Hell Fest is coming out this weekend, as I’m sure everyone is aware from the massive marketing push it didn’t receive. But the second I hear a new slasher movie is hitting screens, I perk up. I love me a slasher film, good or bad, and I’m sure anyone who found Tim’s blog as I did (through his tragically no longer yearly Summers of Blood) would agree.
It’s refreshing that more than one slasher film is being released in the next month or so (thank you, Michael Myers), because the past decade has been defined by supernatural horror with ghosties and demons of all kinds rather than big beefy dudes slashing up a bunch of scantily clad teenagers. So I thought I’d celebrate by plumbing through the depths of 2010s cinema and pulling out all the hidden gems the slasher subgenre had to offer quietly in the background of a pile of Paranormal Activity sequels.
#5 MTV’s Scream (2015 – present)
I’m a die-hard fan of the Scream franchise, so it took me quite a few episodes to really embrace the tone that MTV’s adaptation was giving me. Those who come expecting Ghostface, Kevin Williamson-esque quips, and an overflow of meta humor will be mildly disappointed, but the first two seasons spin an engaging whodunit yarn that’s married to a soapy teen thriller with plenty of high school drama, sexy liaisons, and campy character dynamics. It’s not going to blow adult viewers away with its ingenuity, but it’s a delicious sugar rush just the same.
#4 Final Destination 5 (2011)
The Final Destination franchise is very high concept for a slasher series (the killer is literally Death itself), but the Rube Goldbergian machinations of the kills provide the exact sort of thrills that one might get from a creative late-80’s slasher. And while every entry has its strengths, perhaps uniquely for a long-running horror franchise, the fifth entry is almost certainly its best. The opening accident (a collapsing bridge) is the franchise’s most visually stunning and harrowing moment, and the script adds a clever wrinkle that pits its characters against one another while they simultaneously try to outrun death. The kills in this one are likewise superbly gruesome, introduced by minutes of excruciating tension like an unforgettable sequence of a sharp screw falling face up on a balance board in the middle of a gymnastics routine.
#3 Curse of Chucky (2013)
Don Mancini, the writer of every entry in the Child’s Play franchise, graduated to directing Chucky’s exploits back in 2004 with the John Waters-esque Hollywood parody Seed of Chucky. However, the next entry really sees Chucky returning to his roots and Mancini sharpening every tool in his directing kit to perfection. Curse of Chucky is a sublimely tense gothic thriller that combines the dark humor of the franchise with a slick, foreboding atmosphere that permeates every frame. Fiona Dourif (the daughter of Brad Dourif, Chucky himself) is likewise wonderful as the wheelchair-bound heroine who must face off against the killer doll. This team reunited last year with Cult of Chucky, which I highly recommend to any gorehounds out there, but you just can’t beat the lush setting of a crumbling mansion, stretching every dollar of its direct-to-video budget to the very limit.
#2 Happy Death Day (2017)
If all goes well, we slasher historians can point to Happy Death Day and proudly declare that it rejuvenated the genre. It’s the first straightforward slasher from those purveyors of teen horror over at Blumhouse Productions (Unfriended and The Gallows have the right body count format, but they’re still decidedly paranormal), and it’s a tremendous concept: Groundhog Day as a university slasher. But a concept only gets a film so far. What brings Happy Death Day across the finish line is a terrific lead performance from Jessica Rothe and a sparkling sense of humor. This is a sterling example of how story can trump gore in a slasher, using its central conceit (the heroine wakes up again the second she is killed) to dodge showing too much gore and maintain its PG-13 rating. I can’t say I’d ever seen a slasher film where the Final Girl is also the entire body count, and I tremendously respect this film for giving slasher fans something entirely new and delightful.
#1 The Final Girls (2015)
The Final Girls is a gem that goes criminally overlooked. The film tells the tale of a young woman who attends a revival screening of a slasher film starring her late mother, and through supernatural circumstances finds herself and her friends trapped within that very film. They must use their knowledge of the slasher genre to survive until the end, but the possibility remains that she might be able to help her mother’s character survive and bring her back to the real world. It’s a hilarious parody of slasher tropes that engages with the concept of being trapped inside a film in fun, visually inventive ways (in fact, the whole thing is gorgeously shot; it almost resembles a fairy tale). But it’s also a tender, emotional work that will wring tears from you like a wet mop. It’s an extremely delicate balance that the film strikes perfectly, and you’ll never listen to “Bette Davis Eyes” the same way again.
You can’t read Tim’s thoughts on The Final Girls anywhere. Somebody tell him to get on that.
Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. You can find his other work on his Dread Central column applying film school theory to silly horror movies, his Ghastly Grinning column pairing the week’s releases with the perfect classic horror double feature, and his blog Popcorn Culture where among other movie reviews, he is running through every slasher film of the 1980’s. Also check out his podcasts, Scream 101, where he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month, and Attack of the Queerwolf!, an LGBTQ discussion of horror classics that he produces for the Blumhouse Podcast Network.