The slasher subgenre was one of the most popular horror subgenres during the late 70s and throughout most of the 80s. The 80s slasher genre were mainly influenced by movies like Halloween, Black Christmas, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Black Christmas is often seen as one of the earliest examples of the slasher genre, as it came out in 1974.
But even before Black Christmas there were slasher films- most of them are underrated, and fairly ignored. Another strong influence to the slasher genre came from Italy and is the subgenre known as Giallo. Even after Halloween, during the slasher movie boom, there were some underrated slasher gems.
Here are 15 slasher films that are underrated, whether they’re proto-slashers, from the golden age of slashers, or post-modern slashers.
1. Fade to Black (1980)
Eric is a lonely guy who’s obsessed with films and film history. He is constantly made fun of and harassed by the people around him. One day he meets Marilyn- a woman who looks like Marilyn Monroe- and Eric begins to fall in love with her. When Marilyn stands Eric up for a date he snaps, and kills those around him; as well as stalking Marilyn.
Fade to Black stars up-and-coming actor Dennis Christopher as the main character Eric, and he is fantastic- as Christopher is incredibly convincing as a young man on the edge of sanity- and you end up feeling a lot of sympathy for his character throughout the movie.
The killings are pretty unique, as Eric uses his knowledge of film to act as inspiration. He dresses up as a mummy, a gangster, a cowboy, and a vampire all while killing those who have made fun of him. Eric’s method of killing is definitely a lot more creative than just using a knife.
Fade to Black is definitely a different slasher film, as it takes the basic concept of the slasher genre and reinvents it by making the killer a sympathetic- borderline tragic- main character. It’s disappointing that this movie is so underrated, because this movie has so much going for it, especially due to the strong performance by Dennis Christopher.
2. Fright (1972)
Amanda is a young woman who’s looking after a family’s child after the parents decide to go out for the evening. But things soon take a terrifying turn when the child’s father comes back from a mental asylum, and begins to terrorize Amanda.
Fright was a British horror film that came out in 1972, but when looking at the plot description you could almost assume that it came out during the 80s. This film is an early example of a proto-slasher- meaning that it came out before the gold standard of slasher movies Halloween. There are so many plot points that feel like standard 80s slasher movie tropes, such as the escaped mental patient, the lonely babysitter, and the creepy house; and yet this movie came out in the early 70s.
Susan George plays the main character Amanda, and she gives a decent enough performance. However, it’s really Ian Bannen that gives the best performance, as he is terrifying as the escaped mental patient- due to the fact that he dangerously totters between acting normal and acting psychotic- and is simply fantastic.
Fright is an amazing proto-slasher that feels so modern; despite being made before the slasher movie boom. This movie should definitely be more recognized by horror fans as a lost horror movie gem – especially seeing how this movie is falling deeper and deeper into obscure movie territory, soon to be lost if it doesn’t gain more recognition.
3. A Bay Of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971)
A wealthy heiress is killed for her money, and what happens next basically lays the groundwork for the slasher movie genre, as the heiress’s other family members- and a group of teenagers- are murdered.
Bay of Blood was one of the later movies directed by horror legend Mario Bava- who already had a huge influence on the slasher genre with his previous giallo films- and yet, this movie probably had the biggest influence on the slasher genre- even though the plot feels like a giallo film.
The kills in this movie are great, and really show the fantastic directing by Mario Bava- making the kills gory while also making them stylish. The kills themselves have also inspired other slasher films since its release in 1971, the most obvious being the Friday The 13th movies–as one of the kills involves a machete to the face in that is strikingly similar to Friday the 13th.
For true slasher fans this is a must watch. For being made in 1971 the violence looks impressively gory- especially for early 70s standards. Although by no means obscure, Bay of Blood does tend to fall in the underrated side of things- especially due it’s abundance of alternative film titles.
4. Spider Baby (1968)
A group of children suffering from a condition that has caused them to mentally regress, as a result of inbreeding, are taken care of by Bruno, there caretaker. But soon the family meets a couple of distant cousins who want nothing but the family’s money and their home.
Spider Baby is a very weird and low budget film, but it’s a perfect example of a 60s B-movie- complete with sex, violence and shock.
Even though it’s not a traditional slasher film, it does seem to have a strong influence on one of the more recognized slasher films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The reason for this is because of how Spider Baby uses an inbred family as killers- and was made about a couple of years before the Tobe Hooper classic.
The film stars legendary horror actor, Lon Chaney Jr. as Bruno-the caretaker for the family- and does a decent enough job, although you can tell that this is one of his later movies as the actor looks pretty tired. It also stars an almost unrecognizable Sid Haig as one of the children.
This movie is not great, but it does have that weird B-movie quality to it that makes it memorable; especially when thinking about what an influence it must have had on other movies that feature inbred killer families.
5. Dementia 13 (1963)
After Louise’s husband John dies from a heart attack, she dumps his body into the water, and hopes to gain her husband’s inheritance from her wealthy mother in law.
Dementia 13 is another example of an early proto-slasher. Released in 1963, the film was heavily inspired by the Hitchcock classic Psycho. Yet, despite the fact that it might feel like a rip-off of Psycho it’s still a pretty decent movie, as well as having its own identity. The murky quality that the film has almost makes the movie feel like some sort of dream- or perhaps a nightmare.
Director Francis Ford Coppola- in his film debut- creates an atmospheric gothic thriller that might be low budget, but still has a creepy atmosphere that makes it memorable. Not the best proto-slasher, but still fairly underrated- especially for being directed by such a prolific director.
6. House by the Cemetery (1981)
A family moves into a creepy house where some rather unnerving things begin to happen- especially in the family’s basement.
Directed by the legendary Lucio Fulci, this is the third movie in what is referred to as the ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy- the other two being City of the Living Dead and The Beyond. However, House by the Cemetery feels more like a slasher than the other two movies- while also keeping the supernatural elements that the other two movies had.
House by the Cemetery has a fantastically creepy atmosphere- especially when paired with the fantastic soundtrack by composer Walter Rizzati. Fulci has always been a master at creating a creepy atmosphere, and often gets overlooked by his trademark gore effects- which, by the way, are top notch in this movie.
The gore effects in this movie are fantastic, there’s a reason why Lucio Fulci is called the “Godfather of Gore.” The kill that takes place with a fireplace poker is pure Fulci, as it incorporates all of the over the top gore and makeup effects that the director has become known for.
This movie is definitely an underrated Fulci classic, as the gore effects and creepy atmosphere really make it worth watching.
7. Bloody Birthday (1981)
Three ten years were born on the same day during a solar eclipse, and begin to stalk and kill those around them.
The killer children subgenre is one of the more underused slasher subgenres- and that’s more than likely due to the somewhat distasteful idea of having kids killing other people, and that’s probably the biggest fault of the movie. The idea of having three children remorselessly killing people seems somewhat tasteless- especially by today’s standards- and even though it’s tasteless that doesn’t mean the movie is bad.
The movie definitely has some pretty good uses of suspense and tension- especially seeing how it’s relatively easy to mess up a movie like this. The main brother/ sister characters of Timmy and Joyce are fairly likeable together, and you begin to root for them during the more suspenseful scenes.
Bloody Birthday isn’t the most original killer children film, especially when compared to other movies of the same genre, like The Bad Seed or the Devil Times Five, and while it’s not terrible it’s certainly underrated when compared to those other two movies.