October is upon us, and there’s plenty of horror films to watch. Maybe you’re going to be gorging yourself on Universal monster movies, or maybe you’re prepared to be letdown by whatever new horror movies are coming to theaters this month. If slashers are more your bag, there’s always an embarrassment of riches–and the mileage can really vary. For every Halloween or Black Christmas, there’s ten more Memorial Valley Massacres and other shoddy slashers. But there are many legitimately good slashers that need more of a audience. Here’s a few suggestions to spice up your October viewing habits.
Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
The other films on this list are kind of fun. They’re what you expect from a slasher: sometimes a little creepy, but often all in good campy fun too. Alice, Sweet Alice is not like that at all. It’s one of those rare slashers that makes you squirm, a very serious and dark affair that leaves the viewer on edge. How dark is it? Well, a child is murdered early on, with another child as the main suspect. A leering, sickening neighbor plays a role in the film that’s a little uncomfortable. The killer’s mask is one of the creepier you’re ever likely to see. And to top it all off, there’s ominous religious overtones that lend another level of the unsettling to the film.
All of that makes Alice, Sweet Alice more than the usual slasher fare. It’s several things all at once: a slasher with a whodunnit mystery, while also providing biting commentary on religion. It has the feel of a grittier American version of a giallo film in tone and imagery. This one may not be the most fun, but it is one of the more compelling and uncomfortable slashers.
The Prowler (1981)
The Prowler has all the trappings of a certain kind of slasher. Namely, it’s one of those films where the killer is around because it is the anniversary of a previous event. But this one sets the stage in a much more interesting way. The film opens with newsreel footage relating to World War II, followed by a Dear John letter and more 1940s setting footage. These little extra touches make it a bit more engrossing.
The bulk of the film is standard fare, above average from the usual stuff. The killer wears a very cool military outfit, and most of the scenes feel genuinely claustrophobic. For fans of such things, Tom Savini supplies some good gore. There’s even some good seasoned actors who get limited screen time, Lawrence Tierney and Farley Granger. The Prowler shows that even the most tired concepts can be polished to be good, suspenseful and entertaining.
Graduation Day (1981)
Clearly no day at all is safe from a slasher film. It’s a miracle Arbor Day Massacre was never made. Graduation Day is better than the gimmicky name implies, though. This one has a revenge plot too. In this case, revenge is sought after the death of a member of the school’s track team. No member of the track team is safe as the body count grows.
Graduation Day presents the best of all worlds. It has both its creepy moments and wacky fun moments too. There’s songs that are prime slices of 80s cheese, and plenty of other fun moments as well. The film’s biggest strong suit is weird frenetic editing. It adds a great deal of tension and originality to it. This is the best kind of fun slasher: some good kills, a little bit of tension, and all the goofiness you could want.
Curtains sounds typical enough on paper: six actresses show up at a cabin, vying for a part. Soon enough, they start getting killed. The film is anything but typical, though. Moving at a slower and more deliberate pace than one might expect from an 80s slasher, Curtains is an effective slow burn. It relies less on gore and schlock and more on atmosphere and some pretty good acting. Samantha Eggar and John Vernon add a little bit of weight to the affair.
And when it’s time for things to get weird, it gets really weird. The film is best known for two things: the creepy old lady mask and the ice skating scene. It is certainly a scene that earns high marks on the originality and creepiness scale. On top of that, this is a mystery slasher that provides a satisfying conclusion and twist. Curtains breaks enough norms that it feels like more of an early slasher, one before a cliched formula was down.