The 1980s were the definitive decade for slasher films, giving us some of the most iconic and influential horror villains of all time. As both a lifelong slasher fanatic and horror historian, I believe it’s important to re-evaluate these formative films and analyze why they struck such a chord.
Slasher films exploded in popularity in the late 70s and early 80s following the surprise success of John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978. While proto-slashers like Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre laid the groundwork, Halloween established key tropes like the final girl and killer POV shots that became hallmarks of the genre. It also demonstrated slasher films could be big box office draws, paving the way for a flood of slashers over the next decade.
Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th in 1980 brought the genre to mainstream prominence and introduced the archetype of the hulking, supernaturally powered killer with a unique weapon, in this case Jason Voorhees and his iconic hockey mask. Friday the 13th opened the floodgates for studios to churn out countless imitators and sequels, with A Nightmare on Elm Street, My Bloody Valentine, The Burning, and Prom Night arriving in 1981-82.
Remarkably, the quality remained high through sheer quantity. Slasher directors honed the craft of stylish, suspenseful, gore-filled mayhem. They tapped into the rebellious spirit of teenagers and exploited growing conservative anxieties over sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Under the guise of cheap exploitation, slasher films became vehicles for social commentary, female empowerment, and master classes in terror.
We can’t forget iconic killers like Freddy Krueger brought a dark sense of humor to the proceedings. Slasher mythologies grew as recurring survivors battled their nemeses across sequels. And practical effects wizards pushed boundaries with creative practical gore. The 80s slasher wave peaked artistically with genre-benders like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors before fading out by 1989.
For a generation raised on VHS, 80s slashers are nostalgic treasures. But they also represent an important chapter in horror history and contain depths waiting to be analyzed by new audiences. Their influence continues today in acclaimed films like Scream and You’re Next. So get out your hockey masks and finger knives, and let’s revisit where it all began!
What iconic 80s slasher is your favorite, and why? Let me know in the comments!