Blood List: These 15 Underrated Slashers Will Make You Sick [Watch]
Horror is cyclical. There have been plenty of lean years and boom-or-bust periods for the genre. When audiences begin to shrink, there has always been one constant that brings them back in droves: lots of blood. Herschell Gordon Lewis, the Godfather of Gore, knew this fundamental fact. He introduced a new wave of titles spotlighting graphic violence and excessive kills that shocked carloads of horror hounds during the resurgence of drive-in theaters during the sixties and seventies.
Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Wizard of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls put blood and guts in the top spot on the marquee. The next generation took exploitation to the next level, and the bygone era of the monster movie gave way to a new age of slashers.
The staples of the slasher film—Peeping Tom, Black Christmas, Halloween, and Friday the 13th—are all widely known and (rightfully) continue to be heralded as the gold standards. While the classics will always have their place in the horror pantheon, the lesser-known entries in the celebrated subgenre deserve a little time in the spotlight, too.
So, in honor of Damien Leone’s original Terrifier returning to over 700 theaters on July 19, it’s the perfect time to look back at some underrated gems. Enjoy this carefully curated list of some of the most graphic slashers of the last forty years.
Folies Meurtrières (1984)
In the tradition of H.G. Lewis and Roger Corman, the microbudget French slasher Folies Meurtrières starts with a warning: “This film is not for highly sensitive people.” I can definitely attest to that fact. Directed by Antoine Pellissier, this no-fi relic of ’80s trash horror was shot on Super 8 in an unsuspecting suburb. A masked motorcycle killer stalks their victims using a variety of weapons, including a chainsaw, a vise grip, and a garden lopper. With only a few lines of dialogue over its crisp runtime, you may think you’re watching Folies Meurtrières on mute until the hazy synth tones from the score (if you can call it that) start billowing out. The quiet kills are extreme enough to keep interest from dissipating until a shockingly good finale that combines low-rent thrills with high-art aspiration. Find a copy from the gore hounds over at Tetro.
Twisted Issues (1988)
Dubbed as a psycho-punk splatter comedy (already on board) by DIY filmmaker Charles Pinion, Twisted Issues is a snapshot of skater life in Florida during the late ’80s. A straight-edge skater becomes a straight razor slasher after being hit by a car and left for dead. Two mad scientists peel him off the pavement and graft his face to his leg.
Then, he drills his own skateboard to his foot and goes on a rampage. Using a food strainer as a mask, the deformed skater goes after the punks responsible. For an SOV (shot-on-video) low key surrealist no-budgeter, the effects are striking. Keep watching for one blood-squirting eye-gouging sequence in particular. Available to own.
Just Before Dawn (1981)
After the slimy worm creature feature Squirm, director Jeff Lieberman helmed the backwoods slasher Just Before Dawn. Right on the heels of Friday the 13th Part II, Lieberman’s take on the subgenre took the kills from the campground to the high mountains of Oregon. A group of hikers doesn’t heed the warning from the local forest ranger (an ornery George Kennedy) and decide to camp overnight in an area known for mysterious disappearances.
Naturally, they start being picked off one by one by a murderous set of killers that may be guilty of twincest. Featuring music from composer Brad Fiedel (The Terminator, Fright Night), Just Before Dawn is worthy of more attention as an influential sunset-to-sunup slasher.
Wes Craven’s Shocker has received a little more attention in recent years, thanks to the fully loaded Blu-ray from Shout Factory. Way before X-Files, Mitch Pileggi stars as a serial killer named Horace Pinker who is finally captured and sent to the electric chair after a string of brutal murders. When the switch is pulled, Pinker’s electrocution goes horribly awry. He’s fried beyond all recognition in what’s arguably Shocker‘s most gruesome death.
The excessive voltage gives him the ability to stay alive as a vengeful electrical current, allowing him to jump from body to body. In 1987, The Hidden used a similar premise to great effect, but Craven took the idea to craft a supernatural slasher with a message. Some have lumped in Shocker with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, referring to all three films as Craven’s Death Penalty trilogy. Thinking in those terms, Shocker shows Craven’s staunch opposition to capital punishment.
Ogroff aka The Mad Mutilator (1983)
Director Norbert Moutier must hate France’s unshakable reputation as one of the world’s great innovators in cinema. As such, Ogroff is a horror “experiment” that plants an axe into the skull of the French New Wave. Similar to Folies Meurtrières, Ogroff has hardly any dialogue whatsoever. In its attempt to follow in the footsteps of previous stalkers, the metal-masked killer featured here can’t help but walk his own path. Ogroff, the character, lumbers around the woods in a hypnotic fashion. Somehow, he has just as much charisma as Kane Hodder in certain scenes. He also really loves his axe. I mean, he really loves his axe. There’s also a quick chainsaw battle with a random mountaineer that Mandy fans should relish.
Everyone recognizes Bill Lustig’s original Maniac starring Joe Spinell as a gritty horror classic with a high creep factor. That said, no one was really clamoring for a remake. Bravely, Elijah Wood stepped into Spinell’s very large shoes to star in an equally unsettling version of Lustig’s grimy NYC slasher. Embracing killer POV, Maniac (2012) turns Wood into a cross between Frank Zito and Mark Lewis in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. The opening sequence where Frank scalps an unsuspecting woman in the mirror is even more striking when the title card comes up.
