20 absolutely terrifying slasher movies to watch now
If you loved the "Fear Street" trilogy, you'll love these classics.
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If you’re a fan of horror movies, you know the genre can take many forms. From classics like Tod Browning’s Dracula to bizarre sequels like Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes where the big bad is literally a haunted lamp, horror veers all over the place. But the best films do more than just splatter the screen with blood and guts. Rather, good horror helps viewers tap into deep, primal feelings—fear, desire, obsession, revulsion—and can be as cathartic to watch as it is unsettling.
The term "slasher" is usually used to describe a specific but very popular subgenre of horror movies where a killer pursues a group of unsuspecting teenagers, racking up huge body counts along the way and sparing none except for the “final girl,” the one teen girl in the group who tends to be the embodiment of purity and virtue. Antagonists like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees are also usually larger-than-life, becoming more like comic book characters as a slasher film series goes on—and they do, because another defining trait of slasher films is that they tend to spawn lots of sequels, in keeping with that comic book-like sensibility.
Slashers are among the most iconic—and controversial—horror films of all time, and many major Hollywood stars (including Jamie Lee Curtis, Johnny Depp, and others) got their start in slasher films. New releases like the hit Fear Street trilogy on Netflix show that the genre isn’t slowing down any time soon, either. Want to watch more yourself, but unsure where to start? Here are 20 absolutely unforgettable slasher movies to watch next, which you can stream now on Shudder, Hulu, HBO Max, and other streaming platforms.
1. Halloween (1978)
When most folks think of slasher movies, the first thing that comes to mind is John Carpenter’s Halloween. Released in 1978, the film still ranks as one of the most successful independent films ever released—it was made on a budget of $300,000 and went on to gross $47 million domestically and an additional $23 million internationally, equal in total to about $300 million at the box office today.
Halloween was a monster hit that made Carpenter, who had previously directed the sci-fi comedy Dark Star (1974) and the slow-burn thriller Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), a household name, and it turned its young lead—a then-unknown Jamie Lee Curtis—into a star. The film also kicked off a glut of holiday-themed slasher films—Friday the 13th (1980), Mother’s Day (1980), My Bloody Valentine (1981), April Fool’s Day (1986), and so forth—all looking to recreate the kind of box-office gold that Carpenter more or less stumbled onto with the original Halloween.
And perhaps most importantly, the film introduced audiences to Michael Myers, one of the most iconic horror movie villains of all time. He’s technically credited as The Shape here, which is an important distinction from later films in the series. But from the moment you see him slip on that white mask—which was actually a Captain Kirk from Star Trek mask, just painted over—and hear that famous Carpenter theme, you’ll remember his name. Some films are just timeless—and when it comes to slasher movies, Halloween (1978) is one of them.
2. Psycho (1960)
Halloween might have popularized the slasher genre, but Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho more or less invented it (with some help from 1960’s Peeping Tom and 1974’s Black Christmas, but more on that later).
More than 60 years later, the infamous shower scene is still one of the most terrifying moments in cinema history, and manages to pull that off even in black and white, which is impressive if you compare it to the blood-drenched giallos of the later 1960s and 1970s, and of course, the slashers of the 1980s.
Psycho went on to spawn five sequels, including the cult-favorite Psycho II from 1983, a couple made-for-TV flicks you probably don’t have to watch unless you’re a mega-fan, and one terribly misguided Gus Van Sant remake, which we just don’t talk about at all (unless it’s to criticize it). But the original will always be a gem, and there’s some great synastry between Janet Lee, the star of Psycho, being the original scream queen, and her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis ending up the reigning queen to end all queens.
3. Black Christmas (1974)
One of the most interesting tidbits about Black Christmas, the 1974 slasher that riffs on the “babysitter and the creepy psycho calling from upstairs” urban legend, has nothing to do with the actual film itself, but rather, director Bob Clark.
About nine years after the release of this slasher, Clark would go on to direct A Christmas Story (1983), better known as that movie someone in your family always wants playing in the background on Christmas Day. You might say that Clark owns Christmas in cinema thanks to these two heavy-hitters, although Black Christmas is decidedly not as family-friendly as the former.
Something else that’s really notable about this slasher is the cast. It stars Olivia Hussey, who had starred in the critically acclaimed Franco Zeffirelli film version of Romeo and Juliet (1968), and Margot Kidder, who would later star as Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies.
