• Blood Rage

This past weekend the Music Box dedicated half of its midnight programming to the seasonal standby Halloween, John Carpenter’s trendsetting masterpiece. The slasher film to which all others are compared, Halloween sparked a glut of similar kinds of pictures, and though many of them are mere imitations and copycats looking for a cash grab, a fair amount were legitimately inventive and wholly original works. The genre proved popular for decades after, but five or so years following Halloween‘s 1978 release represents a sort of golden age in slasher cinema. Below, you can find my five favorite films from the era.

5. Alice, Sweet Alice (dir. Alfred Sole, 1978) Modeled after Nicolas Roeg’s famous 1973 chiller Don’t Look Now, this also references Hitchcock, Les Diaboliques, and, most evidently, Dario Argento and the giallo genre. The working-class setting and aversive treatment of religion and spirituality, though, are highly idiosyncratic.

4. The Burning (dir. Tony Maylam, 1981) Notable for being one of the first films released by Miramax Studios, this is among the most gruesome and nihilistic of all the golden age slashers. The regional urban legend Cropsey is the killer in question, and the gore is particularly extreme, but the themes of teen angst and sexual frustration—the “burning” in question no doubt serves as a double meaning here—are what make it distinctive.

3. Blood Rage (dir. John Grissmer, 1981/1987) The “Who’s on First?” of slasher movies. The story centers on a pair of WASPy identical twin brothers, one of whom is falsely charged for a murder committed by the other—an evil sociopath. Ten years later the innocent brother escapes prison and sets out to clear his name, leading the guilty brother, who’s living at home with his overly doting mother, to commit even more murders in an attempt to put him back behind bars. There isn’t much more to the film beyond this basic plot gimmick, but the pacing is inventive, and the Oedipal subtext is delightfully weird. You can watch the whole thing here.

2. The Slumber Party Massacre (dir. Amy Jones, 1982) The titles of golden age slasher films tend to be absurdly self-explanatory and The Slumber Party Massacre is no exception, but it doesn’t indicate the feminist framework and subversive dark humor that make this seriocomic New World picture such an enduring and increasingly appreciated staple. Screenwriter Rita Mae Brown envisioned the film as a sort of parody—while those elements were eventually dialed back, a self-referential quality remains.

1. Sleepaway Camp (dir. Robert Hiltzik, 1983) The smartest and most irreverent of all the Friday the 13th copycats, this bona fide classic appeals to most audiences because of its unintentional humor rather than its unsettling, psychosexual underpinnings. True, if only for Desiree Gould’s manic performance, Sleepaway Camp is undeniably campy, but such a tone only feeds the film’s disturbing depiction of teenage sexual anxiety and pathology. The sadistic violence and carnal aggression build to what’s probably the most insane and mind-bending final shot of any slasher film ever.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday.