As I confessed the other day, I wasn’t allowed to watch many slasher films when I was growing up. They were deemed “too stupid” for me to watch. This is especially problematic because I grew up in the late 1970s and throughout the 80s- the Golden Age of the Slasher™. I missed out. But I’m an adult now, a “big boy” as it were. That means I can watch whatever slasher films I want. I’ve spent the last two Octobers filling in those cracks, and I’m ready to speak about what I missed. Here’s how I rank the classic slasher icons, including the more recent ones.
Note, of course, that this is all personal preference. And if you asked me to rank the quality of the original films instead of the icons themselves, I’d give a slightly different order. I’ll also add that I’d have the creepy bag-faced kid from Trick ‘r Treat up here somewhere but he’s only been in one film and doesn’t really qualify.
1. Pinhead and the Gang
My love for the Hellraiser goons is twofold. First, they have a supernatural element to them that’s rooted much deeper than their counterparts. They’re “demons to some, angels to others”, taking on a biblical context. It’s half psychological, really, mixing pain and pleasure in some goofy/great S&M way that only the 80s would produce. Second, it’s not JUST Pinhead in the original Hellraiser. He’s only one member of the gang, albeit a pivotal member. There’s also The Chatterer, The Female, and Butterball. Those are their actual names according to the cenobite Wikipedia page. They all had their own special brand of oddity on display. Of the classic slasher icons, Pinhead and the Gang were the most intellectual.
2. The Candyman
What separates the Candyman from the others is how much he’s rooted in urban legend. The film manufactured an urban legend that’s still floating around. It’s straight out of classic folklore, and there’s an amazing hint of a ghost story in the Candyman’s tale. In other words, he’s not just a slasher. He’s an urban legend and a ghost story, as well. Also, the bee stuff was very, very unique.
3. Michael Myers
Let’s break down the Michael Myers mythos a little. He’s a deranged lunatic with a hardcore grudge against Halloween. And his time to shine- 1978- was a point in history in which few people had made films revolving around the scariest holiday of all. Throw in a certain level of immortality, a perfect victim-in-peril (Jamie Lee Curtis), and an expressionless face warped from a death mask of William Shatner* and you’ve got yourself a legend.
A vicious, murderous doll that spouts out “I’m gonna get you fuckers” in Brad Dourif’s voice is pure magic. Unlike the other classic slasher icons, Chucky embraces the absurdity. The Child’s Play films never hide from the fact that Chucky as a slasher is a ridiculous concept. And it also embraces the creepiness of childhood toys, which have lifeless faces and are ripe for this kind of send-up.
I would love to put Ghostface higher. Actually, Ghostface was the slasher that really introduced me to the genre, and the physical appearance is as good as any other slasher. But the truth is that Ghostface wouldn’t exist without the work of all of the other slashers that came before him. He’s an enigma, proving that the slasher genre can be hilariously formulaic while also giving us a genuinely great slasher.
6. Freddy Krueger
I recently saw Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), in which Craven took his icon and made him darker, less humorous, and much more menacing. Had the entire series been about THAT guy, Freddy would rank much higher here. I appreciate the camp and humor in some of the other movies, but they’re mostly just some dude in makeup calling women “bitch” and morphing into bad special effects. They’re over the top, and only occasionally over the top in a good way. Again, this is personal preference, so reasonable minds can disagree. Still, despite my reservations, the background is a good one. It’s easy to see how and why Freddy has an intense following.
7. Jason Voorhees
This is where my old psychosis won’t die. Even when I was a kid, I laughed at how many sequels the Jason series had. Every year, I’d laugh as a new Jason film came out. I’d wonder “What the hell do they have left to do by now?” By the time I finally watched the original Friday the 13th, I was very excited. I thought most of my preconceptions had died. “Surely,” I thought, “there’s a reason these have such a cult following.” And then I was massively disappointed. But, gentle reader, rest assured that I’m going to plug on and watch several others in the series. This isn’t over between you and me, Voorhees.
The concept was fine, but the acting made me laugh and the villain seemed horribly formulaic to me. Instead of a tongue in cheek derivative like Ghostface, Jigsaw struck me as a mediocre attempt at reliving only the bad parts of the classic slashers- the clichés. Then to compound it, they kept bringing Jigsaw back, year after year after year after year.
This is the final frontier for me. I’ve seen only the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and that was over 20 years ago. I don’t remember anything about it. In other words, commenting on the icon would be a completely uneducated affair.
Honorable Mention: The androgynous kid in Sleepaway Camp
I haven’t seen the sequels, so I have no clue if the character returned. But purely on the basis of the hilarious ending of the first film, the he/she villain of the original deserves a mention here.