Film historians and feminist writers have also noted that it’s one of the first films to deal openly with the subject of abortion, which given its release time (a year after Roe v. Wade in the U.S. and five years after abortion was legalized in Canada, where the film was made), helps add to its cultural significance.
4. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Michael Myers might be the OG, but when it comes to slicing up clueless teenagers, Jason Voorhees is like the Mike Tyson of the gang. Hailing from the mean streets—err, watery abyss—of Camp Crystal Lake, this hockey mask-clad killer has been putting in the work since 1981, when he first slashed his way on-screen not in 1980’s Friday the 13th (big spoiler, I know), but in the second installment in this wildly popular series.
The Friday the 13th movies (there are 12 in total, so far) all more or less follow the same formula: teens go to Camp Crystal Lake, teens party and have sex, teens get chopped into pieces courtesy of old Jason, and usually only one—the girl who abstains from partying and premarital sex—survives. The end. But as formulaic as they are, these movies can be fun too, especially if you’re looking at Jason as the antihero to root for rather than boo.
Looking for a Friday the 13th film to watch? You don’t have to worry about going in sequential order, as, like I said, they’re all more or less the same plot. (Okay, in one of them he fights a girl with telekinesis and in another, he ends up in Manhattan, so there are some differences, I suppose.) But Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is a personal favorite because it has a classic Hollywood horror vibe to it, and a sense of humor about itself, breaking the fourth wall at times and in a way that feels like a precursor to Scream.
Not for nothing, it’s also the only Friday the 13th film where there are actually campers at Camp Crystal Lake, so you have a dynamic where the teen counselors are trying to save the kids as much as they are themselves. Oh, and Alice Cooper did the soundtrack, and what's not to love about that?
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Thanks to the success of revenge-horror flicks like Last House on the Left (1972) (inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Academy Award-winning 1960 film, The Virgin Spring) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), director Wes Craven had already made a name for himself in horror by the time the idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street rolled around.
The story was inspired by the mysterious real-life deaths of several Khmer immigrants, who’d had vivid nightmares in the weeks leading up to their deaths and refused to go to sleep, claiming that something was trying to kill them. Craven drew from that—and the vigilante justice themes he’d been exploring in his earlier films—to form the basis of the original Nightmare film.
The result? One of the most iconic horror films of all time, which also introduced audiences to dream-stalking teen killer, Freddy Krueger (and actor Johnny Depp, who makes his film debut here). The film spawned eight sequels (so far), including 1985's controversial—but now celebrated for its overtly queer themes—Freddy’s Revenge and 1987’s Dream Warriors, which is like the slasher version of an Avengers movie, as all the kids Freddy’s been preying on learn how to use their dreams to fight back against him on his own turf. But, if you’ve never seen any Nightmare movies before, start with the first one, and unlike with Friday the 13th, you should go in sequential order—you’ll get the most enjoyment out of the series that way.
6. Peeping Tom (1960)
In the history of cinema, there are many examples of good films getting overshadowed and forgotten because another movie based around a similar idea came out first, or was marketed better.
The 1960 British psychological thriller Peeping Tom is one of them, as it came out in London about two months before Psycho made its world premiere in New York. But whereas Psycho was met with near-universal acclaim, Peeping Tom (which was screened early for film critics—a move Hitchcock avoided with Psycho) was panned for its violent content and almost wrecked director Michael Powell’s career.
The film has since been reappraised and is considered a masterwork and a proto-slasher in the same ilk as Psycho. Filmed in color, it follows a serial killer (Carl Boehm) who uses his camera to take photos of victims after they’ve died, and digs into his dysfunctional family past, seen as the root of the violence he later commits. Blow Out, Brian De Palma’s 1981 thriller, is usually seen as very Hitchcockian, and it is—but aspects of Peeping Tom are present in the film, too, which speaks to its cinematic impact.
7. Deep Red (1975)
Giallo, the Italian word for yellow, is a term put to a specific type of Italian films—released from the 1960s through the 1980s—that were distinctive for their use of atmosphere and suspense. (Similar to “pulp” fiction in the U.S., the term derives from cheap yellow paperbacks that were popular in Italy at the time, usually featuring crime thrillers, mysteries, and horror stories.)
