American Horror Story has had a lot of ups and downs. Its earliest work was superbly demented, with creativity and gratuitous everything. However, later seasons had diminishing returns. The show yielded to plotless sensationalism at the hotel, and then parodied Paranormal Witness with a disappointing finale, seemingly unsure of itself. But every new season is another opportunity to love an anthology show. Apocalypse really reinvigorated interest, and now the series is pursuing slashers. It’s an odd genre, tapping deeply into our id. It is at once misogynist and feminist, often tacky but occasionally brilliant. Here are ten crucial slasher movies to get you pumped for American Horror Story: 1984.
10 Psycho (1960)
Although it’s significantly older, there’s no denying Psycho’s influence as an inspiration for the entire slasher genre. It was deliberately filmed in black and white, rather than the splashy colors expected of the time. Director Alfred Hitchcock found something extraordinarily primal for 1960. It is rare that a slasher film fits all the criteria of the genre, while still delivering great performances and substance. This makes it a must-watch for any horror fan.
Psycho featured intense voyeurism, unprecedented nudity and violence, and the protagonist is severely punished for indulging in misdeeds. But there’s also themes of infiltration, reflecting very timely fears. Psycho removed the safety of a cozy motel, and even your bathroom. This classic has been constantly referenced, and not just by slashers. American Horror Story will definitely follow suit.
There is simply no ignoring the fact that we live in a post-Scream era. It’s a movie that can effectively execute the very same tropes it is ribbing. This film was a turning point for horror, when the slasher genre had nowhere left to go. Those films had been done, well, to death. But the characters in Scream acknowledge this history. This is an easy selection to digest for casual moviegoers who aren’t even fans of the genre. Scream has a brisk pace, great humor, and a strong understanding of the genre from a genuine master craftsman. Director Wes Craven made many iconic films, and this one is no exception. Its self-aware attitude is a very probable addition to American Horror Story.
8 Black Christmas (1974)
The first of many holiday-themed slasher movies, this movie has a stellar cast. It has Keir Dullea as the man who faced off with HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It even has John Saxon, who would later join another classic. Also see a young Margot Kidder, absolutely killing it in her role as one of several sorority sisters.
Although lacking in gore, the kills are effective nonetheless. And the phone calls are genuinely disturbing, with their vulgar language and solid delivery. Besides, the film opens with an extended POV shot of the killer, and doesn’t that sound familiar? However, this random murderer is never revealed.
7 Maniac (1980)
This movie, to put it lightly, is just plain sick. Honestly, it doesn’t really assume the characteristics of a typical slasher movie. The entire movie is from the killer’s point of view, removing any sense of mystery. The kills are drawn out, and violent in a dirty way, rather than aiming for entertainment. The protagonist has mother issues, calling back to Psycho, but this film has far less plot or thematic maturity. This is purely an exercise in excess indulgence. And truthfully, patience. However, it is also fascinating for all of these reasons, and Tom Savini’s special effects are astonishing as always. This is exactly the kind of raw sensationalism that would fit in American Horror Story.
6 Just Before Dawn
This selection stands out for a number of reasons, although it has been relatively forgotten, and certainly underestimated. It incorporates more elements of survival than simple murder, and yet conforms to many familiar tropes. Such as an older man warning a group of kids not to head into danger. The difference is presentation, and this movie has incredible atmosphere. The direction is robust, with cinematography that emphasizes the stark and threatening natural environment. Thanks to Terminator composer Brad Fiedel, the score is surprisingly eerie and atypical, utilizing whistles and avoiding jump scares. Just Before Dawn is pretty bleak, bears great performances, and has a truly shocking death at the end. It deserves a wider audience, especially among slasher fans.
5 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Yet another riff on actual serial killer Ed Gein, this is one of the best slashers of all time. It established a lot of the concepts that would be borrowed throughout the genre’s history. We wouldn’t have The Hills Have Eyes, or Friday the 13th. And without a single ounce of blood, the kills in this movie are absolutely terrifying. The story even begins with the false suggestion that the plot is based on a real group of terrorized kids. The grainy, low-budget visuals only bolster the horror, and they make the setting even more effective. At times, the performances are lacking. However, the final girl is terrific throughout. The family dinner scene is horrifying, Leatherface is an iconic villain, and the slaughterhouse setting is thematically rich.
4 Halloween (1978)
With a new decade right around the corner, William Shatner’s face terrified an entire generation. And it still does—thanks to flawless directing, an effective and memorable theme, and the definitive horror villain. Halloween is the movie that tied everything together. It combined every element that had worked so far, the culmination of accumulated momentum in horror. And then it was stamped with John Carpenter’s impeccable skill. Rather than lean straight into the kills, this movie draws out the suspense as long as humanly possible. Jamie Lee Curtis carries the film, as well as the torch of her mother’s success—Janet Leigh, of Psycho fame. Halloween began the 80’s slasher craze, with many imitators, few of which would even attempt some level of quality or substance.
3 Halloween II (1981)
Predominantly set at a hospital, this is when Halloween succumbed to the very trend it had instigated. This participation distinguishes it as another necessary selection. Along with a first-time director, the plot doesn’t have the same level of sophistication as the first Halloween.
However, the two leads are back, Curtis and Donald Pleasance. They don’t just phone it in, delivering solid performances again. But now, Myers becomes supernatural. Although the kills are somewhat fun, they’re absolute nonsense. All sense of realism has been abandoned, and it was certainly a slippery slope for the franchise. However, the movie does maintain a swift pace, and it makes the most of its setting. It’s also fun that the story takes place over the same night as the original.
2 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
This was released in the year of choice for American Horror Story. Freddy Krueger became instantly iconic, thanks to his appearance, performance, and concept. Due to Leatherface’s successful menace, the majority of subsequent slasher villains were faceless hulks. However, we actually got to know Freddy. He even became famous for silly one-liners. But at the onset, he was genuinely frightening, with a chilling backstory. Also, his methods are so unique. You literally have to sleep eventually, and the dream realm allowed so much more freedom for creative kills throughout the franchise. Also, A Nightmare on Elm Street was directed by none other than the aforementioned Wes Craven himself.
1 Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Also released in 1984, The Final Chapter was legitimately supposed to end the franchise. It may be controversial to choose this installment over the original. However, they’re all pretty much interchangeable, and this one features the Jason that everyone knows. Sure, he got his hockey mask in Part III, but that was a gimmicky mess. The Final Chapter sees the return of Tom Savini’s skilled effects, which is essential. The plot of a victim’s vengeful relative is fun, and Corey Feldman turns in a terrific performance. The relationship his character Tommy has with older sister Trish is far more sympathetic than most in the franchise. It’s also hilarious to watch a talented actor like Crispin Glover make a complete idiot of himself, with that dance. This installment simply encapsulates everything about the franchise—including where it came from, and where it was going.