List of must-see films for the Slasher section of my taxonomy of horror sub-genres.
Black Christmas (1974). Dir. Bob Clark. Canada.
The next time someone tells you that Halloween was the first slasher, you now have my full permission to tell them they’re wrong. The actual first slasher is Bob Clark’s Canadian film Black Christmas which follows (or perhaps defines) the slasher formula to the letter with one very very significant exception: women’s sexuality is not established in the film as a qualification for women’s death. This means that, for anyone interested in doing a specifically feminist reading of the slasher sub-genre, Black Christmas is an excellent place to start.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Dir. Tobe Hooper. US.
While this film doesn’t do the same kind of amazing feminist work that Black Christmas does, it will still always be among my favorites for one simple reason, its tag line: “who will survive and what will be left of them?” It is this question around which the film (and the horror genre, and the Final Girl trope) revolves. While it may not have the most inventive narrative or the most gruesome death scenes of slashers from this period, Texas Chainsaw is distinguishable from the rest specifically because of its raw, gritty, bare-bones aesthetic. It is this aesthetic, and incumbent storytelling method, that makes this film so interesting to consider in terms of psychoanalytic theory, representations of trauma and suffering, and the lasting impacts of violence on the human psyche.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). Dir. Jim Gillespie. US.
This is not a particularly good film. It’s fun at points, sure, but it’s one of the least well-crafted on this list. That said, this film is significant to the genre because the violence in it is specifically not tied to young women’s sexuality. The horror that befalls Julie, Helene, Barry, and Ray (among others) is not caused by promiscuity, but rather by a drunk driving accident that left a man dead and four teens carrying the burden of that potentially society-threatening secret. So, at its core, this film is distinct from the rest of the genre in that it’s about the conflict between truth, lies, and the varied degrees of “bad” associated with different forms of transgression rather than the evil contained in a woman who enjoys sex.
(Also, a quick shoutout here to my mother, who I also mentioned in my very first podcast here. I Know What You Did Last Summer is her absolute least favorite horror movie, and yet, I still felt obligated to include it here. Sorry about that…)
Sorority Row (2009). Dir. Stewart Hendler. US.
Based, loosely, on Mark Rosman’s 1983 The House on Sorority Row, this film gives perhaps the best example of how the Final Girl trope has begun to change in more recent horror cinema. This film is predominantly populated with young women (not all of whom are white, which shouldn’t be a big deal, but in horror it unfortunately still is) but the killer isn’t a woman and the THREE survivors (as opposed to the one that we’ve gotten so used to) are all women. This film is deeply concerned with community and the importance of supporting and relying on chosen family, but also contains some very strong condemnations of rape culture (the film’s terror comes about as the result of a prank-gone-wrong that makes light of rape).
(Also, btw, Jamie Chung went to my alma mater UC Riverside, so of COURSE I had to include on of her films on one of my lists)
Cabin in the Woods (2012). Dir. Drew Goddard. US.
This film almost made me want to break out a separate section for “zombie redneck torture family.” Alas, there are very, very few of those in horror cinema, and the structure of the film is much, much closer to the slasher sub-genre than it is to even the zombie sub-genre. This wonderful bit of meta-horror operates, at first, along strict slasher movie guidelines, but with a parallel supernatural horror storyline that eventually merges with the main narrative making this a particularly interesting case study in how sub-genre conventions operate separately and together in horror.
Author: Geneveive Newman