Although there are many types of giallo films (not all of them are horror), certain ones, like Dario Argento’s 1975 classic Deep Red, have elements usually seen in slasher films, and are notable for their vivid colors, especially the use of bright red blood. Deep Red is very gory and not for the faint of heart; it also functions as an intense murder-mystery film.
Argento would go on to direct Suspiria in 1977, which is usually considered his masterpiece, but Deep Red is more of a true slasher and essential viewing for any fan of the genre. Both feature scores from Goblin, which is another reason to check them out.
8. The Burning (1981)
Inspired by the urban legend of Cropsey, 1981’s The Burning came out during the big slasher boom of the early 1980s and suffered at the box office because of it. But over the years, this slasher—which featured the film debuts of Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) and Holly Hunter, respectively—has grown in cult status and acclaim.
Even though it was written beforehand, the story—written by Bob Weinstein and Peter Lawrence—is very similar to Friday the 13th: It follows a camp caretaker who, after a prank goes terribly awry, ends up horribly burned and out for revenge. But the film pulls off some innovative gore effects (courtesy of the legendary Tom Savini), and also steadily builds suspense in a way that makes it worth a watch, especially if you’re looking for sleeper gems from that era.
9. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)
Never judge a book—or a movie—by its cover. At first glance, you might take a look at the cover for this film—which features a bunch of scantily-clad women cowering in the presence of an ominous, leather-clad Andrew Dice Clay-looking baddie—and think to yourself, Hard pass. The reason? The cover alone seems to reinforce a lot of the unnecessarily gruesome, overtly-sexualized, and objectifying themes many critics point out appear in horror films, and definitely many slasher films of the 1980s.
But actually, all the Slumber Party Massacre films—including the second one, which is usually regarded as the best on account of its rock-n-roll villain, the Driller Killer—have the rare distinction of being written and directed by women. They were all produced by legendary grindhouse filmmaker Roger Corman (dubbed “The Pope of Pop Cinema”), and he typically gave full creative control of films to whomever was directing them, which led to this weird, playfully subversive series.
Some critics even regard Slumber Party Massacre II as a queer horror film, so it’s worth checking out if that’s a type of horror that interests you. (Also, you don’t need to have seen the original to follow along with the plot—none of the Slumber Party Massacre films feature the same characters or villains.)
10. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
While the Hellraiser series kowtows to a lot of slasher movie conventions—high body counts, a memorable final girl, an iconic antagonist in "Pinhead," the nickname used for the demonic, priest-like figure who has nails hammered into his head—the original 1987 film, Hellraiser, isn't one. Inspired by Clive Barker's 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, the first film was praised by contemporary critics as fresh, innovative, and a welcome shift away from the formulaic slashers of the era.
It isn't until Hellbound: Hellraiser II, the quickie 1988 sequel created to cash in on the original's critical success, that the series does a hard pivot to slasher-land, to mostly bad results. Hellbound is the one sequel worth watching though, as it maintains the gothic look of the first film but ramps up the gore and makes antagonists like Pinhead and his crew of Cenobites more central to the main plot. It's not for everyone, but those who enjoy slashers should definitely consider this one required viewing, if only for the Dr. Channard character.
You don't need to have seen the first Hellraiser to follow along with it (although you'll have more fun if you have). Even better, if you watch it via Shudder, you should stream The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs version (it's an episode in season two), as it features interviews with cast members Ashley Laurence and Doug Bradley (the actor who stars as Pinhead) and you'll get more insight into the film's production and other fascinating trivia that way.
11. Scream (1996)
You can’t have a conversation about slasher movies—or ‘90s cinema, period—and not talk about Scream. That’s how much of an impact this 1996 meta-slasher film had when it was released.
First, it's important to understand the time period: Horror was in a slump by the early '90s. While filmmakers like Clive Barker were doing interesting things like the 1990 dark fantasy film, Nightbreed (a box-office bomb in its time but now celebrated as a great piece of queer cinema), the genre overall was dominated by low budget slasher movie sequels and had more or less lost its edge.
Scream did for horror what Nirvana's Nevermind did for rock music, single-handedly resurrecting the genre from oblivion and giving it a new bite. It was the highest-grossing slasher film of all time ($173 million worldwide at the time, or more than $500 million adjusted for inflation today) until Halloween (2018) came out over 20 years later. Much of the film's impact is due to that razor-sharp, relentlessly clever script, which was written by Kevin Williamson, who would later go on to create Dawson’s Creek. The film was directed by Wes Craven, the man behind the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, and who, just a year and a half prior to the release of Scream, had written and directed New Nighmare, which also toys with meta themes in a similar way.
