By 1996, slashers were out of style. The Golden Age of Slashers waned over a decade ago, and ’90s horror was still searching for its identity thanks largely to massive shifts in technology. Wes Craven‘s second attempt at meta-horror changed everything; Scream‘s quiet December release snowballed into an enormous hit and reinvigorated the subgenre, ushering a new wave of teen slashers.
While the slasher trend seems to be on another upswing, the last twenty-five years since Scream‘s release offered no shortage of films that gave the subgenre a new angle, fresh update, or fascinating deconstructions that kept the blood pumping. And spilling.
These ten slashers on this list stood apart for being trendsetters, breaking the mold, offering clever commentary, or inspiring franchises of their own.
Despite significant setbacks like a script leak, screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven pulled off the impossible, releasing an epic sequel one year after the original film. For many, this entry outshines its predecessor, a rare feat for any sequel. It upped the ante on the sharp commentary, set pieces, and brutal body count, including the still lamented death of a popular character.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Scott Glosserman’s mockumentary-style slasher lovingly breaks down the relationship between Final Girl and Serial Killer. Budding serial killer Leslie Vernon allows journalist Taylor Gentry and her two cameramen to accompany him on his rise to slasher infamy, walking them through the entire planning stage and the fateful night of slaughter. It includes the selection and subsequent stalking of his chosen final girl Kelly, with who he intends to have an epic battle for survival after dispatching her friends. Except, Kelly is eventually revealed to contain zero final girl qualities. It’s a gratifying bait and switch.
House of Wax
A remake closer to Tourist Trap than its namesake film, House of Wax doesn’t deviate from the conventional slasher formula. What it does do is demonstrate how much inventive set pieces and creative kills can elevate your slasher. An entire town made of wax makes for a highly entertaining slasher playground. It’s also a time capsule reminder of Dark Castle Entertainment’s string of big-budget horror features, an increasing rarity these days.
Cheng Lai-sheung works two jobs to save enough money to buy her dream apartment with a stunning harbor view. When her dreams are crushed, Lai-sheung decides to keep them alive no matter the cost- including the lives of her neighbors. This bloody slasher puts the viewer in the killer’s shoes and does so by telling her story out of order. Her dreams are entirely human and relatable, making this one all the more chilling. The nonlinear storytelling, shocking violence, and a complete upending of its Final Girl make this a gory winner.
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett created a fan favorite with this home invasion twist. Erin (Sharni Vinson) accompanies her boyfriend to his family reunion in their rural home, but it’s soon interrupted by a trio of masked killers. Their plans to decimate the family are thwarted by Erin, who reveals her secret talent for survival. Deeply funny as it is bloody, You’re Next charms with eccentric characters and a formidable final girl in Erin. It’s never been so satisfying to see home invaders have the tables turned on them as it is here, revealing the Final Girl as the brutal killer that slaughters her way through masked attackers.
Director Frank Khalfoun makes viewers complicit in the carnage in this remake. Elijah Wood assumes the role of Frank Zito, now an unassuming, shy type whose burgeoning friendship with artist/photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) seems sweet and normal. He’s smitten by her charm and seems genuine in his offer to help her with an art exhibit. But it’s interspersed with Frank’s compulsion to scalp women. He seeks out victims through dating apps or even just women he haphazardly meets, and because it’s shot in POV, we see the acts of violence through his eyes. Framing everything through the killer’s eyes makes for an unconventional slasher, but even more so is its literal approach to drive home the discomfort of violence and questions of empathy.
The Final Girls
Max Cartwright finds herself with another chance for closure after her mother’s untimely death when she and her friends get sucked into retro slasher Camp Bloodbath after a freak accident at a repertory screening of the film. There she encounters the character that made her mother a Scream Queen. Reunited, the women band together to fight off Camp Bloodbath‘s killer. This slasher comedy lovingly pokes fun at the subgenre’s tropes and stock characters while giving you the feels with its exploration of grief.
High school seniors Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are lifelong best friends with a sweet demeanor and drive for more social media followers. They’re knowledgeable, too, especially compared to lumbering serial killer Lowell Orson Lehmann on the loose. When the body count starts piling up around them, you can count on Sadie and McKayla to outlast them all, and with style. However, what sets these two apart from most heroines in slashers is that they’re only final girls on the surface. Beneath they’re conniving killers masterminding Lowell’s and their own killing spree for the sake of achieving fame. Sadie and McKayla are both final girls and killers, rolled into one bright, bubbly package.
Happy Death Day
Tree Gelbman is the typical college mean girl. When she’s murdered on her birthday, she finds herself stuck in a time loop that forces her to relive the same day over and over, resulting in her murder every time. She must solve the mystery behind her murder if she wants to end the cycle, but it has the added benefit of causing her to grow as a person. Happy Death Day takes a humorous Groundhog Day approach to this slasher, at once proving how well the slasher meshes with other genres as well as introducing an unconventional Final Girl that learns how to become human the more she dies.
The heroine who inspired the final girl trope evolved it again 40 years later. Ignoring all other sequels, Halloween fills in the gap of what happens after the final girl has survived her harrowing encounter. In the case of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), it’s been decades of struggling to cope with the trauma of that fateful Halloween night, which in turn instigated decades of survival prepping for one more encounter with Michael Myers. In another reversal, it becomes clear that while Laurie spent 40 years thinking about her attacker, her attacker hadn’t thought about her at all. This entry inspired a new trend in slasher franchises.