What is a Slasher film? The name of this popular horror sub-genre might evoke a strong mental image, but do you know the actual criteria for what constitutes a Slasher film? In this post, we’ll provide a Slasher movie definition, explore the complex history of Slasher films, and take a look at some of the most notable Slasher film examples the horror genre has to offer.
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What is a slasher movie?
Slasher horror movies explained
Horror film fans will have a leg up when it comes to defining the Slasher formula. For newbies of the genre, check out our What is Horror post for a primer before digging into our Slasher movie definition.
SLASHER FILM DEFINITION
What is a Slasher film?
The Slasher film is a horror sub-genre that meets certain criteria, including an effective killer, a high body count, and non-firearm weapons. These criteria can sometimes be open to interpretation or debate but those are the basic requirements for a Slasher.
If a film hits these three requirements, it can technically be considered a Slasher film. However, there are many additional hallmarks of the genre that recur frequently. The following secondary characteristics and tropes appear in many or even most Slashers, though there are exceptions.
What is a Slasher movie?
- A “final girl”
- Gory kill scenes
- Teenage victims
- Small-town or isolated-location setting
- A revenge-driven backstory for the killer
- The killer is masked or facially disfigured/deformed
- Sexually active characters die while a virginal character survives or dies last
While each individual Slasher film does not need all of these tropes, the vast majority has at least a couple of them. There are also other elements that routinely pop up in Slashers but are not requirements of the sub-genre. For instance, a number of Slashers play out with an element of mystery over the killer’s identity, while others reveal the killer’s identity from the get go.
Additionally, many Slasher villains have supernatural abilities in one form or another, such as Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series or Jason Vorhees in the Friday the 13th series. However, there are also plenty of Slasher villains who are regular human beings, such as the Ghostface killers in Scream or Billy in Black Christmas.
Slasher horror movies
What was the first Slasher film?
The origins of the Slasher genre are the subject of a surprising amount of debate. There is a great deal of disagreement over which film is technically the first Slasher. Let’s walk through the whole timeline in reverse chronological order to find the first true Slasher.
The first Slasher label is often awarded to John Carpenter’s Halloween from 1978. For some, the Slasher genre was born in the late '70s with this film. Though plenty of people track the origins of the sub-genre further back.
Though it might not technically be the first slasher film, Halloween was the film that most thoroughly established much of the sub-genre’s secondary criteria. Halloween also became somewhat of a template that subsequent slashers followed more so than the slashers that came before it.
Find out where Halloween ranks on our list of the best John Carpenter movies.
Four years before Halloween, Black Christmas hit theaters in 1974. This Christmas-themed horror film predates Halloween as not just a slasher but as the first holiday-themed slasher. Find out where Black Christmas ranks on our list of the best Christmas-themed horror films ever made.
Black Christmas hits all of the key criteria and many of the sub-genre’s secondary criteria as well. This leads many to hail it as the first true Slasher rather than Halloween. But, there was actually another film that beat Black Christmas to the punch by mere days.
Black Christmas first hit theaters on October 11th 1974, while The Texas Chainsaw Massacre arrived in theaters on October 1st 1974. It might have only been released 10 days earlier, but that’s still enough for it to technically precede Black Christmas in the running for the first-Slasher title.
There is some debate over whether or not The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a true Slasher or not. The film meets our primary criteria, but doesn’t always fit alternative definitions of the sub-genre. Therefore, some classify The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a proto-Slasher rather than a true Slasher.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre made it onto our list of the best horror films ever made. Find out what else made the cut.
The Giallo genre shares much in common with the Slasher genre, though it does have its own associated criteria. The roots of the giallo film genre can be traced back to The Girl Who Knew Too Much from 1963, more than a decade before both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Christmas.
Giallo films are often referred to as Italian Slashers. While not all giallo films fit all of the criteria of the Slasher sub-genre, many of them do. However, we can still go back a couple of years further to find what is arguably the first true Slasher film. The oldest film to fall in line with many of the tropes associated with the Slasher sub-genre is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Groundbreaking and boundary-pushing for the time, Psycho is widely considered the progenitor for the entire Slasher sub-genre. There is an argument to be made that it is a proto-Slasher rather than a true Slasher for the same reasons as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
This is due to a slightly smaller bodycount and a somewhat physically weaker antagonist than some sources demand of the sub-genre. Find out where Psycho ranks amongst the best of Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography.
Slasher horror movie characters
Slasher film examples
In going through the origins of the Slasher sub-genre, we’ve already covered a bunch of significant Slasher films. But let’s take a look at a few more notable examples to come later on in the timeline. The Slasher genre is one that is often more closely associated with the killers than with the heroes, especially with Slasher franchises where the only returning character might be the killer.
Below is a collection we assembled using StudioBinder's storyboard creator. Click the image to download a rogues gallery with some of the most iconic Slasher villains of all time.
Friday the 13th is a great example of focusing more on the villain than the protagonists as the series moves along. Even though he doesn’t don his iconic hockey mask until the third film in the series, Jason Voorhees is easily one of the most famous Slasher film characters, and arguably one of the most recognizable horror characters period.
A Nightmare on Elm Street was made by horror maestro Wes Craven at the height of Slasher film craze. The sub-genre reached a tipping point in the mid '80s and was dwindling by the end of the decade. However, a resurgence was on the horizon.
Jason Voorhees is certainly an icon of the Slasher genre. Equally iconic is the one and only Freddy Krueger. Aside from Michael Myers, these two are the fundamental Slasher villains, so much so that they even squared off in the crossover film Freddy vs. Jason.
Freddy brought a sense of personality to Slasher villains, a stark juxtaposition from the archetypically silent Slashers like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees.
There was still the occasional clever slasher hitting theaters in the late '80s and early '90s, such as the original Candyman which made use of a refreshingly different Slasher film setting.
However, the sub-genre had lost much of its luster and popularity during this time. Then, Wes Craven returned in 1996 with Scream, a Slasher that both satirized the sub-genre and revitalized it at the same time.
Scream’s meta-humor and self-awareness made tired tropes feel fresh and encouraged future filmmakers to shake up the formula rather than stick so closely to the template outlined by the originators of the genre.
Modern Slasher films frequently take on slightly different forms than classic Slashers. It Follows was a brilliant take on Slasher tropes and proved that life could still be found in the sub-genre.
Slashers continue to take form in modern filmmaking.
Even films as recent as Nia DaCosta’s Candyman remake and James Wan’s Malignant share DNA with the roots of the Slasher and Giallo genres respectively. Modern Slasher films might be less plentiful than at the height of the genre, but they remain alive and well.
The Best Horror Films Ever Made
You now know everything you need to know about Slasher horror movies. If reading so much about Slashers got you in the mood to watch some horror movies, our list of the best horror films ever made is packed with recommendations for scary movies to check out. Find your next horror films to watch from the Slasher sub-genre and beyond, up next.