After the success of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Prom Night, the landscape of horror in the early 80s was absolutely saturated with slasher movies. Studios had discovered that they could make them on the cheap, and attempted to set themselves apart with increasingly over the top kills. In an attempt to win a piece of the audience pie, slashers completely saturated the market by the mid-80s, and viewer fatigue eventually kicked in. As a result there are many often forgotten gems of the slasher era, but there are just as many that are terribly excellent, cheesy, 80s goodness!
Here are five of my absolute favourite, often overlooked cheese fests of the golden age of slashers!
1. Madman (1981)
There is so much to unpack here. The “teenaged counsellors” that have full facial hair. The fact that they are at a summer camp at Thanksgiving. The reason behind there being only one child at the camp. The totally unnecessary hot tub scene. This “campy” (see what I did there?) classic is one for the ages, using every possible 80s trope to its full potential. On top of that, the dialogue in itself is a cringe-worthy treat that shows the 80s apparent aversion to having writers actually listen to some teenagers speak to each other. Solid gold, with the kind of cheesy deaths that we associate with the golden age of terrible slashers and even worse sequels.
2. Madhouse (1981)
This movie is a bizarre one, to say the least. A crazy, evil twin. Horrible racial stereotyping. A need to include many Cujo related deaths. Girls who go up the stairs hunting for kittens in the dark while inexplicably walking around in a man’s shirt and nothing else and turning on no lights as she goes. A killer with the most exaggerated facial expressions ever. A birthday gone wrong. This movie doesn’t come together as great as it wants to, but for a fun 80s schlock night it’s hard to pass up. Give it a whirl for an awesomely terrible 80s slasher that tries really hard to make itself stand out; it just doesn’t fully stick the landing.
3. The Mutilator (1983)
Ah, the 80s. A time when a movie where teens get chopped up in increasingly inventive ways can be bookended with opening and credits montages featuring peppy vacation-themed pop music. In The Mutilator, a young boy accidentally kills his own mother while cleaning his father’s guns as a surprise. Years later, the boy inexplicably agrees to go to said cabin with a group of friends for a getaway weekend. While there, the teens get picked off one by one by the father, who has snapped after years of wanting to kill his son and I guess opts to go for all of his friends first? This one is the final girl trope of the 80s on full display, as the teens pair off, have sex, and then the surviving girl tells her boyfriend no. You know, for no reason whatsoever that is relevant to any kind of plot point. The death scenes in this one are good for a serious laugh, with a hilarious ending scene where the impossible-to-kill-for-some-reason killer continues slashing while chopped in half.
4. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
This one gained some notoriety back in the day because of protests against combining the wholesomeness of Christmas with the shocking spectacle of teen slashings. This one actually does have a disturbing premise, with little Billy witnessing his parents murdered and brutalized by a man dressed as Santa. He ends up in an orphanage, and through the years the nuns try to banish the Santa fear from him through good old-fashioned mental torture and beatings. Billy finally snaps one day, and begins a killing spree through town dressed as Old Saint Nick. While not the merriest of tales, this one never really got the credit that it deserved.
5. Sleepaway Camp (1982)
Of all of the films on this list, Sleepaway Camp will probably be the most well-known. It has been sited in recent years in many discussions about the demonizing of transgender characters in contemporary cinema. Years after a tragic family accident, shy, mousy Angela attends summer camp. The characters that she encounters are some of the worst in 80s schlock. Excessively mean mean girls with terrible insults, weirdly disgruntled employees, and teenagers that speak as unhip adults imagine they do round out the cast of this oddball summertime slasher. As counsellors and campers alike are picked off, this one barrels toward its problematic ending that still shocks viewers today.
What are your favourite schlocky slashers?