BMD Picks: The Slasher Offspring Of HALLOWEEN

A body count cinema craze followed in the wake of John Carpenter's stalker granddaddy. We pick our four favorites from the cash-in crowd.

John Carpenter's immortal '78 classic Halloween was dubbed "the night HE came home" in its rather brilliant marketing campaign, but what the movie's creators didn't anticipate was the wave of horror imitators it'd help give birth to. Thanks to the monumental box office draw of Michael Myers' quest to kill beloved babysitter Laurie Strode (the greatest Final Girl herself, Jamie Lee Curtis), '80s horror cinema was overtaken by a legion of masked men, all looking to kill as many horny teenagers as humanly possible. Many of these movies were bad (but enjoyable). However, a few were just as essential as the picture which helped produce them. 

In honor of David Gordon Green and Danny McBride's direct sequel to Carpenter's ingenious movie, we here at BMD put our heads together and produced a list of four films we deemed to be the best of these bloody cash-ins. Hopefully, you guys can think of a few more in the comments, helping us create a veritable viewing guide after you get done with Green and McBride's loving, four-decades-in-the-making follow-up...


Friday the 13th [1980] (d. Sean S. Cunningham, w. Victor Miller & Ron Kurz)

“Halloween is making a lot of money at the box office, let’s rip it off.” So went the phone call between writer/director/producer Sean S. Cunningham and co-screenwriter/producer Victor Miller that gave birth to one of the most iconic slasher movie franchises in history. However, they didn’t actually know that they’d be in the Jason Voorhees business for years to come (hell, Jason famously isn’t even the killer in the first F13). But being the porn-bred huckster he was, Cunningham took a full page ad out in Variety promising the “scariest movie ever made”, even though they only had a title; not a story or star or even a script. The title Friday the 13th was all they had to go off of, before venturing out into the woods of Upstate New York and killing a whole bunch of horny, doped up misfits.

Yet this is how a phenom was invented, as a vengeful former employee of Camp Crystal Lake – the bereaved Mrs. Voorhees (a truly unhinged Betsy Palmer) – starts hacking up Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) and the rest of the twenty-something “kids” he’s recruited to try and reopen the cursed site. Sporting a raggedy sweater and dentures the size of the Hoover dam, Palmer became an icon in her own right, way before her “special boy” rose from the grave and sought retribution for her decapitation on the camp’s shores. However, beyond any sort of iconography, it was Friday the 13th’s box office success that really cemented the slasher film as an emerging trend in horror cinema. Thanks to it and Halloween, a slew of low budget imitators would flood theaters for the majority of the decade, stacking pretty corpses to the ceiling in an attempt to make a mint. - Jacob Knight

My Bloody Valentine [1981] (d. George Mihalka, w. Stephen A. Miller & John Beaird) 

99% of slasher movies can be broken down into two categories: legendary boogeyman, or whodunits. Halloween is the gold standard for the former - Michael Myers killed his sister when he was six, and decades later the neighborhood kids think his house is haunted even before he returns to kill again. As for whodunits, Scream is probably the best to name-check, because rather than resurrect Billy and/or Stu for the sequels, they simply kept inventing new people to uncover behind the Ghostface mask.

What's brilliant about My Bloody Valentine is that it serves both masters. The film introduces the legend of Harry Warden, a miner who was left to die when the supervisors opted to go to a Valentine's Day party and didn't notice the signs of a pending gas explosion. He survived and killed the men responsible, and now - so they say - he prowls the streets of Valentine's Bluff every February 14th, making sure no one is celebrating the occasion and pick-axing those who are. For the majority of the runtime, there's no reason to think that the guy who's offing our cast one-by-one is anyone else but Harry, until his gas mask is pulled off during a scuffle and we find out that it's actually been one of our protagonists all along. The real Harry, as it turns out, died in the mental institution years ago.

It's a stealth whodunit! The main obstacle for murder mysteries such as Scream or Prom Night is that the audience is spending too much time trying to figure out the mystery before the characters do, and it forces the screenwriters to toss in too many red herrings and people acting like creepers for no real reason. Here, there's not much of a motive to be looking at anyone as a potential killer - in the wake of Halloween and other non-mystery slashers, the story of Harry Warden seemed perfectly acceptable and we could just go along for the ride without putting our detective caps on.

While the film's impressive (but sadly MPAA-mangled) kills were its calling card, My Bloody Valentine also offers plenty of atmospheric suspense in the mine sequences, a key ingredient often missing from many of the other "holiday horror" films that littered the subgenre in that glorious post-Halloween era. Add in a terrific and catchy theme song, and some choice Canadian accents and you have what, in many ways, is the most essential slasher of '81, offering everything fans could want in one tidy package. - Brian Collins

Slumber Party Massacre [1982] (d. Amy Holden Jones, w. Rita Mae Brown)

Halloween spawned a huge volume of clones and rip-offs during the '80s. The Slumber Party Massacre was released as such a clone, but it wasn’t necessarily made that way. Originally written by author and feminist activist Rita Mae Brown as a parody of slasher films, the screenplay was subsequently picked up by Roger Corman to turn into something altogether more straightforward.

In many ways, the film can be seen as a direct descendant of Halloween. It’s got an escaped killer (though using a drill instead of a knife), a host of suspiciously old-looking teens for that killer to kill; a synth soundtrack; a suburban setting. But between Brown’s script and director Amy Holden Jones’ visual treatment, it’s also a sly rebuttal to many of the notions Halloween bequeathed to cinema. 

Jones turned down a gig editing E.T. to direct The Slumber Party Massacre, and slipped some subversive directorial choices under the radar. Despite a heaping portion of T&A, likely mandated by producer Roger Corman, Holden Jones still captures much of Brown’s themes and ideas. You can still sort of see the parody in the jokes, visual gags, and knowing nods to slasher cliches that were - just four years after Halloween - already well-established. You can also see a positive view of women: the female leads are self-sufficient, smart, and active in the story, while the male characters are idiots - and often dead idiots. It’s a fun reversal of slasher conventions - and perfect for the first instalment in the only slasher series directed entirely by women.

The Slumber Party Massacre isn’t the best Halloween clone. It’s got all the cheapness one associates with Roger Corman, who reportedly suppressed much of its intended subversion. But thanks in part to Jones allowing Brown’s script to shine through, it’s one of the more interesting post-Halloween slashers out there. The Slumber Party Massacre may not be a straight-up parody, but it’s a horror/comedy at the very least - and in the environment in which it was made, that can be counted as a victory. - Andrew Todd 

Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II [1987] (d. Bruce Pittman, w. Ron Oliver)

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, or scorched in the case of Hamilton High's '57 Prom Queen, Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage). Thirty years after her fiery demise at the hands of her jilted boyfriend, the queen returns to slay everyone in her path and reclaim her crown. 

Following in the bloody footsteps of Halloween III: The Season of the Witch, this wildly entertaining sequel relates to its predecessor only in name. After possessing the body of wholesome Prom Queen candidate Vicki Carpenter (Wendy Lyon), the not-so-sweet Mary Lou wreaks havoc on the girl's neon eighties world. Surpassing the original with its defiantly promiscuous villainess, savagely gruesome kills, impressive special effects (including a liquefied chalkboard and cinema's creepiest rocking horse), and Michael "Effing" Ironside, this demon spawn of Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street easily earns the slasher crown. - Emily Sears