One part whodunit, one part horror-movie sendup, Scream skirts between slasher and dark comedy, innovating on both and intentionally subverting tons of horror genre cliches along the way, to brilliant effect. Aside from introducing audiences to Ghostface, it also features a stellar cast, including Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell (mainly known then for Party of Five), Courteney Cox (a.k.a. Monica from Friends), and others. What’s your favorite scary movie? If you said Scream, you’d be in good company here.
12. Bride of Chucky (1998)
By the time Bride of Chucky came out in theaters in October 1998, a renaissance was happening in horror, thanks to the success of Scream. The films were getting smarter, slicker, and more meta because that's what audiences wanted, and this flick—the fourth entry in the popular but by then dated Child’s Play series—definitely benefits from the pressure to live up to the new style.
One big thing that helps is the addition of Tiffany (played and later voiced by Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Tilly), the former girlfriend and accomplice of Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif), the wise-cracking, serial killer doll of the films. The full ‘90s revamp suits the film, and it does a solid job of skirting the lines between horror and camp, in a way that later entries (like 2004’s totally bonkers Seed of Chucky) miss the mark on. You won’t miss much jumping into the series here either, as it does a serviceable job of summing them up early on.
13. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
As mentioned already, Scream completely transformed the horror landscape in the 1990s. Some films that immediately followed (like Bride of Chucky and 1998’s Urban Legend) tried to rise to its level, with varying degrees of success.
The 1997 film I Know What You Did Last Summer doesn’t. In a lot of ways, it’s just a by-the-numbers slasher, in the vein of Halloween or Prom Night (1980), but it gets some things right. For starters, it boasts an all-star cast of the hottest teen stars of its era, including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Ryan Phillippe, all of whom have gone on to have great careers on the small and silver screens, respectively. For anyone jonesing for some real ‘90s goodness, this film serves it up.
A bigger selling point is the arc of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character in the film. Spoiler alert: She’s not the star of the film, which—with this being a slasher—should tell you something about her character’s ultimate fate. But many critics have since noted that she’s really the heart of I Know What You Did Last Summer, and you feel for the character in a way that almost never happens with the supporting cast in slasher films.
14. My Bloody Valentine 3D (2008)
During the 2000s, there was a big trend in horror toward remaking the classics, particularly slashers. Some, like the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were okay. Others, like the 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, were met with near-universal disdain by fans and critics alike.
The 2009 remake of My Bloody Valentine is a bit different, though. For one, it was released in theaters in 3D, a throwback to the deluge of 3D movies in the 1970s and 1980s, which helped give it a retro feel and made the experience of watching it in the cinema more thrilling. But honestly, this version is just really fun to watch.
And while the 1981 original has its fans—director Quentin Tarantino has referred to it as “probably” his favorite slasher film—the remake quickens the pace of the storyline (a good thing, as the original is a real slog) and makes murderous miner Harry Warden seem more sinister. This one also flew under the radar a bit, so if you’re looking for a new deep cut to discover, this could be a great one.
15. You’re Next (2011)
A family gathering isn’t always a cause for celebration. In the 2011 slasher You’re Next, it’s the setting for one fairly grisly showdown between a dysfunctional family and several masked assailants—all sporting animal-inspired face masks.
The result is a fun little whodunit that aims for Scream levels of cleverness and doesn’t quite get there, but gives it the old college try. It’s definitely one of the better horror films of the 2010s, and it’s entertaining to see the director-writer team of Adam Winguard and Simon Barrett, who went on to direct the tense and atmospheric Blair Witch (2016), get their footing in the genre here.
16. The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
The meta-slasher—the self-aware horror film that knows the so-called "rules" of the genre and wants to cleverly subvert them to toy with your expectations and keep you on the edge of your seat—became the gold standard in horror after Scream, but many of the flicks that followed in the late '90s and early 2000s failed to live up.
It wasn't until 2011, with the release of The Cabin in the Woods, that Scream really earned a worthy successor. Co-written and produced by Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and later, Avengers fame), this horror-comedy flick was intended as a critique on the torture-horror films popular in the 2000s (like Saw and Hostel), and as a way of rebooting the slasher genre, much like Scream did.
