we loved it so much we couldn’t cut anything out, so broke it into two posts.  Catch part two of the list tomorrow.  

Content Advisory: These movies are for serious horror lovers, so even the descriptions can get a little dicey.  If you are a real glutton for punishment check out some of the trailers on YouTube…*shudder.*   Parental (and intestinal) discretion is advised.

It’s easy to admit in cocktail party conversations that we love slasher flicks because it’s thrilling to identify with the victims’ peril and plight. As soon as one victim is murdered, we immediately reassign ourselves to associate with the next, temporarily living person. A slasher movie is like a carnival ride. We get in the car, fasten our seat-belts  and endure the thrills.  Once all the victims are dead, we get off the ride.

But what we don’t like to talk about at parties is how often we find ourselves identifying with the killer, and how much we like it, but that’s okay.  According to the theory of the Ideological Safety Value it’s human nature for us to want to kill each another, so by partaking in such acts vicariously through horror movies, we actually relieve that pent-up urge within ourselves, restoring the balance of sanity within our souls…maybe.

I’m not certain if this theory is altogether true, but just in case I’ve compiled the following list to restore balance in your soul, and in honor of the much anticipated October Spooky Flix Fest.

10. Don’t Answer the Phone! (1980) – Notable because it’s a slasher that was released on Leap Day 1980 (a little more than two months prior to the release of the original Friday the 13th), Don’t Answer the Phone! is the grim tale of a Vietnam vet-photographer who rampages around L.A., killing scantily clad women in lingerie, and calling a radio disc jockey while perpetrating the murders. Good times, indeed. Ever since the original Black Christmas (1974) I think horror fans (and I suspect especially female viewers) find a filthy-talking, psychotic killer-caller to be a bit unnerving. Most people overlook this 1980 slasher, but I recommend enjoying a double-feature one night this October with Don’t Answer the Phone! and He Knows You’re Alone (1980).

 

9. Nail Gun Massacre (1985) – “Cheaper than a chainsaw!” I have to cite horror critic Bill Chete of the Horror Palace Network for introducing me to this little number. Nail Gun Massacre is an obscure horror oddity that was a direct-to-video release in 1985. For years this film was only available on VHS, until recently when it got its first DVD release. Now, I feel obligated to clearly state that this isn’t an exceptional movie; in fact, let’s be honest, it’s pretty terrible in many respects.  It has some longer than necessary sequences that were probably filmed this way to beef up the 85-minute run time, and its humble, low-budget origins are undeniably evident (not to mention some underwhelming effects and subpar acting). But Nail Gun Massacre ranks among my top 10 slashers of the 1980s, nevertheless, because of its exploitation title and the killer’s weapon of choice: a nail gun. Despite its mediocrity, Nail Gun Massacre is still a celebration of the slasher killer’s propensity to wreak death with an atypical weapon whose intended design was never murder and mayhem. Part of my affection for it may have to do with it reminding me fondly of a better slasher flick called The Toolbox Murders (1978.) I’d recommend Nail Gun Massacre, but only as a fun B-movie to watch with your friends.

8. The Mutilator (1985) – If you want an ax-murderer movie, you don’t have to look any further than The Mutilator from 1985. Actually, this film’s killer is a little more versatile than solely ax-wielding, because this slasher also employs a pitchfork, a hook (see the movie poster) and other wince-evoking implements. The tagline: “By pick, by ax, by sword, ‘bye ‘bye!” The Mutilator is probably most infamous for a kill scene with an unthinkably placed hook, and though it’s not explicitly depicted you get the point.  Another unique aspect of “The Mutilator” is that it’s set at a beach, which is a fun backdrop for a horror film. Again, this movie isn’t exactly an Oscar-caliber film, but it’s a decent little slasher with a few surprises.

7. My Bloody Valentine (1981) – Modern audiences know this title because of its 2009 remake, My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009.)  The new one is a fun horror film, and the 3D is put to good use (a surprisingly rare phenomenon), but my preference is still the original version from 1981. Filmed on location at a coal mine in Canada, My Bloody Valentine delivers an authentic-looking (and feeling) horror film that plays more like a nightmare than a movie. Without a doubt the locations enhance the film’s authenticity and credibility, but there’s something about the modest budget and dated look of this movie that make it seem like you’re watching actual events. It’s quite chilling, actually. So, if your sweetheart digs horror flicks, then this is an annual must-watch on Valentine’s Day. (Warning: If your sweetheart is not a horror fan and you try showing this movie to her on V-Day, you’re not going to get any candy that night.)

6. Madman (1982) – Not to be confused with I, Madman (1989), this madman movie refers to the legendary Madman Marz, an infamous backwoodsman/farmer who apparently lost his mind and slaughtered his wife and two children (technically their bodies have never been found), and it’s said that he will return to dismember and disembody anyone who speaks his name louder than a whisper. Here we have another camp slasher replete with blood and gore, although the practical effects aren’t always convincing. What I do think is notable (and my favorite aspect of this movie) is the appearance of the Madman himself; he’s not your conventional, masked slasher killer.  He’s genuinely creepy as an old freak with long fingernails. If you love slasher flicks with a camp backdrop, then I’d definitely recommend checking out Madman.  If for no other reason, you need to see this film to watch the car-hood kill scene. Brilliant.

[Check out Jason’s top five picks tomorrow in Top 10 Slasher Movies of the 80s – Part 2.]