The Mutilator (1984)
Shudder features the uncut version of The Mutilator, which most slasher fans have only seen on bootlegs up until Arrow Video’s stellar Blu-ray release a few years back. Although director Buddy Cooper’s blatant Friday the 13th ripoff has its hardcore loyalists, it amazes me how many horror fans I talk to that haven’t seen it. The twist is the killer is revealed from the outset. After their son accidentally shoots his own mother, the Dad is suddenly driven mad. He wants revenge but waits ten years until his now teenage son invites a bunch of friends out for a drunken weekend.
Death by motor boat engine is the most memorable kill, and I remember always waiting to finally see the uncut version of it as a kid. Turns out, there never was a bloodier version due to a problem with a chest prosthetic. Curses! Still, The Mutilator is one of the key slashers of the early ’80s back when the audiences still had the stomach for high body counts.
Violent Shit (1989)
For a list in honor of Terrifier, it seems fitting to include a slasher called Violent Shit. German director Andreas Schnaas may be best known for 2001’s Demonium from writer Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here, Brooklyn 45). But his Violent Shit trilogy definitely made the rounds on VHS on the horror convention circuit. There was something immediately eye-catching about the killer’s name—K. The Butcher Shitter—and the knight’s helmet he wore. Admittedly, the kills are excessive and borderline laughable. But this kind of indie ire and backyard violence is definitely in the same spirit as Damien Leone’s Terrifier series.
Laid to Rest (2009)
Attempting to introduce a new slasher icon into the company of the Big 4 is never easy. In 2009, writer-director Robert Green Hall made a valiant attempt with Chromeskull in Laid to Rest. A serial killer with a shiny silver faceplate and two wicked survival knives, Chromeskull recorded all of his kills with a camera mounted to his shoulder. In true slasher fashion, the kills take the spotlight. Laid to Rest quickly spawned a sequel with Brian Austin Green as a copycat killer that’s even more brutal than the first Chromeskull. One kill in particular shows a custom-made six-bladed knife split open the face of a seriously unlucky victim.
Before his untimely death, Robert Green Hall was planning on a third film, Laid to Rest: Exhumed, that was set to be “the darkest and bloodiest film of all time.” Green did all the practical effects himself and always relished the opportunity to top himself in the gore department. That responsibility now falls to Damien Leone and Terrifier 3.
The Collection (2012)
Before this sequel hit theaters in 2012, The Collector introduced a fetishized version of a serial killer in a cat-and-mouse thriller inside a booby-trapped house. It was basically Home Alone in a kill box. Following that up, The Collection ups the ante considerably. An entire group is trapped in a house of horrors featuring some of the most inventive kills outside of the Saw franchise. For gore-seekers, The Collection is an absolute riot.
Drive Thru (2007)
Any underrated slasher list inspired by Art the Clown needs to include at least one circus freak. Drive Thru is a funhouse parody of the slasher genre featuring a Ronald McDonald knockoff named Horny the Clown. Horny’s design is a little inspired by the Chiodo Brothers. Drive Thru is absolutely ridiculous but it’s undeniably entertaining. Enough said.
Drive-in Massacre (1976)
Drive-In Massacre could fall in the category of a proto-slasher, having preceded Halloween and Friday the 13th by a fair stretch. Before the term Grindhouse was associated with Tarantino and Rodriguez, director Stu Segall’s sleepy overnight horror romp captures the feeling of being trapped in a drive-in with a killer on date night. There is one spectacular beheading that makes up for a dreary second act. It’s almost like Segall is trying to recreate what it’s like to see a double feature that starts off with a crowdpleaser and ends with a dud. The final act more than makes up for the lull, however. Featuring John F. Goff (The Fog) and Buck Flower (Back to the Future), Drive-In Massacre is popcorn pulp at its finest (and grainiest).
Evil Dead Trap (1988)
Directed by Toshiharu Ikeda, Evil Dead Trap combines everything we love about horror. Featuring Kung Fu sound effects and a score that sounds like it belongs in an Umberto Lenzi film, Ikeda’s gory fever dream sometimes feels like a Giallo featuring special effects from Rob Bottin. When a TV reporter investigates reports of a snuff film being shot in an abandoned factory, the horrors she’s trying to document become more real than she ever could have imagined. The 1992 sequel, Evil Dead Trap 2, sounds like it’s more in line with a traditional slasher. But that doesn’t mean you should overlook the original.
The Tripper (2006)
I’ve always loved this movie, and no one has ever heard of it. David Arquette used his Scream clout to direct The Tripper, a blood-soaked cautionary tale for hippies in the woods. An axe-wielding killer with a Ronald Reagan mask is dead set on destroying the remnants of counterculture ideology once and for all.
This is ostensibly Arquette’s version of Horror House on Highway 5. (That 1985 slasher features a killer wearing a Richard Nixon mask.) Starring Jaime King, Thomas Jane, Balthazar Getty, Lukas Haas, and Jason Mewes, The Tripper should really be more widely known. If you’re in the UK, you may be able to rent it. But sadly, it’s not currently available on streaming.
Simon Says (2006)
A backwoods slasher starring Crispin Glover as two killer twins. What more do you need to know, exactly? Fine. It’s also directed by Bill Dear, the man responsible for Harry and the Hendersons and the criminally underseen underground biker classic, Northville Cemetery Massacre from Cannon films.
Be sure and check out Terrifier when it returns to theaters on July 19, 2023.