Spoiler: It works. The Cabin in the Woods doesn't just get meta on slasher rules, it subverts the conventions of all different kinds of horror. While it echoes The Evil Dead (which is not a slasher) at the very beginning, it quickly does a hard swerve, adding elements of science fiction and comedy into the mix, while still offering plenty of jump-scares. It also features a young Chris Hemsworth (best known as Thor from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and who Whedon would go on to direct in the Avengers movies), and Heather Langenkamp—known to horror fans as Nancy from the Nightmare on Elm Street series—helped do the special effects and costumes for the film, which adds to its slasher movie cred.
17. Knife + Heart (2018)
Starring Vanessa Paradis, Knife + Heart is a modern-day giallo that owes a debt to the pulsating, color-saturated giallos of the 1970s, and is set during the period.
The film plunges the viewer into an underground gay pornography scene, where producer and director Anne (Paradis) is plagued by the deaths of several of her stars. Fast-paced and bloody, the film was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival (the highest honor at the festival), and if it’s skirted under your radar before now, it’s worth checking out, especially if you appreciate Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci, the most seminal giallo filmmakers.
18. The Ranger (2018)
Director Jenn Wexler brings the party with The Ranger, a 2018 slasher that taps into the punk-horror spirit of flicks like Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Class of 1984 (1982) and works as a loving homage.
The plot is pretty straightforward: A punk (Chloe Levine) ends up on the run from the law and hides out with her pals in her late uncle’s cabin. From there, the kids run afoul of the park’s ranger (Jeremy Holm), and murder and mayhem ensue. I had the pleasure of seeing this film back when it was still making rounds on the festival circuit circa 2018, and it was a real treat. The audience in attendance gave it thunderous applause, too.
19. Fear Street Part One: 1994 (2021)
You couldn’t wander into a Waldenbooks back in the ‘90s without stumbling across a few stacks of R.L. Stine books. While the 10 and under sect tended to stick to Goosebumps, it was the Fear Street series—Stine’s gloomier, gorier collection aimed at teenagers and younger adults—that really struck terror in the hearts of ‘90s kids the world over (the 99 Fear Street trilogy was a personal favorite of mine).
So, leave it to Netflix to resurrect this bit of nostalgia for the small screen, but put a playful twist on it. The first installment in the delightfully queer Fear Street film trilogy is an ode to Stine’s original collection (complete with a tongue-in-cheek nod to the paperbacks in the opening segment), but really, this three-part film series is a valentine to the slasher genre, especially Fear Street Part Two: 1978, which has big Friday the 13th vibes. (The third installment, Fear Street Part Three: 1666, was released on July 16 and is the least slasher-like of the trilogy, leaning more into supernatural themes.)
You’re better off starting with Part One: 1994 if you want to appreciate the story as it unfolds. The first film even serves up some Scream-inspired twists, which Ghostface fans are sure to appreciate.
20. Halloween (2018)
You didn’t really think the GOAT of all slasher-movie villains was showing up only once in this list, did you? Because here’s the thing about the Halloween franchise: The 1978 original is a locked-and-loaded classic, and you can always count on it showing up in a best-of horror list. But real gorehounds know that the Halloween sequels are just as worth watching, too.
In many ways, the sequels (there are 11 so far and counting) aren’t really sequels—they’re reboots, with some working as standalone entries (see: 1982's Season of the Witch) and others—like The Return of Michael Myers (1988) and The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)—working off their own continuity, only to be retconned away with subsequent films (1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, for instance, completely disregards the events of all films after 1981's Halloween II).
It might seem weird, but it’s a thing the Halloween franchise is known for, and that’s part of the fun. And right now, we’re in the middle of yet another—and supposedly the very last—reboot. Halloween (2018) is the most recent installment in John Carpenter’s legendary series, and it reimagines Michael—a.k.a. The Shape—as a figure of ceaseless malevolence, stalking and killing at random, and not due to any type of curse, vendetta, or family trauma (all the explanations used in earlier films to explain away his violence). Instead, he’s just a psycho hacking people up on Halloween for no reason at all, which is what Carpenter was going for with the original anyway.
You also want to check out the 2018 version because another sequel, Halloween Kills, is arriving in theaters on October 15, and these two are—you guessed it—part of their own continuity (along with Halloween Ends, which is slated for release in 2022).
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