 

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Jason Pyles (Jay of the Dead) has worked as a film critic for the past seven years, contributing to the assessment and analysis of cinema through various media, including newsprint, online, and podcasting. Jason currently hosts Movie Podcast Weekly, a new podcast released every Monday, where the hosts review a film that’s newly released in theaters. Jason also hosts Podcasting Revolution a weekly podcast about NBC’s new television show, “Revolution.” Jay also contributes his “Blue Moon Zombie Reviews” audio segment occasionally to the Zombie Reckoning Podcast, which is part of the Horror Palace Network. Jason previously hosted the Considering the Sequels Podcast, The Weekly Horror Movie Podcast and another podcast called Horror Metropolis.  He can be reached at MoviePodcastWeekly@gmail.com or on Twitter at @MovieCastWeekly.

 

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8 comments for “Top 10 Slasher Movies of the ‘80s – Part 1

  1. October 8, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Excellent write up Jason! I have to say, I thought I knew my 80’s horror, but obviously the slasher sub-genre is a weak point for me. Because I haven’t seen any of these completely (I’ve seen bits and pieces [pun totally intended] of My Bloody Valentine), and one of them, Nail Gun Massacre, I’ve never even heard of!

    Did you ever see Offerings (not The Offspring, which was an 80’s horror anthology starring Vincent Price in the wrap-around segment, and not too bad in its own right)? I saw it waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the early 90s and a friend of mine had the poster which always creeped me out for some reason. You can see it here: http://www.moviegoods.com/large_detail.asp?http://www.moviegoods.com//Assets/product_images/1020/252241.1020.A.jpg

    Great stuff man!

  2. October 8, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Hi Joel,
    Thanks for your compliments and the opportunity to write something for Forgotten Flix. I knew I had to bring my ’80s A-game to contribute to your site: You and Jason dig into the ’80s deeper than Hubba Bubba, SilverHawks or Popples.

    Slashers are an interesting case because, even though they’re usually poorly conceived films on several levels, the end-product ends up being surprisingly entertaining. They’re like roller skating that way … it shouldn’t be that fun to go around in the same circle, ad nauseam, but somehow it is.

    I have not seen “Offerings,” but I just added it to my Netflix queue. I’ll post a comment here, letting you and your readers know my 2 cents on it. Thanks for the rental idea.

  3. Peter Nielsen
    October 9, 2012 at 4:54 am

    This is indeed a great list, Jason. I (like Joel) haven’t seen ALL of them, but that will soon be remedied, I can promise you that. It’s a genre I’ve always enjoyed and found strangely entertaining. Maybe that says more about me, than the movies themselves, huh? 😉
    Slasher films had a great stint in the 80’s, but for some reason they don’t seem to work nowadays. Not like the impact they had back then! What I mean is, when they try to make that type of genre-movie today it’s like there’s some element missing. Some little ingredient to get it past the goal-line, if you know what I mean. They get all the basics right but there’s STILL something missing. The “feel” of it maybe? Or maybe it’s a nostalgia thing on my part. Hell, I don’t know… 🙂 What I DO know though is, that I’d rather watch the ones from the late 70’s through the 80’s, than the more recent ones.
    Again… Great list!!

  4. October 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks, Peter. I’m glad you enjoyed this list. I know exactly what you’re talking about, when you speak of the “feel” of the old school slashers. I agree with you 100 percent. In fact, that’s exactly why I love films like “The Prowler,” “My Bloody Valentine,” and “Intruder,” because they possess that abstract magic we’re talking about.

    But if I were to try to identify that magic and enumerate its elements in more concrete terms, I guessed I’d probably wax nostalgic about these older films’ practical effects, shoestring budgets, creative (and sometimes not-so-creative) work-arounds due to dealing with budgetary limitations, and an era when exploitation filmmaking was an artistic and political choice, rather than a mere gross-out gimmick for shock value and an attempt to outdo the latest boundary-pushing cinema.

    But alas, Peter, I’m a child of the ’80s who feels that Mike Hodges’s “Flash Gordon” (1980) has some very similar voodoo to it, as well. So, perhaps it is just the nostalgia factor, as you said.

    • Peter Nielsen
      October 10, 2012 at 3:31 am

      I don’t think I could have said it better myself, Jason. You’re the voice of my thoughts here! 🙂
      Of course nostalgia plays a big part, BUT… there’s still that eluding ingredient missing in todays attempts at slasher films, that made the “oldies” so good. Maybe if they stopped trying to out-gross each other with CG-blood and just made a film for the love of the craft, they’d get it right? Maybe innocence is the missing ingredient? Maybe it’s a lack of creative ideas? Man, I don’t know… We could probably go on about this for ages, don’t you think?
      Oh, and btw? I LOVE “Flash Gordon”! One of my all-time favorites! It has figured on the site in form of a Tweet-along, Retro Review AND a podcast episode! That’s a lot of love!

  5. October 10, 2012 at 7:26 am

    Amen, Peter. And one more thing about modern slashers… The recipe couldn’t be simpler: What do horror fans want? We want an intriguing killer character who stalks and kills victims, occasionally in creative ways. Mind you, the kills don’t have to be as elaborate as Rube Goldberg machines (a la “Final Destination”); they just need to be scary enough to make us wince a little bit. The slasher film is actually one example of a sub-genre whose conventions just need to be recycled as they are, not updated or reinvented. Yeah, I totally agree with you, Peter, on the general failings of the contemporary slasher flick.

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